By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The hung jury in the excessive-force trial of ex–Inglewood police Officer Jeremy Morse and the acquittal of his partner, Bijan Darvish, were defeats for L.A. County prosecutors but victories, in a way, for their star witness.
Sheriff’s Department Commander Charles Heal watched the videotape of Morse slamming a handcuffed teenager, 16-year-old Donovan Jackson, onto the hood of his patrol car, then punching Jackson in the face. That tape was enough to outrage the public, evoke the tape of Rodney King’s beating more than a decade ago and compel District Attorney Steve Cooley to press charges against the two officers. But to Heal, it was also enough to tell the jury that Morse’s conduct, while wrong, was not criminal.
The jury, which voted 7-to-5 in favor of convicting Morse, may have agreed with Heal that Morse acted with unnecessary force. But its charge was to determine whether that force was beyond what a reasonable officer would do in a similar situation. In the end, the jurors may have believed that officers in similar situations do the same thing all the time, as long as they don’t know they are being taped.
Order in the State
The recall drive against Governor Gray Davis could have a near-immediate effect on the state’s highest court. Last week, President Bush nominated California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to a U.S. judgeship. If confirmed to the District of Columbia’s federal appellate court, Brown would vacate her seat here — and allow the governor a rare shot at reshaping the seven- member, Republican-dominated state court. But which governor?
Much depends on the calendar. The Brown nomination would have to move through the Senate swiftly — unusually swiftly — for Davis to name her replacement before the October 7 election. Senate Republicans usually press to get Bush’s judicial picks on the bench as soon as possible, but this time they will want to slow things down in the hope that Brown outlasts Davis and gets replaced on the state high court by a justice selected by a new — Republican — governor.
Of course, voters might pick a Democrat or a Green or someone else, or Davis could survive the recall and get the chance to replace Brown after all. Davis already appointed the state Supreme Court’s only Democrat, Carlos Moreno, lifting him from a federal trial post. Brown, the California Supreme Court’s most conservative member, would move the other way — to a lower federal court — amid speculation that Bush is grooming her for an eventual appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Without a Prayer
The Los Angeles Superior Court judge overseeing mediation in sexual-abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church has been tossed off the court’s leadership team after criticizing the court’s focus on number crunching.
In launching a campaign earlier this year for the court’s powerful number-two post, Peter Lichtman wrote a letter to his colleagues complaining that the court has become too “bogged down” in case-management statistics, pitting judges against each other in a race to rack up the best numbers for cases dismissed or completed. He told the Los Angeles Daily Journalon July 18 that lawyers have to “barf up a lung” to get a continuance, while judges stay home whenever they have “a sniffle.” Presiding Judge Robert Dukes removed Lichtman from his position as supervisor of complex litigation that morning.
But several judges asserted that the true motivation for demoting Lichtman was to derail his campaign to eventually succeed Dukes, who instead is said to be supporting Judge Dan Oki. Oki currently is under fire for his role in releasing several criminal suspects, rather than keep the court open late to get them arraigned. The LAPD has reported that one of those suspects may have committed murder after his release and is still at large.
In his June letter to his colleagues, Lichtman said he wanted to combat the perception that court leaders would select an “heir apparent” to succeed themselves. He did not say he was referring to Oki, but told the Metropolitan News-Enterprise that he intended to take up the statistics issue with “anyone who wants to pick up the gauntlet.”
Unlike San Diego and San Francisco, Los Angeles County lacks any plan for Proposition 215, the medical-marijuana “compassionate use” law passed by California voters in 1996. Assemblyman Paul Koretz and Los Angeles County HIV & AIDS Commissioner Richard Eastman are attempting to change that with a public meeting Saturday of a task force they hope will receive the blessing of the county Board of Supervisors.
Eastman said the group will conduct hearings and draft guidelines, which likely will include a moratorium on arrests of people growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes.
Hahn’s Holding Pattern
Mayor James Hahn’s controversial $9 billion plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport by limiting passenger traffic (in the hope of shifting growth to airports in nearby cities) and concentrating passengers at a remote parking and check-in site was due for sign-off from his Airport Commission in August. But the City Council voted Tuesday to extend the public comment period to November 7.