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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Schreiner responds to criticism over remarks to jury

Deputy District Attorney Steven Schreiner's campaign to become Judge of the Superior Court got off to a rocky start. After filing papers to run for the open seat in Office No. 87 created by the retirement of Judge Rex Heeseman, Schreiner found himself the target of an email campaign criticizing remarks he made to a jury.


The man taking aim at Schreiner was opponent, former Criminal Bar Association President Andrew Stein. In his email blast, Stein attached a portion of the transcript from People v. Orozco et al, NA090280, a death penalty case Schreiner had recently prosecuted.


Stein posed the question "Do you want this man sitting as a JUDGE?" presumably alluding to Schreiner's use of profanity in his argument to the jury, and suggested that the transcript shows Schreiner "doesn't have the judicial temperament to be a judge."

The Los Angeles Metropolitan News-Enterprise recently gave Schreiner the opportunity to explain the circumstances behind his remarks, as well as to take a few jabs at Stein.


The Met News reported that Schreiner "expresses regret over profanity in argument to jury." Schreiner told the Met News "In retrospect, I could have chosen words other than 'bullshit' and 'crap' at the point I used them. Other equally strong words could have been chosen to accomplish the goal of moving the jury from a deadlock position."

The case involved four defendants, two African American gang members and two Latino gang members (names of the gangs deliberately omitted here to deny the gangs the publicity they pathetically crave).  They set up a Long Beach drug dealer to be robbed and murdered. After six weeks of trial the jury commenced deliberations.

Those deliberations, however, unfortunately coincided with the controversial acquittal ten days earlier in the Trayvon Martin case. "In fact," Schreiner told the Met News, "a protest line was staged outside the Long Beach courthouse through which the jurors had to pass on their way to lunch." After jurors announced they had reached an impasse, Judge Tomson Ong directed them to put any questions they had in writing. Schreiner related that the questions concerned "the race of two of the defendants."

Schreiner was given just ten minutes of additional argument to address the questions posed by the jury. Commenting on the use of profanity, Schreiner said that "Nonetheless, my argument in that phase was made without objection from any of the parties or the court; this in a trial that had seen more than its share of defense objections."

He also explained: "In the brief period of time allotted, I attempted to respond to the juror questions and to persuade them to decide the case based on the evidence presented and not on outside issues. My goal was to convince the juror/jurors, who were bringing outside issues into the jury room, that doing so was a violation of their duty as jurors and simply wrong. I made this point as emphatically, passionately and honestly as I could. I pointed out to the jury that the detectives simply followed the evidence where it lead them and race was not an issue. The evidence was in the cell phone, cell site and wiretap evidence produced in trial."

Schreiner continued, "After seven more days of deliberation, the jury reached unanimous verdicts on each of the three murder defendants, finding each guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances."

When put in context Schreiner's remarks, while clearly inappropriate, are more understandable; anyone who has put in the amount of effort it takes to successfully prosecute a case only to see a juror or jurors failing to honor their oath to decide the case solely on the facts presented, or trying to right some perceived wrong by nullification,  has a right to be passionate. If an advocate is not passionate, does not appear to care about a case, why should the jury? True trial lawyers have been where Schreiner was, perhaps they were less colorful in their choice of language, but there cannot be anyone who hasn't secretly wanted to say what Schreiner said in those circumstances.

In the circumstances, was Stein right to suggest Schreiner "doesn't have the judicial temperament to be a judge"? Perhaps the Dragnet comments will answer that; they certainly hold nothing back in their use of colorful language.

DDA Steven Schreiner discusses his controversial remarks with refreshing candor
on his campaign website: www.SchreinerForJudge.com
 One thing that does, perhaps, stand to Schreiner's credit, and separates him from certain other judicial candidates who feel free to play fast and loose with the truth, is what Schreiner himself says about the case on his campaign website: "Jury deliberations began just after the Trayvon Martin verdict. The jury announced it was hung after four days and gave a number of race based reasons for it. The court ordered a re-argument and seven days later, the jury reached verdicts as to all three murder defendants. Despite the First Degree Murder convictions with special circumstances, the court eventually granted a motion for new trial based on my misconduct." Such honesty and willingness to accept responsibility for a mistake, is a very very rare phenomenon in an election cycle, and that honesty should be applauded.

Schreiner takes aim at Stein

The Met News also allowed Schreiner to criticize Stein use of the transcript. "It is ironic that an attorney who claims to be qualified to be a Superior Court judge would illegally copy and distribute a transcript that is the property of Judge Ong’s court reporter. Either Mr. Stein did not know he was violating the law in doing so, or worse, he simply did not care." 

Schreiner also attacked Stein's past record with the State Bar "As a Deputy District Attorney for the past 27 years, I have been a passionate, honest advocate for the People. I have never been disciplined by the State Bar, nor cited by an Appellate Court for incompetence, something Mr. Stein cannot claim."

Finally, Schreiner questioned Stein's choice of ballot title, "Worse still, Mr. Stein has chosen the ballot designation of 'Gang Homicide Attorney' in another blatant attempt to mislead the public into thinking he is a prosecutor. Beyond that, Mr. Stein has no demonstrable specialty in defending gang murderers. Mr. Stein's business cards indicate he is a criminal defense attorney. If he was honest, his ballot designation would clearly reflect his occupation."
 
Schreiner is running with the ballot title "Gang Homicide Prosecutor." A third candidate, Tom Griego, running as "Criminal Gang Prosecutor," perhaps wisely did not respond to questions from the Met News. Griego has no experience prosecuting serious felonies, and appears to have precious little experience prosecuting anything of substance.

Stein responds

The Met News gave Stein the opportunity to respond to Schriener's remarks. The full text of Stein's response can be read on the Met News website.

&c.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gimme a break. I don't know Steiner, but now I want to vote for him because this whole thing makes Stein look like a total cry baby. Seriously, because someone says "BS" and "crap" when they are throwing ruthless bad guys in the slammer you think they are not qualified to be a judge. Whatever Stein. Make a big deal out of something bigger then saying "BS". Court is a game for big girls and boys, especially when murderers are hoping to go free.

Anonymous said...

I am glad the truth is coming out about Schreiner. Andy Stein did a good job of dirtying him up at the start - even Joe Friday bought into it. But now the remarks are put in context, I don't see the Shreiner has a poor judicial temperament. Hell, the judge agreed with him! Of course it is bullshit when jurors start going crazy, and I would have done the same as Schreiner. My guess is that he will pick up a lot of support because of this. Stein's plot has backfired.

Anonymous said...

I am glad the truth is coming out about Schreiner. Andy Stein did a good job of dirtying him up at the start - even Joe Friday bought into it. But now the remarks are put in context, I don't see the Shreiner has a poor judicial temperament. Hell, the judge agreed with him! Of course it is bullshit when jurors start going crazy, and I would have done the same as Schreiner. My guess is that he will pick up a lot of support because of this. Stein's plot has backfired.

Anonymous said...

It is wrong to take Steve's remarks as representative of his judicial termperament. He was not the judge. I think Steve would make a fine judge. I also think Andy Stein would make a fine judge. It's a hard choice for me. I do agree that Tom Griego would make an awful judge. He never did anything of note as a deputy city attorney, probably only got hired as a favor - he used to work for a city councilman who got kicked out of office for doing lines of cocaine in his car. Griego is a joke, Schreiner and Stein a tough choice.