Monday, August 13, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 44

The previous post can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo 2008

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

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

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

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

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

8:53 AM
Still very quiet inside 106. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker, Pretrial Hearing 5

Previous post can be found HERE.

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

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

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

8:28 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:38 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

And that’s it for today’s hearing.

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

The next post on this case can be found HERE.