Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steve Cooley honored by Sheriff's Youth Foundation

Retired LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley was the guest of  honor at the 28th Annual "Salute to Youth" Gala sponsored by the Sheriff's Youth Foundation.

A capacity crowd at the Beverly Hills Hilton's ballroom watched Sheriff Lee Baca showcase the remarkable work of the Youth Activity Leagues of the Youth Foundation, something Baca was quick to point out had been established by his predecessor, Sheriff Sherman Block.

Cooley, sporting a 'youthful' beard, received the honor as Los Angeles County's longest serving District Attorney after his successor, current District Attorney Jackie Lacey, delivered a rousing speech reminding the audience of Cooley's many laudable achievements.

Baca praised both former and current DAs for their effective management of the nation's largest prosecutorial agency. Although he refrained from any 'electioneering,' the presence of the former and current DAs at this event must have left the audience with little doubt that he will enjoy their support in his bid to win a fifth term at LA County's 'top cop.'

While many in the audience were clearly longtime supporters, it was interesting to note the presence of Michael Goldstein, the attorney who masterminded Jackie Lacey's 'blockbuster' fundraising events using his many contacts in the entertainment industry. Perhaps coincidentally, there were a number of entertainment industry figures in the audience...


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Misconduct by Trutanich volunteer lawyer causes collapse of criminal case

According the Los Angeles Daily News the trial of a defendant accused of domestic violence collapsed and came to an abrupt halt amid allegations of jury tampering.

In a case prosecuted by the Los Angeles City Attorneys office, defendant Oleh Yemets faced up to a year in jail and possible deportation to Russia if convicted of misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend. The trial commenced on September 4 and was in its sixth day when defense attorney Andrew Flier discovered that a member of the City Attorney’s office had improperly spoken to a juror on the case.

According to California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 5-320 (B) and (C), during trial a member connected with the case shall not communicate directly or indirectly with any juror. Additionally, during trial a member who is not connected with the case shall not communicate directly or indirectly concerning the case with anyone the member knows is a juror in the case.

The juror in question was two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. The alleged tampering happened when a Reserve (volunteer) Deputy City Attorney approached Mr. Hanks during a break to offer her thanks for his serving on the jury, the Daily News reported.

“She was seen with Mr. Hanks in the stairwell of the building when she came up to him and thanked him and said how everyone was impressed that a celebrity would be here,” defense attorney Andrew Flier told the Daily News.

As a result of the prohibited contact with Mr. Hanks, the misdemeanor charges were dropped and the defendant was fined $150 for disturbing the peace. The Reserve Deputy City Attorney who caused the collapse of the case was not named, however, Oscar Winslow, President of the Los Angeles City Attorneys Association, told the Daily News that “She was one of the volunteers brought in by (former City Attorney Carmen) Trutanich,” Winslow said. “This is exactly why we were concerned about bringing in untrained people to prosecute cases.” He said.

Trutanich introduced the volunteer Reserve program during his sole term as City Attorney as a way of combating staff cuts caused by the citywide budget crisis. As many as 100 volunteers, most newly-qualified attorneys who could not find paid employment, were used by Trutanich in place of full-time Deputy City Attorneys.

The City Attorneys Association was not alone in expressing their fears and concerns for Trutanich’s volunteer program. Gregory Keating, a law professor at University of Southern California, told the Daily News that the program could lead to less experienced and lower-quality attorneys trying cases for the city. "You can't be choosy when you're getting people for free," Keating said. "You wouldn't expect it to raise the quality of lawyering in general because you wouldn't do this on either side unless you have to.”

Although the collapse of the domestic violence case is the first time that the failings of Trutanich’s volunteer program have been reported publicly, it is understood that there have been other cases where both judges and defense attorneys have expressed concerns with the volunteer program. “It costs around $18,000 a day to run a courtroom,” one attorney, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. “They [the volunteers] are wasting the courts’ time and taxpayers’ money on cases that should not be tried, they should be settled.” He said.

Trutanich, who suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid to be reelected as City Attorney, nevertheless hails the program as a nationwide model for prosecutorial programs. While some might say that the program was just another one of Trutanich’s campaign gimmicks, it appears that no other prosecutorial agency in the United States has adopted his program. Perhaps wisely so.

A spokesman for newly elected City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Daily News that “he [Feuer] has been made aware of the situation and will review it.” The collapse of this case will provide Feuer with the opportunity to speak to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys before making a decision on whether the program can be continued.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Baca Blues Brings Boost for Bob

Being the incumbent Sheriff historically spells reelection, but Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's bid to win a fifth term as LA's top cop took another blow today with the news of yet another federal investigation into misconduct in the scandal ridden department.

According to the LA Times "For nearly two years, the Department of Justice has been conducting a criminal probe into allegations of abuse and violence in the Los Angeles County jails."

"On Thursday, the Justice Department informed Sheriff Lee Baca and the county that it is opening a second investigation that will examine whether sheriff’s deputies engaged in a pattern of excessive force, and whether the department failed to implement broad reforms that the sheriff agreed to in 2002 involving mentally ill inmates." The Times said.

Our recent review of the four challengers to Baca's incumbency placed retired Sheriff's Commander Robert "Bob" Olmsted at the top of the list. The 32 year veteran of the Sheriff's Department recently received over two dozen endorsements from law enforcement personnel with current Santa Maria police chief and former LASD Commander, Ralph Martin, saying “Bob Olmsted has the qualifications and experience to be LA County’s next Sheriff. I couldn’t be more proud to endorse his candidacy.”

Today's news must surely bring a boost to Olmsted's candidacy, and Olmsted's campaign strategist, John Thomas, wasn't pulling any punches with his response to the news of more blues for Baca.

"Mark my words Baca will suffer a worse fate than Trutanich" Thomas said in a Tweet referencing the LA Times story. Baca steadfastly stood beside Trutanich in his Hindenburg-like bid to become District Attorney, adding insult to injury with an 'illegal in uniform endorsement' for the man the LA Times called "Carmen 'I am a liar' Trutanich."  Baca then went on to endorse Trutanich's historic failure to be reelected as City Attorney, and served as Trutanich's consigliere on election night when Trutanich hid from his supporters and remained holed up in a real estate office with the Sheriff.

Whether Thomas was referring to the loss of credibility Baca suffered by aligning himself with Trutanich, or to the news of more blues for Baca, is a matter of speculation.

As to the news of the second federal probe, the Times rhetorically asked "Will voters care?" Judging by the comments posted in response to their article, some voters do seem to care.

The views of a handful of voters suggests voters will care, the real question is whether the challengers will have campaign warchests big enough to let voters know of their candidacies and qualifications?