If you want a reason to resent Californians, this happened in Sonoma County. The trouble started with fraternization at a late-night pool party, leading to the arrest of a winery heiress and her fiance on suspicion of sexually assaulting two junior female employees. Charges were later dropped, probably on account of all parties to the hot mess being drunk as a skunk all night, but the heiress’s father fired her from her management position at the winery and barred her from company property. The heiress then got into a court battle over anonymous comments that she had posted on Craigslist defaming the family business, drawing in some heavy-hitter free speech advocates. First they came for the crazy bitches who were saying crazy shit about daddy’s business on the internet, and I said nothing because I was not a crazy bitch, etc. There’s probably something to this worldview, but what a shitty test case.
Among the anonymous claims: that the winery retaliated against internal whistleblowers for reporting sexual harassment, plotted to illegally fell old-growth redwood trees on its property, and bribed judges, and that its owner, the father of the possibly rapey heiress, held the heiress’s pet zebras hostage, as one does.
All of this happened at Korbel, a major US champagne producer. The daughter, Richie Ann Samii, isn’t quite technically an heiress to the winery; she’s a minor trust fund beneficiary who claimed to be broke and on the verge of homelessness in the aftermath of her eviction from the winery property. Hence her lawsuit against her father, Gary Heck, who is also the owner of Korbel, for mishandling her trust fund.
It’s a fucking mess. Samii put her old man in what we might call a heck of a position (surely you didn’t expect me to pass up that awful opportunity to bottomfeed), but the whole way that the family was doing business looks dysfunctional. Heck probably could have set the Samiis up in a modest but perfectly inhabitable apartment in Santa Rosa for years for what he spent on lawyers. Adequately cashing a troubled scion out of such a lucrative family business can be done quite inexpensively relative to the company’s cash flow. The black sheep may still try to stir up trouble, but at least the more functional relatives who cashed her out will have a strong argument that they did right by her. A prospective heiress to an internationally-known winery who has been reduced to living in her car, by contrast, will have little difficulty finding a lawyer to take her case on contingency because the counterparty to any suit she files in that matter will be fucking loaded. Contingency lawyers know that it doesn’t always rain in California, but when it rains, baby, it pours.
Actually, it pours a lot harder in Madison County, Illinois, or so I’ve heard. The poors in the jury pool there really like to name it and claim it on behalf of their plaintiff peers. But that’s what a society gets for cultivating a peasantry because a yeomanry looks like it’d be more expensive.
How close Richie Ann Samii was to homeless I don’t know. Maybe she was just being overly dramatic again. But the idea of it being somehow righteous or entertaining for the dissolute children of wealth to fall into serious poverty, like homelessness, is poisonous, degenerate, and dysfunctional. Nobody should be homeless in a country as wealthy as the United States. The housing and lodging capacity exists already; it’s just obscenely misallocated and mispriced. Having personally ended up in and out of homelessness as a result of family drama, I have to take the Samiis’ side insofar as they were afraid that they’d end up out in the elements. That kind of hard living ends up just pissing people off. It pisses off the poor, too. It becomes expensive because the chronically homeless end up in emergency rooms all the time. As a society we theoretically could summarily kill them to save money, but as a matter of policy, if not practice, we don’t. This is why Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are former murder defendants and former police officers, not sitting police chiefs.
Putting a troubled rising heiress to a family business out on the street because she got into legal trouble with some employees does not speak well of anyone. For one thing, there’s no way to know what the hell really happened at that pool party. Sheriff’s investigators believed that they had probable cause to arrest Christopher and Richie Ann Samii on suspicion of sexual assault, but the district attorney’s office dropped charges eight weeks later, arguing that there wasn’t enough evidence to go to trial. It was a they-said-they-said standoff in which everyone present had been three sheets to the wind, a sort of Roshomon-meets-I Am Charlotte Simmons kind of deal. Everyone done fucked up, I have to figure. That’s some crazy shit to do with one’s boss, or with one’s employees, even if sexual assault wasn’t exactly part of it. These were drunks. One of the senior drinking buddies I used to run with during my freshman year of college used to get blasted and yell at me to take shots of Jim Beam while he pinched my nipples. That was probably technically assault, but I knew that he was an asshole, even when sober, and also that he didn’t pinch anyone’s nipples unless he was diving headlong into the goddamn sauce. He was just a mean drunk, not deliberate or belligerent enough to merit police intervention.
Again, maybe the Samiis were a lot worse than that on the night of their arrest, but even if I found documents from the complainants’ subsequent civil suit against them, I probably wouldn’t really know what to think. And in any event, homelessness is not an appropriate punishment. If a criminal jury had convicted them of sexual assault, incarceration would have been appropriate, but the DA didn’t believe there was even enough evidence for a criminal trial. There’s a good chance that the pool party clusterfuck was just a manifestation of the #YOLO lifestyle, although in fairness, I don’t think there’s nearly as much of that sort of carrying on in Clarksburg, which is in #YOLO County.
Let’s put it this way: laughing at a winery heiress for owning zebras is appropriate; laughing at a winery heiress for being reduced from zebra ownership to homelessness and destitution over unproven allegations of sexual assault is antisocial. As a society, we need to stop acting like poverty is moral medicine. Most of the public support for this position comes from people who would turf out every elected official on their ballots if the government ever cut off the subsidies and direct transfer payments that keep them affluent. I’ve seen data indicating that Fox News’ viewership is dominated by High Vaisya Social Security beneficiaries, for what it’s worth.
Benson, Cragen, and the gang need to reunite for the belated ceremonial ripping of this story from the headlines. Tiny bubbles of truth, or maybe tiny bubbles of fiction; either way, the carbon dioxide will go to the head. This ain’t no Lawrence Welk champagne romance, homeskillet. And either way, it’ll be a better story than Bottle Shock. Maybe Det. Dennis Farina (Chicago PD, Ret.) can be brought onto the case in atonement for his involvement in twee-ass wine culture cinematography.
I stick to back-of-the-house vineyard management in this business for a reason.