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Arresting Alex Sanchez

It’s Sealed, No, It’s Unsealed, No It’s Sealed Again

January 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


In Wednesday’s closed door bail hearing for Alex Sanchez,
the transcript of the hearing plus the identities of the various law enforcement and LA City officials who testified at Judge Manual Real’s request, were sealed.

But then later that same afternoon, both Tom Hayden and Tom Daiz checked the Fed Court site once more and found, low and behold, the government prosecutors had filed a public document listing their three experts.

Cool! thought the two Toms. And they posted the list with their own commentary at The Nation and Fairly Civil respectively.

That evening, when I got home from teaching at USC, I quickly followed suit, and slapped the list up on WLA.

On Thursday, however, Diaz discovered that the file he and the rest of us
had accessed the day before, had now been sealed. Tight as a drum.

Maybe I’m missing something, but this would seem to be a classic case of locking the barn door after the horse has galloped down the street.

(Photo by Andy Klymer.)

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez | 5 Comments »

Alex Sanchez Granted Bail – UPDATED

January 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Around 11:30, at the end of the closed hearing that began at 10 a.m.
Alex Sanchez attorney Kerry Bensinger came out of the federal courtroom to talk to Sanchez family and a very, very small handful of supporters, whom he drew into a side room and broke the news. U.S. District Judge Manuel Real had granted Alex Sanchez bail.

One thing that can be said for the staggeringly quirky Real, he continues to surprise. This time the surprise was a good one for Sanchez and family.

The bail amount is set at $2 million. It is to be divided into $1 million in properties, $1 million in surities.

Since Sanchez supporters and family have already gathered $1.4 million in property, and $1 million in surities, “it’s only a matter of the paperwork,” said Monica Novoa, a Homies Unidos board member who is very close to the family and thus was in the room.

Understandably, there will be stringent restrictions, which have been agreed upon but not been spelled out publicly. (There will, for instance, be no contact allowed with active gang members.)

“But any of it’s fine,” said Novoa. “We really feel that this is the beginning of a fair trial for Alex. He’ll be able to see his family, sleep in his own bed, meet with his attorney, and work for his own defense. That’s all we ever asked for.”

As to who was inside the closed hearing, there were assuredly LAPD officers. And there was supposed to be someone from inside City Hall or failing that, someone who works closely with City Hall and who knows the LA gang world and the gang intervention world. (Connie Rice, for example, would be on the latter list.)

I have heard floating rumors that the City Hall someone inside the closed courtroom may possibly have been City Council Member Tony Cardenas.

If true, this makes a great deal of sense. The mayor’s gang czar, Guillermo Cespedes, could have concievably been called in but he’d have had little or nothing concrete to add to the conversation in the way of personal knowledge, as he didn’t take over his post until September (Sanchez was arrested last June) and prior to the gang czar gig, he was running Summer Night Lights thus would have had no reason to deeply interact with Sanchez and the area of town in which the government alleges Sanchez was operating.

There is former gang czar, Jeff Carr, the mayor’s chief of staff. But Carr, while he’d worked with Sanchez and would be deemed knowledgeable, would have been unwise to come down on one side or the other of this very controversy-fraught case because, either way he leaned he would risk alienating a group that is important to the mayor. In short, his appearance, no matter how super secret, would have been a no-win for Carr or his boss Antonio.

Cardenas, however, is arguably the most knowledgeable of the three. He has a long-term professional relationship with Sanchez and other gang interventionists and gang recovery agencies—and with the police— due to his multi-year chairmanship of the Council’s Ad-hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development. Thus, with the right phone calls, he was in a position to gather some genuine intel from both sides of the argument, plus he likely has a gut take on the case of his own.

Although I have criticized Cardenas plenty of times over the years, I have also known him to, at times, show an unusual amount of moral courage when the cameras were turned off and there was nothing to gain, especially for a politician.

So, while I don’t know if the mystery City Hall person was Tony Cardenas, he would be my pick as the one whom Judge Real would have been wise to call. Had he been called in, I would like to think he would have told what he believed to be the real truth—whatever that real truth might be.

More as I have it.

UPDATE: Both Tom Hayden at the Nation and Tom Diaz at Fairly Civil report that, according paperwork filed in the federal district court, the prosecutor’s witness list has been made public.

Diaz notes that the three expert witnesses made available by the prosecution were:

1. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Robert W. Clark, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office.

2. LAPD Capt. Justin Eisenberg, Commanding Officer of the Gangs and Narcotics Division.

3. Former federal prosecutor Bruce K. Riordan, now Director of Anti-Gang Operations for the L.A. City Attorney’s Office. Riordan is also Chief of the Gang Division and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

I know little about the first two, but Bruce Riordan in particular was a smart choice. He has a broad base of experience and he is very much a straight shooter. What his opinion would have been on the issues surrounding Sanchez and his bail is unknown.

The identity of the witness or witnesses called by Sanchez’s attorneys remains sealed.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, FBI, Gangs, LAPD | 14 Comments »

Sanchez Hearing to be Behind Closed Doors

January 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Wednesday January 13, at 10 am, Judge Manuel Real will conduct yet one more hearing
(or the second part of one more hearing) into the matter of whether or not Homies Unidos founder Alex Sanchez should be allowed bail.

Last week, if you’ll remember, Judge Real surprised all concerned by asking to talk to at least two experts in LA gang intervention and enforcement who could give an opinion as to whether Alex Sanchez was indeed an MS-13 a shot caller and a danger to the community as the prosecutors have insisted. The Judge wanted individuals with no dog in the fight, like maybe someone from the mayor’s office, he said, and perhaps some upper echelon type from the LAPD or the Sheriff’s Department. The “experts” had to be mutually agreeable to both the government’s attorneys and to Sanchez’s court appointed lawyer, Kerry Bensinger.

For the past week calls and emails have flown around the city as those even tangentially involved with the case madly opined and speculated about who those experts could and should be.

The court promised to be packed with spectators and supporters. But then on Tuesday afternoon, another surprise: Yes, Judge Real would hear testimony by the newly-chosen experts, but behind closed doors. In other words, the hearing would be closed to all save the attorneys.

This latest move fueled even more speculation about who the “experts” might be and what they intended to say—either for or against Alex Sanchez— that they did not want to state in open court.

The hearing will take place at the federal courthouse at 312. N. Spring.

More as it develops.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD | 8 Comments »

Alex Sanchez: Part 9 – Judicial Whiplash & “Real” Surprises

January 7th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, the latest bail hearing for Alex Sanchez, held took a sharp turn on Wednesday morning, causing Sanchez supporters to bask cautiously in what seemed to be a small but tangible glimmer of hope.

The changed atmosphere at the hearing seemed presaged when Sanchez was ushered into the courtroom in casual slacks and a shirt, rather than the jail house jumpsuit and shackles that have characterized his previous appearances. On the way in, he managed to flash his family a smile that, while it did not exactly make it to cheerful, was clearly striving for upbeat.

At the last bail hearing, Judge Real repeatedly interrupted and corrected Sanchez’s court-appointed attorney, Kerry Bensinger, disallowing most of the material that Bensinger sought to present in order to counter the prosecution’s contention that Sanchez should be denied bail as he was both dangerous and a flight risk. However yesterday’s Judge Real appeared to be in a whole different mood and, while he questioned Bensinger at times, he remained even tempered.

This time around, most of Judge Real’s most aggressive challenges were aimed at the younger of the two government prosecutors, Elizabeth Carpenter, who grew visibly flustered at Real’s sudden change in direction.

Perhaps the oddest moment in the exchange was when Carpenter told the judge that the defendant’s supporters had “publicly stated” that Sanchez “could not get a fair trial” in Real’s court.

Well, what evidence did she have of such a thing? the judge wanted to know. (Cough—this blog and the Nation magazine—cough, cough) Surely the defendant and his lawyer had not stated that?

“No, no,” said Carpenter, back-peddling rapidly, Mr. Bensinger had not made any such statements. “But the defendant’s supporters certainly have, including one who had signed an affidavit of surety.”

(At this, veteran civil rights attorney Jorge Gonzalez elbowed Tom Hayden who, at an earlier hearing, had offered his house as part of a guarantee of bail for Sanchez. Hayden studiously ignored the elbowing.)

Judge Real, however, fastened on to the statement with gusto. “But those are lay people,” he roared. “They don’t know anything about the law!” Appearing fond of his words, Real repeated them. “That’s someone who knows absolutely nothing about the law!”

Then Real fixed Carpenter with a steely gaze. Surely she wasn’t trying to paint the defendant with those statements, he asked her. At that Carpenter backed away from the subject altogether and turned to explaining why Sanchez was a flight risk.

This too, Real challenged.

Well, where exactly would he flee to? the judge wanted to know. Carpenter hesitated. “Where will he go?” Real asked again. After all, Real pointed out, Sanchez had been granted political asylum because of the danger El Salvador presented to him, did the government have any reason to believe he would flee there?

The government did. But in a complete 180 from his hardline view of Sanchez’s flight risk potential at the last bail hearing, Real further questioned the prosecution’s assumption. Carpenter was left muttering something about Sanchez fleeing to South American countries without extradition treaties while the judge looked exasperated.

Yet the most startling incident came slightly later in the hearing when Carpenter was explaining why Sanchez was too dangerous and gang involved to be granted bail and Real again challenged her assertions. Had Sanchez been arrested or had any kind of negative police contact in the years between the asylum decision and the case before the court? Sanchez asked. He had not, Carpenter admitted.

Well, Judge Real said finally, “Isn’t there a possibility that you and Mr. Bensinger can get together and choose someone, maybe the person in charge of gang programs for the City, or someone of like authority with the LAPD who could come in and testify whether they have any evidence of continuing gang involvement by Mr. Sanchez. Perhaps we could arrange for a closed hearing to allow that person to testify frankly without fear of revealing critical information.” [These notes on dialogue are approximate.]

The 40 or so observers in the court tried not to stare open-mouthed.

And with that, Judge Real ordered the hearing to resume on January 13, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. The gavel came down. And that was that.

“What to make of it?” wrote Jorge Gonzalez when he emailed me later. “Who knows? Is the Judge merely making like he is sincerely considering the defense arguments for the appellate courts and the public?” (As a trial attorney, Gonzalez is very familiar with Real and his courtroom habits.) “Maybe, but if he leaves the door open a crack [Bensinger] is obligated to stick a foot in and put forth more positive evidence for him to consider. He will make the case that surely there must be a way that, given certain conditions, the rights of the defendant and considerations of the safety of the community can be satisfied.” It looked like supporters came out of the courtroom cautiously hopeful, he said, “that they might be able to persuade the Judge of the merits of that statement.”

Tom Hayden’s reaction was similar. “Taken literally,” he wrote in his own email after the hearing, “the judge’s order means that the city’s top gang reduction official, Guillermo Cespedes, and a top LAPD gang expert appointed by the new Chief Charles Beck would be asked, or even subpoenaed, to state what they know about Alex Sanchez from the past decade. Since city and police officials have often collaborated with Sanchez in the past, the public record might place them at odds with former CRASH officer Frank Flores, the prosecution’s expert witness.”

But, like Gonzales, Hayden was reluctant to be too optimistic. “There is no predicting whether this represents an unprecedented approach to conflict resolution,” he wrote, “or merely a step by the judge to prove to the critics that he is holding an exhaustive hearing, and armor-plating himself against a future appeal, before denying Sanchez bail once again. ”

And so the all-too-human legal drama continues. Stay tuned.

PS: And, for those of you who are not as entirely riveted by the Sanchez drama as some of the rest of us, take a look at this article on the already controversial UCLA study that contends legalizing undocumented immigrants would boost California’s sagging economy. Anna Gorman reports for the LA Times.

PPS: OMG, how could I have missed this?! Apple has rented a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF on January 26 [changed to Wed, 1/27] for a “a major product announcement.” OMG! OMG! Could it be? An Apple tablet! An iReader! (Cue loud version of Apple boot-up cord along with visual of Apple logo bathed in heavenly shaft of light.)

David Carr at the NY Times is busy making up possible names for the possible thang (which is already possibly named the iSlate).

Hmmm. Must cut down on consumption of food and electricity so that I can afford the doubtlessly absurdly expensive gadget if indeed it is to be introduced in exactly 20 days. (Not that I’m counting.)

(And yes, this is a social justice issue. How could you think otherwise?)


PPPS: Oh, yeah, and the governor gave some kind of speech. More on that later on.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs | 16 Comments »

Alex Sanchez – Part 8: Back to Square One….Sort Of

January 4th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Alex Sanchez, the gang intervention leader and Homies Unidos founder who was indicted last June on federal Rico charges, is going back to court at 10 a.m. on Wednesday January 6 for another bail hearing.

It will be his third.

Most criminal cases feature a single bail hearing. From the beginning, however, Alex Sanchez’s situation hasn’t been “most cases.”

(For the back story on the arrest of Alex Sanchez start here and read from the bottom up.)

The hearing will take place in the same federal courtroom with the same federal jurist who presided over the last hearing—namely US District Court Judge Manuel Real.

The new hearing was ordered by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, an action that was viewed as both good news and bad news by Sanchez’s supporters and his court-appointed defense attorney, Kerry Bensinger. Good news because there is to be a new hearing at all after Sanchez was denied bail twice in a row. Bad news because the hearing is back with Judge Real, who is the guy who was the most recent and vociferous denier.

In late November, Sanchez attorney Bensinger filed a brief with the 9th Circuit in an effort to get a new hearing by a new judge, contending that with Real his client did not receive anything resembling a legally proper hearing and that Sanchez would be unlikely to receive a fair trial with the controversial judge either.

The government prosecutors subsequently countered with their own brief and everyone waited to see what the 9th-ers would say.

On December 22, the appeals court delivered its ruling. The 9th Circuit panel told Real he would need to set up a new hearing and, delivering a slight whack to the judge’s metaphorical hands, the panel set down some requirements. As Tom Hayden notes, Real was to “accept and consider” evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sanchez would be a danger to the community if released on bail. He was also to consider the “preponderance of evidence” in deciding whether Sanchez would be a flight risk.

In other words, the 9th Circuit kinda sorta conceded that Real did not do the swellest of jobs with the last hearing, but they were not willing to go so far as to take him off the case.

“I think part of the problem is that, off the bench, everyone likes Judge Real. Off the bench, he’s very charming,” said LA criminal defense attorney Harland Braun when we talked about the matter a few weeks ago. But on the bench, Real is considered by many, Braun among them, to be an irrational tyrant who actively skews proceedings toward whichever side he believes should prevail. “He does things like make faces at the jury during testimony, and signal to the prosecutor when to object. It’s a totally unnatural situation.” (Braun has been up against Real many times over the years and is among those who have been vocal about their opinion that the judge, who will be 86 later this month, should retire, or at the very least, step down to part-time “senior” status, for which he has been eligible since 1985.)

“But really, I blame the 9th Circuit,” said Braun. “They know what’s going on. But they don’t have the guts to do anything about it.”

Whatever the case, Sanchez supporters don’t seem to hold out lots of hope that Judge Real will reverse himself and grant bail. Yet there is much interest as to whether, in order to placate the 9th Circuit, the judge will allow some of the testimony and lines of questioning that he excluded last time Sanchez was in his courtroom.


To make matters even more perplexing, for a while it looked as if Judge Real was indeed going to be off the case, but not because of the doings of the 9th Circuit.

During the time when Sanchez and company were waiting for the 9th to make up its mind, an odd thing happened: Bensinger unexpectedly received notice on December 9 that Real had been taken off the case and it had been assigned to a new jurist, a Judge Christina Snyder. The order was signed by Judge Snyder on December 2, officially filed two days later.

Sanchez supporters were ecstatic at the news, but Bensinger was also surprised because the only request he had made was through the Court of Appeals, and that was still pending.

Eventually it was learned that an attorney for one of the other 18 defendants named in the federal Rico case of which Sanchez was a part had filed a request for a transfer to Judge Snyder. The attorney applied for the judge swap under a legal protocol known as a “low number request.” It seems this other defendant had been tried in front of Snyder in a nearly identical case in 2006, thus could conceivably qualify for the oddly named low number request (which in state court is called, much more sensibly, a “notice of related case”)—the idea being that a judge who has already tried a defendant for a nearly identical offense has less of a learning curve so therefor can more easily speed things along.

But since this was a RICO case with a zillion other defendants all legally joined at the hip, a transfer of one case meant a transfer of all. Judge Snyder could say yes or no to the request, depending upon her schedule and her take on the matter. It appeared that on December 2, Judge Christina Snyder said yes –and signed the order.

But a few hours after receiving notification of the transfer, Bensinger got a call from the federal prosecutors who said they had talked to Judge Real’s clerk, that Judge Snyder’s signing of the order had been a big silly mistake, and that Real wanted the case back, thank you very much.

Since Bensinger had gotten no official notice of the second judicial switcheroo, he didn’t know what to think. But, a day or two later still, Bensinger did indeed get yet another order, this one signed by Judge Gary Allen Feess, the Chair of the Case Assignment and Management Committee.

(If Judge Feess’s name sounds familiar, he was the fellow who oversaw the LAPD’s Federal Consent decree.)

Feess wrote that United States District Judge Christina Snyder had “inadvertently signed a transfer order…” (How one “inadvertently” signs a transfer order is unclear. But okay.) However, wrote Feess, “…the current case is at such an advanced stage and Judge Real has spent such substantial time and effort on the matter that no judicial economy would be achieved by a transfer at this late date.” The transfer order was thus VACATED (Judge Feess’s caps, not mine) and “…the matter is ORDERED to be returned to Judge Real’s calendar for all further proceedings.”

And so it was.

Onward to January 6.

NOTE: FOR A LESS SANCHEZ-FRIENDLY but always exceptionally informative view of some of these same matters, be sure to check Tom Diaz’s post at Fairly Civil.


Without knowing lots more about the case, I don’t have a strong personal opinion on this man’s guilt or innocence, but whatever your view, the issue—which was written up in the LA Times on Sunday by Carol Williams—-makes for troubling reading.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI | 16 Comments »

Big News! Judge Real Taken off Sanchez Case!……No, Wait…

December 9th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Monday night the news was startling.
Alex Sanchez’s attorney Kerry Bensinger learned that US District Court Judge Manuel Real had been taken off the case.

Tom Hayden quickly wrote up the news for The Nation. Here is how his report opened:

The gang conspiracy case against Alex Sanchez was transferred to the jurisdiction of a new federal judge today after weeks of community protest alleging bias by Judge Manuel Real. The decision was rendered by a judicial status conference in a closed chamber December 2. Supporters of Alex Sanchez saw the ruling as a major change for the better.

After weeks of protests alleging judicial bias, the gang conspiracy case against Alex Sanchez was transferred to the jurisdiction of a new federal judge.

The new judge assigned to the case is Judge Christina Snyder, 61, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 on the recommendation of California senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Judge Snyder is a Pomona College alumna (1969) and a Stanford Law School graduate (1972). In an important recent decision, she ruled against California state Medicare cuts in 2008. Little is known about her approach to juvenile justice or police reform issues. She was in private practice for twenty-five years before her appointment to the federal bench.

Alex Sanchez supporters were thrilled.

Certainly the change in judges in no way suggested whether or not legal events would play out in Alex’s favor. But supporters felt it would mean a trial that would hopefully be fair—an outcome that many even outside the Sanchez camp had increasingly come to question should the proceedings stay in Judge Real’s courtroom.

The order to transfer the Sanchez case from Judge Real—which also contained a concurring signature of the new Judge, Christina Snyder, signed Dec. 2—- was filed on December 4, and then reportedly sent to Sanchez’ defense lawyer at 3:07 Monday afternoon.

Then a couple hours later on Tuesday afternoon…..everything changed.

Sanchez’s attorney received a new email, this time from the government prosecutor. Judge Real’s clerk said that Real wanted to keep the case and that Judge Snyder’s signature was “a mistake.”

Hayden sent around an email Tuesday night containing details and reactions. It read in part:

“The turn of events will raise new suspicions about alleged manipulation of the proceedings which began six months ago with Sanchez’ arrest on gang conspiracy charges. Sanchez, a well-known gang intervention worker who helped expose the Los Angeles police Rampart scandal a decade ago, asserts his innocence in the case. He is being held without bail at a federal prison in Los Angeles.

As of 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, no order reversing the transfer had been received by defense counsel, and no explanation offered for the unusual chain of events.

The order surprised and pleased the Sanchez defense team. His supporters, organized as, assert that Sanchez is being railroaded and denied any semblance of a fair trial. Sanchez’ court-appointed counsel, Kerry Bensinger, argued in a recent appeal to the Ninth Circuit that the case should be remanded to another judge.

Why the December 4 transfer order was withdrawn less than a day after it was made public will raise questions about the inner workings of the judiciary itself.

Uh, huh. Something like that.

Or to put it another way: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs | 32 Comments »

Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 7: The 9th Circuit & the Brief

December 7th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In the past few weeks, a new element has been unfolding in the case of Alex Sanchez.

(For those unfamiliar with the basics of the case: Alex Sanchez is the El Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member who transformed his life to become a nationally respected gang intervention leader. This past June, Alex was arrested by the FBI as part of a federal racketeering indictment and accused of plotting the murder of another gang member among other charges. Previous posts on the matter may be found here and here and here and here.)

As you will remember, in three different hearings, Sanchez was denied release on any kind of bail, despite more than 100 letters of support from various prominent LA community members, plus $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property. His trial is not expected to begin until December 2010.

Now his lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, is trying one more time for bail by taking the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with what blogger/author Tom Diaz, describes as a “take-no-prisoners brief that (in nice, polite lawyer language) flames trial Judge Manuel L. Real.”

The government is expected to answer Bensinger’s brief with it’s own legal pile of papers as soon as this week.

Diaz, who leans strongly to the law enforcement view of things in the Sanchez case, has an excellent rundown of Bensinger’s brief. I urge you to read the whole of Diaz’s post. But here are a very few representative clips:

The brief scorches a few other targets, including the government’s trial lawyers and the principle MS-13 expert witness in the case, Los Angeles Police Department Gang Detective Frank Flores. Flores’s testimony about the meaning of wiretaps (Sanchez allegedly directing a “hit” on a renegade gang member) was key in the detention hearings. The defense claims that the government not only got one of the key phone call participants wrong, but Flores misconstrued what happened during the calls.

But Bensinger focuses his flamethrower on the 85-year old Judge Real, stating, “At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.”

If the judge did anything right, it escaped counsel’s notice.

Reading between the lines, Bensinger is conveying to the appeals court the message that — in his view — Real for whatever reason or reasons is confused or willfully obtuse about what the federal law requires in a bail (“detention”) hearing. In short, the brief argues that the trial judge just doesn’t “get it.”

The 32-page document landed in the appeals court docket less than a week after that court issued an opinion and order applying its own flame to Judge Real.

After that, Diaz pretty much lays out the whole brief, in interesting and accurate detail.

The core of Sanchez’s appeal is that he was denied a fair hearing on the only issues relevant to whether he should be released, which are (1) is he a risk of flight, and (2) does he present a threat to persons or a community? Instead, the brief claims, Judge Real essentially held a “mini-trial” on whether Sanchez is guilty of the offenses with which he is charged.

Yet, while Judge Real held a “mini-trial,” the brief contends that he refused to allow any evidence from the defense that would dispute the central core of the government’s case against Sanchez.

A focus of the case so far has been the government’s wiretaps of four calls in which Alex Sanchez certainly takes a leading role. But the crucial question has developed to be: was that leading role as a mediator and peace-maker or as a “shot caller” pushing the conversation to the ultimate murder in El Salvador of one Walter Lacinos (aka Camaron) by a gangster known as “Zombie”? A close second is whether the government got the wrong “Zombie.”

…Of critical importance, given the district court’s focus on “the content of these [four wire-tapped] conversations” is the district court’s refusal to permit Father Greg Boyle’s testimony. Fr. Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country, and a nationally recognized gang expert knowledgeable in gang language, interactions and “codes.” After listening to the calls and reviewing Det. [Frank] Flores’s declaration re-interpreting the calls and the prosecution’s arguments based thereon, Fr. Boyle concluded that, rather than corroborating a murder plot, Mr. Sanchez’s statements reflected a gang mediator’s peacemaking efforts.

Anyway, there’s lots, lots more. So just read it.

By the way, when I last wrote about the bail hearing, although I was present in the court, I had not read the transcripts of the hearing. I have now.

And I can hardly wait to see how the government replies to this brief.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, LAPD | 13 Comments »

Sunday/Monday Picks & Must Reads

November 16th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



His reversal rate is estimated to be 10 times the average for sitting federal judges.

He has had ten cases outright snatched away from him by appeals courts.

In 2006, there was serious talk of impeaching him.

The Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has examined 89 cases in which his conduct was challenged.

He has been exhibit A in the ongoing discussion about whether federal judges need better oversight.

Now, this past Friday, U.S. Judge Manuel Real was sharply rebuked
by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for his bizarre and unaccountably high-handed handling of yet another case.

While he has his supporters, he has a long list of critics, including a string of prominent attorneys and some legal scholars have said publicly that, if Judge Real takes a dislike to one’s case or one’s client, it is extreme difficult to get a fair trial in his court.

Having observed his behavior twice close-up during the last two bail hearings for Alex Sanchez, I can fully understand the concern about his impartiality. It is not that he is overly conservative or overly liberal on the law. It is more that he seems often to make up his mind on things whimsically, facts and due process be damned, and then will skew the proceedings to match his personal view—all of which is pretty much what his critics describe as well.

U.S. District Court judges, like Real, are appointed for life,
as a way of protecting judicial independence. It takes just short of an act of God to remove them, an arrangement that also has its distinct downsides.

As it stands now, Judge Manuel Real will be the one to preside over Sanchez’ trial.

In the meantime, Alex Sanchez’ attorney has filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit of Real’s decision not to grant Sanchez bail.


Joel Rubin has an interesting and thoughtful story in Sunday’s LA Times about the evolution of soon-to-be LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s view of policing. Some of it we already know, some is new. But Rubin has re-contextualized the facts of Beck’s philosophic journey in a way that makes for a good an informative read.

NOTE: In a separate story, the Times also reports on some old unproved allegations of mismanagement when he was a board member of the Los Angeles Police Relief Association.


According to the Columbus Dispatch, Governor Ted Strickland has 712 pending clemency applications sitting on his desk (metaphorically speaking. I am assuming all 712 aren’t, literally on his desk). Some date back to 2005.

The problem is not that Governor Strickland turns down clemency requests with great abandon (or that he grants them with that same abandon). The problem is that the governor of Ohio does nothing. He just lets the requests sit. And sit.

As its case in point, the Dispatch cites the story of a former business man with no previous adult criminal record, now a prisoner for a decade, Bradley Tapp, whom the Ohio parole board recently unanimously recommended for release. The board also recommended Tapp for executive clemency in 2008. Even the judge who sentenced Tapp to fourteen years in prison for his angry, drunken, violent assault on two neighbors in 1999, has signed an affidavit saying his own decision was too harsh.

Anyway, whatever the merits, or lack thereof of each individual case, one cannot help but wonder why Strickland continues to fail to make decisions on these 712 lives.


This essay isn’t in the least social justice-y. But it was in Sunday’s NY times Magazine, and it’s very smart and funny and you should read it. (Really.)

It’s about giving up one’s Internet connection. Sort of. It is written by one of my Bennington pals, Wyatt Mason, who is ridiculously brainy, but who also (thankfully) has a silly side.


The first paragraph of Monday’s NY Times Op Ed explains the issue very plainly.

A creative plan to help wounded veterans and their exhausted families adapt to the strain of long-term home care is on the brink of bipartisan approval — but for the familiar obstructionism of Senator Tom Coburn. This is one of the most deplorable displays by the lawmaker-physician, an Oklahoma Republican who relishes playing the self-styled budget hawk by putting attention-grabbing holds on crucial legislation.

Read the rest.


Today, Monday, a joint session of the City Council’s Public Safety and Planning
and Land
Use committees will talk over (likely endlessly, if the past is any bellwether) an ordinance that would outlaw most of the medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.

Under the proposed ordinance, medical marijuana “collectives’‘ would be allowed to grow pot for members with serious illnesses, but could not sell marijuana for a profit, and collectives could have no more than five pounds of dried pot or 100 plants at any given time.

MEANWHILE, in West Hollywood, reports the LA Times’ John Hoeffell, the We Ho city council has been rigorously and appropriately regulating marijuana dispensaries for years, and everything has worked out fine for all concerned without the kind of draconian restrictions the LA City Council is now about to contemplate.

PHOTO NOTE: All the roses in these occasional “Fresh picks’ or “Monday picks’ photos are taken in my garden. In the case, the rose is a classic yellow tea called Midas Touch

Posted in American voices, Arresting Alex Sanchez, Charlie Beck, Gangs, Medical Marijuana, Must Reads, prison | 52 Comments »

Tom Hayden on Alex Sanchez & the Power of Judges

October 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Tom Hayden opens his latest column
in The Nation magazine as follows:

I never expected to write anything like this, but the federal judge in the Alex Sanchez case, Manuel Real, is even worse than Judge Julius Hoffman, who presided over the 1969 Chicago conspiracy trial in which I was a defendant.

Such a judgment, I realize, disqualifies me from being taken seriously as a reporter in some circles, but somebody has to say it. Alex Sanchez simply has zero chance of either bail or a fair trial as long as his case is before Judge Real. The evidence follows.

If you are interested in the Alex Sanchez case at all, wherever you stand on it, it is very much worth reading the rest of Hayden’s piece.

I was at that same hearing. And I didn’t come away with quite the same apocalyptic perspective as did Tom.
But, then, unlike me, Tom has read and reread the whole of the transcripts of the FBI’s four wiretap conversations that are presumed to be the center of the government’s case. He has also been privy to other pieces of information that I have not.

In any case, this account is filled with facts and insights
that are important to consider. I don’t agree with all of his interpretations of events. Yet his step-by-step description of what went on the courtroom during Alex Sanchez’s last bail hearing reflects what I witnessed.

Please read on.

Also, for an opposing view, keep reading Tom Diaz’s coverage of the Sanchez case. Diaz and I assuredly disagree on many points as he leans very strongly toward the prosecution’s side of things. Yet he is very knowledgeable and knows some of the players involved, such as Det. Frank Flores. Most importantly, despite the deliberately provocative nature of his posts, he has an open mind about the matter and, in the end, really just wants to get to the truth.

Also, like me, Diaz thinks that—beyond our respective personal leanings— this is an important case, which points beyond itself to many issues of consequence.

As to why the LA Times seems to find the case of Alex Sanchez beneath their interest…You got me. I don’t get it.

PS: Last week, Alex Sanchez’s lawyer appealed Judge Real’s verdict to the 9th Circuit.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LAPD | 10 Comments »

Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 6: The Judge Real Show

October 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



The final bail hearing for Alex Sanchez began around 1:40 p.m. on Monday, October 18

Every bench in courtroom on the second floor of the federal court on Spring Street was packed to the point of slight discomfort for the audience, with several reasonably prominent people turned away altogether because they came too late.

After Judge Manual L. Real opened the proceedings, he told Sanchez’s attorney, Kerry Bensinger, to speak first. Bensinger is a tall, fit, affable, very smart man and a skilled researcher who is court appointed, but has spent an astonishing amount of time on this case already.* His courtroom manner, however, while calm and intelligent, has thus far lacked the aggressiveness that he and his client may need.

And then there is U.S. District Court Judge Manual Real. Appointed in 1966 by Lyndon Johnson, at 85, Judge Real is what we used to call a character. He has spent 43 years on the same bench and projects an image that combines the demeanor of an irascible uncle who mutters loudly and tyrannically over his soup at Thanksgiving dinner, with that of a glowering bird of prey.


Bensinger told the judge that he would like to call to the stand Father Greg Boyle. The intention was to have the priest (who is frequently called as an expert witness in both state and federal trials) talk about the elements of the four wiretap conversations central to the prosecution’s case that he noted were discrepant from what the feds had said was on the recordings. Most importantly, Boyle would speak about the crucial section about Sanchez no longer being an active gang member that the prosecution had conveniently omitted from their filing. [Details here.]

It promised to be an interesting testimony.

On the way to the hearing I spoke to Greg about the four recordings and asked him if there was anything in the conversations that he thought was incriminating. “All the time I was listening, I kept bracing myself,” he said. “But it never came. There really isn’t anything.”

In an earlier hearing, the prosecution had called their own expert witness—LAPD detective Frank Flores—to characterize what was on the recordings. Attorneys in the audience assumed that Judge Real would permit Greg to take the stand in order to level the playing field.

Attorneys in the audience were wrong.

He did not need to hear from Father Greg, Judge Real shouted. (And when I say shouted, I am not being hyperbolic.) “It is not his interpretation that is important! It is that of the court!”

Bensinger tried to explain about the importance of the missing section that he said directly disputed the prosecution’s claim that Sanchez was an active gang member and a shot caller. But Judge Real was no longer listening. “That’s a matter for trial! Tri-al, counselor, don’t you understand?!”


Bensinger said he had another witness he intended to call, a woman who runs a prominent gang tattoo removal agency in LA County. Bensinger wanted her to rebut the prosecution’s earlier contention that, although Sanchez had all his visible gang tattoos removed, the fact that he still had one left on his chest proved that he was still an active gang member.

Real shouted down that idea too.

“She’s not competent to say anything one way or the other!” he roared.

The only thing that Judge Real would allow from Bensinger’s prepared presentation, was the cross examination of Det. Frank Flores. This basically meant that the prosecution was able to present a witness and multiple pieces of evidence–exhibits— to “prove” why Sanchez was an active gangster and flight risk, while the defense was allowed no countering witnesses, and no countering exhibits.

With a sigh, Bensinger proceeded.

Bensinger asked Detective Flores why he didn’t include the missing material about Sanchez not being an active gang member in his own court filing. [See previous post for details] Flores said he didn’t think it was important. Kerry pressed that point and Flores said that Camaron—the nickname of the now-dead El Salvadoran MS-13 gangster who made the remarks —was speaking “tongue in cheek.”

At this, there was audible muttering from the crowd. “So Cameron was a post modern gangster who was speaking ironically?” someone near to me whispered.


It was Bensinger’s contention that Sanchez threatened no one, and ordered no hits. To the contrary, said Bensinger, Sanchez was on the four calls in question to try to diffuse a situation in which several people—Sanchez prominently included—had been accused of being FBI informants. Because of this accusation, a Salvadoran gangtser with the nickname Cameron had caused a “green light” to be put on Sanchez and others. In other words, Cameron had ordered a hit on a number of people, including Sanchez. And Sanchez was trying use his contacts and personal influence to defuse what had become a volatile situation.

The issue of the FBI informant rumor and the “green light” are not in depute. What is in dispute and, based on the transcripts, open to interpretation, is what Alex Sanchez did about the threat.


One of the issues that Bensinger brought up during the cross examination was his contention that Flores completely and crucially misidentified a person on one of the calls, a guy with the street name of Zombie. According to Flores, the person, “Zombie,” on the phone call was also the person who was eventually arrested for the murder of Cameron, a murder that Sanchez had allegedly ordered during the last of the four phone calls that are the center of the prosecution’s case.

Yet, according to Bensinger, the guy called “Zombie” on the call was a very different fellow from Juan Bonilla, the killer, who is also called Zombie.

(I know this nickname business is dizzying, but try to stay with me here.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, LAPD | 50 Comments »

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