A judge said Thursday he had concerns about search warrants used to get evidence against a former Santa Rosa Junior College police officer charged with embezzling $287,000 from campus parking machines.
But Judge Ken Gnoss put off any ruling that could derail the case against Jeffrey Holzworth, 52, who's accused of stealing the money over the last seven years of his 28-year career.
Lawyers for Holzworth and his wife, Karen Holzworth, 48, who is charged with being an accessory, argued three search warrants that yielded wads of cash, coin and other evidence were obtained illegally.
They said they were based on improper observations from officers who rifled through Jeff Holzworth's gym bag as it sat unattended in a department locker room and peered into the console of his car during a trip to a police training session.
Attorney Joe Passalacqua argued the actions violated Jeff Holzworth's right to privacy and asked that the evidence seized in subsequent searches of his house, car and patrol vehicle be thrown out.
"If I were a guest in your honor's car, I'm sure you wouldn't want me to open your center console," Passalacqua said. "There's an expectation of privacy."
Prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi countered the officers weren't on duty when they made their observations. They found cash and equipment for unlocking the parking machines in the bag in 2006 and more money in the center console of his personal truck last year.
The observations were used to justify additional searches and the placement of a GPS tracking device on Holzworth's car.
Besides, she said there was other evidence to support the request for search warrants. She said a probable cause statement included reports from other officers who saw Holzworth emptying parking machines after hours or on a weekend, dressed in civilian clothes.
But the judge didn't appear persuaded.
Gnoss said it looked as though some observations were made in the scope of the officers' employment. If they were done without Holzworth's consent they would constitute a privacy violation, the defense argued.
He delayed making a ruling, instead ordering a hearing in which the officers could be asked to testify under oath if they were working. Gnoss said he wanted to know specifically which observations supported the request for the tracking device.
"The court has some concerns about when the observations took place," Gnoss said.
Both sides will return to court Dec. 3 to set the hearing.
Holzworth, who was arrested last year and remains free on bail, is charged with grand theft and 11 counts of receiving stolen property. He faces prison if convicted.
He's pleaded not guilty but admitted stealing a smaller amount of money, his lawyer said earlier this year. He maintains his wife was not involved.
Holzworth declined to comment Thursday as he left the courtroom with his wife.
(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)