Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Phil Spector Appeal: Oral Argument Hearing Notes

I am so glad that at the 11th hour, my friends in the mainstream media convinced me to attend the hearing for oral arguments in Spector's appeal. You know who you are and again, thank you for the encouragement to go. The argument that won me over, was appealing to my readers and giving my readers a glimpse of what the Appellate process is all about. What an interesting experience it was to hear oral arguments being presented before the California Second District Court of Appeals.

The hearing was scheduled to start at 9:30 am and I arrived in plenty of time. Here are some images of the front of the building I took with my cell phone from across the street.

The Ronald Reagan State Building at 300 S. Spring Street was built in 1990, before 9/11 and the implementation of security screening at many government buildings. The north set of doors into the building on Spring Street are now closed to the public and you have to enter through the south set of doors where the security screening scanners are set up.

The several glass doors are covered with an image overlay from California's State Seal. There were several notices on the doors. In bold red type one sign said: "Public entering the building are not allowed to have any sharp objects such as knives, blades, scissors, knitting needles, fingernail files, "Leatherman" multi-tools, etc." Another notice reads: "All service dogs or guide dogs must be on a leash and tagged at all times." And another: "No Weapons Allowed. All vehicles and persons are subject to search before entering." The biggest sign said: "ATTENTION: It is a misdemeanor trespass to "Intentionally Avoid Submission" to a safety screening station at a court or public building entrance where posted with warning signs that prosecution may result. CPC602y"

Here is a view of the back of the building.

After I cleared the first security checkpoint, I realized that I was in a wide open plaza that had an atrium feel to it. As you look up, you can see several open bridge-like catwalks at different levels. As I was writing this entry, I searched online for photos or sketches of the courtyard space but couldn't find any. When I stepped inside, I really wanted to take photos of the plaza so you could see the spacious, modernized mission-like design of the girders and catwalks. Even though I don't immediately see a sign stating no photography, I know there are rules against photography in county and federal court buildings so I don't take any. I call my friends who were meeting me and ask if they've arrived already. They are already here on the third floor in front of the Appellate court.

When I step out of the elevator on the third floor, there is a woman behind glass at an information booth. I ask her where the courtroom is that is hearing the Spector appeal. She informs me, "We only have one courtroom," and tells me which catwalk to take to get to the Appellate Court. After taking the catwalk, I see another security screening station that's manned by building personnel as well as several California Highway Patrol Officers. I see Linda Deutsch from the Associated Press, as well as defense attorneys Leslie Abramson and Dennis Riordan in line ahead of me. This article in the L.A. Times Blog should answer any questions as to why Leslie Abramson attended the hearing.

As I get closer to the security screening checkpoint, the very serious looking security personnel are telling everyone the same thing that's posted on the wall behind them, "Please remove all items from your pockets along with belts and watches before walking through the magnetometer." Also in front of me is Spector's greatest fan, Theresa, the schoolteacher who often wore Hawaiian type shirts during the second trial. She has a tall, blond-haired male friend with her. All our personal belongings have to go in the wood tray to be screened. All of our electronic equipment, including cell phones will be checked with the CHP officers. They are not allowed inside the courtroom. I note when Riordan passes through the screener it beeps.

The attorney in front of me is taking quite a while to get all of his belongings cleared through security. The CHP officer has opened his soft-leather briefcase and is looking through it all. When he is finally cleared, my bag and cell phone roll through the viewing scanner and I walk through. The CHP officer asks me if this is my cell phone. When I tell him it is, he takes my phone, puts a little numbered ticket around it and gives me a matching number with a clip on the end of it. I look at it and say to the officer, "Lucky number 75." He gives me a big smile back.

When I walk through the courtroom entry doors, I'm struck by how beautiful and stately the room looks. It's a large, high-ceilinged square shaped space with deep, rich wood paneling, a green marble wall behind the justice's bench and matching marble columns around the rooms' perimeter. The center of the space in front of the judge's platform consists of special seating just for counsel, a podium to present their arguments and in the right side of the space, a clerk's desk with a large computer screen. There is another desk area off to the left and closer to the judges where a CHP officer was seated. The center space is illuminated by six hanging upside-down half-dome lights. There are matching quarter-dome sconces on the marble columns. There's a little sign at the entrance to the counsel space to tell you "Counsel Only."

Along all three walls surrounding the center counsel space are several rows of seating covered by a low ceiling with recessed lighting. There are wide aisle spaces separating the gallery seating from the counsel area. I note the large, mission-style windows set near the ceiling on both sides of the justices, bringing in a nice dance of filtered light into the courtroom. The folding padded chairs were deep and comfortable. The seating areas against the side walls is roped off and people are taking seats in the section against the back wall behind the center counsel area, facing the justices.

I see Leslie Abramson shaking hands with Dennis Riordan in the counsel well. Against the back wall, there are two long rows of seats separated by a small aisle in the middle. My two friends are sitting in the back row near the entrance. In the front row section farthest from the courtroom doors sits Spector's loyal wife Rachelle, her Mommy, Nicole Spector, and Nicole's mother, Janis Zavala, Theresa and a few other supporters. Sitting in the front row, first seat across the aisle from them is Linda Deutsch. Leslie Abramson is back in the first seat across from Ms. Deutsch, sitting next to Nicole and when Abramson sees me, she stands up and loudly proclaims to the room, "THE SHIT WRITERS ARE HERE." Right afterwords, Harriet Ryan of the L.A. Times enters, gives me a smile and hello and takes the seat next to Linda. With another reporter in the room, Abramson quickly sits back down.

Donna and Fawn Clarkson arrive with Rod Lindblom's stunningly gorgeous wife, Caroline. I see Leslie Abramson get up and attempt to speak to Mrs. Clarkson. Louis Spector shows up with his long-time companion, Frieda. Next is Rod Lindblom who joins his wife and the Clarkson family. About this time, the CHP officer in the room addresses the gallery with the rules of the courtroom. He informs counsel to stay as close to the microphone as possible and that the proceeding are recorded. He tells the gallery that they can enter and leave the courtroom as needed. As more reporters and people arrive, it's like a who's who of the two trials. Miriam Hernandez from local ABC Channel 7 takes a seat with the other reporters off to our left in front of us. There is an attorney sitting to the left of one of my friends who is part of the representation of one of the cases being argued today. He tells us that during the trial, his side lost "badly". There are four cases being heard and we think the Spector appeal is first up.

Four justices take the bench. There are two men and two women and unfortunately, I cannot read the identifying placards in front of them. It's time to get my prescription glasses updated. My friend sitting next to me tries her reading glasses and cannot read the names either. I'll just have to try to take notes without identifying who's speaking. There's a loud, microphone type buzzing sound and apparently it's a cell phone belonging to one of the justices' on the bench. There's a bit of laughter from the courtroom and a sheepish smile from the male judge. The calendar is called and the counsel sides are asked to identify themselves and how many minutes they are requesting for argument. When the Spector appeal is called, Dennis Riordan identifies himself and states, "20 minutes and 2 minutes for rebuttal." Lawrence Daniels from the State's Attorney's Office identifies himself and states he will take 20 minutes as well.

The justices address counsel. "We have read what you've submitted and you don't have to start from scratch. (snip) Just hit the high points of your appeal and be prepared to answer questions."

The Spector case is not the first case up. It's a case involving a civil dispute between two neighbors over the cutting down, destruction of old-growth trees on a property that did not belong to the appellant. From what I can gather, the appellant wanted more sunlight onto her backyard for her pool and hired workers to cut down the trees clearly on her neighbor's property. She was ordered to pay over $240,000.00 in restitution costs. I believe she is disputing the cost of the trees and the devaluing of her neighbor's property. I find it interesting that, instead of paying what the court ordered her to pay, she spent her money on this appeal.

Spector's fan gets up and leaves the courtroom. (Sometime later, she does reenter.) As I'm admiring the room and taking notes on how to describe it, the beat reporter for City News arrives that I met during Spector retrial verdict watch. Since the back gallery seating was full, he takes a seat in the side gallery beside the door. The current case counsel are arguing the value of the trees when Tawni Tyndall, the private investigator for Spector's defense team shows up.

The next case up, the petitioner is Fireman's Fund. It's the case that the attorney sitting next to my friend is involved in. I'm totally lost following the merits of this case but I will describe it as best I can. It involves a whistle-blower (but that's not at issue), it's regarding "what did lawyers say to each other" and whether or not the trial judge's ruling, as one of the justices' described as, "too narrowly defined (the) attorney client privilege (and therefore) to be inconsistent with the 902 Code."

The next case up is the Spector case and one of the male justices leaves the bench. I believe one of the justice's says, "I have (asked) every attorney not to relive (their) briefs. (snip) Simply point to which manner of (prosecution? misconduct?) is unwarranted.

Rirodan: I could begin and end in the lead issue. I could rest on the fact that judges are meant to be impartial. Society is predicated on that judges are impartial.

Court: We agree. In what way did Judge Fidler .....

Riordan: and images of Judge Fidler placed before the jury (in closing argument). ....(leading the jury with the impression)....and this judge is on our side.

I have in my notes that the courts asks Riordan to be more specific.

Riordan: No your honor, what occurred in this case... (the prosecution's closing arguments) It had pictures of its witnesses. Three pictures of Jaime Lintemoot. Three pictures of witnesses. It put up three pictures of Judge Fidler.

I note that Riordan's tone and presentation is very passionate. One could possibly mistake it for being nervous but I doubt that's the case for this seasoned appellate attorney.

Riordan:'s some pictures of Lintemoot, Lynne Herold, Judge Fidler. Ms. Do said, "Here is what Judge Fidler said about the testimony."

Court: (The) issue was where blood spatter appeared on the victim?

Riordan: (The) issue, during (the hearing outside the presence of the jury) Judge Fidler demonstrates what she was taking as, .... which apparently was less than clear.

My notes are not clear if Riordan states this but I believe it's the court who says,

"After the video was played it was before the jury."

Court: What he actually said was, "Why don't you show us; that would be best." As you can see just as I had to demonstrate to you. (snip) It seems to me what Judge Fidler said to Jaime Lintemoot was to help the jury to understand (snip) what she meant.

Riordan: But it wasn't (before the) jury!

Court: Would you agree with me, if Judge Fidler asked to to demonstrate (while she was) on the stand (in front of the jury) she .... it would be the same?

(I believe, but I'm not positive Riordan agrees.)

Court: I don't quite understand (how) putting his photo up prejudiced your client.

Riordan: It makes him a witness.

Court: Why does it make him a witness? That's a pretty interesting gimic.

Riordan: I don't know of any (judge?) who tried a case (where) that judge needs a little... (I'm sorry. Unfortunately, the rest of my note here doesn't make sense.)

I believe Riordan is arguing that there has been no other case like this, where the trial judge's image was included in the closing argument. I have that the court disagreed; answered back with a different interpretation saying, "That's all that it is, why don't you tell me the difference." Riordan again presents his view of how this prejudiced his client, and I believe he cites at least one case because the court responds:

Court: We don't have that situation here. (snip) The last ten minutes, is that all we've been talking about?

It's right at this time that DDA Alan Jackson shows up and takes a seat in the first gallery row near the door.

I believe the court states that Lintemoot testified at both trials and Riordan goes over the closing argument again.

Court: Isn't that a leap from the cases you've cited?

The court lists several cases and the details of each and after each one says, "And that's not this case." Riordan states again no where in (California?) any case where the prosecution put up pictures of the judge. Riordan's tone and delivery continues to be very passionate.

Court: Are you going to spend your entire argument time on this (one) point? I think you should shift gears.

Riordan does shift gears and moves onto the 1101b witnesses, uncharged brandishing offenses.

The Ewoldt case law is discussed.

Unknown: It's clear in Ewoldt, (you) must meet stringent standards, but it doesn't seem identity is the issue here.

Court: Was identity really the issue?

Riordan: It's the whole issue your honor!

I have in my notes the next statements, but I'm not certain who said what.

Unknown: In this case, we know either Ms. Clarkson took her own life or Mr. Spector (did). That's not the type of identity that Ewoldt meant.

Court: The court instructed the jury (it could) consider other crimes. .... (the) result of accident, mistake or suicide.

Unknown: (Most likely the court.) What's wrong with that?

(I miss writing down Riordan's response.)

Court: This case, at very early in the morning there were only two people....

Unknown: Instructions have to be given on the evidence. The instructions (should?) support the evidence of this case.

The court now lists cases where the facts involve two people. "People vs. Wells from the 1940's. People vs. Woods, a seven-year-old died in foster care. (snip) What happens when, he says, he goes (0utside) and states he kills someone?"

Riordan: What he actually said, "I think I may have killed somebody."

(This is not exactly what DeSouza testified to in both trials. I feel I need to add here, that I watched the entire video taped interview of DeSouza at the police station during the second trial, and saw a portion of it during the first trial. It was very clear to me from the video that DeSouza completely understood the questions that the officer's were asking him. He had a good understanding of the English language. The problem was the officers. To me, it was the officers who had difficulty understanding DeSouza's accent, which is why they kept asking him the same question, phrased differently.)

Riordan: I submit to you, there has never been a (case) where a judge's picture has been used in closing arguments. (snip) And the judge's statements. (snip) when Mr. Weinberg says, (asks? that jury) be instructed that what you said is (not testimony) and the judge refuses.

Court: You've said that several times now.

(Please understand this is not word for word what Riordan argued. There were many statements and arguments that I missed writing down from Riordan and the court.)

Larry Daniels steps up to give the responding argument.

Daniels: The appellant received a fair trial.

Daniels goes on to address the picture the appellant dwelled on. This was an unusual situation. "It's highly unusual for any trial (to be video taped). (snip) They were admitted to give context and meaning to Jaime Lintemoot's testimony. "

The Court questions Daniels on the closing argument issue the appellant brings up.

Daniels: The judge simply clarified (her testimony).

Daniels explains that the video tape was no different that a court reporter's transcript being read back. The court asks another question about Fidler's restating and redemonstrating Lintemoot's testimony and gestures.

Court: That was permissible because? Trial judges do that all the time to clarify a point of fact. I think I've done it. (I believe my co-judges have done it.) That doesn't mean we're testifying. It meas we're clarifying an incident of fact.

Unknown: I don't think there's any problem to showing that in prior trial. Akin simply to a reporter's transcript.

Court: But in this case you've got a video tape. Focus on this explanatory difference.

Daniels: I think it's better. Your not bound only by words. (snip) The appellant did not object before the video tape was entered into evidence. He didn't object on these grounds. It was raised during the second time it was played. There was no objection at the first trial (in the special hearing).

Daniels: During the closing argument, the defense objected to the video. In closing, the video (was) shown in slow motion, Jaime Lintemoot's pointing and.... (snip) Judge Fidler was just a corroboration of what they showed.. Even if you assume it was prejudicial, it wasn't (prejudicial error?)....

Daniels moves onto the 1101b evidence. He lists several cases that I try to write but I don't think I have them all or the correct spellings.

People vs. Whisenhunt, that other evidence could be introduced to prove non-accident.
People vs. Lisenba.
People vs. Catlin
People vs. (?Andrews?)

Court: What part does the Doctrine of Chances play?

Daniels explains how the Doctrine of Chances applies to the gun being brought into play.

Court: It was highly prejudicial evidence.....

(I miss writing down Daniels response.)

Unknown: (Most likely the court.) And the justification is this doctrine of chances...

Daniels: The question about the Doctrine of Chances comes into play because the defense did argue the possibility of accident.

(I think the defense had to argue the possibility of accident in the retrial because Fidler ruled to give the jury the option of involuntary manslaughter. That was a different situation than the first trial, where the only charge was second degree.)

Daniels then brings up all the post incident behavior of Spector. His "true statement." The wiping of Clarkson's face, the attempted clean-up of the scene. The backspatter on Spector's jacket that proved he had to have been within arms-length of Clarkson. The bruising on her arms and wrists that showed a struggle.

Court: Counsel focusing on.... (the errors?) not as such that it would taint and be enough for reversal.

The State is finished and Reardon gets up for his rebuttal.

Riordan: The government completely misrepresented the facts.

Riordan goes over each and every time when Weinberg objected (to the video tape coming into evidence).

Riordan: The Doctrine of Chances was not - - it wasn't a jury instruction.

Court: What do you think it is?

Riordan: No evidence of a fired gun (ever before). No evidence of a gun placed in someones mouth. (snip) You can't say a gun was fired when ... if a gun has never been fired before.

Court: We're not the trier of facts.

That's the last note I have covering oral arguments.

It seemed to me that throughout the entire hearing in many instances, the justice's took an adversarial position to each counsel's argument, forcing them to defend their position. It didn't necessarily say to me that each and every time they did that, they did not agree with the argument being presented.

As everyone slowly leaves the courtroom, they pick up their cell phones and laptops that were checked with the CHP officer. Witnesses tell me Rachelle was shedding tears during oral arguments. My friends and I make our way down to the plaza level, find a bench and chat about the Cameron Brown case that probably won't go to trial until next year. As we're trying to decide where to go to have lunch, Miriam Hernandez asks if we've seen Ms. Deutsch. I look over to my left where I last saw her and she's no longer there. It was only about three minutes ago. The reporters must be trying to find where the defense is going to set up to make a statement about the hearing.

Linda Deutsch reported the following statement by Dennis Riordan.
Outside court, Riordan said it was impossible to predict what the court might do and noted that "the tenor of questions shifted" depending on the issues being addressed.
I find that quite interesting since I've been told that others supporting the appeal (on the web) have indicated it's practically a slam dunk that the court will reverse the trial verdict.

As I was discussing the Brown case with my friends, Rachelle's entourage of family and supporters approached. As they got nearer, they started to slow down but didn't stop. They kept on going. Once they past us, Rachelle's Mommy curled her right wrist up almost into a fist and made a gesture with her finger. Maybe I should have taken a video. It would have been much better than simply a worded description.

If you wish to comment on this entry, please E-mail me at sprocket.trials AT with your comment or question and it will be published if it meets T&T's commenting guidelines. Your E-mail address will NOT be published. If you wish to remain anonymous that will be honored. In the near future after the Anthony case is settled, T&T will be possibly moving to a new blogging platform with different commenting capability options. We will give you plenty of notice when that happens. Sprocket


Sprocket said...

Anon Said:

I am puzzled by the last comment that it is thought that this court will reverse the trial verdict.........WHY???????
Also, I truly thought Ms. Abramson had a little more class than she showed at her comment to you......
I cannot believe that Spector still has supporters, or that Rachelle is even still hanging on. He must have had
way more assets left than I would have ever thought.

Sprocket said...

Anon, "I'm" not saying the court will reverse the trial court's decision. There are OTHERS ON THE WEB who have been saying that.

Sorry that my statements on that were not clear.

Sprocket said...

David in TN Said:


It appears Leslie Abramson hasn't changed much from the way Dominick Dunne described her in his Vanity Fair articles on the Menedez trials.

Speaking of cell phones, when I attended the Vanessa Coleman trial in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Knox County sheriffs told those going into the courtroom to turn off their cell phones. Spectators were allowed to carry their phones into the courtroom. It didn't affect me as I don't use a cell phone.

In the courtroom, just before trial started, a sheriff again told the spectators: "Turn off your cell phones. If it goes off, it will be confiscated"

On one of the three days I was there, right in the middle of testimony, a loud buzz was heard. Sure enough, someone left their cell phone on. It turned out to be a woman who was with the defendant's parents. Proceeding stopped while sheriffs took the instrument from the woman who seemed unaffected. About a half hour later, the judge called a break and the cell phone was returned to her.

I see one of the justices left his cell phone on at this hearing.

David In TN

Sprocket said...

Barry Said:


THANK YOU for being not only our eyes and ears, but Lana Clarkson's as well. From all I have read, she was a kind and good person whose life needs to be remembered. Since the mainstream media are inconsistent in their attendance at the hearings and trials, it is so important for you to be there. I cannot help but think that the Clarkson family would agree with you.

Your fascinating coverage raised several questions in my mind.

(1) How would you describe Larry Daniels' presentation style? Was he an effective, clear and well prepared communicator.

(2) I was surprised that Leslie Abrahmson approached Mrs. Clarkson. Ot seems to be that, particularly with the civil suit still on the horizon and her client in jail for killing Mrs. Clarkson's daughter, that it is both a questionable matter of courtroom etiquette and personal manners for her to approach the victims mother like this. Can you comment and clarify?

(3) Did any court officers reprimand Ms. Abramsom in any way for using foul language in the courtroom, even simply to "shush' her. I understand court was not in session, but a courtroom is supposed to be a place of decorum


Sprocket said...

I thought Daniels did well under questioning by the court. I thought he stated the government's position well. He did not falter, or grasp for an explanation.

I do not know what Abramson said or tried to say to Mrs. Clarkson. I did not ask Mrs. Clarkson after the hearing was over.

No one associated with the court approached Ms. Abramson after her outburst.

To be honest, I was more in awe of the formal stateliness of the courtroom (which is why I spent so much time studying it and taking notes on how to describe it) than I was of Ms. Abramson.

Sprocket said...

Chris Said:

Great coverage of Spector appellate arguments. I truly appreciate the re-cap. I still stay up to date on this case as best I can . . . your coverage is, as always, wonderful and indispensable!

Take care and hope all is well on your end,


Sprocket said...

Thank you Chris,

I still have images of how beautiful the courtroom was.

Although the sound was crystal clear and I could hear every word, I don't take shorthand. I try to write down what I've heard as best I can in long hand. I'm scribbling as quickly as I can and sometimes my handwriting doesn't make sense, even to me. Oftentimes, I'm trying to watch the witness and write in my notebook without looking, I'm so engrossed in watching the witness.

Just have to wait that 90 days for a ruling. I wouldn't be surprised if it's issued early though. Jmho on that.

Sprocket said...

Betsy we are glad you have a thick skin to put up with Ms Abramson, the supporters, kooky bloggers and all the rest. She is unprofessional in the extreme. Can you imagine Riordan, Allan Jackson, Taylor and Ring or any other attorney doing that? The session must have really gone fast but you managed to get most of the notes in. thank you.
Wes J.

Sprocket said...

Debora Said:

Thanks for all your hard work on this! As I read through the T&T post I was thinking how amazing it is that you can write down as much as you do and give a lot of detail in regard to your surroundings and the experience.

Sprocket said...

Thank you Wes & Debora. Much appreciated.