Continued from Part I.....
Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
When Mr. Sprocket told me on Tuesday, that we were going to take a “cross-the-city” light-rail trip to Norwalk, I knew that we would be passing through downtown LA, and the perfect opportunity to drop in on any possible pretrial hearings that might be going on that day.
I immediately checked the DA’s calendar and saw that Alberd Tersargyan (aka Albert Harutyunyan) had a hearing in Department 100. I also checked the LA County Sheriff’s web site to see if Tersargyan was in custody....he was. The inmate information indicated Tersargyan did have a court appearance scheduled for March 21st, at 8:00 AM. I didn’t believe that Department 100 started that early, but I knew from other inmate records that the Sheriff’s usually got the inmates to their respective courtrooms in plenty of time before court starts.
I told Mr. Sprocket that we were going to leave early enough to attend this hearing.
Department 100 is on the 13th floor of the Criminal Justice Center. (In a comment response some time ago, I mistakenly reported that it was on the 9th floor.) It is also known as the “Master Calendar Court.” This is the court that assigns cases that cannot be settled and will go to trial. Department 100 assigns the trial court. I do not know the criteria for assigning cases to particular courts/judges.
Although Mr. Sprocket came to court one time during the Spector trial, he’s never taken the train or bus to court. Let’s just say, instead of following directional signs, Mr. Sprocket would sometimes go with the flow of human traffic from point to point instead of verifying if that was the particular stairwell or escalator we needed.
We arrive on the 13th floor around 8:00 AM. The hallway is virtually deserted. Taped to the wall outside the small door to Dept. 100 is the calendar. There are 28 cases listed and the Tersargyan case is fifth. The list is in alphabetical order by defendant name. The first column is the appearance order, then defendant name, then attorney name, the case number and then Department 100. As Mr. Sprocket and I wait, attorney’s show up by one’s and twos and check to see if the door is unlocked yet.
I'm betting that the door isn’t opened until 8:30 AM.
I observe a few of the attorney’s who are waiting outside Dept. 100. One attractive petite woman is nicely dressed with an unstructured trench-like long sweater jacket, long skirt and white silky scoop neck blouse. Her hair is nicely coiffed in a French bun and she has on just the right amount of make-up (in my opinion..not too overly done). She’s carrying a monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag, a second small sparkly-looking bag and silver ballet slippers with a huge fake crystal on top that covers the entire toe area of her shoes. Her legs are nicely tanned and across the top arch of her feet are tattoos, an interesting contrast to the upper half of her look. I make a guess that she is a defense attorney.
Once inside Dept. 100 I take in the room. It’s a large room with two aisles toward the front of the court and three sections of wooden row benches divided by two aisles toward the bench.
Mr. Sprocket and I take a seat in the second row, center. I tell my husband that if he wants to cruise the Internet on his cell phone, he will have to step outside in the hall. He doesn’t understand that his cell phone will be taken away from him if he doesn’t put it away. I tell him, if he can’t wait quietly with me, then go outside. He chooses to go back out into the hallway.
Dept. 100 is laid out slightly different than a regular courtroom. The far left side is separated by some short and medium height half walls and that’s where the court clerks desk is. A little forward of that is a small short walled off area where there is a LA County Sheriff bailiff at a desk. This area is for defendants in custody. Beside this area is a podium for their counsel to address the judge.
In front of the judge are three long tables where (I’m guessing) three public defenders are seated, busy going through thick files.
Right behind these tables are two bench rows. Then there is a wide aisle walkway that separates this seat grouping from the rest of the gallery seats. Over on the right side of the courtroom there are 18 jury box type comfortable rocking cushioned seats. It’s quite likely that there was a jury box wall enclosing this area at some time in the past, but today there isn’t any. It’s in this general area that the prosecutor’s congregate. There is a podium in front of the comfy seats that the DDA’s will stand at to address the judge.
Attorney’s file in and go up to the clerk’s desk. I try to think back, to see if I’ve ever been inside this courtroom before. I think I was here for a hearing in the Miura case, almost four years ago. More attorneys arrive. It’s a buzz of activity in the center area in front of the judge's bench.
I note in the bailiff’s area, there are two large double doors with signs on them.
NO CELL PHONES
ALL CELL PHONES & WIRELESS
PROHIBITED IN LOCK-UP
The sheriff stands up and in a loud voice addresses the room to turn their cell phones completely off. “Not silent, completely off!” Virtually all the attorneys in the room ignore this and keep on checking their smart phones.
At 8:45 AM: I see the court reporter come out and set up her computer and equipment to the left of the judge near the clerk’s desk. Defendant’s not in custody, or those asking about loved one’s cases check in with the sheriff. There’s still a lot of noise, buzz coming from the attorneys in the room. I see some counsel meeting with their clients in the gallery.
Now, there are more attorneys in the room than people in the gallery, all chattering. I see some attorneys head into the lock-up area to speak with their clients. More people greet each other and chat. More attorneys head over to the comfy seats, several with their morning coffee or tea in their hands.
Now I see there is another female sheriff with the deputy at the bailiff’s desk. She may have come out from the lock-up area when I wasn’t watching. I’ve seen her before. She was a regular in the Lazarus trial and I’m bummed that I never got her name.
8:50 AM: Another attorney shows up and checks in with the clerk. I survey the room a bit more. There are seven bench rows on the right, four bench rows in the center after that wide aisle and five bench rows on the left. The bailiff yells out, “Folks in the audience, all cell phones off! No power, all the way off.” I’m thinking it’s a good thing Mr. Sprocket left to hang out in the hallway, because I wouldn’t put it past him to go up and ask the deputy why he couldn’t use his cell phone on silent.
More attorneys file in, wave to others and greetings are exchanged. As I sit and watch the interaction of the various players, I’m seeing Dept. 100 as more of a schmooze fest. I just noticed that DDA Lisa Kassabian, (who happens to be DDA Alan Jackson’s wife) slipped into Dept. 100. She’s standing at the center tables using the phone there. Several of the women attorneys have entered with rolling cars.
DDA Alan Jackson arrives; it’s his case that I’m interested in and why Mr. Sprocket and I have made this little detour on our trip. Jackson has on a dark gray suit. There are very thin, barely discernible white lines about one-inch apart in the weave. From how he’s standing, I haven’t had a good look at his tie, but it’s either a shimmering purple or striking shade of blue.
Jackson is speaking to a stylishly dressed woman with short, perfectly permed, blond highlighted hair. She has on a red form-fitting jacket, black skirt and red open-toed heels with a buckled ankle strap. Even from where I’m sitting I can tell she has a lot of expertly applied eye-makeup. I’m betting this is Jackson’s co-counsel on the Tersargyan case. With them is a tall slender woman I first saw at the Kelly Soo Park hearing, Ariel, who I believe is a clerk in the Major Crimes Division. Ariel takes a bench seat on the right side of the room.
Two female attorneys approach Jackson and there are smiles all around. I think I hear Jackson say, “Hi Gina.” I think it’s coincidence but both are wearing pink. One attorney wears glasses and her hair is in a loose bun. She is wearing a pink sweater over a white top and black pants. The other older looking woman has a squarish jawline and short blond highlighted hair. She has on a pink suit jacket and like her (possible) co-counsel, a white blouse and black slacks.
9:03 AM: More attorneys keep coming into Dept. 100 and check in with the court clerk. I see attorneys speak to clients, family members. Then I see defense attorneys approach prosecutors right after. The two women are still talking to Jackson and his co-counsel.
A much older woman with jet black hair (she reminds me of aged Nancy Reagan with Jackie Kennedy hair), is sitting center at the table in front of the bench. She stands up and facing the gallery calls out, “Mr. Rose! Mr. Rose!” There’s no answer. It doesn’t look like he’s shown up for his appearance.
9:10 AM: Things start to quiet down in the courtroom. Jackson and his co-counsel have taken seats off to my right in the row in front of me. The Nancy Reagan with Jackie hair woman stands up again and calls out, “Mr. Bolden! Mr. Bolden!” Again, there’s no answer. I note that the first two rows of benches on the left side of the courtroom, next to the bailiff’s desk have little ropes and signs indicating those seats are reserved for law enforcement.
I start to get a feel for the room after watching the actors for the last 45 minutes. It’s pretty easy to tell the prosecutors from the defense attorneys. Jackson gets up from his seat to greet another prosecutor over in the comfortable jury chairs.
9:17 AM: The Nancy Reagan woman with Jackie hair stands up again, calling for Mr. Rose. No one answers her.
9:20 AM: A few attorney’s come out from the jail area. Judge Schnegg takes the bench. She says something to the effect of, “We have a lot of death penalty cases this morning.”
JS: Everyone here on (case) number 1?
Judge Schnegg calls out the order number of a few other cases.
JS: Number 6; Number 14?
I think Judge Schnegg then calls out #16 Bernard. This might be the woman defendant who was just brought out. Then a case #24 is called, People v. Bland. The hearings happen very quickly and it’s difficult to understand what is happening with each case.
From just these few names called, I’m wondering how long Mr. Sprocket and I will be here today. I thought the case would be the fifth one up, but Judge Schnegg is calling them in her own particular order.
Bernard is brought out and it’s barely a minute and that’s it for the Bernard case.
Mr. Sprocket comes back into the courtroom at the last minute. He’s trying to tell me something about not being able to play a video on the County’s free wifi (he’s upset about that) and I have to tell him to be quiet so I can hear the next case being called.
9:40 AM: People vs. Tersargyan is called. When he’s brought out, I only see him for a moment. He’s a small statured man with a full gray beard. The LA Co. Sheriff’s website puts his height at 5’5” and 145 pounds. The two women who were speaking to Jackson earlier, step up to the podium and from where I’m sitting, I can no longer see the defendant. Standing with the defense attorneys for Tersargyan is an Armenian translator. The death penalty is still pending in this case; the prosecution has not made a decision yet on whether they are seeking death. That will have an impact on where this case gets assigned. A new date of April 30th, 2012 is set for another hearing in Dept. 100. Judge Schnegg tells the defendant that he will have a trial date set within 60 days of that April 30th date. She asks him if he waives his rights to a speedy trial. Tersargyan agrees. Judge Schnegg also orders the Armenian interpreter back on that date.
And that’s it. We get up to leave so we can catch Jackson before he goes back to his office. I catch him just as he exits the courtroom.
“Mr. Jackson,” I call out. “I just need to see the color of your tie.” He turns around slightly startled and when he sees it’s me and Mr. Sprocket, he smiles, understanding the joke.
I ask him a question off the record about the Kelly Soo Park case which he confirms for me. Thanks to a friend, I've received copies of public documents on that case and as soon as I get them turned into a PDF document, I’ll post an entry about them and link to the documents. The prosecution alleges that Kelly Soo Park's DNA was found on the throat of Juliana Redding, who was strangled to death.
And then Mr. Sprocket asks Jackson about who will play him in the movie. I try not to turn beet red with embarrassment. This is the risk I take, bringing him to court with me. I don’t even think Mr. Sprocket knows what case he’s even referring to. Jackson, ever the gracious person that he is, answers the name of a well known actor who has a similar southern accent. I drag Mr. Sprocket away before he has the chance to open his mouth again and we head back to the Red Line train and the rest of our cross-the-city trip.
The rest of my week was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long, long time.
On Thursday, March 22nd, I got the opportunity to meet some more of those terrific cowboys who proudly wear the blue uniform. If you’re ever in the Valley for lunch, the place to stop is the Four & Twenty restaurant because it’s likely those guys in suits are local detectives and you just might be surprised to see a familiar DDA or two from the DDA’s Justice System Integrity Division.
On Friday, March 23rd, it was a non-stop fun coffee-chat-lunch at the historical landmark Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant in Burbank, CA, with two totally charming women who dedicate their lives to keeping our streets safe. Ladies, I had a blast.
On Saturday, March 24th, I attended my friend Matthew’s discussion about his book at the Pasadena Library. It was a good turnout of baseball fans and I got to meet his family. At the end of the discussion, Matthew is signing books and a tall, commanding balding man with a mustache, rosy cheeks and warm smile walks up to me and tells me he wants to talk to me. When he introduces himself I’m floored and excited at the same time. It’s none other than the guru of all LAPD detectives, a detective’s detective, Rick Jackson, of the LAPD’s Cold Case Unit. If you’ve never heard of Rick Jackson, you need to get your head out of the sand because he is legendary.
I’ve known about Rick Jackson ever since early on in my blogging career when I attended hearings on the Kazuyoshi Miura case. He was the detective who flew to Saipan on an outstanding warrant to retrieve Miura in 2008 for the November 1981, murder-for-hire of his wife, Kazumi on a downtown Los Angeles street. Miura was originally convicted of this murder in his native Japan, but ten years later a higher court overturned the verdict and he was set free.
Rick Jackson also worked on the Grim Sleeper and Westside Rapist Cases.
I was in heaven getting the opportunity to chat cold cases with Rick.
On Sunday, March 25th, I had lunch at the infamous Vitellos (where Robert Blake supposedly left his gun on a booth seat while his con-artist wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley was getting murdered) with my longtime friend and mentor since the first Spector trial, Ciaran McEvoy, currently writing for The Daily Journal.
I don’t think I packed so much excitement into half-a-week since I rode my R60/2 with Earls from Cali to Ohio in four-and-a-half days.
Here are a few cases I’m keeping my eye on and the next upcoming pretrial or arraignment hearings:
March 29th, 2012, Dept. 30 Gerhard Albert Becker
April 16th, 2012, Dept. 109, Kelly Soo Park: pretrial hearing.
April 17th, 2012, Dept. 109, Grim Sleeper, Lonnie Franklin, Jr.: pretrial
April 20th, 2012, Dept. 107, Cameron Brown: pretrial hearing for 3rd trial. (Second trial.)
April 25th, 2012, Dept. 108, Michael Gargiulo: pretrial hearing.
April 30th, 2012, Dept. 100, Albert Tersargyan: assignment hearing.
May 4th, 2012, Dept. 104, Stephanie Lazarus: sentencing.
I know I will be at the Lazarus sentencing, the Becker hearing tomorrow and the Kelly Soo Park hearing, but I don’t know at this time if I will make the rest. Some of them will depend on how long it takes Mr. Sprocket to get my car back on the road again. Sigh. Yep. It's still not fixed yet.