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.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 43

Previous post can be found HERE.

Michael ThoamasGargilo, June 2008

UPDATE 6/26: edited to correct date of hearing
June 6, 2018
8:30 AM The 9th Floor, Dept. 106

I'm in the gallery with two other reporters. CBS 48 Hrs. Producer Greg Fisher is here. Sitting beside Greg is a big cheese from Dateline, Susan, a supervising producer, who I met over 10 years ago in this same courtroom during the first Phil Spector trial.

There are attorneys in the well from another case that are having a loud discussion over by the counsel tables.

DDA Garrett Dameron & DDA Daniel Akemon are here along with lead defense attorney Dale Rubin. Rubin's co-counsel Dan Nardoni is a no show. All three of us are all listening as best we can with rapt attention to counsel speaking with Judge Fidler's clerk over at her counter. I hear "September trial date." And, "come back August 10 ... (or) August 4 ... with a zero of 30 calendar date."  From what I'm hearing, I believe it's Rubin's plan to have the case on a shorter leash. The feedback I think I'm hearing from the clerk is that the court may not allow it (the shorter leash). The idea with the shorter leash is that they can possibly swoop in and get a trial date before a potential seven-week preliminary hearing in a complicated insurance fraud case, if that case has any type of delay.

The conversation over at the clerk's desk is being drowned out by the other counsel chatting loudly in the center of the well. It's clear the banter between DDA Akemon and Mr. Rubin is friendly banter. Over the last several years, I've had the impression that Akemon and Rubin have known each other a long time and get along well. I hear Rubin say, "Let me approach it."

DDA's Akemon and Dameron leave the courtroom to chat.

While we wait in the gallery, the press talk about a couple cases. Convicted murderer Scott Peterson's appeal has been extended again. Scott Peterson made national news when his pregnant wife went missing on Christmas Eve in 2002.  He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in 2004. His appeal still hasn't been completely adjudicated yet. Will Peterson get a new trial the Modesto Bee asked in August 2017 .

Another case that I thought was dismissed was Kelly Soo Park's federal lawsuit against Santa Monica PD Detective Karen Thompson, the lead investigator into the murder of Juliana Redding. Redding was strangled to death in her Santa Monica apartment in March 2008. At one time LE thought Redding's murder was the work of Gargiulo. Park, whose DNA was found around victim Redding's neck, on her T-shirt, on her blackberry, and other areas of the apartment -and a drop of Park's blood and fingerprint were lifted from a plate in Juliana's kitchen sink- was found not guilty of Redding's murder in June 2013. However, the US Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit  reinstated Park's lawsuit.

9:00 AM
Rubin goes back into the custody area to visit with Gargiulo. Not long after he comes out, Gargiulo is brought out into the courtroom. Gargiulo is in the high-risk orange jumpsuit, white long-john type shirt underneath. He's also wearing his black horn-rimmed glasses. As before, Gargiulo is completely bald, but he has a slight goatee during this visit. It's the first time that I see graying hair on Gargiulo's face.

While we wait for Judge Fidler to take the bench, former Suge Knight defense attorney Michael Fletcher -who has his own legal troubles stemming from his representation of Knight- stops by Dept. 106, has a short conversation with Judge Fidler's clerk, then quickly leaves.

9:14 AM

Rubin and Judge Fldler's clerk chat a bit. Three minutes later, Judge Fidler takes the bench and goes on the record. The court asks, "So where are we?"

DDA Akemon tells the court they are ready for trial, but are waiting on a report from Dr. Robert Schug, the people's medical expert, that will be issued in three to four weeks. "We hope to come back on August 10 for zero of 30 and get to trial in late August," DDA Akemon adds.

Judge Fidler asks the defendant, "Mr. Gargiulo, are those dates agreeable to you?" "Yes, they are," Gargiulo replies. It's over that quickly. Judge Fidler is off the bench and Gargiulo is then taken back into custody.

And that's it.

There is one issue that could hold up Gargiulo's trial starting in late August: the backlog of cases on Judge Fidler's calendar. There is one case, the massive insurance fraud case with 12 or 13 defendants I mentioned earlier. For a couple weeks, that case has had an evidentiary hearing. It's unknown how soon the preliminary hearing could start, possibly delaying Gargiulo's case further.

The next hearing on the case can be found HERE.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Monica Sementilli & Robert Baker Case, Pretrial 3

Previous post can be found HERE.

LAPD Booking Photos

June 5, 2018

I took the train into downtown LA today. Having a senior TAP card now makes a huge difference in my travel budget. 

The 9th Floor

It’s practically empty at this time. At the other end of the hall, there are five adults spread out and two children.

8:21 AM
DDA Melissa Opper arrives with the two LAPD RHD detectives.  Once they see me they back away to talk privately.

 Later, they greet Mr. Simmrin who arrived at the same time.  Mr. Simmrin says hello to me and asks, “How are you?”

DDA Silverman is not here. She may not be coming today.

DDA Melissa Opper is wearing a black skirt suit. She’s carrying a really nice over-sized black leather type bag on her left shoulder. She’s wearing a dull, cream colored heels. Melissa is an attractive petite woman. I have passing thoughts of envy on the tiny clothes petite women can wear.

8:28 AM
Semetilli’s defense team arrives. Levine, Burke and three other assistants. One of the party is a man that appears quite young. He stands back from the group. I see the phone expert and a man with gray hair. Simmrin approaches them and they meet and chat.

We are still waiting for the door to be opened. A court clerk comes out and opens the door. The defense team enters first.  DDA Opper and the detectives remain in the hallway. A moment later the prosecution team heads inside and I follow after.

Inside Dept. 101

This hearing was shorter than last week.

The detectives take seats in the well in front of the jury box. The gray haired gentleman who was with the defense team sits in the spot I usually sit in. I walk through the third bench row to get to the second row and sit beside him. 

He's wearing a blue shirt with a green tie. Defense counsel are conferring with DDA Opper in the well about their next hearing date. June 27th is suggested. After Mr. Simmrin chimes in the date is changed to June 28th for a discovery update status.

Levine asks DDA Opper, “Do you have a position on ....” I’m guessing it’s the Sementilli motion to release the estate items taken in discovery back to the estate.” All I catch of DDA Opper’s response is “She’s in trial right now.”

I don’t recognize the clerk over at the court clerk’s desk. The young man with the defense team sits in the gallery but on the opposite side of the aisle from where the older gentleman with gray hair is sitting.

Judge Coen is quick. He’s in his robe already. The court reporter is at her desk. Judge Coen asks DDA Opper if she is by herself. She replies, “... just me today.”

Levine is asking DDA Opper off the record if they want to come back next week on “...just this one issue.”  There is a short lull. We are obviously waiting for the sheriff’s to bring the defendant’s in.

Judge Coen asks DDA Opper, “Did you get their motion?” “No, I did not,” she replies. I believe it’s Simmrin who informs the court the DDA Silverman is in trial. I find out later that Beth is co-counsel with DDA Tannaz Mokayef in the Blake Leibel case at the Airport Courthouse. Jury selection started today. It’s a pretty gruesome case that you can read about in this Hollywood Reporter article.

Judge Coen wistfully asks, “Is discovery ever going to end?” Simmrin tells the court, “I still have another whole batch of DNA data...” Looking over at the jury box, the two detectives are having a conversation. DDA Opper and Levine chat. The bailiff comes out. Levine addresses the court. “Once they bring her out could we just have one minute?”

A young woman enters and sits in the row behind me. 

8:39 AM
We are still waiting on the sheriff’s to bring the defendant’s out. A bailiff gets a chair ready for Sementilli. This clues me that she will be brought out first, like before. 

Once Semetilli is brought out, her two counsel huddle around her. Levine and Berk are smiling when they greet her. Berk’s greeting sounds especially warm to her client.

Baker is brought out quickly after Sementilli. Since I was concentrating on the huddle, I did not see him walk into court. Simmrin and Baker chat. Because of how Simmrin is sitting, I cannot see Baker’s face from where I am sitting. His hair is still real short.

The court goes on the record that all parties are here except Ms. Silverman. The court indicates there is a motion by Sementilli to return property.  Ms. Silverman may have new discovery. The next hearing date is June 28 and the case calendar will be set at zero of 60 on that date, set a trial date and resolve all discovery issues.  Judge Coen mentions that Mr. Simmrin has DNA issues (which might delay all the discovery being resolved).

Then DDA Opper informs the court of all the items that they have recently turned over to the defense. I try to list all the items she talks about but I’m not fast enough. She mentions an LAPD DNA report from 5/15 of this year. The LAPD DNA file was all on CD and given to defense. There is a CD that was turned over from raw (electronic?) data; Number 2 and links to the bodycam (video?) and also provided a hard drive. (On the hard drive?) 126 folders to each counsel. 

DDA Opper continues. Folders 4-21 were raw data folders (requested?) by Sementilli counsel. There may be discovery in the folders that have already been received. Number 2 of discovery email sent to us. There is an item the defense as requested, Number 90. DDA Opper states number 90 is a computer mouse and they will not be providing that to the defense. Levine responds with something but I miss it and DDA Opper states she did not understand what counsel was talking about.

DDA Opper continues informing the court of the discovery the people have turned over. (Regarding) (evidence?) numbers 68 to 88, the extraction of those items not complete yet. The people will have an answer later this week. Item number 150 counsel (requested? provided?) on a hard drive. The people also provided every phone record ... (and I miss the rest of Melissa’s statement on this). DDA Opper tells the courts that items five and six, they may be password protected. She adds a bit more context that I did not catch.

Levine tells the court that they are “... trying to resolve as many items informally as possible.” I believe he tells the court item number 80, they are no longer seeking. Levine tells the court, “We’ve asked for extractions from Ms. Sementilli’s phone for some time now.”

Counsel go back and forth a bit more about discovery. Simmrin tells the court about (I believe) a disclaimer statement that accompanies the bodycam video, and it’s an issue that’s been litigated in other courtrooms/cases before.

And that’s it. When I get up to leave, I see 48 Hours producer Greg Fisher in the back row. He arrived late and asked me what he missed.  Ms. Berk addresses Fisher about something and I hear him say, “Sure. I’d love to.”

I wait a bit in the elevator bay for Greg so I can catch up with what he’s working on but I decide to head down to the cafeteria to write a bit and read my email. While I’m in the cafeteria, Ms. Berk, the gray haired gentleman and their phone expert sit at a table not far from me and start to chat. About a half hour later, they are gone. 

Next post on the case can be found HERE.