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.


Anonymous said...

Six days of trial costs taxpayers $108,000 so that some volunteer who does not know she is not allowed to talk to jurors gets her 5 minutes of fame. The reserve deputy program should be shut down.

Anonymous said...

Trutanich is a joke. A very bad joke. The reserve deputy program was a disaster from the get go. Incompetent inexperienced kids with zero guidance. Trutanich didn't care, it gave him a headline and something to brag about. What an asswad.

Anonymous said...

Trutanich loved the reserves. They were 'his' people - the only new deputy city attorneys he got to 'hire.' They were loyal to him because he made them feel important, wanted and appreciated. "You guys do all the heavy lifting around hers, and I wish I could pay every darn one of you, but right now I can't.' Trutanich picked the fruit that nobody else wanted, the bottom ten percent who couldn't get a job that paid. Well you get what you pay for. A bunch of losers. Which is why Trutanich loved them, they were his intellectual equals and had they same ethics - none. They screwed up so many times it is surprising that nothing was written about them sooner, let's face it, what kind of moron doesn't know that you cannot talk to jurors? A cretin just like Trutanich, that's who. Go F yourself Trutanich. Asshole.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt about it, the CA's office is a much more effective and efficient place since Carmen the Clown and his thugs were thrown out of the office. This reserve program is a hangover from the Trutanich era and has to be shut down. It is an insult to hardworking deputy CAs to have their work valued at nothing and given to a bunch of kids fresh out of law school who are not qualified to do the job and are only using it to build their resumes. I hope Mr. Feuer shuts it down.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe that the reserve program should be shut down. I do think that there should be more care given as to who is allowed to serve as a reserve. It should follow the reserve deputy sheriff and LAPD model, under which reserves have to put themselves through an academy where the get proper training. Neither LASD nor LAPD allow reserves to get their training 'on the job,' which is what Trutanich does. Sure, there is a training course that they have to go through, but it is not a course that flunks anyone out. If Mr. Feuer is going to continue to use reserves, then he really needs to tighten up the selection process to make sure a reserve is competent to represent the city. The current program does not do that, and this incident with Tom Hanks is far from the most serious disaster caused by an unqualified and ill prepared reserve.

Panagiotis Theodoropoulos said...

Unfortunately this is not the only misconduct that the City Attorney's Office is involved in. The City Attorney's Office under Mike Feuer has filled with the Court a "Motion to Exclude" in a desperate effort to HIDE public corruption from the jury!!!! It seems to me that we got rid of a thug and we ended up with a POLITICIAN which could be worse... Time will show.