In Part 74, Judge Mader deals with a surprising incident of mistaken identity. She then details the range of approaches judges take when it comes to their safety and the safety of their families.
You can find links to all installments of Inside the Robe here.
A jury trial has arrived from my floor and from a female prosecutor who previously disqualified me. Once again, the prosecution supervisor is taking such a hard line that the case is difficult to settle. The defendant, without a weapon, and without much of a criminal record, went into a Rite-Aid, stole items, and pushed down the security officer who tried to stop him. Two Good Samaritans tried to catch the defendant. He pushed down the male, who was knocked unconscious after plummeting to the pavement. The wife was also knocked down: the defendant supposedly tried to remove her pants and bizarrely punched her in the vagina.
Speaking with the defendant, a tall, lanky young man with only one trespass conviction on his record, he appears rational. Yet his behavior, if true, was irrational. He is dressed in civilian clothes for trial and looks like a young investment banker. My court reporter, however, said he appeared to be talking to himself and making faces. I didn’t see it.
Twice today, in the space of a couple hours, I had surprising conversations with LAPD insiders. The first was with a prosecutor who aggressively prosecutes serious felonies. He knew about my experiences as LAPD Inspector General and came by to talk. He said, “I am so disgusted at LAPD’s disciplinary system. I really worry about retaliation against good officers who mistakenly think that they are doing the right thing by reporting misconduct up their chain of command.” I learned later that the prosecutor had an application before the governor to become a judge. That may be why he felt free to speak.
At lunch, I met an LAPD veteran, a long-time friend, who expressed a similar attitude. He spent a few months in the Internal Affairs Division before “I was being asked to conduct non-objective investigations. I actually asked for a transfer to Internal Affairs because my friend there said their investigations were fair. But I don’t think so. I conducted investigations, sent them to my supervisors for approval, and got them back with the facts and conclusions different from what I had written. I got out of the unit as quickly as I could. I was afraid to complain to anyone.”
LAPD Internal Affairs has had a dubious reputation for years when it comes to officer discipline. I witnessed it when I was inspector general. They are an island unto themselves. Institutional inertia prevents change, and I predict that years from now the same complaints will be heard from both inside and outside the department.
Prosecutors, as well as judges, can become jaded after hearing the same stories over and over. Yesterday, during a different trial in the courthouse, the story was not what was expected and threw the trial into turmoil.
The judge and attorneys in a gang case spent several days choosing a jury, and the trial was on the verge of starting. The prosecutor said, “Your Honor, I thought that I had eyewitness ‘Andy Ramirez’ under subpoena and was ready to start the trial. My investigating officer told me the witness kept insisting to him that she knew nothing about the case and never witnessed anything. I thought she was just the usual recanting witness in a gang case. However, I just met her and realized we subpoenaed the wrong ‘Andy Ramirez.’ The one who I have in my office truly knows nothing about this case. We have no idea where the correct ‘Andy Ramirez’ is, and we can’t proceed with the trial.”
The jury was delighted to be discharged. The defendant’s case for attempted murder was temporarily halted but re-set at a later date. The defendant remained in custody.
We finally sat a jury in my courtroom for the trial I described last week. Testimony will begin tomorrow.
How does the immersion of a judge in violent criminal cases for forty years affect their psyches? Reactions vary widely. Some judges become hyper-concerned about violence and anxious and even paranoid about their safety and the safety of their families. Others are not affected at all.
A colleague in his sixties told me of his years of anxiety about personal safety. He was an experienced criminal defense attorney for decades before he became a judge and known for imposing harsh sentences. My colleague said, “I’ve been concerned about violence touching my family since I started judging. I always give my children and wife instructions on how to stay out of trouble. I tell my children that most crime happens after 11:00 p.m.”
While this judge lives in a safe and exclusive neighborhood, he told me, “I’ve got firearms in several safe boxes within twenty-five feet of me at home. I think about personal safety all the time, especially when I go out at night to walk the dog or take out the garbage.”
I asked, “How many people do you know in your life, outside the crimes you see at work, who have been murder victims?” There was a pause, and he appeared surprised when he replied, “None.” I asked the question because his description of negative thought patterns was similar to my own negative thought patterns about insomnia.
I told my colleague about my experience with cognitive therapy and suggested: “You need to identify your fears and replace them with logical and positive thoughts such as, ‘No one I know has ever been the victim of a homicide. My chances of being hit by a drunk driver are much greater than being the victim of a homicide. My neighborhood is extremely safe.’” I don’t think he ever followed up on my suggestion.
Later today, I spoke with a woman judge whose career has found her immersed in serious criminal cases like mine. We decided we were perhaps too lax about personal safety. Neither of us has ever been threatened by someone who posed a true threat. We were amazed at the fearful attitudes of several of our male colleagues and wondered whether there was a real difference between male and female judges as to how we approached these issues. Is there a connection between some of our male judges feeling fearful and their accumulation of firearms? Most of the judges who have concealed weapon permits are male.
Foolishly, as a young defense attorney in Sacramento, I brought my newborn daughter in a chest pouch into the jail holding cell to interview my client, an alleged member of the Mexican Mafia. Although my client was behind a screen, I was later admonished that my entry created a possible hostage situation with other inmates. That same daughter, as a five-year-old, often answered the home phone and chatted with my client, Angelo Buono, the “Hillside Strangler,” when he called to speak with me at night about legal strategy! Why did I let my daughter speak on the phone to my client? I just wasn’t thinking there could be any danger to her. In hindsight, my laxity seems immature and short-sighted.
This day began on a happy note. When I granted the writ releasing Kash Register from custody (January 20) after thirty-four years of unlawful imprisonment, and strongly believed he was innocent, there was no definitive scientific test such as DNA that I could rely upon. Today, I learned the prosecution is conceding that Mr. Register is factually innocent of the murder: that he did not commit the crime. That is a huge deal. The City agreed to settle his civil case for over sixteen million dollars. The prosecution is agreeing that his arrest record be wiped clean.
That’s significant to Mr. Register and also significant to me. I recognized something was wrong with Mr. Register’s conviction from the beginning, and my judgment was validated. This is a once-in-a- career ruling and one of the most important decisions I have made as a judge. The criminal justice system failed Mr. Register, and money and apologies cannot return thirty-four years of his life.
The middle-aged female victim in my jury trial, wearing a conservative blue skirt suit, shakily and with tears flowing, described a harrowing event: “The guy in court took my hand, pulled me behind a truck, and threw me to the ground. Then he put his knee across my throat, and I couldn’t breathe. He kept trying to unbutton my jeans, which were tight. He couldn’t do it because I kept moving. Then the guy hit me over and over again in my genitals by his fist. My genitals were bruised and purple for a long time.” This description sounds like felony conduct―attempted rape. Yet the defendant is only charged with a less serious misdemeanor, sexual battery. This trial demonstrates again how ill-prepared many prosecutors are for jury trial. Ours received the file a day or two before the trial started. He conducted no additional investigation. He didn’t interview the victim/witness until the day the woman testified. When he was confronted with new facts, he wasn’t nimble enough to make a mid- course correction. Before our trial began, the prosecutor was most concerned about the robbery. He was even willing to let the defendant plead guilty to the Rite-Aid robbery, dismiss the sexual battery, and not require sex registration. From what I’ve heard in the trial, the sexual battery, if proven, is the most serious of the charges, and this is a defendant who, if found guilty, should be in the sex offender database.
The testimony in the trial is over. Many witnesses have testified to often-conflicting facts, and it’s anyone’s guess what the jury will conclude.