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

Celeste Fremon
Written 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.

20 Comments

  • C: Will you have access to and report on who gives any money to Baca?

    C: Do you have info as to when this disease started?

    I won’t help Baca with a way out of this situation. But, this will be a very hard defense to say “this is not my fault the dog ate my homework.”

    Stonich and Waldie are going to pivotal at trial-they just don’t know it yet!

  • Cry me a river! Lying Leroy rakes in $342,000 per year, so a Mil shouldn’t be all that much in relationship to what he makes. How about the Deputies who were convicted following the “Great One’s” orders? They have little, if any, income to support their families. They are the ones who got the shaft in all of this.

    And, oh yeah, he was indeed “impaired” in 2011. He was “impaired” in 1998 when he was elected. Hell, he was “impaired” when he was hired on. Had they had a psych back in the day, he would never have been hired.

    I need to buy barf bags by the dozen.

  • Give money to his defense, yah thats going to happen. Maybe the current LASD leadership would like to provide him some money to payback for their promotions. I can think of a chief in custody. This is ridiculous. Such damage LB and PT did to the department. Just go away and do your time. It will be less than the damage you did on several of the people who you both screwed over while in power.

  • Was he actually a member of PPOA? I don’t think so. When you have such a big ego you really don’t need representation from a union. He thought that he was Mr. Untouchable. Mr. PPOA president, please verify his membership in PPOA. If he wasn’t in prior to the indictment, than he shouldn’t get a dime from the union.

  • I guess I’m happy my dues money won’t be going to LB.

    I wish some of my dues money would have gone to fighting Sheriff Fresh Eyes on REALLY! This is what you think is important.

    I agree whole heatedly with other posters, President Moriguchi, where are the results/comments of the state of the Department and how is the New Sheriff doing? NOT, how I can get free brass snaps. We are really WORKING with Department on this one? COME ON!

    NEW LEATHER GEAR WITH BRASS SNAPS AVAILABLE AT PPOA UNIFORM STORE
    Your PPOA online uniform store now has leather gear with the new LASD brass snaps at discounted prices.

    Before purchasing new leather gear, keep in mind that PPOA is working with the department to change the snaps on current leather gear, free of charge. We will also be able to exchange Sam Browne belt buckles as well as regular pant belt buckles at no charge. However, employees will need to purchase the corresponding baton holder and key ring if they choose to switch to the brass snaps.
    Visit PPOA.COM to browse all uniforms and gear available.

  • Some deputies are entitled to legal representation by ALADS, some deputies are entitled to the annual “Raging Waters” and some deputies get nothing at all. The “kicker” is that over 7,500 sworn are footing the bill. Such a blackeye to labor unions in general.
    PPOA members (all of them) saw an increase in their dues to offset their payouts to F.O.P. The beat goes on.

  • It is laughable to think BL is a member of PPOA, considering he was quick to say he was not obligated or held to follow Department policy since he was an “elected official, and not an employee”

    Rumors circulated about other unscrupulous outside activities, not added into his annual pension and benefits. in my opinion, to consider donating, is equevalnt to validating his mafia-like practices.

  • Leroy is in fact impaired and has been his entire career.He has a narcistic personality and rode P.C.. Like a mule with the help of a politician to get where he did. His damage to the Department will take a long time to fix. I hear the new sheriff being bad mouthed, but I do not know how he could fix the organization without firing everybody Leroy ever hired or promoted. Leroy has no idea that he ever did anything wrong and never will. PJP took over the Department a few years after I came on and after the Kefauver commission hearings. we never liked PJP, but he brought the Department into the 20 th century. it can be done again.

  • In addition to his Sheriffs retirement salary Leroy receives LACERA retirement benefits as a retired Cheif, his rank upon taking office. But on another thought, I think there would be some great comic relief if in the, Tanaka is left holding the bag on all of this while Leroy walks. Picture Paul doing his five year stretch at some minimum security Federal prison in Illinois as a trusty doing some stupid job while Leroy obtains “treatment ” for his illness at The Montage in Laguna. We all know Little Paulie was the mastermind and chief architect of Pandora’s Box, that was proven quite clearly during trial. It will not bother me for one moment if “a deal” is worked out in the end for Leroy that makes everyone happy. After all, Paul; life ain’t fair, is it. Think of all you screwed big time to feed your ego. I bet Ralph Ornales is still laughing like a boss.

  • #12, Baca only receives retired Sheriff salary, not both. Remember the court case back in ooohhhhh 2001. Baca V. LA County! The board of Sup’s wanted to make Baca take his Chief retirement because he resigned before becoming sheriff.

  • The stones on Baca! Continuing to wear the LASO pin on his suit lapel is bad enough. To solicit defense funds, given his annual benefits, benefits he in no way deserves, is galling. I only wish I could contribute to the prosecution.

  • This is so RICH in so many ways.
    “There’s a cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile”. Yet he was giving speeches at civic and religious groups shortly before he appeared in Anderson’s courtroom to be sentenced. He talked his classic Moonbeam bullshit at one of these functions, telling “his public” how he isn’t afraid of jail.
    Now he’s not just mentally impaired, he’s broke too. Now he’s begging for pity because he can’t afford to pay his legal bills.
    If he’s not afraid of jail and he can’t afford to pay a high powered legal team, why is he begging for mercy and money in an effort to try to stay out of jail? Now we’re supposed to feel pity for Leroy? Does it get any richer than that?
    Yes he’s pitiful, but that’s nothing new. He was pitiful as the sheriff and he was pitiful as a man. The only thing more pitiful was the legion of bootlickers who kissed his ass for personal gain.

  • Did anyone actually think that Baca would exit “without” a production. You gotta give it to him for remaining “true to form.” LMAO!

  • Wait hold on! Let me get my popcorn andmy favorite beverage ready It’s going to be an amazing comedy show with this cast while the Benny Hill music playing n the backround! ROFL…HEY TT BAD BOY any thing you like too say been a long time since you posted.HEY PPOA doyou really think selling brass snaps is going to divert attention from your comment regarding leroy’s membership with PPOA?

  • LA Times has just reported that the prosecution is asking the judge for a competency hearing. “If it don’t fit acquit!”

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