Ontario lawyer receives hate mail following appearance in documentary now on Netflix

The publicity photo for “They Call Us Monsters” features Pomona resident Jarad Nava front and center. Antonio Hernandez is on the left and Juan Gamez is on the right.
The publicity photo for “They Call Us Monsters” features Pomona resident Jarad Nava front and center. Antonio Hernandez is on the left and Juan Gamez is on the right. COURTESY PHOTO
Jarad Nava at Pomona’s Los Angeles County Superior Court, as seen in the documentary, “They Call Us Monsters,” now streaming on Netflix.
Jarad Nava at Pomona’s Los Angeles County Superior Court, as seen in the documentary, “They Call Us Monsters,” now streaming on Netflix. COURTESY PHOTO

An Ontario-based lawyer said her depiction in a documentary now screening on Netflix, focusing on three teens tried as adults — including a Pomona teen who was sentenced for 162 years for attempted murder — was patently unfair and has prompted a deluge of hate mail.

“They Call Us Monsters,” a film by Norman Lear’s son Ben Lear, was released earlier this year and became available on Netflix in late May. It follows three residents at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar as they attend a 20-week screenwriting class, some of which is included in the documentary. The filmmakers raise the question of whether it’s fair to try minors as adults, and in the process, show scenes from Pomona resident Jarad Nava’s eventual trial and sentencing.

At age 18, Nava was found guilty in connection with a Sept. 29, 2012 drive-by shooting that left the victim paralyzed. He was 16 at the time of the incident. “They Call Us Monsters” shows clips from his videotaped confession. But it also depicts him as a regular kid, enjoying a dip in a pool he’s allowed to access an hour each week, batting around a crunched piece of paper and goofing off in some of the screenwriting classes.

At trial, his attorney, Ontario-based Aniko Hoover, is presented as not putting up a vigorous defense, passing on the opportunity to cross examine the state’s witnesses and saying to the camera that if you’ve opted to go to trial instead of taking a plea agreement, “You’re supposed to lose.”

Hoover said she started to receive hate messages via email, Twitter and Facebook about two weeks ago. She hadn’t seen the documentary and didn’t know why. Then she watched it.

“It’s horrifying,” she said of the editing. “I really thought I made a connection with Ben Lear. He made me look like the bad guy.”

Despite several attempts, Lear could not be reached for comment for this article.

Hoover said what the documentary didn’t show was her efforts to get the confession thrown out in court. The Nava family had hired her right before the trial and she only had a weekend to read about 4,000 pages of documents.

She said she asked “tons” of questions throughout the trial. She believes the scenes where she is declining to question witnesses came from the tail end of previous questioning, when the judge asked her if she had any more questions and she said, “No questions.”

Hoover advertises as a DUI attorney and represented Nava’s mother, Susette Hirschoff, during her divorce with Nava’s step-father, Freddy Nava, both of whom appear in “They Call Us Monsters.”

But, she said, she has tried at least 25 trials involving serious crimes and worked for a time with an attorney who specialized in sex crimes cases.

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Here is some of the feedback she has received:

“You should be ashamed to say you are a lawyer Mrs. Hoover. You sold the poor boy up the creek” (via Twitter).

“U really s--t the bed. Hope u Paid that family back” (via Facebook).

“… are you as inept and callous as they portrayed you?” (via email).

“That young man could have very well been guilty. However, he still deserved a competent attorney, which clearly you were not! You may very well be kick ass when it comes to DUI cases, but you were in over your head for that murder case” (via email).

Hoover said both Jarad and his family thanked her profusely for her representation.

“He said I probably saved his life,” she said.

Last year, a state appellate court upheld Nava’s 162-year sentence.

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About the Author

Penny Arévalo

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin city editor Penny Arvalo has been a journalist for a quarter century. She joined the Los Angeles News Group in November 2014. Reach the author at parevalo@scng.com or follow Penny on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/PennyArevalo.