Thursday, November 15, 2018

Michael Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 45

Previous post can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Arrested in June, 2008

November 2, 2018
Personal Update:

It's been a few days since I vacated my home of 21 years. I am in temporary housing until the end of December. Luckily, I chose a place where I can still take the Orange Line to the Red Line to get to the downtown Clara Shortridge-Foltz criminal court building.

The 9th Floor
8:31 AM
I'm the first person attending this case on the 9th floor. There are barely 8 people spread out along the long hallway. There are attorneys going into Dept. 106, Judge Fidler's court that I've never seen before. There must be another hearing beside Gargiulo's today. I suspect Gargiulo's hearing will not be first up on the schedule.

There is a pretty young girl on the floor obviously waiting for Dept. 106 to open. She might be a reporter or an intern with the DA's office.

8:45 AM
Second chair defense attorney Daniel Nardoni arrives in the hallway. I also see lead counsel Dale Rubin down at the center of the hallway, entering Dept. 103 or 104. Mr. Nardoni approaches a woman he recognizes on the floor and they chat.

8:50 AM
DDA's Dan Akemon and Garrett Dameron arrive on the floor. They stick their heads into Dept. 106 to check in with Judge Fidler's clerk, Wendy, to let her know they are here.  I overhear someone ask if Mr. Rubin is in Dept. 106. As always, Mr. Nardoni says hello to me, addressing me by name.  A few minutes later, Mr. Rubin comes down the hall from Dept. 103. The hallway is still very empty. Hardly any traffic. It doesn't appear that there is a single courtroom on the floor that is currently in trial.

8:52 AM
I head into Dept. 106 say hello to Wendy and take a seat. I pass the defense and prosecution teams having a very friendly chat in the ante chamber. It's very refreshing to see all the attorneys on both sides of a case treat each other with respect and deference. From what I've observed over the years, DDA Akemon and Mr. Rubin have known each other for some time and get along quite well.

There will be another hearing before Gargiulo's. Gargiulo's case will be heard at 10 AM.

9:10 AM
Mr. Nardoni enters and greets the court reporter. There are several other attorneys here for the other case, which is a multi-defendant case.  Mr. Rubin is in the courtroom. When he takes a seat, I notice his pink and blue large check-patterned socks.

9:27 AM
The other case, they are going to bring the defendant's out.

9:33 AM
Judge Fidler takes the bench. The three defendant case - possibly two trials or even three separate trials. The entire matter is held over to December 7th. And that's it. Judge Fidler is off the bench.

For the first time, I notice that there is a sanitary soap dispenser on the wall where the door to the custody area is. The dispenser is directly under the courtroom clock.

9:40 AM
There is a quick court review of a wire-tap hearing. For those of you who don't know, Judge Fidler hears and rules on, I believe, all the requests for a wire tap in Los Angeles County.

In the well of the court, I see DDA Akemon passing a document to Mr. Rubin and Mr. Nardoni. It appears the defense is officially receiving the document. Mr. Nardoni responds to DDA Akemon, "Thank you Daniel."  Mr. Rubin is mentioning something to Wendy about bringing a cart from home to place behind the defense table to hold all the files they will be working with on the case.

I see DDA Akemon dropping off a document at the clerks desk. I overhear a quick comment, "No rush." It has something to do with witnesses.

The chatter I'm overhearing at the clerks desk is a March start date for the Gargiulo trial. My heart sinks. One of the cases in the prior hearing is likely to be next up on Judge Fidler's calendar to start in January. Judge Fidler's calendar rules everything else. From what snatches of conversation I'm hearing now,and from what I believe I heard the clerk discuss with other counsel in the prior hearing, one of the three defendants in that case, is not in the greatest of health. The goal is to get his case to trial as quickly as possible. That's why Gargiulo will probably go after that case.

9:45 AM
Gargiulo is brought out. He is completely clean shaven except for a very small mustache. The green bag he carries with him is placed on the floor at his feet. He's wearing his black, horn-rimmed glasses. He looks much the same as he has in prior hearings.

9:48 AM
Judge Fidler takes the bench for the Gargiulo matter. The defense 995 motion is first mentioned. I've been waiting for the defense to present their 995 motion back in 2013, several attorneys ago. For those not familiar with a 995, it is a defense motion to dismiss the case. It's usually the first motion filed after the completion of the preliminary hearing. Judge Fidler asks if they wish to argue. Mr. Nardoni speaks for the defense on two motions by the people to admit evidence: the 1101b DNA evidence in the 1993 Illinois murder of Tricia Pacaccio and the People's Perkin's Operation

Mr. Nardoni briefly states that the court is well aware of Illinois v. Perkins (a ruling affecting Miranda when undercover agents are placed in a jail setting). Mr. Gargiulo was at the LA County jail (in LASD custody) when he was brought to another city jurisdiction, and placed in a cell with two undercover agents. Mr. Nardoni argues that this Perkin's Operationin Gargiulo's case was different than the usual encounters. "He was taken out of the cell and grilled. ... put back in the cell ... taken out again a grilled by LAPD and Downey police." In the people's response, they state Gargiulo had the benefit of a toilet and sleep.  Mr. Nardoni argues the People's Perkin's Operation goes beyond a Miranda type issue. Mr. Gargiulo was not given medication he required. "They took undue advantage of him." 

Mr. Nardoni then argues that, over counsel's objection, the Tricia Pacaccio evidence that was admitted in the prelim under 1101b. He argues that the Pacaccio case, as it is related to the other homicides, there is nothing that relates except the stabbing. Mr. Nardoni argues the evidence is not unique enough. 

Ashley Ellerin murder in February 2001. Nardoni argues, "Easy to say but for Pacaccio, he would [never?] been held to answer on Ellerin alone. ... There's no evidence on it's face. ... The last time [Gargiulo] was seen in the area [of Ellerin's murder] was around November 2000." From January 1st to her [Ellerin's] death he was never seen in the area. There was no DNA No footprint match. No hair fibers or anything to connect [Ellerin's murder] to Mr. Gargiulo.

With the Pacaccio evidence, they [people] are able to prove identity as it relates to Pacaccio, and they are trying to piggyback Ellerin case onto that.

Judge Filder asks to hear from the people. DDA Akemon informs the court that back in December, the people dismissed the burglary charges. I believe DDA Akemon informs the court that these issues were litigated before the prelim,  ruled admissible and it is not proper to relitigate them here. DDA Akemon goes over the basics of the preliminary hearing: 10 days long; 46 witnesses and 37 exhibits. There are over 1,221 transcript pages. In conclusion, the people had Gargiulo connected to three [attacks] and evidence of violence against three other women. Very compelling circumstantial case.

Mr. Nardoni tells the court that he thinks Mr. Akemon misspoke. We have DNA in Pacaccio. She was found at [her] doorstep at home, outside. Others, the attacker broke into apartment[s]. Mr. Nardoni mentions the Bruno case and that in the Murphy case, the same incident the attacker broke in. "Ellerin, that's not a break-in." Detective Small testified all the windows were secured and could not determine any point of entry of the residence or someone [had a] key to the entrance. Mr. Nardoni states that there were two other people who had keys to Ellerin's home: her roommate and the manager. The Ellerin case is unique. There's no DNA in Ellerin or any other physical evidence.

Judge Fidler rules. "I believe Judge Johnson had more that enough evidence..." The court mentions the 1101b and Perkin's Operation. The motion to dismiss is denied.

Mr. Nardoni tells the court, "We need a trial date." Then the case that has been in Dept. 106 for the past nine months is mentioned.  The 12 defendant preliminary hearing in the medical insurance fraud case is the one involving Kelly Soo Park. My notes are not clear on who makes the comment, 'That hearing has got to be coming to an end.'
The court tells the parties that another case will go before them in January. It's not a death penalty case. It will be tried in two separate trials and be six to eight weeks for each. There is one defendant that they need to get to trial first. The other defendant could possibly go after the Gargiulo case. Wendy reminds the court that Mr. Rubin is waiting to retire. I silently note that Mr. Rubin has been waiting to retire since 2017. The Gargiulo case will be Mr. Rubin's swan song.

A return date is finally selected: February 1, 2019 with the case calendar set at zero of 60 on that date. There is speculation that the other case could fall through and not go to trial in January. DDA Akemon, Mr. Rubin and Mr. Nardoni confer. They ask the court if there is a date in December that they can return. Wendy states there are no dates available in December. Judge Fidler's calendar is packed.

Mr. Rubin addresses the court. In 2016 Judge Gordon assigned the case over to him once Mr. Lindner was relieved. Mr. Rubin was assured the case would go to trial in 2017.

Judge Fidler tells the parties that the 12 defendant trial [prelim?] is a disaster.

DDA Akemon tells the court that they are in agreement with the defense. They are hoping not to lose their place in line.  The clerk tells the parties there is no November date available either. Judge Fidler asks to speak to Wendy for a second. DDA Dameron tells the court that whatever date, the February 1, 2019 date would be for arguing the 1101b and Perkin's motions. The February 1st date is locked down.

The court addresses the defendant. "Mr. Gargiulo, is that agreeable to you sir?" Gargiulo responds, "Yes."

The court states they will litigate both.

Then the issue of a jury questionnaire is discussed. Mr. Rubin informs the court that the defense does not want one. They want to have individual juror questioning in voir dire.  Mr. Rubin tells the court a name of the type of questioning, I have "...Hobi preferred" but I don't know if that's the correct term. Mr. Rubin wants to question jurors individually on their feelings on the death penalty vs LWOP. Mr. Rubin states again he is against a jury questionnaire. He prefers a capitol exam.

The court responds, "If you would like to make a formal motion.... I'm disinclined." Judge Fidler recommends to the parties to prepare a jury questionnaire.

And that's it. At 10:10 AM Gargiulo rises from his chair. The sheriffs pick up his green bag and hand it to him. Mr. Nardoni goes back into the custody area with him. About five minutes later, Mr. Nardoni comes back out of the custody area.

Outside in the hallway, I ask Mr. Rubin for a moment of his time. As polite as he has been over the past three years, he appears a bit irritated by my request. I explain that I am an independent journalist who has covered this case since 2012 and am hoping that he would be willing to share copies of his motions with me. 

I don't mention to him that I am hoping he will be willing to share copies of his motions because as an independent journalist, my budget to purchase them from the court is very limited.

Mr. Rubin flatly declines. He tells me I can purchase copies of his motions from the court. I then ask him if he and his co-counsel would be willing to sit for an interview. I make it clear to him that I would not be asking about the case but to do a profile on them as defense attorneys.

Mr. Rubin's tone changes. He is quite adamant in saying no. He tells me he never cooperates with the press. He does not speak to the press. He mentions several major networks by name that have contacted him on the case. Mr. Rubin tells me he never cooperates or sits for interviews. He says that I can go online and find out everything I need to know about him.

Mr. Rubin's response is disappointing since I will have to explore other avenues for getting copies of any defense motions. I know I will not be able to purchase them all. However from a defense standpoint, Mr. Rubin's policy of not cooperating with the press benefits his client the most.

Looking back, I find some irony in all of this. Over the years, I have been contacted by a few people who knew Gargiulo.  Some have shared information. Some have not.

In June of 2015, I was contacted by a woman who stated she was in phone and letter contact with the defendant. She knew him from high school. This was during the time that Gargiulo was represented by Mr. Lindner and it was clear from the pretrial hearings that Gargiulo could not stand his counsel, refused to cooperate, was trying to get a new counsel assigned and was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

The individual stated that Mr. Gargiulo wanted me to contact him via letter and possibly meet with him in the private attorney area to discuss the court proceedings with him. The individual stated that Mr. Gargiulo thought that the judge [At the time, this was Dept 108, Judge Sam Ohta] and his defense attorney were "...being deceptive in court and he feels that he is involved in a wrongful case." I respectfully declined.

As an independent journalist with limited resources, T&T has had a long standing policy of zero contact with potential trial witnesses or charged defendants while the case is pending. Anytime someone has contacted me on a pending case, I always check with the assigned Deputy DA's to see if the individual who has contacted me is on a witness list or someone on their radar.  Some journalists might ask, How could you pass up the opportunity to sit and talk to Gargiulo? To me, the answer is easy. My goal has always been to report on the story as an observer. I don't want to become a part of the story and end up on the witness stand myself.

Uncertain Future for Trial Coverage

I was hoping that the Gargiulo case would go to trial in January and take the estimated five months for three trials: guilt, sanity and penalty phases. I had originally hoped that I could continue reporting on T&T for another year, but things have changed for me. That's not going to be possible. I will need to return to employment much sooner than I had originally projected. I was hoping that in June after the case was finished, I could brush up on my computer skills and look for work in my prior field as a compliance auditor in the financial industry.

With this trial starting in March or even later means after covering the case since 2012, I probably will not be able to continue T&T and cover the Gargiulo trial without an additional source of income at the same time. Possibly a sponsorship if I can find one or trying to raise funds through a Go Fund Me campaign.

So unfortunately, at this time, things are uncertain for continued trial coverage into 2019.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker, Pretrial Hearing 6, & Sprocket News

Previous post can be found HERE.


UPDATE 10/20
edited for spelling, grammar, clarity. Sprocket
Ocober 2, 2018
Fabio Sementilli

It's after 8:00 am when I arrive on the 9th floor. Mr. Simmrin arrives around the same time I do. I politely ask Mr. Simmrin if he expects the hearing to go long today. He's kindly tells me that it should be a short hearing today.

Sementilli's defense team (Berk, Levine, gray haired gentleman and the tall thin man) arrives and Monica's sister, Anna Larson is here with them.  This is the same woman I've seen at prior court hearings. The big burly Sargent Westphal arrives with his keys to open Dept. 101, Judge Coen's court.

There are several members of Fabio's family here in the hallway. Two very pretty women and three men who all flew in from Canada. They are all wearing black shirts with "Rest in Peace Beloved Fabio" printed on the back.

I rush into Dept 101 because I want to be sure I get the aisle seat where I can hear the best.

DDA's Beth Silverman and Melissa Opper arrive. Beth is wearing a red and white dress with a matching red jacket and red leather handbag. She has something on I've rarely seen her wear. Flats. They are gray and go quite well with the dress. Usually, Beth is in heels. Melissa is wearing as usual, a dark suit.

Beth comes over to greet the family and also ask how things are going with me. (See note below.) Beth does one of the many things that she does best for the family, patiently answer their questions.

In the gallery I also answer questions for Fabio's family, pointing out who is who.

8:40 AM
Judge Coen takes the bench. A minute ago, chairs were being set up for the defendants. Defendants are put in chairs that do not have rollers on them. I point out to the family member beside me where each defendant will sit.

Mr. Simmrin comes out from the custody area. He must have been visiting with his client. Defendant Sementilli comes out first in the blue jumpsuit. Baker comes out quickly after and they are placed in the same chairs as the last few hearings.

Judge Coen goes on the record.  There are discovery items filed [by the people?]. The letter seized from Baker at the last hearing. The parties discuss the discovery issue of the seized letter. Sementilli's counsel wants to see the letter. DDA Silverman tells the court that unless Mr. Simmrin has any [discovery] issues, DDA Silverman will give a copy to Sementilli's counsel.  Mr. Simmrin states he has no issues with the letter.

Judge Coen appears a bit miffed on the bench. He asks the people why this wasn't handled informally instead of bringing this in front of him. The court tells the parties that he doesn't need to be involved in these issues. That they should be resolved between the parties and not involve the court's time.

Levine brings up to the court [possibly a motion?] that deals with any other letters in the Sheriff's possession, involving communication between defendants.

Judge Coen brings up search warrant affidavits. DDA Silverman informs the court that many of the search warrants are sealed. The people have been asking for discovery from the LAPD. By October 9, the court orders all discovery turned over.  I'm not certain, but as of today's date, I don't believe the people have received a single piece discovery from either defendant.

Levine brings up something about the hard drives that are needed for the people's discovery. He asks if the prosecution knows when there will be an end to discovery. Levine tells the court, "We want to get to trial as soon as possible." Levine wants to know the end of [discovery?] inquiry.

Judge Coen informs the parties that at this time, because his calendar is getting tight, they should put in a trial date. No other reason to block out time.  Currently, Judge Coen only has 19 days in January 2019 [for a trial]. Mr. Simmrin shakes his head about being ready to defend his client for trial in January. Regardless, it's my understanding that the case will need much more time than that. Coen states the next available time is the last week of April.

DDA Silverman informs the court that there is an ongoing investigation by the LAPD, which she does not have in her hand.

Levine tells the court they want an earlier date for trial. "We are not waiving time." The court responds, "I know, but I will make [whatever?] findings I have to make." Judge Coen adds, I've known Mr. Simmrin for years.  Judge Coen rules. He states Mr. Baker's 6th Amendment rights trumps everything, even defendant Sementilli's right to a speedy trial.

Judge Coen sets a potential start date  for Wednesday, April 24, or the next week starting on the 29th. Coen states it will be a six week trial.  DDA Silverman mentions something about the time frame or length of the trial that I miss.

Simmrin tells the court that he just received a 2 Terabyte hard drive of people discovery that he has not seen yet. Levine tells the court that they have some discovery but the latest batch does not have something. They appear to be ahead of Simmrin [in receiving their discovery?].

The trial start date is selected. April 29th for a six week trial. The court clock will be set at zero of ten on that date.  Mr. Simmrin is okay with that date.

The court asks for the next question. Levine is not agreeable to that date. They do not waive time. They would file a motion. The court asks, "Motion to sever, correct? ... Since you're not waiving time?"

Judge Coen states he knows Mr. Simmrin to be a top lawyer. "...one of the best." Judge Coen asks Levine if he thinks he [Mr. Simmrin] is slacking off.  Judge Coen then rules. As I've seen him do before, he goes to one of those long black file boxes and reads from a ruling. There is "...good cause to continue. ... do find good cause to continue Sementilli case over counsel's objection." Judge Coen continues to read from the prior case law but he's too fast for me to get it all.

Levine requests a return date of December 13, and perhaps an inquiry of Mr. Simmrin [as to his readiness]. Levine question whether they should go to another court. Judge Coen states it is not his business to question Mr Simmrin.

Mr. Simmrin tells the court, regarding an earlier trial date, "...given all the discovery, ... I highly doubt that."

And that's it. It's over quickly. Defendant Sementilli's sister in the gallery stands as Sementilli is being led out of the courtroom. As she is led back into the custody area, Sementill looks at her sister and smiles.

The friends and family of Fabio who attended the hearing are: Fabio's sister Mirella Sementilli Rota and her husband Marco; Fabio's sister Loreta, her husband, Joe, and eldest son Anthony. The family shared with me one of Fabio's sayings: "Chin up and charge that mountain." Fabio's family cannot come to every court hearing, but they tell me their souls are here if not in body. The family asks if local friends of Fabio can attend these hearings to represent Fabio since they are unable to do so.

Next pretrial hearing is December 13.

Sprocket News
A little personal, bumpy ride here. I apologize to T&T readers that my notes on this hearing are over two weeks late. I hope you will forgive me when I share the reason why.

Over the past year, my life has changed dramatically. September 29, I sold my house. Escrow closes tomorrow. My last day on the property is October 28 where I will move into temporary housing. After 17 years of marriage, I am forging ahead on a new journey as a single woman again. Please do not be sad for me. My marriage was over many years ago. It wasn't until early this year that I realized I had to give up many things I appreciated about my life, being a wife, a homeowner, my hummingbird garden and possibly my trial reporting, to start again with a new life and new journey.

I don't know what the future holds for me or where I will be in six months. I'm hopeful that I will be able to stay in the area that I love and continue T&T for the next year, possibly two. Beyond that, it is unknown if T&T will continue operating.

If you have appreciated the eleven-and-a-half years of T&T's in-depth trial coverage, a donation to my trial reporting costs would be most appreciative and helpful at this time.You can click on the link to the right that says "Donate". Your bank statement will indicate a charge to "Betsy Ross Linens" which is the bank account I use for T&T and my sewing business.

A Personal Journey
T&T has not only a US readership but an international readership as well. T&T receives hits from people all over the globe dropping in to read the stories T&T has covered over the years.

I have been a some-what public person, at least on the web for over eleven years. In addition to covering high profile trials, I've also written briefly about more personal journeys. The retaliation that Phil Spector and his trial bride wife did to me during Spector's first then second trial; negative blog feedback; becoming friends with Dominick Dunne during Spector and his passing; my sewing business; a Thanksgiving disaster; my health; the antics of my cats; special honors; longtime friends, trial friends, and new trial friends; T&T fan mail; the loss of my beloved long-time companion, Sprocket Cat; my husband's various health issues; local wild fires; and my hummingbird nesting garden. I've shared quite a bit of my life on T&T.

I have been awed by all the women who have had the courage to come forward with their "Me Too" stories. But I also understand from a recent, very painful personal experience why many women remain silent. It is a very individual choice whether to go public or not against another person about a violation or betrayal of trust when that person may be powerful or a pubic personality. So from that, I also respect and honor those who choose to remain silent. You cannot judge someone who chooses to remain silent about an event that is overwhelmingly painful and raw.

On my own personal journey, I know my path has always been one of personal growth, and forgiveness of others, even those who have deeply wronged me. My journey has never been about causing pain to others. That is the path I walk.

The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world,
is to be in reality what we would appear to be;
and if we observe, we shall find, that all human virtues
increase and are strengthened
by the practice and experience of them.

-Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 44

The previous post can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo 2008

August 10, 2018
I take the train into downtown Los Angeles. I think I have enough time to get a couple fried eggs in the cafeteria, but the line is too long. I head to the fifth floor snack bar and get a green Matcha tea and a hard boiled egg. That will have to hold me.

8:33 AM
Inside Dept 106. The courtroom is basically empty. The only people present are the bailiff, Judge Fidler’s clerk, Wendy, me and a pretty NBC reporter, Rebecca.



A suited gentleman arrives and sits in the first row. I’m in the second row. 
The only thing I hear is the tinnitus buzzing in my head. Sometimes it's strong like today. Other times I can barely hear it.

There are a quite a few boxes from Superior Document Services throughout the courtroom. A bunch stacked in front of the clerks counter. Some against the wall beside the jury box, some more against the low wall in the well of the court. 

There is some kind of hearing going on, because there are big binders on the prosecution and defense table and there are no notebooks on the seats in the jury box.

8:53 AM
Still very quiet inside 106. 

Judge Fidler's bench  has two tall stacks of papers. From where I'm sitting, one looks to be about 6” high and the other 8” high.

8:58 AM
Dale Rubin arrives. He wants to see his client,. The Gargiulo hearing is for 10 am. Everyone is real early. It's my understanding there is a hearing in another case that will go first before Gargiulo. There is a pool video camera here for that event.

I hear Mr. Rubin say to Judge Fidler's clerk, "It’s going to be easier if I see him now." Mr. Rubin adds, “I got a call.”

Judge Fidler's clerk responds to Mr. Rubin about the call he received regarding his client. She then tells him he might have to go to the14th floor to see Gargiulo. The 14th floor is a custody floor where detainees are held until they are needed for their court appearance. The clerk doesn't want Gargiulo brought down to the 9th floor until his hearing commences. I hear Mr. Rubin tell the clerk, "My main concern is that he gets out here and everything goes smooth."

The clerk tells the bailiff that the case will not be called until 10 am, so they don’t bring Gargiulo to 9th. He’s up on 14th in a holding cell area. Mr. Rubin leaves to go see Gargiulo on the 14th floor.

A few people arrive for the other hearing "Maxwell".  Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace arrives for the Maxwell hearing. Although I've never covered one of his cases, I've heard wonderful things about DDA Grace's skills in the courtroom.

After the Maxwell hearing is over, I go out into the hallway to wait for a while and read the web.

On the 9th floor hallway, DDA Garrett Dameron is the first to arrive. I like Garrett. He and DDA Dan Akemon have always been kind to me. While exchanging hellos, second chair defense attorney Dan Nardoni arrives and says hello. He always states my full name. Then DDA Dan Akemon arrives. DDA Akemon brought two law clerks/interns with him. The last dozen times or so I've seen Akemon, he always has interns with him.

I inform Mr. Nardoni his compadre (Dale Rubin) is up on 14, speaking with their client.

We head inside Dept. 106. The pretty court reporter and I chat about both of us being here for Spector One. I was almost certain I first saw her in this courtroom during that trial and she confirmed it. She’s been a court reporter almost 20 years.  The first hearing I ever attended in the downtown criminal court building was in this very courtroom in February 2007. It was for a pretrial hearing in the Spector murder trial. The rest, is history.

9:52 AM
Dale Rubin is here. He reenters courtroom with DDA Akemon who has documents for the defense to sign. I see him place them on the defense table.   Now DDA's Dameron and Akemon are at the clerk’s desk, dropping off a document.

I really need to get my eyes reexamined and new glasses. I'm having to squint more and more now to see things.

Judge Fidler's clerk had gotten up from her desk and she saw that I was typing on my laptop. Judge Fidler was not on the bench but she made it clear in no uncertain terms that I had not gotten approval to use my laptop. Busted. I admit, I was pushing it. Usually, if the judge is off the bench it's not a problem but I was bad and did not wait for permission to use it. I immediately close my laptop and switch to hand notes.

Judge Fidler is the judge assigned to approve all wire tap requests in Los Angeles County. It's why he usually doesn't hold trial five days a week, only four.  Juge Fidler comes out to the clerk's counter area to speak with a detective dropping off (what I assume is) a wire tap warrant.

Over in the well of the court DDA's Akemon and Dameron chat. Then Judge Fidler's clerk talks with them about Judge Fidler's schedule and the "other case" that the Gargiulo case is competing with for being on Judge Fidler's schedule next.

Sprocket Note: This was the case that was supposed to have ended in January of this year, but went long. It's DDA Dayan Mathai's MS13 case that had more than one defendant. I know there was a hung jury on one or possibly more defendants.

DDA Dameron tells the clerk, "Dayan's not jumping ahead of me again. ... I've threatened his life over that." The clerk tells DDA Dameron about "...waivers ... So I'm just putting it out there." The clerk adds that one of DDA Mathai's defendants has gone pro per, so that would be better for DDA Dameron's case here.

And this is where I hear the next possible court date in the Gargiulo case. November 2, with calendar set at zero of 60. DDA Mathai's case and this case will both return to Dept. 106 on that date. On hearing that date, I know that the Gargiulo case will not go to trial until 2019.

Mr. Nardoni brings up the 995 motion with the clerk. "There's a 995 motion filed a long time ago," Nardoni tells her.

I have been waiting literally years for the Gargiulo 995 motion to be argued before the court. Mr. Rubin adds the possibility of arguing other motions in December.  The clerk asks the defense, "How much time do you need on that?"

Now the parties are debating if arguing the motions is too soon. What is so refreshing with this group of counsel, is how very respectful they are with each other. There's no animosity like I've seen in some other cases.

The clerk informs the defense that there is "nothing" available in December for motions to be argued. It's probably going to have to be the November 2 date. Mr. Rubin states, "[The] 995, we can do ... or we can do the Perkins...." The clerk asks, "What's the Perkins...?"  The parties explain the Perkins Operation to the clerk.

Other information about the 995 is discussed. The preliminary hearing transcript is 1500 pages. The 995 motion that was filed is about 100 pages. The parties feel the 995 motion needs to be argued so that Judge Fidler knows the case.

Sprocket Note: All of those page documents will have to be read by Judge Fidler before the 995 motion is argued before him.

10:05 AM
The bailiff goes to get the defendant. Gargiulo is brought out. He's still completely bald. Rubin leans in to speak to Gargiulo. I hear Mr. Nardoni ask his client, "How are you feeling? Any better?"

The clerk asks to speak to counsel for a second. I hear the clerk tell them, "...once you guys decide to go on that 995, it's going to go. No continuance."

Judge Fidler takes the bench. The parties state their appearances. DDA Akemon tells the court that their psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Schug has completed his review of the defendant. The people are turning over an additional 1500 pages of discovery with page numbers 37,822 to 39,352. The people
have given this material to the defense on DVD's.

Mr. Nardoni addresses the court next on the November 2nd date as a pretrial hearing as well as two motions.  They would argue the 995 motion on that date. He states the preliminary hearing transcript is 1400 pages. Mr. Rubin states the 995 motion is a "substantial motion".

Then Mr. Rubin adds something I do not recall ever hearing about the defendant. "Mr. Gargiulo has asthma. ... It's well documented. ... [an] inhaler.... up until recently [there's been] ... no problem with the showers. ... a week or two ago .... where he's getting his shower presently ... there's no ventilation .... he passed out .... [he] gets in [an] asthmatic seizure .... the steam ... I'm told [a]  Sargent or Lieutenant on the tier needed a court order for a better schedule."

Judge Fidler responds, "Just prepare [an order] for my signature and I'll sign it."

The next pretrial hearing is set for November 2nd with the case at zero of 60. I believe the court asks, "Is that all?" My notes are not clear as to who answered the court, but I believe it was the defense who replied, "Our hope is to commence trial in January." Judge Fidler responds, "Okay." Gargiulo is brought back into custody and that was it for the hearing.

The next post on this case can be found HERE.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker, Pretrial Hearing 5

Previous post can be found HERE.

LAPD Booking Photos
July 30, 2018
I arrive on the 9th floor at 8:15 am. Baker's defense attorney Michael Simmrin is here sitting on the bench at the very end of the hallway.

There are a few public people here. No other press that I recognize. A young gentleman shows up at this end of the hallway wearing a jury badge. After a few minutes, I notice that the air is hot, almost sticky. The building AC may not be fully up to speed, which is not unusual on a Monday. I'm starting to sweat. I may have to tie up my hair.

8:24 AM
DDA Melissa Opper arrives. She's dressed like I've always seen her, in an all black, two-piece suit and black pumps. She goes directly to Simmrin and they chat about something. I'm too far away to listen in.

8:28 AM

Sementilli's full defense team arrives on the 9th floor. When they approach Simmrin as a group, DDA Opper politely steps away so they can chat. I overhear snatches of conversation this time. They appear to be trying to set a return date for the next hearing.

8:30 AM
Dept. 101 opens and everyone heads inside. I wonder if DDA Beth Silverman is busy with a pretrial hearing in another case or if she will arrive later. I take a seat in the 2nd bench row.

Judge Coen was at his bench out of his robe when I entered. Now Judge Coen is chatting with the gray haired gentleman on the Sementilli defense team at the clerk's counter. Now I wonder if this gentleman is a private investigator like I've guessed, or another attorney working on her case. Usually, when there are non-lead counsel working on a case, they still sit in the extra seats in the well. This gentleman sits in the gallery each time I've been here.

Although DDA Silverman has not arrived yet, the three defense counsel are trying to nail down a return date. Berk is asking DDA Opper a question about scheduling. "Melissa, does the 18th work for you?"

Berk is wearing a beautiful light brown jacket and I want one exactly like it. The jacket has nice lines and is gently tailored to her hip. It looks great on her. What I really like about it is, there is no collar or lapel. It's closed by a single, large button under the bra line.

Thankfully, Dept. 101 is noticeably several degrees cooler than the hallway. A second court reporter arrives. The court reporter was obviously sent to the wrong department because the regular court reporter for Dept. 101 is here.  The court reporter leaves to find where her fill in assignment is located.

I overhear someone, I think a bailiff of possibly Judge Coen himself say the defendants are not on the floor yet.

Back and forth, counsel are still trying to decide on a return date.

8:38 AM

DDA Silverman arrives with two interns.  Beth is wearing a black jacket paired over a black and white patterned dress with small splashes of color. 

Judge Coen asks the parties about time, meaning how long will the trial last. DDA Silverman tells the court that just their case alone will take six weeks. So if that's just the people's case, one wonders how long the defense will take.

I believe Judge Coen replies, "That changes things." He tells the parties, "I can give you four weeks in January. So now they are looking at March 2019.

Judge Coen and Levine chat. DDA Silverman and Simmrin chat about a hard drive sitting on the DA's desk.

Counsel are still trying to work out a return date. You have three different attorneys on the defense side, the court {Judge Coen's schedule} and the people. So five different groups need to find a return date that works for "everyone". The next dates Berk throws out are the 17th or 18th of September.

That doesn't work for everybody so they go back to August. August 24 works for everyone except DDA Silverman.  This is a tedious process with everyone checking their calendars to see how they can work this out.

Baker is brought out and and handcuffed to the chair at the end of the defense table. We are now waiting for Levine & Berk's client, Sementilli. Sementilli arrives. Judge Coen immediately goes on the record. Judge Coen states the parties that are present and that they are looking for a return date. Coen is looking to set the court calendar at zero of 60 on the next date. They are tentatively trying to set a return date which will be a discovery hearing update.

After a bit more back and forth among counsel the return date is set: October 2nd for a discovery hearing. I believe it is Levine who is asking if the court wants to set a trial date then (Oct 2) or now.

Judge Coen reminds Levine that his co-counsel's rights [representing Baker] trump California Penal Code 1382. Levine tells the court that they will file a motion to separate the cases. (In an effort to get to trial sooner I expect.) Judge Coen tells the parties that he has nothing available for trial until March 25, 2018. Coen wants to make the court calendar on this case zero of 60 on October 2. Coen states a tentative trial date will be drawn on that date.

DDA Silverman goes over a bit of housekeeping with the court regarding the 911 transcript and that the "SDT files" have not been returned to the court file. The court orders the DA is to take custody of the SDT files and make copies.

And that's it. The defendants are brought back into custody and the parties return date is October 2.

The next post on this case can be found HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Baker, Pretrial Hearing 4

Previous post can be found HERE.

Fabio Sementilli 

UPDATE 7/1: Update on notes about a video and the manila envelope. Removed notes that were not clear.
June 28, 2018
7:40 AM

I get to court early today. I hang out on the 5th floor waiting until 8 am when the security station will be open. When I get on the 9th floor, there is only one sheriff at the station. He tells me the security station won’t open until 8:30 am. That’s new. I can’t imagine that will work for long since quite a few judges open their courtrooms at 8:30 am. So I go back down to the 5th floor to wait.



8:25 AM
I head back to the 9th floor. There are three sheriff’s and the station is open. When I get down to the far end of the hall, DDA’s Beth Silverman and Melissa Opper are sitting on a bench. Beth is wearing a long, blue print flowing dress, black jacket and nice black sling heels with an open toe. I go over and congratulate DDA Silverman on getting a conviction in the Blake Leibel case.  Rounding out the DA’s team are three young, eager looking interns.

The people’s LAPD RHD detectives are not here yet. 

Over on the other side of the hallway, Baker’s defense attorney Michael Simmrin is sitting by himself. Blair Berk is sitting with an attractive, nicely dressed woman wearing thin, black rimmed glasses.  It’s a good guess that this is a family member or friend of Berk’s client, defendant, Monica Sementilli. The woman is about 5’4” tall. She’s wearing skin tight white pants, black ballet type slippers, a black blouse with white dots and a black jacket to finish off the look. A tall slender-man, one of the defense counsel support staff is with them, along with the young intern looking man I’ve seen before. Levine arrives a moment later and eventually goes over to chat with Simmrin.



8:30 AM
Inside Dept. 101

I take my favorite spot next to the aisle in the second bench row. Two Spanish women sit in the gallery directly behind me. The DDA’s interns sit in the first row, right behind the prosecution’s table area. The nicely dressed woman in the black ballet type slippers takes a seat to my right.

Now Levine, Berk and the tall slender-man are over at the clerk’s desk.

Over at the prosecution table, DDA’s Sliverman and Opper and going over a document with their interns. At the defense table, the sheriff deputies in the well are arranging the chairs for the defendants. Defendants must be seated in chairs that do not have rollers. Levine will be seated next to Sementilli today and Berk to his right. Over at the clerk’s desk, there is a male clerk. The court reporter is at her station in front of the bench and my eye is drawn to the really nice bouquet of flowers on her desk.

Levine gets up to chat for a moment with DDA Silverman. Baker is brought out first, and the deputy places him in the wrong seat. It’s quickly corrected. Baker’s hair is short and he has a mustache.

The tall slender-man, who is sitting in the well chairs directly behind the defense table says (to I don’t know who): “That’s my mistake. I apologize.” DDA Silverman answers, “You don’t have to apologize.”



The two LAPD Robbery Homicide Division detectives on the case enter Dept. 101 and take seats in the well directly in front of the jury box. They briefly speak to DDA Silverman.

We are still waiting for Sementilli to be brought out. Simmrin chats with the big burly Sheriff’s Deputy, Sargent Westphal (sp?).

Baker faces the gallery and looks in the direction behind me. I don’t know if he’s looking at the two Spanish women behind me, or at the clock. 

Simmrin, Levine and Berk chat for a moment in a huddle. Sargent Westphal goes over to DDA Silverman then speaks to the two LAPD RHD detectives. 

The bailiff goes over to the clerk’s counter to speak to the judge. Sargent Westphal also comes over and both officers chat with Judge Coen. It’s quickly over and the regular bailiff goes back to the custody area.

8:42 AM
We are still waiting on Sementilli to be brought out.

Levine was about to have the woman that came with the defense team leave the room when his client is brought out and we go on the record.

I believe I saw Sementilli smile at the ballet slipper woman in the gallery. 

Judge Coen informs the parties that a document came back from ATT, labeled “for court eyes only". Levine informs the court that this document is from his subpoena. He wants to see the document and not share it with the people.

Judge Coen responds, “That’s not the way it works.” 

Judge Coen then goes over to one of his index card file boxes and after a few seconds, pulls out a card and reads from a prior court ruling on just this issue. Judge Coen tells the parties, “As it stands now (the subpoenaed documents), it’s open to all sides.” I believe Levine argues that he wants to see it first to determine if it will be used as work product. Judge Coen argues with the defense on the merits of his argument and Levine submits to the court’s ruling. Levine agrees to turn over a copy of the documents to the people. The people ask the judge for control of the document, maybe not feeling that the defense will actually make them a copy (or maybe even a full copy) of what they subpoenaed. Judge Coen turns down that request reminding the people that they are all officers of the court.

The motion by Sementilli's counsel to have property seized by the LAPD during the search warrant returned is addressed. Also attached to the motion is an “errata” page. The court asks, “Any objection by the people?” Initially, the people say no, but then DDA Silverman raises several objections to issues with the motion and order Judge Coen will sign. The motion is not within the LAPD guidelines. The motion must specifically state the item number of the property to be released. Additionally, DDA Silverman states the motion is requesting items #12 and #13. She informs the court and defense counsel that those items, laptop computers, were already released to the defense months ago.  DDA Silverman has one last item. The order must show the items are released to a particular person.



Levine states he will provide the correct numbers of the items and make the needed adjustments. Judge Coen states he will sign the original order and adjustments will be made to it. He is not going to sign several orders.



Then Simmrin addresses the court. My notes are not clear, but I believe Mr. Simmrin was speaking to the court for the following. When Mr. Baker came to court with him today, he had an envelope with personal writings in it. It was confiscated by the sheriff’s deputies.  Upon reviewing the tape of the last hearing ..

[I believe Simmrin is referencing video tapes from the jail custody area.]


[7/1: I believe Simmrin is referring to the Sheriff's review of the video tape. Sprocket]


Ms. Sementilli may have passed a yellow envelope to his client, Baker. Simmrin is not sure of the basics. He is not sure if that is the envelope that was passed (at the last hearing). 



Right after that I have a note that Judge Coen addresses the parties and states he “... knows very little ... Sargent Westphal seized the items.” 



Levine addresses the court and states he wants to see what was confiscated. Judge Coen rules, “I’m not going to order that. ... This is Mr. Simmrin’s game.” Judge Coen adds that it’s up to Mr. Simmrin if he wants to share the contents with Mr. Levine.



Simmrin asks the court, “How do we know that these are the items?” Judge Coen tells Simmrin, “You’re allowed to look at the items. ... It’s a sheriff’s issue.”

Judge Coen goes onto explain that there are certain procedures for clearing defendant documents that are brought to the courthouse. 



Levine brings up a discovery issue. Levine informs the court that the people turned over new discovery documents to the defense today. They want to come back in 30 days to set a trial date and urge the people to turn over all their discovery.  Levine appears to be pushing the court to force the people to turn over all discovery immediately.



Judge Coen reminds Levine that this is a two defendant case and that his concern’s are with Mr. Baker. Baker’s counsel may not be ready. Simmrin addresses the court and states he’s not even through all of his discovery. He has DNA analysis, phone evidence. Simmrin tells the court, “I don’t expect to be ready within a month.”



I believe Levine at some point mentions severing the cases (so his client can get to trial faster) and Judge Coen reminds counsel that we are far from that at this point. 

Then the parties try to come up with a return date that works for everyone, including the court. They will return on July 30, 2018 at 8:30 am.



That’s it for the court. Judge Coen leaves the bench. Both defendants are brought back into custody. However, all the counsel stay at their tables. No one is getting up. The prosecution team and the detectives are in conversation. 

I’m concentrating on the prosecution team, and I believe I hear DDA Silverman say, She’s in a whole ‘nother world. I’m not positive that’s correct, but I believe that’s what I heard her say.

8:58AM
Judge Coen is out of his robes and is standing at his clerk’s desk.  Levine comes over to DDA Silverman and says something. I hear DDA Silverman respond, “Absolutely.”

A few minutes later, the regular bailiff and Sargent Westphal come back into the courtroom. The regular bailiff is holding several blue latex gloves. Sargent Westphal and Simmrin both put on a pair of gloves. Afterwards, Sargent Westphal, properly gloved, I believe, pulls out an envelope from the bailiff’s desk. It’s a large 9x12 manila envelope that looks like it’s bulging a bit in the middle. It’s something much larger than I had originally envisioned. I was thinking of a simple, #10 letter envelope that may have been passed.

Simmrin starts to pull out whatever is in the manila envelope. As he does that, the prosecution team and their interns get up and leave the courtroom. I follow them out.  The form a huddle on the other side of the hallway. I sit across the hall, a polite distance away. I cannot hear what they are discussing.



9:09AM
Both defense teams leave the courtroom. Not long after, Sargent Westphal and the two LAPD detectives exit the courtroom. Sargent Westphal still has his hands gloved and is holding the envelope in one hand. The officers and the prosecution team leave together for the elevator bay.

Just as we are entering the elevator bay, DDA Silverman is stopped by a young Dateline reporter. DDA Silverman tells her she has no time to talk. I believe I hear DDA Silverman state to Sargent Westphal: I want to know how this went down and why. I believe that is what I heard. The wait for an elevator is long so Sargent Westphal takes the detectives and both deputy DA’s down the stairwell. The interns are left behind. 

And that’s it for today’s hearing.


Next hearing is July 30, 2018 at 8:30 AM

The next post on this case can be found HERE.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 43

Previous post can be found HERE.

Michael ThoamasGargilo, June 2008

UPDATE 6/26: edited to correct date of hearing
June 6, 2018
8:30 AM The 9th Floor, Dept. 106

I'm in the gallery with two other reporters. CBS 48 Hrs. Producer Greg Fisher is here. Sitting beside Greg is a big cheese from Dateline, Susan, a supervising producer, who I met over 10 years ago in this same courtroom during the first Phil Spector trial.

There are attorneys in the well from another case that are having a loud discussion over by the counsel tables.

DDA Garrett Dameron & DDA Daniel Akemon are here along with lead defense attorney Dale Rubin. Rubin's co-counsel Dan Nardoni is a no show. All three of us are all listening as best we can with rapt attention to counsel speaking with Judge Fidler's clerk over at her counter. I hear "September trial date." And, "come back August 10 ... (or) August 4 ... with a zero of 30 calendar date."  From what I'm hearing, I believe it's Rubin's plan to have the case on a shorter leash. The feedback I think I'm hearing from the clerk is that the court may not allow it (the shorter leash). The idea with the shorter leash is that they can possibly swoop in and get a trial date before a potential seven-week preliminary hearing in a complicated insurance fraud case, if that case has any type of delay.

The conversation over at the clerk's desk is being drowned out by the other counsel chatting loudly in the center of the well. It's clear the banter between DDA Akemon and Mr. Rubin is friendly banter. Over the last several years, I've had the impression that Akemon and Rubin have known each other a long time and get along well. I hear Rubin say, "Let me approach it."

DDA's Akemon and Dameron leave the courtroom to chat.

While we wait in the gallery, the press talk about a couple cases. Convicted murderer Scott Peterson's appeal has been extended again. Scott Peterson made national news when his pregnant wife went missing on Christmas Eve in 2002.  He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in 2004. His appeal still hasn't been completely adjudicated yet. Will Peterson get a new trial the Modesto Bee asked in August 2017 .

Another case that I thought was dismissed was Kelly Soo Park's federal lawsuit against Santa Monica PD Detective Karen Thompson, the lead investigator into the murder of Juliana Redding. Redding was strangled to death in her Santa Monica apartment in March 2008. At one time LE thought Redding's murder was the work of Gargiulo. Park, whose DNA was found around victim Redding's neck, on her T-shirt, on her blackberry, and other areas of the apartment -and a drop of Park's blood and fingerprint were lifted from a plate in Juliana's kitchen sink- was found not guilty of Redding's murder in June 2013. However, the US Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit  reinstated Park's lawsuit.

9:00 AM
Rubin goes back into the custody area to visit with Gargiulo. Not long after he comes out, Gargiulo is brought out into the courtroom. Gargiulo is in the high-risk orange jumpsuit, white long-john type shirt underneath. He's also wearing his black horn-rimmed glasses. As before, Gargiulo is completely bald, but he has a slight goatee during this visit. It's the first time that I see graying hair on Gargiulo's face.

While we wait for Judge Fidler to take the bench, former Suge Knight defense attorney Michael Fletcher -who has his own legal troubles stemming from his representation of Knight- stops by Dept. 106, has a short conversation with Judge Fidler's clerk, then quickly leaves.

9:14 AM

Rubin and Judge Fldler's clerk chat a bit. Three minutes later, Judge Fidler takes the bench and goes on the record. The court asks, "So where are we?"

DDA Akemon tells the court they are ready for trial, but are waiting on a report from Dr. Robert Schug, the people's medical expert, that will be issued in three to four weeks. "We hope to come back on August 10 for zero of 30 and get to trial in late August," DDA Akemon adds.

Judge Fidler asks the defendant, "Mr. Gargiulo, are those dates agreeable to you?" "Yes, they are," Gargiulo replies. It's over that quickly. Judge Fidler is off the bench and Gargiulo is then taken back into custody.

And that's it.

There is one issue that could hold up Gargiulo's trial starting in late August: the backlog of cases on Judge Fidler's calendar. There is one case, the massive insurance fraud case with 12 or 13 defendants I mentioned earlier. For a couple weeks, that case has had an evidentiary hearing. It's unknown how soon the preliminary hearing could start, possibly delaying Gargiulo's case further.

The next hearing on the case can be found HERE.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Baker Case, Pretrial 3

Previous post can be found HERE.

LAPD Booking Photos

June 5, 2018


I took the train into downtown LA today. Having a senior TAP card now makes a huge difference in my travel budget. 



The 9th Floor

It’s practically empty at this time. At the other end of the hall, there are five adults spread out and two children.

8:21 AM
DDA Melissa Opper arrives with the two LAPD RHD detectives.  Once they see me they back away to talk privately.

 Later, they greet Mr. Simmrin who arrived at the same time.  Mr. Simmrin says hello to me and asks, “How are you?”



DDA Silverman is not here. She may not be coming today.

DDA Melissa Opper is wearing a black skirt suit. She’s carrying a really nice over-sized black leather type bag on her left shoulder. She’s wearing a dull, cream colored heels. Melissa is an attractive petite woman. I have passing thoughts of envy on the tiny clothes petite women can wear.

8:28 AM
Semetilli’s defense team arrives. Levine, Burke and three other assistants. One of the party is a man that appears quite young. He stands back from the group. I see the phone expert and a man with gray hair. Simmrin approaches them and they meet and chat.

We are still waiting for the door to be opened. A court clerk comes out and opens the door. The defense team enters first.  DDA Opper and the detectives remain in the hallway. A moment later the prosecution team heads inside and I follow after.


Inside Dept. 101

This hearing was shorter than last week.

The detectives take seats in the well in front of the jury box. The gray haired gentleman who was with the defense team sits in the spot I usually sit in. I walk through the third bench row to get to the second row and sit beside him. 

He's wearing a blue shirt with a green tie. Defense counsel are conferring with DDA Opper in the well about their next hearing date. June 27th is suggested. After Mr. Simmrin chimes in the date is changed to June 28th for a discovery update status.



Levine asks DDA Opper, “Do you have a position on ....” I’m guessing it’s the Sementilli motion to release the estate items taken in discovery back to the estate.” All I catch of DDA Opper’s response is “She’s in trial right now.”

I don’t recognize the clerk over at the court clerk’s desk. The young man with the defense team sits in the gallery but on the opposite side of the aisle from where the older gentleman with gray hair is sitting.


Judge Coen is quick. He’s in his robe already. The court reporter is at her desk. Judge Coen asks DDA Opper if she is by herself. She replies, “... just me today.”

Levine is asking DDA Opper off the record if they want to come back next week on “...just this one issue.”  There is a short lull. We are obviously waiting for the sheriff’s to bring the defendant’s in.



Judge Coen asks DDA Opper, “Did you get their motion?” “No, I did not,” she replies. I believe it’s Simmrin who informs the court the DDA Silverman is in trial. I find out later that Beth is co-counsel with DDA Tannaz Mokayef in the Blake Leibel case at the Airport Courthouse. Jury selection started today. It’s a pretty gruesome case that you can read about in this Hollywood Reporter article.

Judge Coen wistfully asks, “Is discovery ever going to end?” Simmrin tells the court, “I still have another whole batch of DNA data...” Looking over at the jury box, the two detectives are having a conversation. DDA Opper and Levine chat. The bailiff comes out. Levine addresses the court. “Once they bring her out could we just have one minute?”

A young woman enters and sits in the row behind me. 



8:39 AM
We are still waiting on the sheriff’s to bring the defendant’s out. A bailiff gets a chair ready for Sementilli. This clues me that she will be brought out first, like before. 

Once Semetilli is brought out, her two counsel huddle around her. Levine and Berk are smiling when they greet her. Berk’s greeting sounds especially warm to her client.


Baker is brought out quickly after Sementilli. Since I was concentrating on the huddle, I did not see him walk into court. Simmrin and Baker chat. Because of how Simmrin is sitting, I cannot see Baker’s face from where I am sitting. His hair is still real short.

The court goes on the record that all parties are here except Ms. Silverman. The court indicates there is a motion by Sementilli to return property.  Ms. Silverman may have new discovery. The next hearing date is June 28 and the case calendar will be set at zero of 60 on that date, set a trial date and resolve all discovery issues.  Judge Coen mentions that Mr. Simmrin has DNA issues (which might delay all the discovery being resolved).

Then DDA Opper informs the court of all the items that they have recently turned over to the defense. I try to list all the items she talks about but I’m not fast enough. She mentions an LAPD DNA report from 5/15 of this year. The LAPD DNA file was all on CD and given to defense. There is a CD that was turned over from raw (electronic?) data; Number 2 and links to the bodycam (video?) and also provided a hard drive. (On the hard drive?) 126 folders to each counsel. 



DDA Opper continues. Folders 4-21 were raw data folders (requested?) by Sementilli counsel. There may be discovery in the folders that have already been received. Number 2 of discovery email sent to us. There is an item the defense as requested, Number 90. DDA Opper states number 90 is a computer mouse and they will not be providing that to the defense. Levine responds with something but I miss it and DDA Opper states she did not understand what counsel was talking about.



DDA Opper continues informing the court of the discovery the people have turned over. (Regarding) (evidence?) numbers 68 to 88, the extraction of those items not complete yet. The people will have an answer later this week. Item number 150 counsel (requested? provided?) on a hard drive. The people also provided every phone record ... (and I miss the rest of Melissa’s statement on this). DDA Opper tells the courts that items five and six, they may be password protected. She adds a bit more context that I did not catch.

Levine tells the court that they are “... trying to resolve as many items informally as possible.” I believe he tells the court item number 80, they are no longer seeking. Levine tells the court, “We’ve asked for extractions from Ms. Sementilli’s phone for some time now.”



Counsel go back and forth a bit more about discovery. Simmrin tells the court about (I believe) a disclaimer statement that accompanies the bodycam video, and it’s an issue that’s been litigated in other courtrooms/cases before.

And that’s it. When I get up to leave, I see 48 Hours producer Greg Fisher in the back row. He arrived late and asked me what he missed.  Ms. Berk addresses Fisher about something and I hear him say, “Sure. I’d love to.”



I wait a bit in the elevator bay for Greg so I can catch up with what he’s working on but I decide to head down to the cafeteria to write a bit and read my email. While I’m in the cafeteria, Ms. Berk, the gray haired gentleman and their phone expert sit at a table not far from me and start to chat. About a half hour later, they are gone. 



Next post on the case can be found HERE.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Baker, Pretrial 2

Previous post on the case can be found HERE.

Fabio Sementilli 

May 9, 2018
It was a very quick hearing today.

It's 8:15 am when I arrive on the 9th floor of the downtown Los Angeles Criminal Court. There was a line of 10 people at the security station. The sheriff's deputies are trying to figure out why alarms are going of on the scanner. As we wait, the line continues to grow. A technician shows up but the problem isn't solved. The deputies start to move people through the line, manually looking through bags. That lasts a few minutes and is eventually abandoned after I hear a sheriff deputy say something about jurors and that everyone went through a scanner when they entered the building on the first floor.

Before 8:30 am, Dept. 101 it's already open. Judge Coen is out of his robe and behind his clerk's desk. Baker's defense attorney, Michael  Simmrin is in the well and chatting with the court. I take my favorite spot at the end of the second bench row.

Sitting in the well of the court is a tall bald man wearing a black suit. With him is a very young boy, around three or four years old. The little boy looks around, sees me and smiles. I smile back. He's very curious, looking around at everything. I'm wondering if there is another case that will be heard before the Baker/Sementilli case. After a moment, I hear the bald man mention the word "chocolate". He then gets up, goes to the candy jar on the edge of the clerks desk. He comes back to his seat beside the young boy and opens up his hand, offering him a piece of candy.

8:30 AM
Leonard Levine and Blair Berk arrive. They greet Judge Coen and chat with Simmrin.

8:32 AM
DDA Beth Silverman arrives. Beth is wearing an outfit I've seen before. A black dress paired with a loose, gray and white flecked jacket. The jacket has tiny frills along the seams and several flairs at the hip.  A moment later Terri Keith from City News arrives and takes a seat in the row directly behind me. We exchange hellos.

8:34 AM
It happened quickly. Judge Coen is in his robe and on the bench, but I don't think he's called the case on the record yet. The defendants have not been brought out. DDA Silverman and Simmrin are in a conversation. Simmrin is signing a document for her, probably for receipt of discovery. DDA Silverman and the defense attorneys are talking evidence. I believe DDA Silverman is telling Levine that he needs to provide her with a drive to receive the next batch of evidence. DDA Silverman answers a question from one of the defense attorneys with, "You should have received that in discovery batch number four."

I believe counsel tells the court they are ready to go. Terri Keith leaves for a moment then comes back. The bald man with the young boy instructs the boy that they are going to move from the well of the court to the gallery. They take a seat where police officers often sit, in the front row of the short aisle beside the bailiff's desk. Levine is having a conversation with his tech expert.

The bailiff brings out Monica Sementilli first. As with all defendants I've seen brought into court, the bailiff handcuffs her to the chair. She sits in the same seat as the last time. Her attorney Berk is directly to her right and Sementilli leans to speak to her. Levine is to the right of Berk. Sementilli looks no different than the last hearing, wearing a blue jumpsuit. I believe there was some misunderstanding about my description of Sementilli's hair. She does not have gray hair. She has dark brown roots. The ends of her hair are a lighter, reddish blond color. On the LASD inmate locator website, at the time of her arrest, the color of Sementilli's hair was listed as BLN (blond).


Baker is brought out next and placed in the same seat as before, at the end of the table and facing the jury box. Simmrin is to his right. The case goes on the record.

DDA Silverman informs the court that copies were made of the SUNLIFE documents and given to the defense. The originals were returned to the court. She informs the court they are working on getting all the discovery to the defense and that the defense has asked for a second type of "extraction". I believe she means on other devices that were seized in the search warrant.

Judge Coen asks the parties "What do we do now?" The parties inform the court they would like to return on June 5.  Levine tells the court that they want the court to set a "cut off date" for the prosecution to get all the discovery to the defense.

DDA Silverman informs the court, "The court is aware ... counsel has asked for a different type of extraction on several devices." DDA Silverman tells the court the defense wants this on more than "30 items".  The people are still working on their standard, recommended type of extraction that they do. The last thing that they will do will be this extra extraction request for the defense.

Levine tells the court they are almost a year out from arrest and they don't have all the discovery yet. Simmrin tells the court that he is no way ready. He's only been representing his defendant for five months. "I need time to prepare." He has a DNA analyst who is asking for more information and more time. He also has a cell phone expert.

The court asks all parties if they agree to come back on June 5 and set the case calendar on that date as zero of sixty. June 5 is set for a discovery status update.

Levine brings up to the court that there are a number of items seized that were "outside the search warrant". He would like the court to order them returned.  The court answers, "I"m not going to do this like this."  Levine states that the executor of the estate informs him that the items seized were community property. Levine is asking if the items can be released to the estate.  The court informs Levine to write it up in a motion and he will sign it.

DDA Silverman states that, like she's mentioned to the court, she has discussed the discovery issues ad nauseam through emails to defense counsel.

And that's it for the hearing.

The next post can be found HERE
.

Note from Sprocket
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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Jennifer Francis v. LAPD Civil Case

Stanley Mosk Courthouse, downtown Los Angeles.

UPDATE 12:30 pm
correction in speaker's name from Taylor to McNicholas
UPDATE 9:25 am
minor spelling errors corrected. Sprocket
April 26, 2018

On Thursday, April 26, after the Gargiulo hearing in the morning, I stayed for lunch so I could drop in on an afternoon hearing in a civil case that my friend Matthew McGough has been following. For those of you who don't know, McGough is writing a book on the Stephanie Lazarus case.

This case is in Department 56 at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and relates to the Lazarus case. And let me tell you, from my perspective, it was a bizarro day for an afternoon court session. I've attended a few of the hearings in this case over the past few years but this is the first time I'm writing up my notes in detail. Civil cases can be just as complicated as a long cause criminal trial and I had a great deal of difficulty following what was going on.



For those of you who followed the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial, Jennifer Francis is the LAPD criminalist who developed the female DNA profile back in February 2005.

On October 30, 2013, Francis sued the LAPD alleging harassment and retaliation for alerting her superiors to a possible cover-up in the Stephanie Lazarus case. I highly recommend reading the complaint to get an understanding of what this case is about. 
The LA Times published a article when the lawsuit was filed and there was a write up by City News Service in My News LA.

Francis is represented by Courtney McNicholas and John Taylor of Taylor Ring. I first met John Taylor at the Phil Spector trial, when he represented the family of Lana Clarkson in their wrongful death suit against the music mogul. Taylor also represented the parents of murder victim Sherri Rae Rasmussen, Nels and Loretta Rasmussen in their lawsuit against the City alleging an LAPD coverup. That case was dismissed.

The Francis case is slated to go to trial October 1, 2018. Civil cases filed in California must be brought to trial in five years or the case is dismissed without prejudice. Section 583.310 California Code of Civil Procedure. 



The Stanley Mosk Courthouse was renamed in 2002 after Justice Stanley Mosk. The courtrooms in this 1950's building are truly tiny, little square boxes. There are only 13 seats in the jury box and just a few dozen in the gallery.  And trust me, the old flip down style seats are not that comfortable if you have extra padding on your hips.



Inside Dept. 56, 1:30 pm

John Anthony is the attorney for the City (LAPD). McNicholas & Taylor work at setting up their files. McNicholas is wearing a nice black suit and Taylor, wearing a light gray suit looks like he just walked out of a Brooks Brothers ad. Matthew McGough is here. 

 It’s been about three weeks since I last saw Matthew at his 10th annual “Baseball Hot Stove Dinner,” and I almost didn’t recognize him in his white shirt, dark jacket and Dodger blue tie. I'm comforted that, despite wearing a jacket and tie, he is wearing jeans like I always do. I notice for the first time that Matthew is sporting some gray hair. Matthew has been keeping tabs on all things related to Lazarus since June 2009.


Before the hearing starts, Francis comes over to us and mentions something about the Golden State Killer. The news broke of an arrest in that 40 year cold case a day or two earlier. Joseph DeAngelo was a former cop who was fired for shoplifting in 1979. His DNA was never entered into CODIS.   Jennifer speculated if the arrest didn’t come through CODIS, did the investigators utilize a public DNA data base to nab their killer. Later that day, news broke that Jennifer’s theory was correct.


Judge Holly Fujie takes the bench.

Judge Fujie issued a tentative order denying plaintiff’s motion for sanctions on the City for not complying with discovery demands, deposition subpoenas, and producing witnesses for depositions. Judge Fujie says she assumes the plaintiffs would like to argue the tentative order.

Taylor tells the court it’s not the sanctions they wish to argue it’s the outstanding issues with discovery and depositions. Taylor tells the court the City has not produced all the documents the plaintiff is entitled to.



Judge Fujie tells the parties, “I will go back and take a look at this. This case is...” 



McNicholas offers the description, “Unwieldy.”



Judge Fujie replies, “Yes.”



A bit of background on Department 56. Judge Fujie was only recently assigned to Dept. 56, within the last few months. The previous judge in Dept. 56 was Judge Michael Johnson. Incidentally, back in 2010, Judge Johnson was once assigned to the downtown criminal court, Dept. 108, where he presided over the Michael Gargiulo preliminary hearing. 



In the Francis case, because of prior discovery disputes, the parties agreed to split the cost of a discovery referee, a retired judge, Judge Cooper. McNicholas tells the court they’ve paid $60,000 to the referee in just three months (October, November and December 2017). That means the City has paid the same amount, in taxpayer money.



According to McNicholas, the discovery referee ordered the City to produce documents regarding Detective Cliff Shepard. 

Judge Fujie replies, “I came in at the end of the case.”


I’m amazed the court implied on the record that the court is not familiar with what’s been going on with this case. As a court watcher, I understand that our courts are overburdened. LA County has the largest court system in the US. However, it’s the court’s responsibility when they come in on a case, to get up to speed. Judge Fujie says she wants to see the transcripts of what the discovery referee said.



The upcoming schedule is discussed.


Judge Fujie tells the parties, “I’m going to go back and take a look at the documents with the issues the plaintiff has with discovery.” The court leaves the bench to look over the case file. 

When Judge Fujie returns, she tells the parties, “I’ve gone through everything in our files. I’m going to ask a few questions and I want short answers.” The court says, “The motion for sanctions ... the issues with that motion, two feet tall, still remain.”



Apparently, McNicholas filed a monster brief of all the problems they’ve had with the City not turning over documents or not providing witnesses for depositions.


To me, it seems Judge Fujie is frustrated with McNicholas. McNicholas explains they are still waiting for the City to produce several records including emails from an Internal Affairs Sargent who investigated the Rasmussen family allegation of a coverup.



Judge Fujie asks to see transcripts of what exactly the discovery referee said. The court then tells the parties, “I want to get this case to trial ... I want a minimum of drama.”



Anthony, the City attorney responds, “I don’t have a problem producing emails. ... I just need to see if we have them and if they’re privileged.”



Judge Fujie orders the plaintiff to produce a “very specific” chart of all items the plaintiff wants the City to turn over. Judge Fujie wants the parties to get the discovery done, so the case can go to trial.  



McNicholas tells the court she thinks it’s a two to three week trial from opening to closing. The court firmly tells the parties, “This case will go forward.”



McNicholas asks the court to order the City to provide a date for the deposition for Commander Rick Webb, the former commanding officer of Internal Affairs.

Judge Fujie informs Anthony the City must give a date for Webb’s deposition by May 3. Anthony hemmed and haws, saying Webb might be out of town or on vacation. McNicholas states she can provide Webb’s phone and home address if Anthony can’t get it. 



Judge Fujie further clarifies what she wants on the chart of the outstanding discovery request. The court schedules the deadlines for the plaintiff to produce the chart and the City’s response. 



McNicholas brings up the issue of Dorothy Tucker. Dorthy Tucker was the LAPD’s Behavioral Science Services psychologist that Francis was ordered to see by her superiors.

Tucker died in December 2017, before she could be deposed. McNicholas tells the court she knows of witnesses who were ordered not to appear at scheduled depositions, inferring this is what happened with Tucker. It’s my understanding the City notified Francis’s attorneys in 2015 that Tucker was deceased. After that notification, McNicholas discovered Tucker was still alive. Then Tucker actually did die before her deposition could be taken.

The City tells the court Tucker may have been too sick to sit for a deposition. Judge Fujie tells the City to produce documentation from Tucker’s doctor that she was too sick to sit for a deposition before she died.


My eyes had already started to glaze over about 45 minutes into this hearing. I don’t know how Matthew keeps any of this information straight. 



The court and counsel set up a schedule for briefs; they will discuss Tucker and other issues on June 29.  Judge Fujie says that her priority is that the parties are prepared for an “efficient trial.”



At the end of the hearing, the trial date is moved to October 1, 2018 at 9:30 am.  Final status conference will be September 15, 2018 at 8:30 am. And that’s it for this hearing. We slowly file out of the courtroom about 3:30 pm.



I’m wondering what will happen to this case if it doesn’t go to trial by October 30.


Complaint
LA Times article
My News LA Calif.
Code of Civil Procedure 583.310

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 42

Previous hearing can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, date unknown

April 26, 2018
What a long day today was. And it started off so well.

When I arrived on the 9th floor, I was greeted with the news that Gargiulo was not brought to court, again. I privately wondered if he refused to come out of his cell. DDA Daniel Akemon, DDA Garrett Dameron and defense attorney Daniel Nardoni are here. Lead defense attorney Dale Rubin is a no show.

As I listen to counsel chat with Judge Fidler's clerk Wendy in the well, my eyes fixate on the medium sized jar of candy on the corner of the clerk's counter, next to the wall. I had breakfast but eying that candy jar makes me long for a snack already. The reason Gargiulo isn't here is he had a doctor appointment unbeknownst to the prosecution.

As I sit in the gallery, I reminisce back to my first few months inside this courtroom during the first Phil Spector trial. The courtroom feels completely different than than it did ten years ago. My years in similar courtrooms have steeled me a bit. I'm still cognizant of the power a judge has in his courtroom and do my best to obey all the posted rules and bailiff's commands. However, a courtroom is not as frightening a place to me as it once was when I first stepped into Fidler's court in February 2007.

There are apparently three cases on Judge Fidler's calendar ready to go, and Gargiulo is one of them. There is a discussion as to how many days in advance the court requires to get the number of pre-screened jurors they will need for a death penalty case. Somewhere between 30 days and six weeks. The clerk and counsel toss around a new date to return. Possibly June 8. Gargiulo was arrested on June 6, 2008. He's been in custody ever since. I overhear that Gargiulo had an MRI today, making my mind wander as to what medical issue Gargiulo could have. Because of HIPAA laws, I know it's pointless to ask defense counsel what's going on with Gargiulo's health.

I hear counsel and the clerk have a bit of a discussion about how there is supposed to be a July date for a preliminary hearing in the Uwaydah/Kelly Soo Park, twelve defendant (or is it 13?) insurance fraud case, but it's not clear if that will really happen. I followed that case for a short time when it was in Judge Kennedy's courtroom. Lance LaMon of adjuster.com is still diligently reporting on that case. I imagine that preliminary hearing with all those defendants (and sometimes two counsel for one defendant), on three separate indictments will be a nightmare.

9:10 AM

Judge Fidler takes the bench. He states for the record the counsel present and that the defendant is not present. Mr. Nardoni informs the court that Mr. Gargiulo was taken for an MRI today. It's something they have been waiting on for some time.

I'm betting Gargiulo was taken to an LA County hospital for the MRI. I doubt the County Jail facility has an MRI machine.

The parties inform the court they are seeking a return date of June 8th for pretrial. DDA Akemon informs the court they are looking to (hopefully) have a trial start date at the end of August of this year.

The court responds, "So ordered."

And that took about a minute of on the record court time.

Next hearing is June 8, 2018. Hopefully on that date a firm trial date will be set.

After the Gargiulo hearing, I was sent to a few different departments to get copies of documents in the Robert Baker & Monica Sementilli case. I hung around for lunch and then headed over to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to drop in on a civil case, related to the Lazarus case that my friend Matthew McGough is keeping tabs on. I hope to have a few notes up on that strange experience in a few days.

The next post on this case can be found HERE.