Monday, June 18, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 43

Previous post can be found HERE.

Michael ThoamasGargilo, June 2008

June 8, 2008
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 pretrial hearing is June 28, 2018.

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

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