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 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 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.

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