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 44.
This misdemeanor trial has been as fascinating as more many serious felonies I have tried. Delving into an unfamiliar world, I learned for the first time about requirements for running gun dealerships. I didn’t know that a blacked-out storefront in a residential neighborhood might be a firearms store. I didn’t understand how residents of a neighborhood can put pressure on local prosecutors and politicians to get rid of a gun store in their midst.
One of the most entertaining trials I ever presided over was also a misdemeanor. A beautiful young brunette flight attendant was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and causing a fender bender. She presented a scintillating defense. “I was not the driver at the time of the accident. My boyfriend, a married pilot for a major airline, was driving my Porsche. He called me his ‘little copilot.’ We had just been out to our favorite Italian restaurant for dinner and drinks. After the accident, he begged me to tell the police that I was the driver, or he would lose his pilot’s license because he was drinking too soon before his early morning flight.”
Before the trial, the defendant and her pilot boyfriend broke up. She was ready to testify against him and save herself. After she testified that she was not the driver, the prosecution called the pilot boyfriend to the witness stand. I expected a gorgeous young man. Instead, a short, dumpy older man, at least thirty years older than the flight attendant, entered the courtroom accompanied by a dowdy, gray-haired woman his age, the wronged wife. The pilot vigorously denied that he drove the defendant’s Porsche that night. Someone was obviously lying. The jury found the flight attendant not guilty.
The jury in the trial of the gun dealer came back in a half hour. Usually, a jury that comes back immediately has a “not guilty” verdict. The jury found the defendant guilty. It wasn’t close for them. The prosecutor’s argument, that the defendant was lax in his scrutiny, won the day.
Perhaps if the defendant had testified, the result would have been different. I wonder how much the jurors were influenced by the fact that the defendant was an Orthodox Jew and/or that he owned a gun store in a residential neighborhood. I don’t know whether these misdemeanor convictions will put him out of business. Sentencing has been put off for several weeks.
A lengthy attempted murder trial has arrived and we will begin selecting another jury. A love triangle. The young defendant, charged with attempted murder, barged into his ex-wife’s apartment in the middle of the night and found her in bed with another man. Stabbing the victim numerous times, he yelled, “Die, die, die.” The defendant also stabbed others trying to pull the defendant out of the bedroom. Fifteen years in state prison has been offered by the defense. The prosecutor will take it to her supervisor overnight.
Yesterday’s verdict still bothers me. This morning’s radio news announced that the City Attorney’s Office convicted the gun dealer. A follow-up article in The Los Angeles Times quoted a community member stating, “I’m hoping this conviction will put the gun dealer out of business.” Comments in the article from others in the community stated the opposite—that the prosecution was a witch hunt.
When the guilty verdict was announced, the defense attorney appeared shocked. The defense may have erred by not having the defendant testify. Sometimes jurors become more sympathetic toward a defendant after hearing from him directly. Claiming their attorney improperly kept them from testifying when they wanted to take the witness stand, defendants try to get new trials. Judges prevent this by asking a defendant directly, “Do you want to testify? The law allows you to testify on your own behalf even if your attorney doesn’t want you to. This is entirely your decision. Do you want to testify? Yes or no?” This defendant told me, “No, I don’t want to testify.”
Two days ago, I wrote of the older man in a walker who had not registered as a sex offender. He was back before me. The prosecutor was again annoyed that I took the defendant’s claim seriously that he did not have to register as a sex offender. I told the prosecutor, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I want to understand this issue.”
The inquiry took at least an hour. Concluding the defendant had concocted a false narrative why registration was not required, I was satisfied that he was deliberately failing to register. I revoked his bail and remanded him into custody. Happily, I did not allow myself to be rushed by the prosecutor. Sometimes it’s necessary that in order to do my job I have to make an attorney upset.
We spent the day continuing to select jurors for the attempted murder trial. Unusually, the victim of the stabbing was in custody even though he had done nothing wrong. If they won’t cooperate with the side that properly subpoenas them to testify, the law allows material witnesses to be kept in custody until they do testify. This victim was evading the prosecutor and is unhappy to be held as a material witness. I don’t blame him. While the sheriff’s department is supposed to segregate and treat material witnesses differently than ordinary inmates, the victim is still locked in a jail. Material witnesses are treated as persons charged with a crime instead of victims of crime. I wish the witness/victim had responded to the subpoenas.
The victim is on suicide watch and is distraught. He is wearing a jail suicide outfit to prevent him from hurting himself. A thick blue blanket covers his torso but leaves his legs and arms bare. There is no bedding in a suicide cell. Inmates have to sleep on the floor with the blanket fastened around them. The sheriffs also keep persons in suicide blankets in a waist chain. I hate keeping a victim in custody. An attorney appointed for him argued, “My client should be released. He knows how serious it is to ignore being subpoenaed to come to court. You should trust him to come back.”
The prosecutor has refused to provide a hotel room for the victim or to pay for an ankle bracelet with a GPS tracker. The victim is where the prosecutor wants him, behind the jail door. I don’t blame the prosecutor. Why add the stress in a serious case of not knowing if your victim will show up to testify? On the other hand, it appears heartless for the prosecutor’s office not to pay for an ankle monitor for a few days, so they can keep track of their witness.
The victim has no address. His attorney is trying to find a relative with whom he could live until the trial is over. I told the attorney, “If a relative comes to court, I will release him to live with that person if someone pays for an ankle monitor.”