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Sheriff Lee Baca


Judge Puts Off Decision About Whether Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Can use an Expert to Introduce Baca’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

November 23rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


PUTTING LEE BACA’S MEMORY ON THE WITNESS STAND

At a 3 p.m hearing on Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, federal prosecutor Brandon Fox argued that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his defense team should not be allowed to bring in expert witness, UCLA psychiatrist Dr. James Spar, to testify about Baca’s diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and what it suggests about his cognitive ability in the years prior to his diagnosis.

Baca was first officially diagnosed as having some kind of cognitive impairments, on May 13, 2014.

More to the point, the defense hopes to have Spar testify about whether it was likely that the former sheriff was suffering cognitive impairment during the four and a half hour interview with federal officials on April 12, 2013, during which time he allegedly lied to the feds on four different occasions.

Baca is charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials. His trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on December 6.

Spar’s area of expertise has to do with mental illnesses affecting the elderly, thus by getting him to the witness stand, the defense hopes to introduce the idea that the former sheriff may not have been cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Spar’s proposed testimony, argued Fox, “is based on insufficient facts and data. Dr. Spar’s proposed testimony would result in juror confusion and unfair prejudice to the government.”


“I DON’T RECALL”

Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, pointed out in the defense’s opposition to the government’s motion, and again in court, that his client had answered “I don’t recall” 25 times” during the crucial 2013 interview with the government. Dr. Spar, Hochman said, would testify to the probability that Mr. Baca was in the “pre-clinical stage” of Alzheimers, which Spar contends “can occur 10 years or more before the onset of clinical symptoms,” or the Mild Clinical Impairment” or MCI stage of Alzheimer’s during his April 12, 2013 government interview, but that the symptoms “were not formally diagnosed until May 2014.”

In response, Fox pointed out that “I don’t recall,” is a common response by witnesses in the hot seat, and called Spar’s contention that Baca could have been suffering from some kind of cognitive impairment for up to ten years prior to his actual diagnosis “junk science.” Spar was “cherry picking” facts that were beneficial to the defense, Fox said.

On Tuesday, Judge Anderson seemed very engaged in the issue, and asked defense attorney Hochman question after question about what Spar would say that was “an objective assessment.” Were there any “documented complaints by Baca about memory?” Anderson wanted to know.

In the end, however, Judge Anderson declined to rule right away on the government’s motion to bar Dr. Spar’s testimony, but said he would hand down a ruling before the trial’s beginning.


IF NOT SPAR THEN BACA?

Even if the judge rules that Spar’s testimony would be more prejudicial than probative, thus keeps Dr. Spar off the stand, the defense could still get the Alzheimer’s issue in front of the jury by putting Baca on the stand, said former assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was also the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence.

When WitnessLA asked Hochman if the defense team would indeed consider putting the former sheriff on the stand, he said that the defense team was “evaluating all options, and those options include calling Sheriff Baca as a witness in his own case.”

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 4 Comments »

As Lee Baca’s Trial Approaches, the Fight Heats Up About the Former LA Sheriff’s “Cognitive Impairment”

November 21st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



THE LEGAL FIGHT OVER LEE BACA’S MEMORY

Earlier this month, both the defense and the prosecution agreed with the assessment of a court-appointed examiner
that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was competent to stand trial on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying in four different instances to federal officials.

The trial is scheduled to begin on December 6.

Now the fight is over whether or not the former sheriff was cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Baca was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease in early 2016, news that became public in June of this year. Since that time, the issue of the former sheriff’s cognitive impairment has been a legal matter as well as a medical one. (WitnessLA first broke the story of Baca’s illness in late May.)

Yet, although both parties have agreed that Mr. Baca’s is fit to go to trial next month, the former sheriff’s mental state will clearly be a major feature of the defense’s argument that Baca should be acquitted of all charges. The defense team contends that in the late summer and early fall of 2011, when the events underlying the obstruction of justice charges occurred, Baca was already failing cognitively.

They further contend that the former sheriff was suffering from memory impairment during his April 12, 2013 government interview, where he was asked about “events and conversations” that occurred in August-September 2011. It was his answers to questions in this interview that resulted in the charge of lying to federal officials.

The defense has a medical expert, Dr. James Spar, a professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA’s med school, who will testify that Baca was already suffering from memory loss and confusion in 2013, and very likely was comprimised for up to ten years prior to his diagnosis this year.

In Baca’s filing, defense attorney Nathan Hochman also names two former department members—former LASD deputy Micky Manzo, and former LASD captain Tom Carey—who reported observing Baca seeming “confused.”

Not surprisingly, the prosecution team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui presents a very different view.


“NO MEDICAL EVIDENCE”

In a motion filed earlier this month, government prosecutors write that, during Baca’s 16-year tenure as LA County sheriff, he “never reported any concerns about memory loss or cognitive impairment to any doctor.”

The opposite is true, they write. “There is no medical evidence of cognitive deficiencies in
defendant’s medical records during, or before, his alleged crimes.”

According to the prosecution, Baca “repeatedly went to the doctor and reported no issues related to cognitive functioning.’ Doctors who saw him from 2010 to 2013 “observed and reported that he was alert and oriented to person, place, and time, that there were no significant neurological findings, and that psychiatric affect was always normal.”

In addition, Baca “planned to run for re-election in 2014.”

The prosecution further notes that it was only in March 2014 that Baca sought medical advice based on concerns about his cognitive functioning. “Medical records from that period indicate that defendant’s chief complaint was sleep disturbance,” they write, “although defendant also complained of anxiety, depression and memory difficulties.”

It was not until May 13, 2014, when Baca went to see a neuropsychologist, “that cognitive impairments were first noted by a clinician.”


TUESDAY HEARING

In a hearing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will hear the defense and the prosecution both present arguments about whether or not Baca’s expert, Dr. James Spar, should be permitted to testify at trial–along with some other issues.

Baca, if you’ll remember, originally pleaded guilty in February of this year to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when officials questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years, an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson at a hearing scheduled for late July.

However, when the hearing arrived, Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

Rather than risk the unspecified longer sentence that Judge Anderson intimated he intended to hand down, Baca opted to go to trial. Thus in early August, the former sheriff was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The two new charges were added to an expanded version of the original charge of lying to federal officials.

We’ll let you know what happens on Tuesday. So stay tuned.


PHOTO OF LEE BACA BY SAXON BRICE

Posted in LASD, Pandora's Box, Sheriff Lee Baca | 11 Comments »

Former Sheriff Lee Baca Goes to Court to Get Trial Moved Out of LA & to Get Lead Prosecutor Off Case

October 31st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


LEE BACA & COMPANY MAKE MOTIONS

On Monday afternoon, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his attorneys will go to court to try to persuade a federal judge to grant two motions that Baca and company say are crucial to their case.

The first request is for a change of venue. Baca’s lead attorney, Nathan Hochman wrote in the lengthy motion that his client cannot get a fair trial in Los Angeles County, and likely not in areas as close as Orange or Riverside Counties either, due to “a tsunami of highly prejudicial media coverage of the case.”

Motion two seeks to have the government’s lead prosecutor, Brandon Fox, removed from the prosecution’s team because the defense says it plans to call Fox as a crucial witness.

Attorney Hochman’s argument about what he describes as Fox’s importance on the witness stand is laid out in 56 pages, and centers around the interview with Baca by the feds that took place on April 12, 2013, during which the former sheriff allegedly lied to two federal prosecutors, one of them Fox—along with two FBI agents—about his alleged knowledge and participation in event that took place in the late summer of 2011, and that would ultimately form the basis for all the obstruction of justice cases against members of the sheriff’s department.

Baca, if you’ll remember, was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. These two new charges came on top of an original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of a plea deal hammered out with federal prosecutors.

The grand jury indictment came about after U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal at a sentencing hearing in July, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

Among other things, Hochman contends that, as the main questioner of Baca during his interview with the feds (which led to his original charge), Fox can testify uniquely about the former sheriff’s physical and mental state as he answered questions during the four and a half hour interview, “since part of Mr. Baca’s defense….will rely on the impairment of his memory as a result of his Alzheimer’s disease, to remember in April 2013 what occurred twenty months before in August and September 2011.”

Hochman also wants to ask Fox why he decided to only audiotape the interview rather than video-taping it, when video “would be able to show whether Mr. Baca showed signs of tiredness, confusion, or lucidity…” and more.

Another question the defense feels it is crucial to ask Fox is “why he failed at the beginning of the interview, in contrast to other interviews he conducted in the investigation, to admonish Mr. Baca that although he was not under oath, he could be prosecuted for any false statement made to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “

One might wonder why a four-time elected sheriff who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half should need to be warned that lying to federal officials was against the law, whether under oath or not, but that’s a matter that will no doubt be taken up at the trial.

(WLA wrote about Baca’s motions at more length here.)


CAN’T GET JUSTICE IN LA

A week or so after Baca’s motions were filed, the government team came back with its own strongly-word arguments explaining why the defense’s motions should not be granted.

Regarding the defense demand for a change of venue, the government wrote, “While this case is of public interest, as many cases in this district are, the trial atmosphere has not been ‘utterly corrupted’ such that defendant cannot obtain a fair trial. The idea that twelve impartial individuals could not be empaneled in this, the largest federal judicial district in the nation, is indeed ‘hard to sustain.’

Furthermore, the government argued, “if the Court finds, based on the voir dire process, that actual prejudice may exist,” then the Court can have a back-up jury pool on stand-by in Santa Ana or elsewhere.”


As for getting lead prosecutor Brandon Fox kicked off the government’s legal team, the prosecution had this to say:

“Defendant’s motion is frivolous,” the government wrote. “Defendant has shown no need, let alone the required ‘compelling need’ for AUSA Fox’s testimony. It is obvious that he does not intend to call AUSA Fox as a witness. Instead, defendant’s filing is a thinly veiled attempt to remove from his case an experienced trial attorney who has led the successful prosecutions of defendant’s co-conspirators.”

Originally, Baca and his team also sought to have U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson recused from the case, arguing that Anderson was prejudiced against the defendant.

Since that motion was shot down earlier this month, it means that Anderson will be deciding on Monday’s motions.

Also, we noticed that, after replacing his original attorney, Michael Zweiback, with Nathan Hochman in August, the former sheriff is adding yet another lawyer to his line-up, this one, an out-of-towner from Chicago named Tinos Diamantatos.

More after the hearing. So stay tuned.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 1 Comment »

Prosecutors Request Mental Competency Evaluation for Former Sheriff Lee Baca

August 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After a hearing on Wednesday to set a start date for the federal criminal trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
, government prosecutors filed a motion requesting a mental competency evaluation for the man who, for sixteen years, headed the nation’s largest sheriff’s department until his abrupt announcement of his retirement in January, 2014.

“Although the government believes defendant is competent to stand trial,” the prosecution team wrote, “certain statements by defendant, his attorneys, and his experts, if taken at face value, provide reasonable cause to believe that defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.”

Their proposed motion, stated the prosecutors, will either “ensure that the defendant’s trial proceeds in the timely fashion if he is competent.” Otherwise, it will “save resources” if Baca is found not competent to stand trial.

This rather startling development came after an edgy discussion about the issue of Baca’s mental condition as it pertained to the upcoming trial. The three-way conversation took place in court earlier on Wednesday between the government’s attorneys, defense attorney Nathan Hochman, and U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson after Hochman told the court that the defense may assert what is known as a 12.2 defense, or “mental defect” defense.

In brief, a 12.2 defense is a strategy in which the defense presents “expert evidence of a mental disease or defect” that would have prevented a defendant from possessing the mental ability required to have committed the offenses of with which he or she is charged.

At some point in the discussion, Judge Anderson asked Hochman if this meant that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s “don’t know right from wrong?”

In answer to Anderson’s terse questioning, Hochman reportedly said that, no, he was not going for an insanity defense (which is one version of a 12.2 defense). Instead he might put forth another version of the 12.2 legal tactic, which is the aforementioned “mental defect” strategy.

In the request for the competency evaluation, prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui noted that, during the hearing in February in which Baca pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to federal officials, when asked if he had “recently been treated for any form of mental illness or addiction?” or if he was “currently suffering from any mental condition that would prevent him from “understanding fully the charge against” him, “or the consequences of any guilty plea” he might enter to relating to that charge, Baca answered, “no,” to each question.

The the prosecutors went on to point out that, on Aug. 1, Baca’s attorneys stated that “medical records would show Baca’s mental deterioration had already begun in April 2013, when he made the allegedly false statements to federal prosecutors.”

In their motion, the prosecutors made clear that they believe that Mr. Baca is competent to go to trial.

But they want an official determination, one way or the other.

Interestingly, in Wednesday’s hearing to finally determine the trial date, defense attorney Hochman said that he might consider filing a motion for a change in venue explaining that he was not sure that an untainted jury pool could be found, given all the publicity about the matter.

In response, Judge Anderson pointed out that it that it likely did not help matters to have attorneys holding press conferences on the courthouse steps—or words to that effect. Anderson then asked both sides to refrain from trying this case in the press.

The trial of Lee Baca for charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials is set to begin on December 6, 2016.

Here’s the actual motion for a competency evaluation if you want to take a look:

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 40 Comments »

Lee Baca: A December Trial Date, A New Lawyer, and a Pitch for Legal $$$ – UPDATED

August 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE:

At Wednesday’s hearing, although former sheriff Lee Baca’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman, pushed for any trial to be delayed until February or March of next, after considerable debate, U.s. District Court Judge Percy Anderson set a new trial date for December 6th.


On Wednesday of this week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and his new lead attorney, Nathan Hochman, will meet on the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson for a “status conference” with federal prosecutors to discuss when Baca’s criminal trial will begin.

While the trial was originally set to begin in September, then moved to October 4, our sources tell us that new and hopefully final date will likely be in December of this year. (But we’ll let you know for sure on Wednesday.)

Baca, who is now 74-years-old, was arraigned on August 12, also before Judge Anderson, at which time he pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials.

The former sheriff was indicted on the three charges after he pulled out of a plea deal with the government that had been crafted back in February, in which he’d agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying in an interview with the feds in 2013. In return for his plea, government prosecutors agreed to a sentencing range of 0 to 6 months.

In July, however, Anderson blew up the deal by rejecting the maximum six month sentence. In a sober-minded but scathing series of comments to those assembled in his courtroom, Anderson said that a six-month sentence would not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge said grimly, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct,” and would “…trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

After Anderson’s rejection of the 0 to 6 month sentencing agreement, Baca withdrew from the plea deal altogether, rather than take a chance on what promised to be a sentence from Anderson that likely would have fallen somewhere between 2-5 years in a federal prison.

But, to withdraw from the deal meant that Baca would instead go to trial, and likely face added charges—which was exactly what happened.


THE ALZHEIMER’S ISSUE

Now, the gigantic wild card in the eventual trial will be the issue of Baca’s cognitive health. He has, as most readers are aware, been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that was made public in late June (although WLA broke the news the month before).

On the day of his arraignment, Baca also filed for a change in his lead attorney. Through the course of his plea deal, and the withdrawal from it, Michael Zweiback, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has represented Baca.

Now Nathan Hochman will represent Baca. Hochman is also a former federal prosecutor, and the former head of the Tax Division for the US Department of Justice. While both he and Zweiback have strong CVs, they are reputed to have different personal styles when it comes to representing a client in a criminal trial.

Hochman has made it very clear that Baca’s mental state will be a significant issue when Baca goes before a jury, and that the defense will explore whether there was any “cognitive impairment,” during the period of the summer and early fall of 2011, when the alleged actions occurred that are the basis of the obstruction of justice charges, and in 2013, of course, when Baca was interviewed by the feds, and allegedly lied.

During the arraignment, Judge Anderson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, repeatedly asked defendant Baca if he understood the proceedings. Baca replied that his mind was “clear enough” but also added that he had a “cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile.”

When the case goes to trial, the government is expected to have its own witnesses who suggest that, while the former sheriff may be eccentric, he cognition and memory were fully operative during the periods in question.

Both Baca’s present and past attorneys have strongly hinted (but not outright stated) that they will do what they can to have Judge Anderson removed from the former sheriff’s case, pleading that Anderson is biased against Baca.


THE COST OF DEFENSE & THE PITCH FOR FUNDS

Trials are, of course, very expensive, and with this in mind, the former sheriff’s wife, Carol Baca, has recently sent out fund raising emails to friends in her husband’s behalf, two versions of which WitnessLA has obtained. (The LA Times’ Joel Rubin was the first to report on the emails’ existence.)

In one of the emails, Mrs. Baca wrote in part:

“The attorney fees for this defense will be substantial, well over $1 million, in addition to the large amount of money we have already spent on Lee’s legal fees. As a result, we are reaching out to our family and friends to help Lee beat these charges. Lee is in the fight for his life given his Alzheimer’s disease, and he hopes he can count on you to help him have the resources for this fight.

“There are two ways to contribute to help Lee. Any person can donate as a gift to Lee a maximum amount of $14,000 a year tax-free. In addition, we are setting up a legal defense fund that can accept contributions without limit (more details to follow).”

On the subject of legal bills, except for Paul Tanaka, nearly all of the other 21 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members who have been convicted by the government in the course of the multi-year federal investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD, have been provided attorneys by either the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), or the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA).

(James Sexton was the exception among the deputies who faced federal charges, as ALADS declined to pay even a portion of his bills, for reasons that make up their own disheartening tale.)

So, would Baca be eligible for any help?

We asked PPOA president, Brian Moriguchi, what he thought about whether either union could or would pay any of Baca’s bills, and he told us that “any full-member of our association in good standing is entitled to representation or financial support, regardless of whether their rank is a deputy sheriff or the sheriff himself.”

PPOA, he said, has provided financial assistance “to all of our members who were indicted related to this matter.”

Since we called Moriguchi on Sunday, he could not easily check whether or not Baca was, in fact, a full member. But if he is, Moriguchi said, “he is entitled to the same member benefits we afford all of our members, including financial assistance.”

Paul Tanaka, he said, “did not received any financial support from PPOA because he was not a member of our association.”

For the record, Mr. Baca receives roughly $328,000 annually in pension and benefits. In 2013, his total salary plus benefits was $490,727, according to Transparent California.

In 2013, Mr. Tanaka made $598,026. He also received salary and benefits as the Mayor of Gardena, which last year was $30,938.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 20 Comments »

Now That a Grand Jury Has Indicted Former Sheriff Lee Baca, Can His Trial Move Us Closer to Lasting Reform?

August 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

THE INDICTMENT ARRIVES

On Friday, former Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. These two new charges are on top of the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of a plea deal hammered out with federal prosecutors.

The new charges were not exactly a surprise.

The grand jury indictment came about after U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal at a sentencing hearing in July, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

A six-month sentence, Anderson said, does not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge continued, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct.”

Once Anderson dynamited the plea deal on July 19, at the next sentencing hearing on August 1, Baca and his attorneys had three possible ways to move forward:

Number 1: Baca could continue to plead guilty to the single charge with the understanding that the judge was going to hand down whatever sentence he saw fit, which could be as much as five years.

Number 2: Baca and his attorneys could work with the prosecutors to come up with a new deal that might please Anderson, which turned out to be nearly impossible.

Number 3: Baca could withdraw from the plea deal altogether, meaning that the only option left was to go to trial. This last option all but guaranteed additional charges, since the government had maintained in the negotiations for the plea that it could hit the sheriff with more counts, hence the motivation to plead to the single charge of lying to the feds.

On August 1, Baca went with Door Number 3, the go-to-trial option.

If Baca is convicted on the two obstruction counts, plus original count of lying to the feds, he could face as much as 20 years in a federal prison.

But that kind of lengthy a term is considered unlikely, especially since Baca’s second in command, Paul Tanaka, received a sentenced of five years—although he was, in the eyes of many, the person responsible for the day-to-day control of the operation that has thus far resulted in seven obstruction of justice convictions, on top of his own, with the sentencing of a ninth, former LASD Captain Tom Carey—who took a plea deal—still to come.

Yet, however one spins things, when it comes to the actions that have resulted in a string of convictions of LA Sheriff’s Department members in the last two years, some for obstruction of justice, others for corruption and brutality, all of that criminal misconduct—and far more, frankly—was allowed to occur on Lee Baca’s watch, which seemed to be much of Judge Anderson’s point.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

The former sheriff’s defense is expected to make Baca’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease a significant issue in the trial. His attorneys, Michael Zweiback and a new member of the team, Nathan Hochman, have already suggested that, in the summer of 2011—the period when the actions took place that make up the heart of the obstruction charges—the former sheriff “delegated more than he should have,” due to his condition. In other words, some kind of claim of diminished capacity may be in the offing.

On the government’s side, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, wrote that Baca was “well aware of the accusations of rampant abuse,” in the jails, particularly in Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There were the ever-worsening ACLU reports. Then there were things like the “allegations about LASD deputies who worked on the 300 floor of MCJ” and called themselves “the 3000 boys,” who “exhibited gang-like and violent behavior, who “used excessive force on inmates, “and “falsified reports to cover up wrongdoing.”

In the indictment, the prosecutors also hinted that they have witnesses waiting in the wings who will testify that they told Baca about brutality in the jails, and that he still made no effort to curb the problem.

As for the actual obstruction charges, the 15-page indictment of Baca is not as long or detailed as the 20 pages written by federal prosecutors in their final indictment of Paul Tanaka. For example, there are no dramatic moments when a witness describes the defendant shouting “Fuck the FBI!” as was the case in Tanaka’s indictment.

Yet, there is the mention of Baca approving an expensive bunch of overtime so that a rotating team of deputies could guard federal informant Anthony Brown round the clock, after he’d had his name changed and was moved to an out-of-the-way sheriff’s station in San Dimas, allegedly in order to allegedly keep him away from his FBI handlers. There are accounts of a meeting where Baca was reportedly present for discussions of approaching FBI agent Leah Marx and threatening her in order to obtain information. And there is the letter from Baca to then US Attorney Andre Birotte, threatening to “end the LASD’s participation in federal task forces” if Birotte didn’t yank his support for the FBI’s investigation of the jails—and so on.


A “VASTLY DIFFERENT” TRIAL

According to Baca’s attorneys, however, when it comes to the obstruction charges, the feds have themselves admitted that their case against the former sheriff is not particularly strong.

They point to passages in the prosecution’s sentencing memo, which was designed to persuade Judge Anderson that a six-month sentence for Baca was appropriate:

Indeed, there are lines in the memo such as the following: “Baca’s involvement in the obstruction is not as clear as the others,” and “may be more limited…” and “During the obstructive conduct, records show Baca was rarely in contact with any of those involved in the obstruction, with the exception of Tanaka. Tanaka himself was routinely in contact with the others.”

On the other hand, when the plea deal was first announced back in February, the government indicated that, if Baca changed his mind and the deal fell apart, they were willing and able to go to trial.

According to the feds, they laid the going-to-trial-with-additional-charges gun on the table when bargaining with Baca’s attorneys to achieve the plea. And they were fully prepared to fire that metaphorical pistol, if it became necessary.

Meanwhile, the former sheriff’s attorneys continue to express confidence.

In a text to WitnessLA, Hochman said that the new obstruction charges “represent punishment” by the feds for their client’s decision to go to trial. He also reiterated the defense’s point that the prosecutors had “admitted in court the weakness of its obstruction case” against Baca.

“This trial will be vastly different than the others,” Hochman wrote.

Well, one thing is certain: the upcoming trial of the man who led the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years presents an opportunity like no other to shine a light on what went so catastrophically wrong in the LASD, and what still needs to be done to fix it.

The trial of Lee Baca is, at present, scheduled for September of this year.

Here’s the text of the Baca indictment



THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE BACA SAGA & THE NEED FOR REFORM

Rhetoric aside, whether Baca or the federal prosecutors do or do not actually want to go to trial, it has come to pass that, barring something wildly unforeseen, the former sheriff will in fact be on trial after all—even though for several years, the likelihood of such an event occurring appeared all but impossible.

Now the trial of Lee Baca suddenly feels weirdly fated.

Given the disturbing display of departmental arrogance and wrongdoing that the previous LASD trials have have illuminated, it seems fitting that the guy at the top should also get his chance to face a jury—whatever the outcome.

After all, the whole obstruction of justice mess came about because the feds were covertly investigating accounts of brutal and corrupt behavior by deputies toward jail inmates (and, it seems, their visitors) that department higher-ups had aggressively refused to address, no matter how many awful reports of abuse were brought to their attention.

Unfortunately, based on our own investigations over the last six years, along with those of the LA Times, ABC7, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and others, the problems forced into public view by a raft of federal indictments are indicative of a larger toxicity that was allowed to spread unchecked in the department, both in the jails and elsewhere in the LASD.

Yet, despite what has been brought to light by two years of federal trials, and the many positive steps taken by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the path to lasting reform still seems to be littered with obstacles.

It was heartening to note that, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, the editorial board wrote about the fact that, while it’s a good thing that Baca will be on trial, the need for departmental reform is bigger, wider, deeper than the various prosecutions can reasonably accomplish.

Here are some clips from their essay:

Consider, for example, McDonnell’s continuing attempts to weed out of the department those deputies who have shown themselves to be unsuited to carry weapons and to wear the badge and the tan and green uniform.

Under the Los Angeles County system, fired deputies can be, and indeed have been, reinstated by a civil service commission that has no expertise in law enforcement or public safety and that makes its decisions based in part on the precedent set by previous sheriffs and commissions. So as McDonnell is attempting to raise standards of performance, the commission is judging deputies based on previous, lower standards. McDonnell then is compelled to take back — and to keep paying — deputies he and his command staff have deemed unfit for their jobs, completely undermining his power to set high standards of performance. It is an untenable system that has nevertheless become the envy of law enforcement officers in other agencies who would like to enjoy similar leniency…..

….The county Board of Supervisors voted this year to establish an oversight commission to keep tabs on sheriff reforms, but the panel has yet to be appointed or to convene. The board agreed to consider asking voters to grant that commission subpoena power, but with deadlines approaching to put measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, there has been no move forward on that issue….

….Switching out the man at the top was a solid step but it will not be enough to correct the Sheriff’s Department, and Los Angeles cannot rely on criminal prosecution of sheriffs, command staff and deputies as a substitute for oversight. Baca’s failed plea deal and his looming trial may be among the more compelling chapters in the story of the Sheriff’s Department, but the most important pages are those that lay out how we make sure that a similar meltdown does not occur again — and those pages haven’t yet been written.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

After Sentencing Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Says He Wants to Go to Trial to Set the Record Straight

August 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE DEAL CRUMBLES

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, where his attorneys made one last ditch effort to save the plea deal that Baca agreed to in February, and that Judge Anderson dynamited two weeks before at the former sheriff’s first sentencing hearing, instead of sentencing Baca to six months in federal prison, and thus concluding his case.

Now at just after 1:30 p.m. after five hours of sidebars, out-of-court negotiations, and several lengthy recesses, Attorney Michael Zweiback, stood up, walked to the attorneys’ podium to address the court, Baca beside him, and announced the decision that had likely been in the cards since everyone assembled in the courtroom five hours earlier.

“Your honor,” Zweiback said “….unfortunately we have failed to reach any kind of resolution that could be acceptable to the court,” despite the fact that both parties “tried diligently.”

Therefore, “we request that our plea be withdrawn, and we be allowed to proceed to trial.”

Anderson asked Baca if he was in agreement. “Yes, your honor,” Baca replied. He appeared ready for this outcome.

The judge, who has a reputation for liking to move is calendar along at a brisk clip, announced that he was going to set a date for trial.

Voire dire—jury selection—would begin September 20, 2016, at 8:30 a.m., Anderson said, with the last pre-trial hearing scheduled for September 12, at 3 p.m. (Obviously Anderson planned ahead for this eventuality.)

Zweiback said he almost certainly intended to petition for more time, since the prosecution had given them “a terabyte worth of data…”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox countered saying that, the giant pile of data notwithstanding, this would be a fairly “straightforward” case, with multiple previous trials that have already laid out the issues.


THE CIRCUITOUS ROUTE TO TRIAL

Monday’s sentencing hearing came about because, two weeks ago, at the first sentencing hearing, on Monday July 18, Percy Anderson surprised court watchers by firmly rejecting Baca’s plea deal, which specified that when Anderson selected a sentence for Baca, he remain within the constraints of a 0 to 6 month term in federal prison.

Instead, Anderson informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month maximum sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson’s rejection of the plea deal meant Baca had the choice of accepting whatever sentence Anderson decided to impose, which could go as high as five years, or working with the prosecution to come up with a new deal that both parties could live with, and that Anderson hopefully might accept.

Option three was that Baca and company could withdraw altogether from the plea deal, meaning that the former sheriff would take his chances in a full-scale, high profile trial. Of course, if Baca decided to go to trial, it was virtually guaranteed that the government would add some new charges on top of the single count of lying to federal officials, which had consituted the plea.

The new charges would almost certainly be obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Eight department members had already been convicted of those two charges, all with Anderson presiding at their trials, including the former under sheriff, Paul Tanaka, whom Anderson sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

(For more on the back story on the plea deal, and Anderson’s rejection of it, go here and here.)


“HISTORIC MOMENT”

After court adjourned on Monday afternoon, Lee Baca and his legal team, met with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse, where the former sheriff addressed everyone briefly, and then read from a prepared statement.

“I want to first of all thank the thousands of people who I’ve come across since I retired,” Baca told those assembled, “people who have come to me on their own initiative to say how much I have done, and how much the sheriff’s department has done to make their communities safer,”

“Go to trial and die in jail!” hissed a heckler who suddenly turned up in the photo-journo mob, but who was quickly yanked out of the way,

“This is a very historic moment in my life, obviously,” Baca continued. Then he announced that he would read his statement, after which he would take no questions.

Baca’s prepared statement was as follows:

For the peace of my family, to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial, and to minimize the court drama associated with this case, several months ago I entered a guilty plea to the one charged filed against me.

“Be very clear—one charge!” Baca said with emphasis, breaking for a moment from the prepared script.

“I am withdrawing my guilty plea today and will seek a trial. I have made this decision due to the untruthful comments about my actions made by the Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that are contradicted by the evidence in this case.

“While my future and my ability to defend myself depend on my Alzheimer’s disease I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the misleading aspects of the Federal investigation..while I am capable of doing this.

“I want to thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right. My spirits are high and my love for all people is God’s gift to me…”

And with that, federal marshall’s escorted him to a friends vehicle that was waiting at the curb, and Baca was gone.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

Once Baca had been ushered away, his attorneys, Michael Zweiback, and a new addition to the team, Nathan Hochman, said that due to Baca’s “catastrophic illeness,” and the uncertainty of Judge Anderson’s sentencing intentions, they had to choice but to go to trial.

Zweiback also said their team didn’t believe the government could prove their case and, when asked if the trial wasn’t a big risk for the defense, Zweiback said that the prosecution has “the biggest risk” with its case. “They now have the burden of proof.”

Hochman when further. “I think the prosecution would like this to be an open and shut case,” he said. “But I think the prosecution is going to be a bit surprised.”

Zweiback and Hochman said that Baca’s illness will definitely come into the trial. For one thing they said, they have evidence that “the arc of the disease started” while Baca was still the sheriff.

When asked whether Baca’s health had impeded his ability to function as sheriff during the time in which the alleged obstruction occurred, Zweiback said, “Well, he was certainly delegating more responsibility in those days….”

And so the drama continues.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

No New Plea Deal Reached, Baca Almost Certain to Be Indicted and Go to Trial

July 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After two weeks of negotiation, reportedly no new plea deal has been reached between attorneys
for former sheriff Lee Baca, and government prosecutors.

This means, according to sources, that barring some legal miracle, in the near future the four-term former leader of the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency will face an indictment for charges that go beyond the one count of lying to federal officials that was the basis of Baca’s original plea deal.

Specifically, if indeed Baca’s plea deal vanishes,—as is expected to happen on Monday morning, August 1, in the courtroom of Federal district Court Judge Percy Anderson—the government is expected to indict Baca soon for obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the single count of lying to the feds, that was the basis for Baca’s original deal.

Then some time next year or so, Baca will go to trial.

For those coming late to this drama: in February of this year, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials having to do with an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the sheriff’s department-run LA County jail system—an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson, which was supposed to occur just under two weeks ago, on July 18th. There were, however two wild cards that affected the sentencing end of the deal.

One wild card was Baca’s newly disclosed diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease (a story that WLA broke in late May).

The other wild card was the fact that the plea deal agreed to by Baca was a special kind of legal arrangement in which the sentencing range was agreed to upfront, rather than leaving it to the whim of a judge, post deal. In Baca’s case, the sentencing range approved by both the defense and the prosecution was 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

The prosecutors pushed for the upper end, meaning a six-month sentence.

At the same time, the defense tried to persuade Judge anderson that no prison time and probation only was the way to go given Baca’s past accomplishments, and his present declining health.

But Judge Anderson chose door number three and elected not to accept either the prosecutors’ suggestion or that of the defense. Instead a grim-faced Anderson said he was rejecting the plea deal altogether, and giving Baca a chance to withdraw his plea, and go back, legally speaking, to square one.

A six-month sentence for Lee Baca, said Anderson, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson gave Baca and his team of attorneys, led by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Zweiback, until Monday, August 1, to decide what the once-powerful former sheriff wanted to do now that the judge had dynamited the plea deal.

His options were as follows: He could elect to accept whatever sentence the judge decided to impose, which could be as high as five years. Or, together with the prosecutors—Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—Baca and company could present a mutually-agreed-upon alternate deal that might be more to the judge’s liking.

Or Baca could simply withdraw his original plea, thus almost certainly triggering an indictment and a lengthy federal trial sometime next year.

It appears—barring the aforementioned miracle—everyone, however reluctantly, is about to go for option three.

More soon.


PHOTO NOTE: The above photo of the former sheriff was taken at the swearing in of Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

Sentencing of Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Postponed for One Week

July 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was originally due to be sentenced on Monday, July 11 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The sentencing hearing has now been rescheduled for Monday, July 18, at 8:30 a.m., still in front of Percy Anderson.

In mid February of this year, Baca pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when officials questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

According to Baca’s plea deal with the U.S. Government, his proposed sentence will be between 0 to 6 months in a federal prison. But Judge Anderson has the option of going outside the parameters of the deal and could give the former sheriff as much as five years in a federal lock-up. However, if the judge were to go beyond the 0 to 6 boundaries, it would render the plea deal null and void.

Then Baca and his attorneys would have to decide whether or not they wish to take the risk going to trial, or simply accept a greater sentence than that agreed to in the deal.

The the fact that the former sheriff has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, may also be a factor in Baca’s sentencing. (WitnessLA broke that story in May.)

The ongoing exchange of legal briefs and expert opinion on the matter of Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the reason for this latest delay.

More details soon.


Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 15 Comments »

Day of Reckoning: The Strange and Memorable Afternoon When Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Pleaded Guilty to a Felony

February 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


BACA GOES TO COURT

On Wednesday afternoon, around five minutes before the 2:30 PM plea hearing was to begin in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his attorney, Michael Zweiback, walked down the left aisle of the courtroom, through the waist-high swinging door, to the defendant’s table where Baca carefully folded his lanky frame into a chair.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, who is chief of the federal district’s public corruption and civil rights section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes, chief of general crimes, were already seated on the other side of the room at the prosecution’s table.

The purpose of the hearing was for Baca to formally plead guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when they questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Now the act of pleading guilty in open court was the next step in the process of executing the plea agreement with the feds that Baca signed on Monday in lieu of facing a federal indictment for his alleged part in obstructing the government’s probe into LASD wrongdoing.

The idea of a plea was reportedly floated by Baca’s attorneys months ago, according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office. But it was only in the last few days that the final language of the deal had been nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.

Baca was arraigned on the single charge on Wednesday morning, then at noon U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a hastily arranged press conference to announce the existence of the deal, an event that had the LA press corps scrambling wildly to get to the downtown federal building and up to the 7th floor conference room on time to report on what was about to become a national story.

And now, finally, there was the hearing in which the man who had, for years, arguably been California’s most popular elected official, would publicly plead to a felony, that in all likelihood would lead to time in a federal prison, albeit probably for no more than six months.

The plea hearing was originally randomly assigned to U.S. District Court Judge John Kronstadt, but most people who had been following the multiple federal trials involving members of the LA Sheriff’s Department assumed that Judge Percy Anderson would manage to wrestle the proceeding into his own court room.

Anderson had been the jurist to preside over all three previous obstruction of justice trials, pertaining to the hiding of FBI informant and convicted bank robber Anthony Brown in what has come to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box, an ill-considered strategy directed from the department’s highest levels that has, to date, resulted in the conviction of seven former LASD members, with accompanying prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. (These cases are all on appeal with the Nineth Circuit Court of Appeals). One more department member, former captain Tom Carey, was indicted last year pertaining to Pandora’s Box, but he too has made a deal, in his case, in exchange for truthful testimony at the upcoming trial of his fellow indictee, former LASD undersheriff and 2014 candidate for LA County Sheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s trial, scheduled to begin jury selection on March 22, was also originally assigned to another judge. But exactly no one was surprised when the highly intelligent and decidedly quirky Anderson managed to arm wrestle the sure-to-be-theatrical Tanaka proceedings into his courtroom.


THE PLEA

For the occasion of his plea hearing, Lee Baca wore a highly-tailored dark brown suit, a pale shirt, a gold and brown striped tie, and a melon pink silk handkerchief carefully arranged in his left breast pocket.

Both of Baca’s parents struggled with impoverished circumstances, but according to the former sheriff, his father always somehow managed to be a snappy dresser and Baca too came to find pleasure in nice clothing. On Wednesday, in addition to the good suit, he’d fastened a small decorative pin to his left lapel. The shiny thing was smaller than a quarter, but shaped like the bright LASD sheriff’s star he’d worn for 49 years, 15 of those years as the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

As Baca and everyone else sat waiting for Judge Anderson to make his appearance, the former sheriff’s expression was one of enforced calm that appeared as if it could easily fracture. As the minutes passed, he seemed less and less sure what to do with his hands, which he finally laid half-clasped on the table in front of him, the tips of his long fingers touching, as if he was gently holding a thin glass ball the size of a navel orange between his palms.

At 2:33 PM, Judge Anderson arrived, and the formal hearing began. Making a plea of this sort is a highly ritualized affair in which the judge asks a series of questions, and the defendant replies briefly. For the next 30 plus minutes, Anderson performed his side of the ritual, making programmed inquiries that allowed his honor to determined that Baca was not presently drunk, or on drugs, or suffering from a mental illness, reacting to threats or coercion, or anything else that might keep him from understanding and freely making the decision at hand.

Judge Anderson explained that the plea would not be finalized until sentencing, which would take place a few months hence. Between then and now, Baca would meet with a representative from probation, who would then submit a report that recommended a sentence within the federal guidelines—specifically from 0 to 6 months in a federal prison– for the crime to which he was pleading. Once in receipt of the probation report, the prosecution would make its own recommendation that could be higher or lower than whatever probation suggested, but that—according to the terms of the plea deal—would remain within the 0-6 month parameter.

Only then would the judge make his decision as to what sentence he intended to impose.

But, Anderson said, leaning slightly forward for emphasis, according to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the court “is not bound by advisory guidelines,” but is able to impose a sentence that “could be greater or lessor than the guideline range,” up to a maximum of five years in prison, plus three years of post-prison oversight, and a cash fine of up to $250,000. Anderson said, in so many words, that the 0-6 sentence wasn’t a done deal, and that he would look at a multiplicity of factors before making his decision.

All the participants were aware, however, that according to the terms of the agreement signed Monday, if the judge’s sentence strayed from the 0-6 month guidelines, it would nullify the plea deal if either of the parties wished it.

And, in the course of the hearing, prosecutor Brandon Fox made it clear that if at any point in the process Baca was to bail from the deal, the government was fully prepared to proceed to a grand jury in order to indict the sheriff, and that the charges that came with an indictment—that the feds maintained they fully believed they could prove—would likely be more extensive than the single count to which he was now about to plead.

Toward the hearing’s end, Anderson recited some of the privileges Baca would lose, either temporarily or permanently, as a convicted felon: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, the right to own, carry or use a firearm…and more.

In response to the ongoing questions and statements, Baca and his attorney occasionally conferred when the former sheriff looked unsure, but in the end Baca acknowledged that he understood all that had been said, and the decision he was making.

Finally Judge Anderson asked the main question: How do you plead…?

In return, Lee Baca recited the necessary words: Guilty, your honor.

Despite the dark storms of scandal unleashed by Baca and Tanaka in recent years, it was an oddly unsettling phrase to hear coming out of the former sheriff’s mouth.

A date of May 16 was set for the sentencing hearing at which point, if all went well, Baca’s plea would be finalized and a sentence imposed.

And that was that.


FACING THE CAMERAS

After the courtroom emptied, a mass of reporters, photographers and TV camera people waited on the east side of the federal courthouse for Baca, his wife, and his lawyer to emerge, along with a couple of supportive personal friends. Baca had planned to read a short statement and then leave while his lawyer stayed to answer reporters’ questions. But before an increasingly grim looking Baca could read his prepared words, reporters closed in and some began shouting agressive questions at him featuring words like “corruption” and “disgraced.”

Evidently the noisy questioners hoped to provoke a soundbite, but instead Baca’s face began to collapse, and he yanked himself away from press and lawyers and all but ran to a waiting car, his friends and wife racing beside him.

Once Baca was gone, attorney Michael Zweiback answered questions, as promised: Was he worried about his client’s safety? asked one reporter.

“I leave that to the Board of Federal Prisons,” Zweiback replied.

He and his co-counsel, Zweiback told reporters, were hoping to persuade the court that Baca “does not deserve prison time, that he is currently involved in many, many projects in the community that are doing a lot of good…”

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley asked Zweiback to “explain the difference” between his client and the “other members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department” who were sentenced to multiple years in prison, ostensibly for following the orders of the former sheriff and the former undersheriff.

“I’ll let the U.S. Attorney’s Office speak to that,” said Zweiback smoothly. “I’m only responsible for representing the interest of my client. And he’s accepted responsibility for [the things for which] he needs to accept responsibility.” (Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)

Baca’s lawyer also reiterated that if Judge Anderson decided to hand down a sentence that was longer than what is specified in the guidelines, “that would nullify the plea agreement,” and the parties would go back to square one, which likely meant proceeding to trial.

In addition, Zweiback noted that, , as part of the sentencing process, Baca would do what is known as a plea colloquy, a public statement “to explain his side and to express is remorse for what he’s done. I do expect him to do that,” said the attorney.

Finally Zweiback handed out copies of the one page “statement” Baca had originally intended to deliver himself, prior to the shouting and fleeing. It consisted of two sentences written in what looked like 25 pt type:

I made a mistake and accept being held accountable.

I will always love the men and women of the Sheriff Department and serve human life no matter where and who they are.

It was signed with a looping signature: Lee Baca Retired Sheriff.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 63 Comments »

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