News » Features

Head Banger

Paul Rogers' fight against Idaho law, and how it almost worked


Paul Rogers never planned to move to Idaho. He never planned to spend five years bouncing in and out of jail and prison. But then, he never really planned to get so caught up with meth that it would bring his life to a sudden halt.

He also never planned to change Idaho law.

But with a ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court last fall, this unlikely source forced a change in the way drug courts around Idaho are run, adding some much-needed clarity, even in the opinion of the judge who twice kicked Rogers out of the program.

"The Rogers case was ultimately so helpful to drug court. It establishes just how much process is due," said Ada County Judge Ronald Wilper.

Rogers probably wouldn't expect to hear such a comment from the man whose decision was challenged by the case, especially considering that Rogers continues to claim that Wilper is biased against him.

But Rogers' search for justice hasn't been that of some noble crusader, wrongly imprisoned. He freely admits he's done some dumb things, including his spiral into drug addiction. His is a fight that limps on, despite a long wake of rejected legal bargains that might have ended his tangle with Idaho justice.


Rogers holds firm to the belief that he has been wronged, no matter what his lawyers or the system says. And he has pushed the fight beyond where many would have gone. Some say that he's only hurt himself for not going along with the legal dance of deals, pleas and offers. Rogers, though, doesn't live in the gray area of backroom deals and legal loopholes. He knows what he wants, how he wants to get there and he's determined to go on his own terms, no matter how much that approach may have hurt him in the past.

BW first met Rogers in 2002, a year after he moved from the San Francisco Bay Area.

He came to visit his sister, and like others, ended up staying. He found a job selling cars at Lithia Chevrolet in Caldwell, and with it, discovered the unpleasant realities of being a minority in a predominantly white state.

In a 2002 edition of BW, Rogers stares up from the pages, dressed in a pin-striped suit, a defiant look in his eyes as the story outlines his civil-rights case against his former employer over claims of racist comments.

Six years later, Rogers, now approaching 51, still has that same defiant nature, but it's been a rough road.

When you meet him, he always shows up well-dressed, with diamond studs in his ears and gold rings on his hands. Just a touch of gray in his hair betrays his age. Rogers' story isn't a straight line, with chronological dots connecting one life event with the next. His looks like a toddler's drawing, with wild loops falling back upon themselves, with squiggles and blurred-out sections.

Since coming to Idaho, Rogers' life has been a dizzying sequence of bad decisions, run-ins with the law and a constant battle against the establishment.

He's clean now, but he's still fighting. Sometimes just for the principle of it.

Stupid Wisdom

Drugs were nothing particularly new to Rogers when he moved to Idaho. Raised in Oakland, Calif., Rogers experimented with drugs throughout his life, dabbling in everything from marijuana to LSD and cocaine.

While he wasn't exactly on the straight and narrow, he managed to stay out of the criminal justice system by in large, racking up a few misdemeanors for failing to appear after traffic violations and a disturbing-the-peace charge for a domestic dispute with the mother of his five sons, now aged 13 to 30.

Rogers calls himself the black sheep of his family, the middle of five brothers and one sister, none of whom have had any legal issues. Still, Rogers didn't think he had a problem.

"I didn't have what I thought was an addiction there, because I always had jobs," he said.

While working at Lithia, Rogers said he was the subject of numerous racial slurs from his co-workers and unfair treatment from his supervisors. He ended up contacting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and filed a formal complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

Lithia denied all the accusations and Rogers left his job—but whether his departure was by choice or if he was fired is a point of contention.

His plight was outlined in the Nov. 6, 2002, edition of BW. At the end of the story, Rogers said he wanted to move back to California. He probably should have.

Instead, he decided to stay to keep fighting Lithia. But without his job or unemployment benefits, Rogers couldn't afford his rent and was evicted. He ended up living at the Community House shelter in Boise.

It was there that he discovered meth.

"I started hanging around with those type of people—I shouldn't say that, because I'm the same," he said. "I guess I had that type of stupid wisdom, that, 'I can try any drug any time.' I did try meth one time and didn't like it. Then, I tried it some more and gradually I just became accustomed to it."

He started smoking it. Then he started shooting up, or "slamming" it.

"When I started slamming it, it just ... I changed," Rogers said "I didn't see it until, I guess, until the day I got busted and I thought, 'Hey, you could get in a lot of trouble with this.'"

Around The Bend

The bust came on Feb. 24, 2003.

Rogers and a girlfriend had scored some meth and he said she asked him to sell it for her. Selling it wasn't a problem, but an argument erupted after she started using some of it and wanted a greater share of the money.

She took off, promising to come back for her drugs, but Rogers said she sat in her running car in front of his room at the West River Inn in Garden City talking on her cell phone.

When he left the room a few hours later, he was stopped by the Garden City Police.

His disgruntled girlfriend tipped off the cops, and they used the traffic stop as an excuse to search the car. He was charged with possession of meth, as well as driving with an expired license.

"I went in and said, 'This is my first felony. What do I have to do?'" he said.

Rogers was out awaiting trial when he decided he needed a change of scenery. He was invited to Horseshoe Bend for a few weeks in June 2003 by an acquaintance. He saw it as a chance to get away from the drugs and the legal chaos swirling around him in Boise.

While in Horseshoe Bend, Rogers was attacked by two men who left him with a gash in his head and a trip to the hospital. While in the emergency room, Rogers made a flurry of calls to the police and friends, documenting his efforts on a paper hospital placemat.

When he returned to Horseshoe Bend to pick up his backpack, he was served with a citation for assault and battery.

The other two men involved in the incident claimed Rogers hit the woman he was staying with, and they were just retaliating. At the hearing, Rogers said he wasn't able to give his side of the story.

The charges were dropped later that year, but only after Rogers met a man during one of his subsequent jail stays. Brian Chance gave a written statement, saying he was approached by the woman Rogers had stayed with in Horseshoe Bend. She asked him to help attack Rogers because he owed her money.

That letter is now part of a meticulously kept file of evidence Rogers eagerly shows anyone he thinks could help his case. Filled with scraps of paper with phone numbers scribbled on them and stacks of legal decisions and court transcripts, Rogers carries it like a shield—his own burden of proof.

In September 2003, Rogers was scheduled to make a court appearance on his possession charge, but instead of going to the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, he went to the Boise County Courthouse in Idaho City.

After realizing the mistake, Rogers called his lawyer and was able to schedule a new court date. But in the handful of days between, he managed to get himself into trouble again.

On Sept. 24, 2003, roughly two years after moving to Idaho, Rogers decided to impress a woman with a jewelry shopping trip.

"I had been drinking a lot of alcohol, and she was drinking, and forgive me for being frank, but I really wanted to get into her pants. She was blond, pretty, and I'd been liking her for awhile," he said. "In my stupid mind, I thought, 'Let's go to Fred Meyer and I'll buy something.'"

They started out looking at watches at the Glenwood Avenue Fred Meyer, but it quickly turned into a jewelry free-for-all. Rogers wound up writing a check for almost $10,000 from a closed account.

Rogers said he picked up the wrong checkbook by mistake. A Garden City Police report says the driver's license number on the check was not real, and they questioned whether the account ever existed.

"I thought there was no way they were going to cash the check," Rogers said, adding that he planned to come back to retrieve the bad check. "I just wanted to impress the girl."

He left without the check and without any jewelry, but the police began investigating.

The next day, Rogers was with a friend when that person was arrested. The police ran Rogers' name as well, and took him into custody on several warrants, including the Ada County case and unpaid court fees in Canyon County. He was also confronted with the bad check issue from Fred Meyer. That charge was now being called attempted fraud.

Rogers took issue with that language. He said he ever attempted to physically steal anything. The way the charge was described, it sounded like something had been taken.

Ada County records show that Rogers was first arrested for the intent to commit theft by taking a ring and paying with a bad check.

Against the advice of his attorney, Rogers pled not guilty, firm in his conviction that the charges were false since he didn't physically take a ring. At his preliminary hearing, a security guard at Fred Meyer verified that Rogers hadn't taken any merchandise, but Judge L. Kevin Swain ordered a trial.

Rogers was released and re-arrested several times as prosecutors continued to re-word the charges in response to the fact that Rogers' hadn't actually taken anything. Eventually, they settled on a charge of "attempt to obtain jewelry" by false promise.

The process confused Rogers. He didn't understand why or how the county could keep reworking the charges when he felt he hadn't done anything wrong. His frustration deepened while he was held in the Ada County Jail throughout the proceedings. By the third time the charges were filed, county prosecutors and Rogers' attorney worked out a deal to dismiss the grand theft charges in exchange for pleading guilty to the earlier drug possession charge and attending Ada County Drug Court.

Rogers was both relieved and exasperated. He saw drug court as a finite end to his legal problems.

Same Old Madness

Ada County Drug Court offered Rogers what he had been looking for—the opportunity to get the felony charge off his record.

Drug court, a relatively new concept at the time, was established as a way to keep those with drug-related crimes from reoffending. Wilper, who oversees drug court, said the program isn't for hard-core offenders, nor is it for one-time screwups. Instead, it's for those at high risk for repeating their crimes.

Participants in drug court are held to a strict code of conduct and must participate in four phases of the program, which include orientation and group counseling. They must also make regular court appearances and take routine drug-screening tests. If they miss or fail a test, or break one of the many rules of conduct, participants can be reprimanded, sent to jail for a short time, or kicked out of the program entirely. Without intervention, the rate of repeat criminals in this group is roughly 90 to 98 percent, Wilper said. It's a statistic he's seen proven time and again during his seven years running the Ada County Drug Court program.

Wilper said one-third of participants don't make it through drug court and most of them end up in jail. But those who do graduate from the program have the chance to have their felony charges dismissed.

"Punishment alone doesn't work very well," Wilper said. "[We] need a combination of treatment and punishment."

When Rogers entered drug court, it was one of two such programs in the state. Now, there are 11.

Rogers saw the program as an out, but he didn't really take it seriously. He skipped part of orientation and found himself spending three days in jail in Canyon County for the $60 fine he failed to pay, missing his first required drug test.

"When I got out, I was supposed to go straight to drug court. Instead, I went out and I got high. 'One last time,' I said. 'This is a year program, I might as well get it out.' So I went and used and didn't show up the next day," Rogers said.

When he finally did make it to his scheduled screening, not surprisingly, it came back positive for meth.

Instead of getting his act together, Rogers kept using. His explanation comes down to sex.

"I'm a very sexual person. I love sex," he said. "I ran into a woman who I used to use with back in the day. She's a very beautiful woman. I saw her one day when I was in drug court, and instead of doing what they say—see it and run—well, I tried to talk to her and say I'd like to use drugs and be with her.

"Me and her, we got to be alone that day, and she pulled out a bag, and I was like, 'I'm weak,'" Rogers said. "So I did some drugs that night and then I stayed out, 'cause I didn't want to go back, because I felt ashamed."

Rogers was sent to the Ada County Jail for two weeks as punishment for his violations. Staring at the now-familiar cell walls, Rogers found himself wondering how he had gotten to that point: wrapped up in the legal system, far from home and without the commitment to follow through on a program designed to get him out of the system.

"I talked to my sister about California and my kids and my grandkids, and you know—I was 44 then—I'm not getting no younger, I need to put down these play toys. I need to get straight."

Rogers' answer was to go into business with a friend he had met in jail, Shawn Michael Kesling. The two had a plan to buy different businesses around the Treasure Valley and fold them into one corporation.

"I had read about, and heard about [Donald] Trump and how they were buying businesses and these takeovers were happening," he said. "We weren't on that level, but I could understand the business and [Kesling] could put his business acumen and I could observe and help out, because I'm not too dumb."

Among the many business ventures discussed was an escort service, Desires Inc., which was to provide both male and female strippers for private parties. Rogers was named president of the unofficial company, and he was given business cards, which he began handing out around town.

Drug court participants are not allowed to even hang out in strip clubs, let alone associate with anyone who works in them.

Rogers said he never knew the escort service was a problem, or he would never have been associated with it. But drug court staff was already watching Rogers, thanks to the combination of his business cards and the self-proclaimed title of "Captain-Save-A-Ho," which Rogers dropped casually in conversation one day. Rogers said the phrase refers to someone who is a pushover when it comes to women. Court staff linked the comment with the escort service.

Rogers was pulled into a meeting on June 25, 2004, by drug court staff and confronted with the allegations. Five days later, he was in front of a judge, taken into custody, and on July 14, 2004, he was formally kicked out of drug court.

Because he had pled guilty to possession of meth, Rogers faced a sentencing hearing, although he maintains that he didn't see it coming. He had been pushing for an evidentiary hearing, trying to force his accusers to show proof that he had been trying to recruit other drug court participants for his escort service.

On Sept. 30, 2004, Wilper sentenced Rogers to three months in jail. Rogers didn't get his evidentiary hearing.

Rogers was released on probation in January 2005 and quickly fell into old habits.

"I've never been on probation before in my whole life. I don't know anything about how they want you to act, and I was being myself, which was real stupid," he said. "I didn't get a job. I got a job and quit. And then I just went back into the same old drug madness."

Rogers was then sentenced to five years in prison.

"I'm Supposed To Be Smarter"

Incarceration didn't slow Rogers. He felt the system had let him down, that his lawyers weren't doing their jobs and that the court officers were trying to screw him. He decided he couldn't depend on anyone else to help him.

Before he even went to prison, Rogers spent hours poring over legal code and court cases in the Idaho State Law Library on State Street in downtown Boise. Amid stacks of books filled with complicated legal jargon, Rogers eventually found support for his case in the very foundations of the U.S. legal system: the U.S. Constitution. In the 14th Amendment, Rogers read about how America's founding document guaranteed due process of law. It was exactly what he felt he had been denied.

The U.S. Constitution became the basis for his appeal to getting kicked out of drug court. That appeal was shot down by a 2 to 1 decision. The case then moved on to the Idaho State Supreme Court.

But while the justices were considering his motion, Rogers sat in the South Idaho Correctional Institution.The experience was an eye-opener for Rogers.

"I'm looking out at the desert, I'm seeing the fence, I'm seeing coyotes, rabbits, free, and I'm like, 'Look at me, I'm a human being, I'm supposed to be smarter.'" he said.

Rogers joined the Probation Residential Center, a drug recovery program within the prison. Participants are held to a strict standard and can't mix with the rest of the prison population. Prisoners in the program spend every moment of the day together, are marched to and from meals as a group and are housed in their own building. They aren't allowed to acknowledge prisoners not in the program. They even wear different colored shirts. They spend their days attending counseling sessions and meetings. The year-long program is tough and not everyone makes it, but Rogers didn't feel like he had any other choice.

"I didn't want to go through the drugs no more. I got tired of it," he said. "I didn't know I was an addict until that program. It took that program."

Rogers finished the program and was released from prison last February.

The State Supreme Court didn't rule on Rogers' case until October 2007. It was worth the wait. The court ruled in favor of Rogers, finding that since his freedom and liberty were at stake by being kicked out of drug court, he was entitled to a hearing.

"Man, it was like a natural high," he said, recalling how he felt when he heard the decision. "I can't explain it. I read it and it said 'vacated.' It was like, 'Right on.'

"I knew they were wrong. I just felt like, that I was vindicated, that things that I said were finally noticed by somebody. That this will help out other people. That they won't do what they did to me no more."

While the court agreed that Rogers deserved a hearing, the ruling did not overturn his original conviction and gave the court some discretion.

"This process is to be flexible, does not need to be equated to a separate criminal prosecution and may be informal, on the condition that the safeguards are provided. The drug court judge may preside over the termination proceedings. Additionally, the neutral court may consider evidence which might not necessarily be admissible in a criminal trial," the court stated in its decision.

Wanting Out

In effect, the decision reversed time. Rogers was granted the hearing he had sought so long ago. He wanted back in drug court, with the opportunity to wipe his felony from his record and return to California without probation.

"I felt that with the vindication from the Idaho Supreme Court, that I could start new and I could finish what I started," he said. "I'm not a felon. I didn't learn about what a felon was until I went to prison and them guys kept coming back in. I don't want to come back to prison. I don't want to be no repeat."

At the hearing though, Wilper kicked Rogers out of drug court again, giving him credit for time served and putting him on a year and a half of probation.

Rogers had several other deals laid out before him, some that would have let him have unsupervised probation, and others that would have taken the escort service allegation out of consideration. Rogers rejected them all, against his lawyer's advice.

"Because I know something's wrong," he said of his decision. "There's something wrong somewhere with this process out here. If I just [take the deal] then it's like they win and it's going to keep on going and keep on happening.

"So I've got to question their actions on how I can get my case overturned by the Supreme Court and you guys still do the same thing to me later on and make it worse."

Rogers only wants to return to California. But he rejected an offer from Wilper to allow him to complete his probation in California for a $500 fee, which Rogers refuses to pay. Instead, he'll serve out his time in Idaho and head home in October 2009.

Under state law, Rogers has the opportunity to request that his felony charge be removed from his record if he can keep his nose clean for a year, but he doesn't have much faith in the system.

In the meantime, he found a job driving a truck for the Arc charity. Soon, he'll move into his own apartment and said he has been clean since leaving prison. But his legal moves aren't over yet.

Rogers has appealed his expulsion from drug court, again, on the grounds that Wilper is biased against him. He also plans to file a $10 million lawsuit against the state claiming wrongful conviction and racial discrimination.

It's the same suit he filed in September 2006, which was dismissed last July due to inactivity. In his original suit, Rogers names an array of defendants, including drug court coordinator Mareen Baker-Burton; his former drug court counselor, Heidi Clark; his former public defenders, David Simonaitis and Paul Tabor; and Wilper himself.

Rogers came up with the $10 million figure based on "pain and suffering, mental anguish, slander, defamation of character, racial discrimination, malicious prosecution, wrongful imprisonment and loss of consortium." He's seeking to have his conviction dismissed, his probation ended and be reimbursed for fines he paid.

Like last time, Rogers hasn't been able to find an attorney to take on the case. He was earlier denied a public defender to take up the issue.

While Rogers promises to continue his legal fight, he hopes to quickly leave the Gem State behind him.

"It's been a tough state," he said. "I like the people; they're so nice but you get caught in the legal system. You've got a lovely state up here, but it's not for me."