120 ft. drop, Inspiration Point, in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA,
where 4-year-old Lauren Serene Key
fell to her death on November 8th, 2000.
August 28th, 2013
I got out the door late but was able to make it to the 9th floor of the downtown Criminal Court Building before Dept. 107, Judge Lomeli's courtroom had opened. Brown's defense attorney Aron Laub and DDA Craig Hum who is prosecuting Brown for the third time are in the hallway. Brown's wife Patty is also there wearing a navy top, navy pants and what look like black Mary Jane's on her feet.
A few minutes after I arrive the bailiff opens the courtroom. It's the same deputy who has been there the last few times, a Sargent, who was one of the deputies during the first Spector trial.
Inside Dept. 107, It's clear that Judge Lomeli currently has a case with two separate juries at the same time. The first two rows of the gallery seating are roped off. There are juror numbers taped to the bench seat backs and spiral notebooks with juror numbers written on them. I don't know what the case is, but it appears they are trying two defendants charged in the same case at the same time with two different juries.
Hum and Laub informally discuss one of Hum's cases that's also in front of Judge Lomeli. That's the case of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Chemistry professor, Patrick Harran, who is charged with a felony in the death of Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, 23. Sangji was a staff research assistant who died on December 29th, 2008, as a result of a chemical fire during an experiment she conducted in a lab Harran supervised.
The Harran case is a complicated case about who is liable for Sangji's death. There are slight variations in wording between the California Labor Code and Cal OSHA, regarding UCLA employer/supervisor responsibilities and liability in the event of a death. I believe the preliminary hearing was in April of this year, when the LA Times reported Harran was ordered to stand trial for Sangji's death. Apparently, there are several attorney's working on the defense case and UCLA is footing the bill.
A pretty black female bailiff I've seen before enters Dept. 107. She and the other bailiff secure their weapons before entering the holding area. Laub goes back to the holding area to speak to his client.
A third bailiff enters for a bit then leaves.
When the bailiffs come back out, Patty Brown gets up from her seat to speak to the bailiff. She's asking about purchasing a court transcript from the last hearing on July 11th. The bailiff calls over the court reporter who tells her she will prepare a bill to let her know how much it will cost.
While Laub is visiting with his client, I hear snatches of the two deputies talking about an unusual situation with a defendant. From what little I'm overhearing, it appears that after a defendant in custody was handcuffed to a chair in another courtroom, he "went crazy." There were several deputies involved in subduing him. Then another case where a defendant was behaving badly.
A third deputy enters the court room and sits in the gallery near the bailiff's desk. From what I overhear, it appears he has a cold. Laub enters the courtroom from the jail area. Brown is brought out a few seconds behind him. His hair has been cut short, but he still has the ZZ Top like beard, halfway down his chest. Brown looks over at his wife in the gallery and tries to mouth something to her. Another deputy enters Dept. 107. Judge Lomeli takes the bench but the court reporter isn't at her desk. She quickly hurries over while Judge Lomeli calls the case to order.
Judge Lomeli asks counsel to state their appearances for the record. Laub is here with his client Mr. Brown; DDA Hum is here for the people. Dr. Knapke's report on Brown's evaluation was due today but it hasn't been generated yet. Laub tells the court he's been in contact with Dr. Knapke.
Five years ago when Dr. Knapke first evaluated Brown, at that time, no one had provided the doctor with any discovery. So Mr. Laub provided Dr. Knapke with the murder book. Laub suggested that they continue the hearing on September 20th. The report should be completed by then.
Brown has apparently filed with the court a request to have the court turn over to him a copy of Laub's declaration. Judge Lomeli states he's not seen or received this filing. From the defense table, Brown looks over to his wife and motions to her.
Laub tells the court he told Brown that he turned his statement over to Dr. Knapke, to let him decide whether or not to let Brown see it.
Brown then speaks up and addresses the court directly. He asks the court for a copy of Laub's declaration. Judge Lomeli tells Brown he's not inclined at this time to let him see it. Brown states to the court, "I'd be going in there blind. I'd like to know what I'm up against."
Laub tells the court he will discuss it with Dr. Knapke. Judge Lomeli tells Laub that he didn't see anything in there that would compromise confidentiality.
I believe DDA Hum asks if the criminal proceedings are still suspended. Judge Lomeli confirms that they are.
Judge Lomeli then advises Laub, that he might want to let his client see the document, otherwise, he might not cooperate with Dr. Knapke and all this will be for naught.
Judge Lomeli comments to Brown that he got his hair cut. I believe Brown asks the court if he likes it and Judge Lomeli states he does.
And that's it. Next hearing is September 20th at 8:30 AM.
Sprocket Opinion - for what it's worth, about two nickels :D
Where the case stands. The criminal proceedings are suspended until the defendant's competency is decided. It's my understanding that it would be an unusual situation for Judge Lomeli to rule Brown competent to stand trial, but not competent to defend himself. I'm not saying it's never happened, but my best guess is, it's an issue that could be grounds for appeal if he was prevented from representing himself.
If Brown does make the fateful decision to represent himself, (if he's ruled competent to do so) then the clock starts all over. Just like in the Gargiulo case, Brown would get a court appointed investigator. Laub would be on standby by if at any point, Brown changes his mind and wants an attorney again. It's highly unlikely the court would appoint a different attorney for him. Gargiulo tried to get a new court appointed attorney and he failed.
All the state's discovery must be turned over to Brown directly. Certain materials would be held back from him that he would not be allowed to have in the jail. (Witnesses contact information for certain; possibly images of Lauren, dead.) This would be a massive amount of material (from two trials no less) that Brown would have with him in his cell at Men's Central Jail. I can't imagine that would make his situation at the jail any better than it already is. (Brown apparently has filed several complaints about mistreatment while in custody. It requires a Sargent or above anytime he is moved from point A to point B.) I'm guessing that the jail would require that any discovery Brown has in his cell with him must be on yellow paper. This was the requirement of the jail in the Gargiulo case.
Although Brown would get help from people in the jail (and his investigator) he would be up against one of the district attorney's most experienced litigators. More than one individual has told me that Hum is a brilliant attorney, who usually wins his cases.
As I've seen in the Gargiulo case, if Brown tries to use the court to intervene in how he is treated at Men's Central Jail, I believe he will be disappointed. Judge Ohta has told Gargiulo -regarding several motions Gargiulo filed- that the court cannot order the jail to change their security procedures to accommodate his needs.