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 Newman case was an additional source of acrimony. One of Magnandonovan’s former supervisors, Deborah Sanchez, originally filed the pornography charges against Newman. Some parents felt Sanchez left their children vulnerable by not pushing for jail time. Magnandonovan instilled confidence with a dogged, uncompromising style that upset her colleagues and Judge Biderman. In court papers, she alleges that from the moment Delgadillo took office, he wanted to get rid of her.
The triggering event took place on November 27, 2001. Magnandonovan had annoyed Biderman by arguing against reducing Newman’s sentence. There had been confusion about how to calculate the time. The file indicates a recommended sentence of 545 days. Biderman reduced it to 365 days, according to court records. He got so angry with Magnandonovan’s vigorous protest that he later disqualified himself from one of Newman’s probation-violation hearings. Now he was back on the bench, with Newman facing new charges of giving drugs to a minor. When Magnandonovan was late for court, Biderman ended the probation. Newman walked. He never registered as a sex offender. “Shame on him,” Magnandonovan said of Biderman, within earshot of a court clerk.
Soon other judges were involved. Judge Stephanie Sautner, a friend of Biderman’s, called Delgadillo’s office to complain. Sautner is gay, as is Biderman. In a statement filed with the court, Biderman said he took Magnandonovan’s comment to mean that because he is gay, he is soft on child molesters. Sautner and Biderman were not Magnandonovan’s only problem. Delgadillo dispatched Assistant City Attorney Zna Houston to investigate Magnandonovan’s remarks about Biderman. Houston discovered that Magnandonovan’s comment had nothing to do with Biderman’s sexuality. But Houston learned something else: Magnandonovan had irked a number of other judges, too.
According to court records, Houston expanded her investigation and interviewed Los Angeles judges James Brandlin, Patricia Schnegg, Yvette Palazuelos and Laurie Zelon, now an appellate judge. The interview process was inappropriate, stated lawyer and human-resources expert Michael Robbins at a recent deposition. Among other reasons, Robbins stated, Magnandonovan was never interviewed, nor were any judges who had good things to say about her.
Instead, Houston took statements from Biderman and the other judges then allowed the judges to edit them, according to court records. The results went into a dossier calling for Magnandonovan’s firing. Drafts of Houston’s interview notes contain negative remarks that the judges crossed out, raising questions about their resolve, or how the remarks got there in the first place. In their depositions, Schnegg, Palazuelos and Zelon portray Magnandonovan as argumentative, disrespectful and late to court. All three were relatively new to the criminal-court bench at the time and stated that they did not like the way Magnandonovan, a veteran prosecutor, argued with their decisions.
Something else stands out, too. The judges are as comfortable with the legal and political establishment as Magnandonovan was out of step with it. Schnegg was an airport commissioner under former Mayor Richard Riordan, Delgadillo’s political mentor. She and Zelon are past presidents of the county bar and close friends. Palazuelos, who enjoyed a rapid rise to the bench, went to Columbia Law School with Delgadillo. The judges consider themselves members of a sisterhood, according to Schnegg. Magnandonovan was offensive to the in crowd. A transcript of a hearing in a child-pornography case exposes Schnegg’s disdain for Magnandonovan. “We are done. We are done. We are so done. You have no idea how done we are,” Schnegg says.
The judges often are at a loss for solid examples of how Magnandonovan’s conduct hurt cases or the courtroom. In one case, during negotiations for a plea bargain, she refused to drop a hate-crime charge against a male defendant who beat a black woman. At trial she failed to convict him of the hate crime and ended up convicting him on the beating. In another case, she excluded a black juror for sleeping; Schnegg insisted it was a racial challenge; later the juror admitted she might have dozed off. According to Palazuelos, sometimes Magnandonovan would roll her eyes or smirk. “Just condescending, bordering on rude,” Palazuelos states. “That’s how it feels on the other side.” Says Schnegg, “I just can’t come up with any specific conduct. My issues were tardiness and demeanor.”
At times the judges contradict themselves or one another. Schnegg states that she was aware that Houston was doing an investigation; later, she says, “I’m not sure [Houston] was an investigator. I can’t recall thinking one way or another.” Zelon admits she had conversations with Schnegg about Magnandonovan before the investigation; Schnegg denies that such conversations occurred. The state Administrative Office of Courts has hired a private lawyer to represent the judges, whose depositions totaled more than 40 hours.
OUT IN THE WORLD and seemingly forgotten by the court and the City Attorney’s Office, Newman got into trouble. Court records state that on January 18, 2004, Newman, 25 at the time, went to the Valley home of a teenage girl, along with her teenage boyfriend and another male teenager. The girl’s mother was home, and the four were in the girl’s bedroom with the door closed, court records state. During the visit, according to court records, Newman masturbated a 15-year-old boy, performed oral sex on the boy and had anal sex with him, all in the presence of the girl and her boyfriend.