Friday, February 16, 2007

Trial Notes, 2-16-07

It's a fact of life with me. I don’t plan my time well, or remember to get everything done to be fully ready. All week I knew I needed to research the trip route by bus and rail into downtown LA, but there I was, minutes ticking away Friday morning, trying to find out how much money I would need for the bus and rail, and, what station I would get off at in downtown LA to be closest to the courthouse. I wanted to get to the station by 8:00am, and I needed to leave a few minutes ago, to meet that deadline. I knew from the beginning that if I decided to attend this trial, I would be taking the train. Finding inexpensive parking in downtown LA near the court would be difficult to near impossible. A one way trip would cost me $2.50 to take two different lines into Downtown, and a day pass is even less for only $3.00. I could probably save even more buying a monthly pass, but it will just depend on how many days a week I’ll be able to attend the trial.

Although light rail lines are not new to Los Angeles, subway lines are relatively new compared to New York. There was quite a bit of controversy building subway lines in an area of the country where earthquakes are a regular occurrence, and I was one of the skeptics when the idea was first proposed. I knew someone who worked on the construction of the “Red Line”, right around the time there was a construction death that occurred while the North Hollywood section was being created. I think OSHA was called in and a big investigation occurred. It definitely affected my friend at the time. It took over six years to extend the subway connection from Hollywood into the two San Fernando Valley stations. One station is located across from Universal Studios, and the other in North Hollywood.

On October 29, 2005 the 14 mile Orange Line was opened to the public. The Orange Line is not a light rail line, like most of the other metro lines into downtown Los Angeles. It’s a dedicated road strictly for busses that was built (for a significant section) on land that used to be abandoned train track. It spans almost the entire San Fernando Valley, making a connection with the Red Line in North Hollywood. I remember soon after the line opened, there was a serious accident where a car collided with one of the busses, injuring at least 11 people. Soon afterwards, at every intersection neon signs were installed that flashed a bus image and the word “BUS” when the bus was approaching. It took time for people to get use to the fact that there was another intersection they had to stop at.

It had been years since I’d taken a metro bus, and at least over 20 since I took a local rail trip. The Orange Line has a station and a generous parking lot about a mile from my house and it's very easy to get to. I loaded up my pockets with dollar bills and quarters. The Orange Line Station stops are quite state of the art, with neon signs that tell you the current time, how many more minutes it will be until a bus comes, and an automated voice over a speaker system telling you that the bus is arriving.

I get on the bus only to discover that the driver does not take your money. I felt like a total idiot. I had to purchase a ticket at one of the kiosks. I got off the bus and away it went without me. So much for trying to be on time. I went up to the kiosk, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out which button I should push to bring up a screen for ticket buying options. Luckily, a kind, elderly gentleman named Jiles, stepped up and helped me with the kiosk. I was fortunate that another bus came right after the one I had stepped off. Jiles was very familiar with the transit system, and during the trip we chatted a bit about why I was taking the bus to begin with, and where I was going. Jiles indicated that he knew Spector’s wife. When I asked if that was Ronnie, he said no; it must have been one of his other wives.

I was amazed at this bus! I kept checking everything out. There was a neon ticker sign in the front of the bus over the windshield that flashed the date every few seconds. They had two nice sized 17” LCD computer/tv screens (one near the front and the other just after the back door opening) with news coverage. The little emblem at the bottom of the screen said Transit News. When I told my husband about the bus features and screens he speculated that it was probably selected news coverage that would not include train derailments or bus accidents. Always the realist my husband.

Jiles led the way when we reached the eastern end of the Orange Line at the North Hollywood Station. It was easy, and I really didn’t need any help. The Orange Line ends on the west side of Lankershim Blvd., and the Red Line Station entrance is directly across the street. We took the escalator down, and this time I was prepared in how to work the kiosk for purchasing my ticket for the Red Line. In retrospect, I could have saved two dollars if I had planned ahead and bought an all day pass.

We only had to wait a few minutes for our train to arrive. I tried to make a phone call, only to discover I had no cell service the entire time I was under ground. It made me think about how can people get a call out if there is a problem or an emergency. There were no seats available, so I had to stand. I was quite surprised at how fast the train went and made a guess that the train was traveling close to 60 mph. I wasn’t far off. Later research I found on the web said the trains reached speeds of 70 mph.

At the next stop, The Universal City Station, a scraggly looking couple got on, panhandling everyone near them for spare change for a day pass. Jiles exited the Red Line just a few stops later, but I made sure to get his e-mail address to write him a thank you, and let him know where on the net he could find my write ups about the trial.

When I exited the Red Line at the Civic Center Station, I saw the huge stairway to the top and opted for the escalator. I counted those steps right beside me as I rode to the top. 76 steps. I thought that the stairs would be a great way to get some exercise in when I traveled down here several times a week, but skipped them today because I wasn’t sure about how much time I had before the hearing would start.

It’s a full two city blocks from the underground station entrance to the rear entrance of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, and one of those blocks is an uphill climb. After passing through the initial security screening process, I looked for a directory. Not finding one, I went up to the security station and asked which floor would I find Judge Fidler’s courtroom on. I speculated it would be the 9th floor, because that’s were most of the murder trials are held, and I was correct. Judge Fidler’s courtroom is Department 106, on the 9th floor. When you reach the 9th floor, there is a second security screening process. I was familiar with this from my last jury duty experience. I almost was chosen to be a juror on a murder trial in the famous Judge Ito’s courtroom, but was kicked by the defense attorney on the second day. It was quite a relief at the time.

Outside Judge Fidler’s courtroom, I immediately recognized Alan, P. the head of the court's Public Relations Dept. His last name escapes me right now. All I can remember is it’s an Italian sounding last name. I recognized a still photographer who took photographs outside at the Blake trial, but I’ve never been introduced to him. There’s not one familiar face in all the reporters that I see. On the bench I’m sitting on, I’m trying to be polite by not obviously listening in on a reporter’s phone conversation. I hear her say that the new prosecutor is Alan Jackson; the prior assigned prosecutor has been promoted to a judgeship. There is a cameraman from local ABC ch7, and I overhear Alan mention that KTLA did not show. There’s maybe, 6-8 reporters total waiting in the hallway when I arrive.

The courtroom is finally opened, and I have an opportunity to check out the courtroom. The walls are wood panel sheets all the way to the ceiling. The jury box is on the left as I enter the room, the elevated witness box/chair area, situated between the Judge and the jury. The court reporter is at a small desk below and in front of the witness chair. The gallery doesn’t have individual seats, but these very long wooden benches that almost go the length of the room, with just as long thin blue cushions on top. There is only a single break in them for an isle, creating very long benches on the left and shorter benches on the right.

I take a quick guess of how many people could possibly fit in this room based on the people who are sitting in the rows so far, and guess that maybe 50 people (and I think that figure is high) could be crammed into these benches and a few chairs. Most of the reporters take seats in direct line with the Judge. Since there is also a portable screen set up to the left of the reporters, I take a seat in the row of benches on the right. I’m joined by a young reporter from the Los Angeles Daily Journal, Andrew.

In speaking to a reporter, I overhear Alan Parachini say that during jury selection, only one reporter from a pool will be allowed to observe. No one from the public will be allowed in. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised at the decision. I ask Alan if there will be public seats for trial. He said there would be, but how many remains unknown at this time. It could end up being the same situation that happened at the Blake trial where 20 individuals showed up for five public seats, and a lottery is pulled each day.

The Ch 7 cameraman and still photographer set up their equipment in the jury box to cover the proceedings. The table for the prosecution and defense is one long continuous table with six chairs. Everyone is waiting for all the players to arrive. An elderly gentleman with a full beard and little hair on his head arrives first. Since he sits virtually in the middle of the table, Andrew and I are not sure which side he represents, but it’s a good guess he’s part of the defense team. (In my research to write up my notes, I learn that this is Robert Blaiser, who was involved in the Simpson trial.) The next individual to arrive is a balding man in a tan suit. Andrew speculates that a prosecutor probably wouldn’t wear a tan suit, and he’s right. This turns out to be Roger Rosen.

I note that almost all the reporters are relatively young, dressed very nice, clean cut and presentable. Another man walks in past the gallery and says, “Oh boy! Why does this not surprise me.” Andrew whispers to me, “This must be a defense attorney,” and he’s right. I later learn that this is Bradley Brunon, although when his name is mentioned, it sounds like people are calling him “Bruno” and I wonder when I find out the currect spelling of his name if the last “n” is silent. While I wasn’t noticing, the famous AP reporter, Linda Deutsch enters and sits in the front row. Andrew asks me if it's true she's retiring this year, and I tell him that I don't know. Linda is wearing a pale green colored suit jacket that I remembered from the Blake trial. Linda smiles at Roger Rosen, and while shaking her hand Rosen mentions to her about the defense's “11 page brilliant motion that Brunon drafted” against having cameras in the courtroom. Linda asks Rosen if she can get a copy of the motion.

Sandi Gibbons, media relations from the District Attorney's office arrives and also sits in the front row. Two prosecutors arrive with Sandy, and I’m guessing that one is Alan Jackson. He appears pretty young, with jet black hair and pale skin. I could almost detect rosy cheeks. I’d take a wild guess that he’s in his mid thirties. The older, taller more distinguished prosecutor I’m almost positive I saw at the Blake trial, and I’m right. This is Head Deputy DA Patrick Dixon.

As I try to get comfortable on the wooden bench with the very thin cushion, I find it interesting to watch the interplay between all the individuals in the courtroom. The Judge finally arrives and takes the bench. He’s very interesting looking. He's totally bald, but still young looking in some respects. He has very few lines in his face. You can just see in his face that he’s very alert, very sharp.

The Judge is asking the status of other outstanding issues, and there is some back and forth between the prosecution team and the defense attorneys about some discovery issues, and how soon these remaining CD’s and witness lists, etc., will be turned over. More reports will be turned over by next Monday.

The defense team mentions that they have not yet received some type of videos, X-rays from the coroner’s office, and are specifically asking for 95 photographs that were taken by Dr. Lee and Dr. Wecht. Alan Jackson tells the Judge that they are not going to use those photographs as part of their case. That there’s "no prejudice; the images are not in his case in chief." The Judge and the defense responded so fast, I wasn’t able to determine if the prosecution had to turn these over or not, but I’m guessing they didn’t have to. Maybe I can find out next time I'm in court.

The prosecution mentions that they received a massive amount of paperwork from the defense team “800-1,000 pages” in relation to witnesses, but they feel that they shouldn’t have any problem getting through it by March 19th, when the trial starts. The Judge responds that if they need more time during trial, that it would be no problem taking a break to assist them with that. The prosecution also mentions that the defense “still owes us a complete witness list” and that they would “need it during voi dire.” The list is promised, “ASAP.” The defense mentions something about a “nonappearance return date of March 6th. It has to do with several subpoenas for documents from various LE agencies that are still winding their way through the system. I think it’s the defense attorney who says something about the Alhambra PD didn’t know if they needed to actually appear..... I'm frustrated at this point. I’m just not able to hear everything as clearly as I did in the Blake trial, and I’m actually sitting closer than I did in that trial.

The Judge then talks about the jury, and needing to protect the jurors as much as possible. The judge rules that all jurors will remain anonymous. No names will be used at all. Everything will be arranged by the last four numbers of the jurors badge number. The Judge rules that to further protect the jurors, the court will provide lunch that they will eat in the jury room. This will solve other security issues so that no one bothers them. The caterer is someone the court and members of the court have used before, so he feels that will be fine.

In the Blake trial, I often saw many of the jurors eating in the basement cafeteria, and I always made a point to steer clear of them whenever possible. During jury deliberations, a People Magazine reporter, her first day on the job, approached some jurors at lunch, asking for interviews. The jurors notified their bailiff, who in turn notified the Judge. She was hauled up in front of the Judge and was read the riot act, and how she almost jeopardized the entire trial! Judge Schempp threw her out of her courtroom. So, I totally understand the Judge’s ruling about the court providing lunch and to me, it makes perfect sense.

The Judge goes onto say that to further protect the jurors, neither the prosecution or the defense will get the jurors names, just their badge numbers, and he goes onto explain how the process of picking the next juror is a random process generated by a computer.

One of the defense attorneys, I believe it’s Roger Rosen, delicately asks that, since the court will be providing lunch for the jury every day, it might be a reasonable question to include in the jury questionnaire to ask if there are any dietary restrictions since they will be limited to either bringing their own food or eating the catered food. The Judge didn’t see anything wrong with adding in that question.

The Judge goes onto explain that there would be an initial pull of 300 random names. 75 would be pulled in on Monday morning, and 75 in the afternoon, and the same process on Tuesday. Once they weed through those who have hardships, then the remaining jurors would be given the questionnaires to complete. Once they receive them all then the prosecution and defense team would have time to go through the questionnaires.

Now the Judge moves on to the big issue of the day, cameras in the courtroom and whether or not it will be televised in part or in whole. The defense mentions that their objection is all written out in their motion, but the Judge wants to hear from the defense attorney, and I think (I can’t tell from my notes) it’s Judge Fidler who says, “What are you trying to tell me?” Bradley Brunon replies, “I thought it was well written.” The Judge smiles and replies, “I didn’t say it wasn’t well written.”

The defense goes onto present that they based their motion arguments on the same criteria that the Judge in the Scott Peterson trial used to exclude cameras. Rosen says, “Public trials don’t mandate that.” Again, I can’t tell from my notes if it’s the Judge or the defense who says, “...balance between the first and sixth amendments...” Roger Rosen mentions that cameras are “...sensationalism. Networks make money......there are other ways the content can be disseminated to the public.” The “presence of the press and public at trial will be adequate.” Roger Rosen says, “Everybody behaves differently, everybody acts differently in front of a camera. It’s a slippery slope. I think it’s a slippery slope. There are some factors that just can’t be measured.” Rosen goes onto say, “And when a man in his 60’s is facing life in prison....” It “creates a dangerous atmosphere for both sides.” We, “don’t want that added burden. However, if it leans in that direction...” the defense would then propose a compromise to “Limit TV coverage to opening statements, closing arguments and the verdict.” Rosen then brings up the issue, “What is it going to do to witnesses who have to testify over several days, and having witnesses watch their own testimony that night...” (on television). “Cases like this, were we have jurors with a lengthy trial (of) 3 months, jurors passing by TV...” when they are “in and out and about with family.” (Implying they can’t avoid seeing coverage of the trial.)

The DA’s steps up and says that they “Don’t oppose cameras. They have complete confidence in the court.” This of course, is sort of implying that the defense doesn’t have that same confidence in the court, and the defense attorney jumps back up and mentions that they have the same was actually quite funny even though it happened so fast I missed writing down the rest of the defense attorneys comment.

The Judge then goes on to talk about the Blake trial being the gold standard...and then catches himself and says, “Well maybe that’s not the right medal.” The Judge then mentions the Simpson trial. Judge Fidler says, “Spector has been out of the limelight for some time.” Whereas “Simpson was an icon at the time.”

The Judge talks about, “While 99% of other judges might oppose or say, what’s in it for me,” he says that “anyone can satirize anyone we want.” It’s here that he mentions his good friend Judge Ito, and how he’s sure Ito never dreamed that he would turn on the Tonight Show and see dancing Ito's. Judge Fidler says he’s, “Not too concerned that I’m going to see the Flying Fidlers." Judge Fidler was more concerned about commentators. "Commentators brazenly tell what has gone on in my mind,” (with statements like) “ “The judge did this because...” "What no one wants is another Simpson." Judge Fidler does not believe that TV coverage caused the outcome of that trial. “I don’t see anyone here playing to the camera, and if I see it, I’ll call them on it.”

Judge Fidler said, “If you don’t allow cameras then the camera covers anything else outside the courtroom.” (And you) “Can’t control who is interviewed outside. One of the of the misconceptions is, people don’t understand what goes on in a courtroom. It’s one of the things that amazes me when I interview jurors.”

“TV shows are grossly inaccurate. During voi dire, jurors are grossly uninformed. They think it’s like TV. (That there is only) one and a half minute closing.”

Judge Fidler said he was “Proud of what we do here in California (regarding the court system). The Judge also said that if he chooses, he can pull the plug at any time. If I think it’s being done wrong, that’s it. No more. He said that there won’t be cameras on the audience (or the jury). At this point, the Judge mentions where he turned down cameras on a prior case. He said, “We are a public office. We represent the public.”

There were some comments about the US Supreme Court, and how cameras have never been allowed in there, but that California’s Supreme Court now allows them. “Public scrutiny is a good thing. There are people who think, have a perception that celebrity status gets them preferential treatment” (inside a courtroom). “I’m in the minority. I don’t see them as evil,” the Judge said.

The Judge also said that if I do, they will be on the wall and small. (They don’t call attention to themselves. Not like the huge camera we have here today does.

Roger Rosen went onto argue that “We all have a different set of assumptions. If the court does decide, will the court black out any witness names or faces?” The Judge responded that, If it warrants it, but it would be decided on an individual basis.” Rosen asked about, “Witnesses who interject themselves” into the trial. “Stealth witness.” Judge Fidler responded, “If you think that’s happening...” then bring it to my attention. Rosen said, “This case has ben a magnet for publicity.” It was “not desired by the defendant.” In response to one of the Judge’s earlier statements about teaching the public what our legal system is all about, and letting the world see how we do things here, Roger Rosen argued, “I don’t think this courtroom is to teach a civics’ class..... US Supreme Court cases lack witnesses. It’s all argument. It’s just judges and attorneys...” (presenting arguments)

I made a comment in my notebook right here that this judge is very likable.

Judge Fidler then says, “I have struggled with this decision.....because of what happened in the Simpson trial. If it’s having a negative impact I can pull the plug. It’s my belief, that it will eventually become common place. I have no criticisms of Judge Ito. Even if we didn’t have cameras, I’d still allow a still photographer.”

Robert Blazer then stands up to speak. “We may not be able to detect the effect (of the cameras).” Judge Fidler responds, “We do have a recognition that times have changed. I think that if we didn’t have Simpson, we would have cameras now. I appreciate all the comments that were made. I think it’s unfair to treat one form of media differently. If it’s done appropriately, it can be controlled.”

So, at this point, it appears the judge has ruled. But Robert Blaizer is not finished. “You’ll have the interplay of the commentators.” Judge Fidler replies, “You’ll have that anyway. That’s going to happen anyway.” Blaizer responds, We “...just want the court to be aware.....(and he mentions something about being “there” )....I was a participant in the Simpson trial.” Fidler acknowledges that and says, “I will monitor this on a daily basis. And if I see it’s affecting the outcome, I will end it.”

The Judge then makes a ruling that at trial, he wants to limit the number of attorneys that approach the bench at sidebar to two attorneys for bench conferences. I’m guessing that means one attorney from each side. The Judge then says that CTV will be allowed to cover the trial.

As we all leave the courtroom, the Media Relations representative, Alan Parachini, is on his phone issuing a statement about today's pretrial hearing: “The Judge issued a provisional order to provide gavel to gavel coverage of cameras in the courtroom. CTV.”

And that was the end of the pretrial hearing. I didn’t hear anything said in court about another hearing date, so I headed back to the Civic Center subway station. While I waited for my train, I had a bit of time to take in my surroundings. Looking up, I saw hung from the ceiling larger than life-sized models of what appear to be children, flying through the air. The one that was right above me, had a long random number written on the front of a black shirt. The first think I thought of, was a jail house, prisoner number lol! I had a few minutes sitting there to read and take a few bites of my lunch that I brought.

I didn’t have to wait long for a train. This time, I was able to grab a seat. When I reached the North Hollywood Station, I decided to climb the steps out of the subway instead of taking the escalator to the street. There were two sets of steps. One set of 30 steps right near the train, and then down the corridor a ways, another set of 72 steps. I was out of breath, but I felt good about tackling the stairs. The Orange Line Bus I caught was not equipped with the LCD video displays that the first bus had, and I was a bit disappointed. Finally back home, I fired up the computer to try to get some initial reporting about the ruling written out, but I didn’t get much done. I finally finished transcribing my notes Saturday evening, around 8pm.