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

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.


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
I would like to point new readers to T&T's ABOUT PAGE. T&T is an independent journalism effort. There is no organization or grant, that pays for me to go to court, purchase documents and write a story on the court hearings I attend. T&T is supported 100% by reader donations. If you appreciate the stories that T&T provides with no advertising on the site, please consider clicking on the donation button. Thank you.

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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 41

Previous post can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, 2008

April 20, 2018
The Gargiulo hearing that wasn't lasted about 30 court seconds today.

Although a hearing was scheduled for today, somehow, the wrong date that Gargiulo was to be returned to court was entered into the computer system. Gargiulo wasn't brought to court by the LA Co. Sheriff's. Both parties agreed to trail the case until next Thursday, April 26. Next hearing will be on that date.

It should be noted that a new trial date has not been scheduled on Judge Fidler's calendar.

The next hearing can be found HERE.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Baker, Pretrial Hearing 1

.
Fabio Sementilli, murdered 1/23/2017.

UPDATE 4/27: Quick Links Page has been added.
UPDATE 4/27:
edited to add defense attorney Michael Simmrin is with the Alternate Public Defender's office. Changed "Sunlight Insurance" to Sunlife Insurance". Sprocket
UPDATE 4/26:
After I attended a Gargiulo hearing this morning, I was sent from department to department today trying to get copies of documents. I learned that the search warrant in this case was only partially unsealed so a copy could be made for the defense then it was resealed. I'm certain this was my misunderstanding in hearing Judge Coen's ruling. If this keeps up I will need to invest in a hearing aid. I've obtained motion documents and those will be uploaded when I get home tonight.

UPDATE 4/24: cleaned up minor spelling errors. Sprocket
UPDATE 4/20: edited for clarity, spelling errors; add Christine Pelisek who attended. Sprocket.
April 19, 2018

I had not planned on going into downtown Los Angeles today. I was mentally gearing up for the Gargiulo hearing on Friday. On top of that, I still have lots of packing to do for an eventual move and a new life, not to mention sewing orders to get out. I was searching for something to lull me to sleep. I belatedly watched CBS 48 Hours show on the Fabio Sementilli murder case. Sementilli was an internationally known, award winning hairdresser and beauty executive who was stabbed to death in his home January 23, 2017. My courtroom friend Greg Fisher was one of the producers. It originally aired over a month ago on 3/10/2018. I never realized the murder happened in Woodland Hills, the western section of the San Fernando Valley, just a few miles from where I live.

Sementill's wife Monica and her lover Robert Louis Baker were charged with the murder in June 2017.

Booking photos, June 2017.

According to a summary of the case by Monder Criminal Law Group, LE believes Monica was the mastermind behind the murder plot and the motive was the 1.6 million life insurance policy on Fabio's life. After watching the 48 Hours episode I did a little digging. Checking the LASD inmate locator page, I saw the defendant's next court hearing was today. It was downtown on the 9th floor in Judge Ronald Coen's courtroom and the Deputy DA was Beth Silverman. The case being on the 9th floor piqued my interest but what cinched the deal was DDA Beth Silverman prosecuting.

I've not been shy about the admiration I have for DDA Silverman. I've been impressed with her from the very first time saw her in a courtroom in Van Nuys, at a pretrial hearing back in 2008. I've followed her cases and heard about the high praise she's received from other reporters and attorneys. When she's on a case, she has every fact at her fingertips. And it doesn't hurt that she's got a great wardrobe either. Some people would choose going to a concert or a movie. I would choose listening to DDA Silverman argue motions in front of a judge any day of the week. She's just that sharp.

From what I've gathered from news reports, the case was transferred to Judge Coen's courtroom within the past month or two. This means it's a "long cause" case lasting at least a month or more.

I was already on the freeway when I realized I had forgotten to put a notebook in my handbag. I was running late and I had absentmindedly transferred all my purse contents to a new handbag. I only had a tiny notebook in my purse, not the steno-type books I usually take to court. Rather than turn around to go home and possibly be late for court, I was hoping Judge Coen would let me use my laptop for note taking purposes only.

I've only been inside Judge Coen's courtroom a few times. He's an amazing jurist, one of the most senior and experienced judges in LA County. The Suge Knight murder case is being tried in his court. He has these long, black file boxes on his bench that (I've been told) hold all the appellate decisions for California Supreme Court and SCOTUS. When Coen is ruling, he has the appropriate index cards pulled out and reads from the original ruling to support his decisions. (That's what happened today.)

The 9th Floor
I arrive on the 9th floor about 8:25 am and it's virtually a dead zone. Practically no one is here so I made it just in time. I was afraid Judge Coen was one of those jurists who start at 8:00 am like Judge Perry does.

It doesn't look like there will be a lot of other media showing up. Several gentlemen show up on the 9th floor who are obviously detectives. Not long after, DDA Silverman arrives by herself. Beth is wearing a black and white patterned jacket with large pleats that flair out at the hip, paired with a black skirt. Although this case has been in other courtrooms since June, I won't know who the defense attorneys are and will have to piece things together as I go along.

I follow Beth into Department 101. In the ante chamber, the large, burly Deputy Sargent who was a larger than life presence at the Lonnie Franklin, Jr. trial is with the detectives who were in the hallway. Beth gives the deputy a big hug. Beth starts to talk to the detectives. She stops, looks at me and that's when I smile and say, "I need to leave." I head on into the courtroom. 

Inside Dept 101, the courtroom has a small scattering of people. The second row is empty and that's where I take a seat. I don't recognize the young female reporter in row three off to my right. I recognize the older male reporter who took a seat directly behind me but I'm sorry. I can't for the life of me remember his name.

I approach the bailiff and ask if I can use my laptop for note taking only. Judge Coen is out of his robes and standing beside his male clerk at the clerk's desk. I thought I heard and understood Judge Coen. I thought he said it was approved to use my laptop.

The defense attorneys arrive and set up. DDA Silverman's co-counsel DDA Melissa Opper arrives. (After the hearing, DDA Silverman was kind enough to give me the correct spelling of several of the parties names.)

I could be wrong, but Leonard Levine appears to be lead attorney for Sementilli and his co-counsel is [I believe] Blair Berk that After Party Magazine.com identified as a top celebrity attorney. Baker is represented by Alternate Public Defender Michael Simmrin. Simmrin has been a defense attorney for about 14 years.

8:38 AM
Judge Coen asks the parties if they are ready yet. The defense asks for a moment more. The defense starts setting up their papers and getting situated at the defense side of the table. Contrary to what you often see in TV shows, the defense and prosecution tables are not separated by any big spaces. These courtrooms are small and the well of the court is a very compact area. There is one long continuous table that serves both parties. The prosecution always is on the side of the long table closest to the jury box.  The defense is always on the side of the room with the bailiff's desk and the door to the custody area.

From the well, Beth signals to her two Robbery Homicide Detectives, Chris Gable and Barry Telis to leave the gallery and come sit in the extra chairs behind the prosecution's table.

Judge Coen tells the parties that as soon as Mr. Simmrin gets here, they will start. There are two Asian looking men in the gallery that I believe are LAPD detectives. They are sitting in the front row directly behind DDA Silverman. She turns around to greet the men and shakes their hands. The big barrel chested Deputy Sargent is in the gallery. There are two deputes in the well by the bailiff's desk.

The court reporter at her desk in front of the witness box has an eerie resemblance to alleged murderer Kelly Soo Park that my eyes keep being drawn back to her.

When defense attorney Simmrin arrives, DDA Silverman is telling him there are another (700?) "gigs" of data coming. I believe a young female in the gallery is a clerk for the DA's office. There is a wiry, tall dark haired man sitting in the back of the gallery. He appears to be support staff for one of the defense attorneys.

8:45AM
Judge Coen takes the bench. Monica Sementilli is brought out first. She's wearing a blue jumpsuit. She looks like a tiny woman to me. The LASD inmate website has her at 5 feet 4 inches and 125 pounds. Her roots have grown out about 9-10 inches during her time in custody. You don't get hair color while waiting in the LA County jail. She takes a seat at the defense table. Her two counsel are on her right. Baker's attorney is on her left.


Baker is brought out next. At 5 feet 7 inches, 170 pounds and wearing an orange jumpsuit, he looks much more presentable than his booking photo. His hair is cut very short, almost a buzz cut, but not quite. He's also clean shaven.

Judge Coen goes on the record. They are here to argue various defense motions [by Sementilli]. The first motion is to keep the grand jury transcript sealed. The second is to seal the defense reply motion to the prosecution. The sealing of these documents will depend on the court's ruling.

Judge Coen tells the parties he has read the motions as well as the complete grand jury transcript over several days. He asks Baker's counsel if he joins in the Sementilli motion. He joins.

Levine argues the motion.
It's a rather unique case. The majority of the evidence against her is circumstantial. A great portion of that relates to the relations she had with the co-defendant ... while the issue whether they had a relation[ship?], the extent of which was explored in the grand jury testimony, the sexual nature of it, the specific acts engaged in; whether it was enjoyable or not. ... The volume of testimony that was admitted before the grand jury, those spoke to Mr. Baker and not [our] defendant. The testimony described numerous acts and things they engaged in. It was character evidence. Good character evidence as well as bad character evidence. It's not relevant to the issues of guilt or innocence.

So you had a grand jury transcript with no cross examination permitted. And most [would not] be permissible at trial. And it relates to the character of our client. That would not be at issue.

Other points. Levine argues that the testimony presented in the grand jury would not meet the standard required at trial. Releasing the grand jury testimony would jeopardize her ability to get a fair trial, if the grand jury testimony is released in its entirety.

We are living in an age where they get reviewed in the local press. In the days of social media, everything becomes inflammatory. Everything becomes relevant in the press, whether it's Twitter or Facebook [there is] dissemination [of this ] information to the press. I see no evidence, ... this type of case, for this to occur in this case, and our client would not get a fair trial.

Levine argues, "The court is the only individual that can protect our client at that time." Both sides have been very circumspect in not speaking to the press and not commenting on the evidence in any way. The only way the press is getting this information is the complaint and the overt acts which are numerous. [The court] can't suppress the complaint and the overt acts. If this [grand jury transcript] is released then we are afraid and properly so that this will turn into the presentation of a salacious nature, via the conduct of the two [defendants?] which we feel [none of it?] has any relevance [or that] she participated in any acts that resulted in the murder of her husband.

Levine in closing is asking the court that the public should not get all of this unfettered and unredacted [testimony] ... our client's right to a fair trial ... and sensationalize it with the kind of detail in the grand jury [testimony] that we feel is irrelevant.

Judge Coen asks, "Mr. Simmrin?"

Simmrin adds a few statements.  This case is just to supplement what Mr. Levine has argued. This case has garnered more than average press for an average case. National news stories on it. Full on 20/20. ... 1/2 [hour?] exploration of the facts of the case ... Not something that's gotten a little press and I'm sure the court is aware of that ... given that [?] as well a particular danger. So Simmrin joins Levine's arguments.

The prosecution's argument comes up next. I believe Judge Coen asks, "Ms. Silverman?"

DDA Melissa Opper delivers the people's rebuttal argument. And right off, I have a hard time hearing her. The evidence under seal is circumstantial evidence ... [which is] involved in almost every case. This isn't character evidence but rather circumstantial evidence that goes to the [heart of?] the case. During the grand jury, opening statements by Ms. Silverman, that's not evidence. They [the g.j] were aware that it is not evidence. There is no overriding evidence that specifically, as we indicated in our moving papers, that a single homicide does not support the sealing of grand jury transcripts.

I am having trouble hearing DDA Opper and then the bailiff tells me I'm not supposed to be using my laptop. I'm mortified. I evidently misunderstood what the instruction was. I'll have to apologize to the court. I put my laptop down and dig into my bag for the little 4 inch by 5 inch notebook to try to take some written notes.

I don't have any hand notes on the rest of the people's argument. Levine then gets up to present his rebuttal argument. He mentions the CBS 48 Hours show. He mentions that there were not facts from either side and they were not accurate. He mentions something about whether Monica was a good mother or bad mother, or whether the victim was a good husband. Things presented in [in the grand jury] were not relevant to motive. Much of it was sexual in nature and overkill. Much of the proposed evidence. If the court doesn't seal everything, then seal those parts that are not relevant to guilt. The court has great discretion.

Judge Coen lays out his arguments for his ruling. The transcripts are open to the public unless there are [compelling?] arguments that it should be sealed. There's not a lengthy amount of case law [on this issue].

The court then reads from several of his large index cards the applicable case law that addresses this issue. He speaks so fast I am really missing my laptop because I cannot write fast enough to get the case law he references and reads from.

Judge Coen adds, "In reading the transcript, it does not appear this is as salacious as counsel points out. ... A case is sensational and then [is?] surpassed by the next salacious case, and on and on."

Judge Coen does not find that releasing the transcript [would be a hindrance?] to Sementilli receiving a fair trial. "The transcript in total is to be unsealed." Judge Coen then addresses Levine's motion to seal his rebuttal argument/motion. The reply will be unsealed.

There is one last issue that the defense is asking for and it has to do with how the people have searched or performed a data search of [I believe] Sementill's cell phone. Levine is requesting the people perform a specific type of search. Both parties have their cell phone experts in court. DDA Silverman explains to the court that the people did the type of search that is most recommended to LE. Judge Coen reads from the law. "The people do not have a duty to do the defense work for them." DDA Silverman adds, "As I mentioned, the defense is not allowed to go around LE and make demands for discovery. ... If his expert wants to take the stand ..." Judge Coen adds, "They [defense] have a right to examine the cell phone." DDA Silverman counters the courts statement. "No. It's the people's evidence. ... [The program TeleBright?] allows two types of extraction. Number one gives the most data. Number two gives limited data. What's generally accepted in the community is number one, which is what was done in this case."

Judge Coen reads case law. In light of what the court just read, DDA Silverman tells the court that the people will perform the number two type of extraction. "We'll do the extraction ourselves and provide the limited data set." Method #2 is limited extraction of data.  It appears the defense is complaining about the way the people have analyzed the data.  DDA Silverman reaffirms to the court that they will provide the extraction of the data. The defense counters that "all the boxes were not checked" when they did the extraction.

The last item to address is the sealed search warrant. There is some back and forth between Judge Coen and Mr. Levine. Judge Coen states he is treating this as a discovery issue and not as a "Hobbs" issue. Having examined the warrant, Judge Coen is ordering a partial unsealing of the search warrant, except for the following: Judge Coen reads the list of paragraphs that will be redacted. Page 5, full second paragraph. Page 8, full second paragraph. Page 13, fourth full paragraph. Page 18, second full paragraph. Page 32, last paragraph, redacted. "What's left, [is] what is known to all parties."

Judge Coen then asks if there is anything further at this time. They are looking for a new date to return. Levine mentions that there is a lot of new discovery. At first, May 10 is selected and everyone agrees. DDA Silverman almost forgot that one of their search warrants came back and it is with the court. It's documents from "Sunlife" Insurance. The people are asking to receive the documents open them and make copies. The court approves. Then, Levine changes his mind and wants May 9th as the next court date.

May 9th it is. And that's it.  Like I mentioned earlier, out in the hallway DDA Silverman gives me the correct spelling of her co-counsel's name, Baker's attorney's last name and the names of the two Robbery Homicide detectives. I then leave the criminal court building behind. I'm headed over to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to drop in on the court's Public Information Office, (PIO) to see if I can clear up and/or get an apology to Judge Coen's court about my laptop misunderstanding. As I'm crossing the street, I see City News reporter Terri Keith. I adore Terri. She has always been most helpful and kind to me. I follow her back to her office and update her on the hearing this morning. I then head over to the PIO and put in an apology to the court and to see if I can use my laptop for future pretrial hearings. PIO Elizabeth gets back to me later in the day about using my laptop. I'm to just ask the bailiff at each pretrial hearing and they will ask the judge.

Towards the end of the hearing I looked to the back of the gallery and saw People Magazine reporter Christine Pelisek in the back row. I don't know when she arrived.

The next hearing on this case can be found HERE.


NOTE: Quick Links Page on this case has been added. Sprocket

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sherri Rae Rasmussen 2/7/1957 - 2/24/1986

Sherri at home, December 1985.

This entry was first published on February 24, 2016. Republished last year on her death anniversary and today on her birthday. Sherri would have been 61 today. Sprocket.

GUEST ENTRY by AUTHOR MATTHEW McGOUGH!

Matthew McGough is writing a book about Sherri's life and murder.

Sherri Rasmussen was an exceptional person.

Over the last several years I have interviewed many of Sherri’s family members, friends, and colleagues. Thirty years after Sherri’s tragic death, her absence continues to reverberate in their lives.

Sherri’s life was remarkable for how much she accomplished in her twenty-nine years, and for how humble she was. Sherri was a high achiever from the time she was a little girl. Sherri graduated from high school at age sixteen, college at twenty, and became a nurse the same year. At twenty-three, she earned her master’s degree in nursing from UCLA.

Despite being younger than many of her nursing colleagues, first at UCLA Medical Center and later at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Sherri’s personal nature commanded trust and respect. Those who worked with Sherri remember her as an extremely competent nurse, always calm under pressure, and a natural leader. Sherri cared deeply about her patients and about the profession of nursing, to which she dedicated her adult life.

Sherri loved her family and friends and was beloved by them. Many people have told me about the profound impact Sherri had on their lives, how she encouraged them to do their best, and how her example continues to inspire them, even all these years later.

Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” By this measure, it makes perfect sense that Sherri is remembered so fondly by so many.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo Case, Pretrial Hearing 40

Previous post on this case can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, booking photo, 2008.

UPDATE: edited for clarity
February 2, 2018
I arrive in downtown LA around 8am. That's plenty of time to get on the 9th floor before 8:30am, when Dept. 106, Judge Fidler's court opens.

For those who don't know, the civic center area of downtown Los Angeles has several hills, some steep and some not so steep. My walk from the church parking to the court on Temple Street is an easy block and a half and downhill. The Clara Shortridge-Foltz criminal court building takes up the entire block on Temple between Broadway and N. Spring Street. As I cross Broadway, Temple takes a sharper dip to the front entrance of the court. Unfortunately, as I get closer to the door, I see that the security station at the front entrance is closed, just like it was yesterday.

Clara Shortridge-Foltz, Criminal Justice Center.
Southeast corner of Temple St. and Broadway Ave.
My photo archive.

I have two choices. Continue downhill on Temple to the corner of N. Spring, turn right and take a tall, almost two story set of stairs to the upper balcony and back entrance. Or, I can walk back up the incline to Broadway, turn left and go slightly downhill on Broadway towards the level access walkway at the back of the building. I reverse course, deciding to take the incline verses the stairs.

When I realized the front entrance was closed, a woman stopped me on the sidewalk and asked which way to go to get into the court building. I told her to follow me. She asked me if I was going to jury duty. I told her "No." She immediately turned around to go East on Temple to N. Spring. "Mam!" I called after her, "This way is easier into the building." She then turned back around and rushed passed me up Temple.

As I'm walking west on Temple, CBS 48 Hours producer Greg Fisher is coming towards me and asked where I was going. I explain to him the front entrance is closed and we have to go to the back entrance. Greg is half a foot taller than me, in much better shape and with much longer legs. I'm not moving fast enough for him. My bag is heavy with my laptop and I struggle to keep up.

As we reach the door, the woman whom I just directed is in front of me at the security scanner. But she's standing there, not moving at all, acting like she doesn't know what to do. The security station is much like those found in airports. It consists of a walk through scanner for people, and an x-ray type device where you put your belongings on the table with the moving belt. Your personal items then move through the device so the security personnel can see through your belongings to make sure you're not bringing anything into a court building that's illegal. It's not like security scanners were just invented yesterday. They've been around for a long time.

Full disclosure. I admit that I get impatient with people at the security stations who don't know how to put their belongings on the moving belt. They are often confused about the security officer's instructions to take everything out of their pockets and put them in the round trays before they walk through the scanner. Impatient at the court scanners? Guilty as charged. I do need to work on having more patience. The rest of the morning, Greg doesn't let me forget that I went past the woman in front of me.

When we reach the 9th floor, the CBS 48 Hours camera crew is already there waiting for the security station to open. History lesson. This is the only security station on a courtroom floor. It was built before the start of the O.J. Simpson trial. Greg introduces me to the CBS camera crew. Apparently, Judge Fidler approved filming today's hearing. 48 Hours wants to get video of any family members who make statements to the court under Marsy's Law

A few minutes later defense investigator Chris Nicely arrives. He's wearing a really nice blue suit. Chris is quite tall and very easy on the eyes. While we wait, it's clear the sheriff's deputies are having difficulty turning the scanner machine on. One of the camera guys points out to the deputies that there appears to be a plug that's unplugged under the machine.  The cord gets plugged in and the sheriffs test the scanner. I had put myself in front of the camera equipment so I could get to the ladies restroom quickly. Greg, who likes to razz me, doesn't let me forget that either.

When I exit the restroom, the 9th floor hallway is mostly empty except for a group gathered in the center. It's CBS 48 Hours host Maureen Maher standing with the two cameramen I met at the security station. With her is another 48 Hours producer Doug Longhini. I walk toward the group and wait for a moment to introduce myself.  Maureen beats me to it and introduces herself first. Maureen is petite and just as pretty in person as she is on camera. She's wearing a sleeveless A-line black dress with a matching jacket. The cameramen are miking her up for interviews later.

Retired LAPD Hollywood Homicide Detective Tom Small and his wife Laurie (sp?) are also with the group. Detective Small investigated victim Ashley Ellerin's murder. His wife Laurie is a court reporter in Dept. 109, Judge Kennedy's court. Detective Small is in a complicated brace that is holding his right arm in a fixed position out from his body. With all that Mr. Sprocket has gone through, I'm guessing it's a good bet Detective Small had surgery to repair an injury on his right shoulder. I'm asked if I know Detective Small. I know him from several court appearances in this case and one other. I remember being in the elevator with him well over a year ago when he announced to a companion that he was retiring from the LAPD that day. After a few minutes I step away to sit down on a bench seat near Dept. 106 and jot down some notes.

8:30 AM
A bailiff opens Dept. 106 and Greg gets their approved filming order into the court. Across the hall from Dept. 106, Judge Lomeli's court clerk opens his courtroom, Dept 107. He stands with the door open for a minute, watching the group in the center of the hall. It looks like defense attorney Daniel Nardoni has arrived and joins the center hallway group. Other people headed for other courtrooms stop by to say hello to Maureen and the group.

Inside Dept. 106

When the courtroom opens, the camera crew gets right to work setting up their equipment in the jury box. Wendy, Judge Fidler's court clerk is telling the cameramen which podium to get in the back corner and where to place it in the well.

Like I noted in my post yesterday, Judge Fidler is in the middle of a death penalty trial with two separate juries. I can see the second jury's notebooks on the benches in the first and second rows of the gallery. There is a sign on the third bench row, not to sit there. This is to have some space between these jurors and members of the public. Since there are no jurors here today, I ask Wendy if it's okay to sit in the third row. She says that's fine today. A trick I learned from the late Dominick Dunne, I always try to sit directly in line with the witness box, or in this case, as close to the podium where the victims family members will stand. The camera crew quickly gets to work setting up wireless microphones at the bench, counsel tables and the podium.

Maureen enters the courtroom with Detective Small. Small takes a seat near the bailiff sitting on a chair in the well and Maureen sits with the other CBS crew in the far last row of the gallery.  Small's wife joins him a bit later. Defense attorney Nardoni arrives in the courtroom.

8:35 AM
There are several conversations going on at once all around the gallery. Detective Small and seated the bailiff chat. Another bailiff comes out of the custody area and calls out for Gargiulo's counsel. Mr. Nardoni asks, "Is he back [there]?" The deputy answers, "Yes." Nardoni goes back to see his client in the custody area.

8:37 AM
Retired Detective Mark Lillienfeld arrives. I believe Detective Lillienfeld investigated the murder of Maria Bruno and attempted murder of Michelle Murphy. I give him a smile and he is kind enough to sit beside me and say hello. We chat about what retirement is like from a long career as a detective. The bailiff who is chatting with Detective Small gets up from his seat to come over and shake Detective Lillienfeld's hand.

DDA Garrett Dameron enters Dept. 106 and checks in with the court clerk. There is a tall slender man with him I don't recognize. Nardoni, out of the custody area, leaves the courtroom with his investigator Nicely to chat. Det. Lillienfeld leaves me and joins the group chatting with Det. Small. Greg and Maureen are chatting in the far corner of the last gallery row.

Tracy, the DA's victim support staff who works with the Major Crimes Division arrives and checks in with the bailiff. She wants to be sure which path the deputy wants the victim's family to take when they approach the podium. She then exits the courtroom.

8:48 AM
DDA Daniel Akemon arrives. He's chatting with Mr. Nardoni just outside the courtroom in the ante chamber. On Judge Fidler's bench, there are several reference books in a desktop book-holder to the right and a huge reference book directly in the center of his bench. On the wall behind the bench to the left, is a large TV screen. To the right of the bench is the clerks desk and counter area. Directly in front of the clerks walled-off counter area, there are several file boxes stacked up, three or four high. I'm guessing these files relate to the death penalty case.

A pretty petite woman from the DA's office I've seen in other cases arrives. I think she's with the DA's JSID unit (Justice System Integrity Division). There are handshakes all around with the group over by Detective Small.  I look behind me to the chairs near the door where Chris Nicely usually sits. He's concentrating on his notepad, taking notes.

I'm wondering what the hold-up is. Maybe we are waiting for lead defense attorney Dale Rubin.  Detective Lillienfeld joins Greg and Maureen in the back left corner of the gallery. There are conversations still going on in several groups around me. Nardoni and Nicely go back into the custody area to speak with Gargiulo.

New York Magazine Editor and author Carolyn Murnick arrives with a male friend. She immediately recognized me but again, I didn't recognize her at first. I'm starting to wonder if I'm developing face blindness, or it's my age. Carolyn takes a seat to my left to chat and say hello. Carolyn then reaches into her bag and signs for me a copy of her book, The Hot One, about her childhood friend and murder victim Ashley Ellerin. I'm touched. Due to my husband's health, I wasn't able to make it to her book signings in Los Angeles, so this is a nice surprise.

9:00 AM
The family of victim Tricia Pacaccio arrive along with the DA's victim support staff.  DDA Akemon is conferring with Mrs. Pacaccio and her sons. Detective Small introduces himself to the Pacaccio family. Carolyn and I scoot down to make room for Mrs. Pacaccio and her sons, Douglas and Thomas at the far left end of our row.

The court clerk asks if counsel are ready. Dale Rubin is still not here.

9:06 AM
People Magazine reporter Christine Pelisek arrives. She greets Detective Lillienfeld and takes a seat in the back row.

9:08 AM
The court clerk calls for counsel over at her counter. Wendy also asks for one of the cameramen. 48 Hours producer Doug comes over to the other cameraman in the jury box to chat. Lots of conversations going on at once. The camera was taken down. There will be no video taping today, just audio of the impact statements. (After the hearing I learn that the Pacaccio family did not wish to be filmed so the court reversed the filming order but let 48 Hours record the audio.)

The court clerk tells the bailiff. "I think we're ready now."

9:14 AM
Gargiulo is brought out. Since defense counsel Dale Rubin is not here, Gargiulo doesn't sit at the end of the table where everyone can see his face. He sits directly beside Nardoni so his back is to the gallery. When he entered, he looks exactly the same as the January hearing. He's wearing the orange jumpsuit with the white long-johns type shirt underneath. His head is completely bald except for his eyebrows and mustache. It's clear Gargiulo looks about 10 years older than his booking photo at the top of this post. His face is much leaner, thinner.

9:15 AM
Judge Fidler takes the bench. DDA Akemon tells the court they have the Picaccio family from Illinois. He introduces Tricia Pacaccio's mother, Diane (sp?). Tricia was murdered in Illinois in 1993. Her case is pending in that state. Mrs. Picaccio reads a prepared statement. One of her sons stands beside her at the podium. She speaks so fast, I get very few complete sentences of her statement. As she starts to talk about her daughter, her voice breaks and I feel her pain. The anguish in her voice at the loss of her daughter affects me. My friend Matthew McGough is always telling me I need to maintain a distant professionalism, but I still struggle with that. I've silently wiped tears many times in the gallery, listening to a family member sob during testimony or give an impact statement.

Mrs. Pacaccio thanks the court. "We ask that ... why this had to happen to our wonderful loving Tricia. .. Twenty-four years later ... hard time suffering ... cannot understand ... [We are] fundamentally different people down to our soul since this happened.  ... When someone who is indispensable to your happiness is gone ..." Mrs. Pacaccio weeps as she speaks to the court. Toward the end of her statement she's crying and my eyes start to well up.

I believe it's Douglas, Tricia's other brother who reads a letter from his father. Mr. Pacaccio was unable to travel due to health issues. "I am here to represent my daughter's rights and the right for a speedy trial. The defendant needs to be brought to trial in the murder of Tricia. ... If you give one thought ... [we?] who have been waiting 25 years. ... We are very angry, disgusted and surprised ... the delays and extensions."

Douglas speaks fast and I'm having trouble keeping up. "Please do not delay this case any longer. ... Know that we will have another long case, once it gets to Chicago, Illinois."

Judge Fidler addresses the victim's family. "I do hear you. I've been doing this for 35 years. ... I have to be general. I can't speak to prior delays, because I don't know what happened."

Judge Fidler then speaks to them hypothetically, as to what happens after a California case that receives a death penalty verdict. It is first reviewed by the California Supreme Court. After California, it goes to the Federal system. "If they [California Supreme Court] affirm, then 12-15 years, it goes to the Federal side. ... Then habeas corpus." Judge Fidler says something about the Federal system [here in the west] taking a dim view of the death penalty, so California death penalty cases lose.

Judge Fidler goes onto explain that they can't have any mistakes in a death penalty case. When he tries a case, he tries to make no mistakes.  "We had a new plea. That will delay [the case] as a matter of law. ... I promise both sides that I will move this case as expeditiously ... and still follow the law. ... Because of the new plea, there are going to be delays. ... I will keep you in mind. You're not nameless to me. ... You didn't come out here [for nothing]. "

DDA Akemon addresses the court. They have picked a name from the court's approved list for a doctor to evaluate Gargiulo for the people. Dr. Robert Schug. DDA Akmon states, "He is ready to start his evaluation almost immediately. ... He is asking for face to face meetings and an ability to bring a laptop [into the jail]."

Judge Fidler rules, "If you give me an order I will sign it." 

DDA Akemon tells the court they have the next pretrial date in mind, April 20, 2018. By that time, they may have a good status on where they are.  Judge Fidler sets the case calendar at zero of 90 on April 20th. Defense attorney Nardoni tells the court they have given discovery to the DA. Their hope is to start the case this summer.

And that's it. Judge Fidler is off the bench and Gargiulo is taken back into the custody area. Out in the hallway I learn that lead defense attorney Dale Rubin is under the weather, so that's why he wasn't in court today.

I was really hoping that 48 Hours was going to get images of Gargiulo today. I have been unable to find any photos taken of Gargiulo beyond his various booking photos. It doesn't appear that Gargiulo has been photographed during any court proceeding since he was arrested in 2008.

Next hearing can be found HERE.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Going to Court: Suge Knight, Artyom Gasparyan's Alleged Crime Spree Prelim, Alleged MS-13 Gang Death Penalty Case & Michael Thomas Gargiulo

Thursday, February 1, 2018
Potential New Cases
I wasn't really planning on going into downtown LA on Thursday since there is a Gargiulo hearing on Friday. However, once I got the sales taxes paid and the DA's calendar for the next day showed up, I thought I would take a look. I just wanted to see if there was anything interesting. There were several cases downtown that piqued my interest. Suge Knight was on the calendar for two courtrooms. A week ago, I was talking about the Knight case with my writing partner Katie. I haven't really followed the Knight case so I didn't know if that was a typo on the calendar or if he really did have two cases trailing each other in different courtrooms. The last news article I read said the murder trial was scheduled for January 8, 2018, but here it was February and the case was still in pretrial hearings. 

Also on the calendar was a listing for "continuing defense testimony" in Judge Fidler's courtroom. I was surprised. I thought the death penalty case that started in late October was supposed to be finished in early January, making way for the Gargiulo case. But again, here it is February and the defense is still putting on testimony. It is a cold case murder and alleged MS-13 gang affiliation. There are four defendants.


There was a preliminary hearing in Dept. 41, Judge Villar, that piqued my interest because of the Deputy District Attorney assigned. It's John McKinney with the DA's Major Crimes Division. I had heard good things about DDA McKinney but had never met him or followed one of his cases. This might be a good time to drop in and see what his case was about.

Best Laid Plans
I didn't sleep well Wednesday night. I did wake up in plenty of time to get to court, but I felt so out of sorts I debated with myself for almost an hour on whether to go or not. I got a late start out the door and didn't make it into downtown LA until after 9:00 am. I arrived on the 9th floor around 9:15 am.

Suge Knight, Dept. 101 Judge Coen

Full disclosure. I know very little about the case other than Knight has gone through a slew of attorneys. He is charged with murder, attempted murder in one case (TA136401 ) and charged with robbery in another (SA089020). Those cases are in Dept. 101. Knight is also charged with making criminal threats (BA452832). That case is in Dept. 120, Judge Richman.

When I arrive in Dept. 101, there are few people in the gallery. I make sure the Sheriff's Deputy sitting right by the door sees my press badge as I quietly enter. I know there probably are victim family members in the gallery because I see a familiar face from the DA's victim support staff sitting with them. I take a seat in the gallery beside another reporter with a camera man. Siting at the far end of the long benches I recognize Associated Press reporter Brian Melley. Anytime Melley covers a case you can expect an excellent story. Here is his write-up on the hearing today.

By the tone I'm hearing from the bench, it appears Judge Coen has lost his patience with one of the attorneys at the counsel tables. I'm not sure who. Judge Coen is a formidable presence on the bench. (I was briefly in his courtroom back in 2013, when I wrote about Coen's famous file boxes.) At this point, I don't know who any of the defense counsel are. In the well along with other DA staff I see Asst. Head Deputy of Major Crimes, Craig Hum. It appears it's DDA Cynthia Barnes, who impatiently tosses back a piece of paper handed to her by the defense. After a bit of back and forth, the next pretrial hearing date is set at February 14. I hear from other reporters that a trial date has already been set for April 19. And that's it. People start to file out. I get the chance to say hello to DDA Hum in the hallway. He is kind enough to tell me that Knight's other case is in Dept. 120, on the 13th floor.

Suge Knight, Dept. 120 Judge Richman

The reporter in the gallery of Dept. 101 that I didn't recognize was LA Times reporter James Queally, who has written several pieces on the Knight case already. Queally remembers me, and I apologized to him that I didn't recognize him.

Judge Richman is on the bench. There are a bunch of people in the gallery. There is a DDA at the people's table. It's clear he is hearing pretrial hearings in other cases. DDA Barnes is in the well along with two other DDA's that were in Dept. 101. There is a small child, no more than 18 months or 2 years, sitting alone at the end of the third bench row.  I take a seat in this row a little ways to the left of the child. After awhile, a slender black man comes and sits beside the child. He's either the dad or the guardian.

Judge Richman calls a different case than Knight's. The defendant is the man with the very young child. He leaves the child on the bench alone in the gallery and takes a seat at the defense table. Judge Richman mentions the case is a residential burglary. There's a prior fire arms conviction. I miss the next several statements in the well because the young child is making noises while he's sitting alone. There are several women sitting behind the detectives on the other side of the aisle. They are trying to shush the noisy child. Judge Richman appears to be finished with this defendant when he asks the man, "I'll ask you the most important question. Eagles or Patriots?" The man tells the court "Eagles."

With this case over, Judge Richman banters with DDA Barnes in the well. In reference to one of the DDA's with her, he asks, "Why is he here? He look comfortable." The court asks for the parties in the Knight case. It isn't until after the hearing I learn that the DDA on this case is not Barnes but DDA Stefan Mrakich. I find that the older black attorney sitting in the well is Thaddeus Culpepper. The black female attorney sitting beside Knight at the defense table is Dominique Banos. Ms. Banos is an attractive black woman. She's wearing a very form fitting suit over her ample bosom. The white female attorney, Rena Wallenius, is there representing Ms. Banos. Mr. Culpepper sits in the gallery for a short time before taking a seat in the well behind Banos.

Judge Richman tells Banos, "I think I read your declaration." The court tells the press photographer he is welcome to remain. DDA Barnes tells the court that they just set the cases in Dept. 101 for February 14, calendar zero of 60 for pretrial. She tells the court the murder trial has been set for April 9, 10 for jury trial. The robbery case is also set for February 14, calendar at zero of 60. Judge Richman sets Knight's case in his courtroom for the same date at zero of 30. DDA Barnes suggests the court sets the calendar in Dept. 120 the same as Dept. 101 (zero of 60 as of 2/14).

Judge Richman responds. He appears to be giving DDA Barnes a bit of friendly banter. "Judge Coen doesn't report to anybody. Judge Coen is a grade five. I'm just a grade three. I have to report to people." Judge Richman sets Knight's case at zero of 30 for February 14 and orders the defendant back at 8:30 am. The setting of the case calendar is all that DDA Barnes is here for. She then hands the presentation over to DDA Mrakish who presents to the court their conflict of interest allegation regarding Ms. Banos. The court comments that there are lawyers for the lawyers here. DDA Mrakish tells the court that he doesn't have a lawyer here.

Ms. Wallenius interjects on the conflict of interest allegation by the people by telling the court, "I am not a potted plant! The people have not filed a motion [regarding the conflict of interest] ... or on the perjury matter."

DDA Mrakish outlines for the court that sometime prior, Knight's phone privileges at the jail were restricted. He was only allowed to call his attorney. There were no 3-wall calls allowed. Mrakish tells the court [I believe] about a phone call between Ms. Banos, Knight and someone with a production company. Knight used the booking number belonging to another inmate to make the call, after the phone restrictions were put in place. DDA Mrakish states there is a potential conflict of interest between Ms. Banos and Knight. He is here to get a waiver from the defendant.

While this is going on, Knight has spun around in his chair. For a while there, Knight was spinning his chair a bit from side to side. Now he's turned it completely around, facing away from the judge and is speaking to a deputy sheriff standing behind him. Judge Richman stops the proceedings to ask if Knight is paying attention to what is going on. Knight spins back around and faces the court.

DDA Mrakish tells the court the production company may be paying Ms. Banos's fee. It creates a specter of conflict. Mr. Knight  has a "... right to have conflict free counsel" DDA Mrakish argues. Judge Richman tells the parties, "I'm just a small piece of a tail on a really big dog here." The court addresses the defendant. "Do you want Ms. Banos to continue to represent you?" Knight adamantly tells the court, "I'm not making a waiver." The court patiently continues to address the defendant. "Assume what the DA says is true. Do you want Ms. Banos to continue to represent you?" Knight replies, "Yes."

Judge Richman states that they are done here. There is no signed waiver, just a verbal waiver from the defendant. There's only one other question the court asks Knight. "Patriots or Eagles?" Knight makes his choice. There are a few more off the cuff comments from the court, something about Judge Ryan. Then Judge Richman addresses the defendant again. "Do you know the song, Drowning on Dry Land?" Knight replies, "Yeah." If I recall correctly, the court tells the defendant the song reminds him of Knight. There are a few more statements by the court that I miss.

Ms. Wallenius interjects and addresses the court. "What she [DDA Barnes?] did in the last courtroom is reprehensible! ... The people are suggesting Ms. Banos has broken  the law! ... I'm asking the court to make a finding she has not broken the law." Ms. Wallenius continues to argue with the court. The court responds, "You're bordering on contempt." Ms. Wallenius appears to back down from that and tells the court that the DA has made an allegation. The court responds, "I've not made any finding nor have I assumed anything." Judge Richman has had enough and that's it for the Knight hearing. Out in the hallway I get the names and correct spelling for all the counsel in this hearing.

Dept. 106, Judge Fidler

I head back down to the 9th floor to see if the trial in Judge Fidler's courtroom has resumed. Peeking through the window in the door, I see there's no one in the courtroom. I then head to the 3rd floor for Dept. 41.

Dept. 41, Judge M. L. Villar - Artyom Gasparyan preliminary hearing

I quietly enter Dept. 41. I make sure the bailiff sees my press pass. The courtroom gallery is almost completely empty except, I see Terri Keith from City News. Terri is one of my favorite reporters. She has a tough job and she does it quite well. Terri gives me a smile and scoots over so I can take a seat beside her. I note that Judge M. L. Villar is a woman.

Summary: Artyom Gasparyan is charged with 32 counts stemming from a crime spree that began August 5, 2015 and ended with the defendant being shot and apprehended on January 4, 2016. Gasparyan is charged with murder, several counts of attempted murder, robbery, and other crimes. This appeared to be a one man crime bonanza. A total of eight victims were shot, one fatal.

The parties are at the tail end of the preliminary hearing where the court is making their ruling. I've missed the closing arguments for both sides. For the moment, all I see is the back of the defendant. He hair is jet black, past his shoulders. Although the defendant is in a wheelchair beside his attorney, I can see from his body movements that he isn't paralyzed. He's able to move his lower body quite well.  DDA John McKinney is at the prosecution table. He is a tall, handsome black man. By the end of the prelim, the DA's office amended their original complaint, removing two charges and adding three. The court is detailing the evidence that was presented by the people. There were 133 exhibits presented in the course of the prelim and numerous witnesses. Judge Villar mentions GeoTime® mapping is a game changer. Not only place, but routes, times and place. It's illustrative to the court but not persuasive to the court. The court continues with the other evidence admitted that connects the defendant to the charged crimes. The court states, "Nine millimeter casings at crime scenes; multiple witnesses identified the defendant and vehicle." Judge Villar adds that the GeoTime® mapping [indicates the defendant?] to have been at these locations. "The forensic evidence, more than sufficient that ... [the defendant] will be held to answer."

That's it. Judge Villar rules that sufficient evidence was presented for the defendant be bound over for trial. There will be a hearing in Dept. 100 (Master Calendar Court) in two weeks. That's probably for assignment to a courtroom. When the defendant is wheeled out, I can see that his right arm is wrapped and in a sling. I can't remember if it was before or after Judge Villar adjourned the hearing when she specifically addressed the detective(s) by name and complimented them on their work.

Outside in the hallway, Terri Keith asked DDA McKinney several questions about the case and I listen in. The defendant's vehicle was equipped with a stand alone Garmond GPS. In was mounted on the dash. The crime spree occurred in neighborhoods all over Los Angeles County. Los Felitz, Glendale, West Hollywood, Burbank, Harbor, Mission, Woodland Hills, Wilshire, and Carson were some of the locations of the crimes. The murder victim occurred in the inner city and the motive isn't clear. He encountered the defendant for a short period, just seconds. It's possible that the victim was in the defendant's way. From December 29th, 2015 to January 1, 2016, the defendant had a co-conspirator (Daniel Ramirez? spelling?). Once together, they stayed together in the vehicle. The co-conspirator killed two people and then shot himself.

I asked DDA McKinney how long he's been with the Major Crimes Division. He tells me since 2011. After the chat with DDA McKinney, I head back up to the 9th floor.

Dept. 106, Judge Fidler - Alleged MS-13 gang murder case; 4 defendants, 2 juries
When I step into Dept. 106, the gallery is empty. The only person in the well is Judge Fidler's clerk, Wendy. The case that started in late October has gone long. The DDA on the case is Dayan Mathai. DDA Mathai is also leading the big insurance fraud case against Kelly Soo Park and a slew of other defendants, also pending in Dept. 106. Lonce LaMon at adjuster.com has been posting detailed reports on the insurance fraud case pretrial hearings.

For the murder case, the parties are still in the case-in-chief. No penalty phase has started yet. There are four defendants and two juries. The victim is Jacqueline Piazza, 13, who was raped and murdered in June 2001. One jury is hearing the case against Jorge Palacios, 39. The other jury is hearing the case against Santos Grimaldi, 35, Melvin Sandoval, 38, and Rogelio Contreras, 40. Grimaldi and Sandoval are facing the death penalty. If either one is found guilty, there will be a trial to determine penalty.

Wendy tells me they are in the defense case for one of the defendants. The parties and court are hopeful to start closing arguments on February 20. There will be separate closings for the defendants.

I ask Wendy about the Michael Gargiulo case. She tells me the parties passed on being the next case up on Judge Fidler's calendar. After so many courtrooms in one day, I head back home.

Previous hearing on the Gargiulo case can be found HERE.

Next hearing on the Gargiulo case can be found HERE.