Friday, April 8, 2011

Stephanie Lazarus Pretrial Hearing 3

My drive into downtown Los Angeles went very quickly. It only took about 30 minutes. There was no line at the first floor security and I thought I'd clear it in seconds. Not so fast this time. Instead of the regular screeners (who wear a white uniform and are probably hired from outside companies) there were LA County Sheriffs assisting.

For the first time ever, they wanted to see some little round "compact like" object in my bag. I pull it out. It's a tiny retracting metal measuring tape I've carried in my bag for a long time. It's about and inch-and-a-half across and the metal tape itself is barely a quarter-of-an-inch wide. It has the emblem of a bank name on it, a remnant of my prior life as a bank auditor. The sheriff pulled the tape out about four inches and showed it to someone else. They wanted to know what I was in court for. I identified myself as covering a Stephanie Lazarus hearing and that I was recognized by the court's public information office as being a member of the media. I told the officer that I had that little tape for over 20 years. He finally hands the tape back to me and I head towards the elevator bay. I'll be leaving that at home in the future.

On the 9th floor, security check point (which is manned by LA County Sheriff's) I thought they would stop me again for the tape but this time it's my bundle of keys. As Mr. Sprocket has added more keys and locks to his White Whale Work Truck, I get a copy to lug around and it must look like a big mass on the scanner video. This is the most detailed attention the security stations have given my handbag in all the years I've been in the various court buildings. It's long over due. I remember one time covering the Robert Blake case at the Van Nuys Courthouse back in 2005, I had forgotten to take out of my bag a large pair of spring-action scissors. They never noticed them. It wasn't until I left the court for lunch and was looking through my bag for my car keys in the parking structure that I realized the size 8 scissors were still in my bag.

When I clear 9th floor security I notice there are new signs posted up all along the hallways of the 9th floor. They are red, black and white signs clearly indicating no photography allowed anywhere inside the court building. Some of the signs show an image of a hand held camera or a large video recording camera with the red circle and a line drawn through them. Other signs have an image of a cell phone with the same red circle and red line with the text below stating, "NO CELL PHONE PHOTOGRAPHY ANYWHERE IN THE COURT!"

I'm betting these copier printed signs are the result of the increased amount of public and media attention to the Conrad Murray case, since most of the signs are at the left wing end of the hallway, the location of Judge Pastor's courtroom, that is hearing the Murray case. Where were these signs when Phil Spector and his wife were taking photographs of me so they could post them on the web?

I take a hallway bench and wait for 8:30 am when court will start. Directly across the hall from me on another bench is Bert Luper, the defense investigator, reading the morning paper. A few people are down at the ends of the hallway. There are only four of us currently in the center. I see attorneys slowly arrive, bringing their case files in on small rolling carts. Women attorneys usually have the better luggage and carts. Guys will often have their huge case files in the standard white cardboard file boxes. Two reporters I've seen before greet each other. I overhear one of them addressed as "Steve" and right afterwords, another reporter appears and greets both of them. The seated reporter doesn't even look up from his iPhone; he's quite engrossed. I don't have a smart phone; I'm still in the dark ages.

I notice Sherri Rae's mother, Loretta clearing security and her husband Nel is right behind her. There are several people with them; an older couple and a younger woman, possibly in her late teens. I'm horrible with guessing people's age. The older gentleman I think was at the last hearing. Their attorney, John Taylor is with them.

It's about 8:25 am and I enter 104 after the family and their friends. Bert Luper took my favorite plastic chair seat, so I take the one left right beside him. Sherri's family and friends sit in the front row. I almost forget to turn my phone to silent and right after I do so, Mr. Luper does the same to his phone.

I see some faces in the short bench row on the right. These are either other prosecutors or possibly DA investigators. There's a large gentleman chatting with them who's identified as "Randy." Randy notices Mr. Luper in the back row and comes over to chat with him. "Bert, I didn't recognize you," he says in greeting. I hear snippets of their conversation. They are discussing a case where the jury reached a guilty verdict in two days. I don't know the name of the defendant they are discussing.

Paul Nunez is here and then Shawn Presby arrives. Presby and Nunez greet the family and shake hands with their supporters in the first row. I believe Nunez asks who the young lady is. The other reporters I noticed in the hall come into the courtroom. One of them shakes "Randy's" hand. I see Presby talk with Mr. Rasmussen. Presby is in a dark navy suit that has (from my view) a hit of stripe in it and a blue and white striped tie. Nunez is wearing a very dark suit, I think it's black with a light, ice blue tie. Judge Perry takes the bench, but Mr. Overland hasn't arrived yet.

Nunez asks "Randy" who's in the well where Mr. Overland is. Another reporter shows up who was at the last pretrial hearing.

Nunez and Presby stand in the well, leaning against the jury box. For a moment Nunez appears full of nervous energy, moving about a bit. He then stands still with his arms across his chest. I wonder where Lazarus's family is. Maybe they did not come today. I try to remember if this is the same court reporter as the last time I was here. Shes attractive, with shoulder length reddish brown hair.

Mark Overland and Courtney Overland arrive. Courtney is wearing a gray pantsuit. I don't see what type of blouse she's wearing with it. Judge Perry greets Overland. "Good morning Mr. Overland," he says. Overland replies, "Were you waiting for me?" Judge Perry smiles and banters back, "I get restless." There's a small amount of laughter from the well after this exchange. I think it's Presby who responds, "I was waiting for you."

I look over at Judge Perry's clerk and take some mental notes to describe her. She's a black woman, maybe about my age and wears glasses, like me. Her hair is currently pulled back into a short ponytail.

Overland and Presby confer. The discussion is friendly. It's such a nice change to see pleasant banter between counsel and the judge verses the animosity that was so apparent in the Spector trial. The reporters in the back row look bored. I'm the only one taking notes but that's because the hearing hasn't started yet.

Another attorney and a woman, I believe she's Sheriff Stacey (sp?) Lee who was at the last hearing enter the well and approach Presby. The other gentleman is probably legal counsel representing the Sheriff's office. It's not Mr. Gross like it was last time.

There is some off the record banter with the Judge about how long the trial might take. I think it's Mr. Overland who says four to six weeks and I think it's Mr. Presby who states, "I agree." Judge Perry talks about hoping to take a vacation in September and he'd like to be done with this trial before that or start the trial after he gets back. Mr. Nunez mentions possibly starting the case in late August but they'd like to wait until Judge Perry firms up his vacation. Perry states he's open in July but Mr. Presby states they have some issues in July so July is out.

Judge Perry says, "Late August wold probably work. (snip) I have a wedding (to go to) on September 5th. (snip) I'm here through the 5th."

There's more banter back and forth about the Judge maybe taking his vacation later and starting the case in late August. Judge Perry thinks that they would probably want to have questionnaires for the jurors to prescreen the jury and they would lose about a week for that. "But if we could start tentatively August 15th, (with questionnaires) and August 21st for (opening statements)....." Presby answers, "That would be fine with us."

Judge Perry asks Mr. Overland, "How's that thing in Orange County?," referring to the Mattel-Bratz litigation. Overland replies that it's all over for his part. They are still all talking off the record, trying to get as much as they can, out of the way. Judge Perry tells both counsel that, "I appreciate that. (It's the) mark of good lawyers."

Lazarus is finally brought out and Overland asks if her cuffs could be removed. Judge Perry asks the bailiff if it's all right with him. The bailiff responds if it's okay with the judge, it's okay with him. Lazarus is uncuffed. She's in the same orange jumpsuit with the white long-sleeved long-john type shirt underneath. They are about to go on the record.

Judge Perry indicates for the record that they are discussing a possible trial date and it's tentative at this time, late August.

The rest of the hearing is taken up with procedures down at the jail regarding Lazarus's visits with her attorneys and their investigators as well as the defendant's access to the computer and whether she's been using it or not. It's long, it's boring, not really relevant to the evidence of the case and I won't write it all out. What the court, the defense and the sheriff's office finally decide is to rescind the current order of reserving a Friday morning time frame for the one attorney room (where they still have to speak to their client via a microphone and a glass partition). They will go back to Judge Perry's original order issued October 8th, 2009 where they will be able to meet with her in one of the booking interrogation rooms at the jail. The defense contends they will take their chances on whether or not a room is available to use. The defense will be able to bring a laptop with them into the face-to-face meeting room to show information on it to Lazarus.

The only thing that was interesting in this whole exchange was towards the end when Judge Perry states, "I've never had an issue like this. In 19 years, I've never had an issue like this." You can tell he's kind of frustrated that he even has to deal with all of this. "We all have more important things to do....trying to resolve this (so as not to take up any more of the court's time)'s important....." The Judge states he will sign a new order today and "...hopefully it will resolve the issue. (snip) If you need to see me (defense, on this issue) let me know. (snip) Anything we have to discuss?"

The new trial date is discussed. The tentative date is to hand out questionnaires to prospective jurors on August 15th, with jury selection or voir dire later that week and the trial starting on August 22nd.

Presby gets up from his seat and goes outside the well to speak to some of the DA's staff in the short bench row. Judge Perry jokingly says, "Was it something I said?," in response to Presby's hasty exit from the well. Presby quickly returns to the well. I think it's Mr. Overland who requests a status conference in 45 days. Presby states they will begin to identify witnesses (to subpoena?) and try to make them available. A date for the next hearing is suggested. May 19th? May 20th? May 20th is chosen.

Judge Perry addresses Lazarus and tells her she has the right to a speedy trial and asks her if she gives up that right and to set the court calendar at 60 days from May 20th. Lazarus responds, "Yes, your honor." Judge Perry asks if there's anything else and the answer is no. Overland mentions something I don't fully catch about medical visits and that's it.

The family exits the courtroom. I wait to speak to John Taylor but he's busy with the family and the prosecutors. I wait in the elevator bay, but a reporter has grabbed him and Taylor is in deep conversation with him. Taylor is passionately talking about another reporter from the same station and the fact that back in 1986 the police did not interview a single friend or family of Sherri Rae Rasmussen. At least, that's the gist of what I'm overhearing. When we reach the ground floor, Taylor goes into a conference room with the prosecution and family members and he tells me he will talk to me later. And that was my day in court this morning.

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 after review. 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

Stephanie Lazarus Case Coverage Quick Links


Sprocket said...

David in TN wrote:


It was interesting to read about the security measures. It reminded me of how it was at the courthouse in Knoxville, Tennessee. I attended 3 days of trial and two sentencing hearings for the Christian-Newsom case. I wrote about it for Trials and Tribulations.

At the front entrance of the courthouse during the trials, I had to empty my pockets. After the first time, I carried as few coins as possible. Women showed the contents of their purse. Since this case was the most publicized in Knoxville history, there was a second security check at the courtroom door by Knox County sheriffs. You emptied your pockets again and this time there was a body scan.

When I came a few months later for the sentencing hearings, the only check was at the front entrance. There was no check at the courtroom door this time. During the hearing for the ringleader (who received a death sentence), the sheriffs kept a close watch on the female victim's father.

In a way it was just like in Los Angeles, you would sit on a bench and wait for everybody to show up. Then you went in the courtroom.

David In TN