Katherine Mader spent two decades as a judge in Los Angeles Criminal Court, before retiring early in 2020. Before that she was the LAPD’s first Inspector General, prosecuted two murder-for-hire trials and served as a defense attorney who convinced a jury to spare the life of the Hillside Strangler. In August of this year, Judge Mader published Inside the Robe: A Judge’s Candid Tale of Criminal Justice in America, which best selling author Michael Connelly called: “a perfect book: engrossing and telling at the same time.” The Judge has granted Crime Story permission to excerpt the entirety of her book over the coming months. You can find previous installments of Inside the Robe here. This is Part 40.
Still no jury trial. But the case of the registered nurse caretaker who stole over a million dollars from her 101-year-old patient was resolved. The nurse pleaded “no contest” to “theft from a dependent elder” with an added allegation that she stole over $500,000. The prosecutor allowed her to receive six years in state prison with an order to make restitution to the victim, and, if the victim were no longer alive, the victim’s estate.
Six years in prison seems extraordinarily low for stealing so much money from a vulnerable victim. Likely this money will never be collected. In essence, the defendant got away with the crime. Her time in prison will be served at 50 percent, meaning that she will be released in three years. She has already spent one year in custody for which she will receive credit. Then, with her husband, she will move to Mexico where she will build a house with the stolen money. According to her attorney, “The defendant’s husband, a doctor, began having health problems and was unable to work at his ob-gyn office. The rent began accumulating at $20,000 a month, and the defendant began stealing from her nursing patient to cover her husband’s expenses. The stealing started out small. Undetected in the beginning, the stolen amount increased. During this period, she continued to steal, and the defendant and her husband began constructing a home in Mexico.”
After the plea, I inquired whether she had any assets in the United States, and, of course, the answer was “No.” I then asked, “After the defendant is released from prison, will parole authorities be able to recover assets in Mexico?” The prosecutor didn’t know. “That assumes that the house is in the name of the defendant,” said the defendant’s attorney. Of course. If one builds a house with stolen money, who would be stupid enough to register the house in the name of the thief? The defendant will spend her retirement recovering from her prison stay, drinking margaritas, and watching spectacular sunsets from the redwood deck of her new home. The victim’s heirs will get nothing.
The criminal justice system does not do well recovering stolen assets. By the time someone is caught, the assets have usually been spent or hidden. Law enforcement agencies rarely spend much time helping victims discover what happened to their stolen money. Police stats are based upon how many cases have been cleared, loosely meaning solved. There is no incentive for police departments to push investigators to recover a victim’s money once a defendant has been arrested. By the time a prosecutor gets involved in the criminal prosecution, meets the victim, and understands the case, the money is gone. When the thief ultimately pleads guilty and is ordered to make restitution payments, no money generally will be recovered.
Judges’ tongues are wagging today about charges against a female judge in Ventura County by the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) for another minor issue. For many years, this judge has trained seeing-eye dogs for the blind. When she became a judge several years ago, she received permission from her supervisors to continue training her dogs in her courtroom. The last phase of training occurs when the dog accompanies its trainer everywhere and sits quietly or sleeps at the trainer’s feet up to four hours at a time. The accused judge’s dog-in-training accompanied her to work every day and lay down next to her without moving when she was on the bench. After sentencing a “Three Strikes” defendant to life in prison, the defendant contacted the CJP and claimed, “My trial judge was paying more attention to her dog than to me at my sentencing.” The same allegation was echoed by a second defendant in custody in a courthouse cell next to the first defendant. All court personnel including the bailiffs, attorneys for both sides, and court staff wrote affidavits stating that the judge was never distracted during the proceedings and the dog made no fuss.
The CJP decided that this judge needed to be given a “letter of reprimand,” the lowest form of discipline, but discipline, nonetheless. The claim is that the judge violated the ethical rule that a judge must give undivided attention to the court proceedings. The accused judge is asking the California Supreme Court, her only remedy, to reverse the discipline. If it doesn’t intervene, the discipline will stand. We all wonder why the CJP couldn’t send her a letter inquiring about the facts. Why does this matter have to result in discipline, when the judge received permission to bring the dog, and was performing a public service by training the dog gratis?