Star-crossed at Starbucks: Strange Twist at Anand Jon Sentencing

Judge David Wesley takes the bench on April 1 for fashion designer Anand Jon’s latest sentencing hearing, following his conviction in November on 15 counts of sexual assault and one count of rape. Nearly everyone involved is in the courtroom except the defendant, Anand Jon Alexander, better known by his brand name Anand Jon. There’s Jon’s sister, Sanjana, wearing a pale-green scarflike wrap — will her brother enter wearing a green tie? During the trial his ties matched her wraps. But at the last hearing he wore the orange shirt and trousers of a county-jail inmate. He was also handcuffed.

Richard Doyle, head of the D.A.’s special-prosecutions division, arrives, and court watchers notice that there seems to be a rep present from the state Attorney General’s Office — Deputy Attorney General Steven Matthews. The defense is seeking to have a new trial with the D.A.’s Office replaced by counsel from the California Attorney General’s Office.

Moments later Jon makes his entrance. He’s wearing a suit — and a pale-green tie.

Call it the extension of March Madness. Those of us reporting on Jon’s post-trial hearings have known for more than a month that today’s hearing would likely take on the explosive charges that the District Attorney’s Office had thwarted a January 7 meeting between Jon’s sister and a rogue juror who’d expressed to her his sympathy for the defendant. Yet some of us in the media came to the hearing speculating that Judge Wesley would reject the defense’s motion for a new trial and summarily sentence Jon, who faces the possibility of life in prison.

April Fool’s, it quickly turns out, but the madness continues throughout the day. During the hearing, Jon’s lead defense attorney, Leonard Levine, questions a list of witnesses who were connected to the trial and to the bizarre events surrounding Sanjana Jon and Juror No. 12. A little recap is in order: Toward the end of the trial, and before deliberations had begun, Juror No. 12 contacted Jon’s sister in the courthouse’s cafeteria and gave her his phone number on a slip of paper.

Then, after the trial, Sanjana allegedly got a call from Juror No. 12 requesting a meeting.

“You know we can help,” the man is said to have told her. “We need to meet with you alone.”

A meeting was arranged to take place in a Starbucks on January 7. It wasn’t clear today whether the juror and Sanjana were acting against court instructions — or whether they thought they were — by meeting nearly two months after Anand Jon’s conviction. The juror definitely broke the law, however, if he reached out to Sanjana during the trial, or if he really said, as alleged, “We know this is a difficult time for your mother and brother. Tell them not to worry. We know your brother’s innocent. Everything’s going to be okay.”

What the maverick juror had on his mind may never be known. When Sanjana disclosed her planned meeting to Anand’s lawyers, they contacted Judge Wesley shortly before the scheduled meeting, informing him and also prosecutors Mara McIlvain and Frances Young about the meeting. The attorneys asked Wesley’s permission to place a wire on Sanjana for the Starbucks meeting, in order to learn the juror’s intentions. Wesley acceded to the request, agreeing that it was possible that the juror could be trying to carry out an extortion plot. (Without that extortion element it would have been illegal for civilians on the defense team to run a surreptitious recording of the juror.)

The D.A.’s Office assigned a team of investigators to attend the Starbucks sit-down as unobtrusive background actors. However, when the juror approached the coffeehouse, investigators intercepted the man and attempted to interview him for 15 minutes. During that time they divulged to him that they were investigating a possible case of jury tampering in the Jon trial. “Weirded out,” as the juror described himself to the investigators, he left the scene without meeting with Sanjana.

At today’s hearing, the defense’s Levine wants to find out why the D.A.’s Office interfered with the Starbucks meeting. Why, he asks throughout the day, couldn’t the D.A. investigators have allowed the meeting to take place, and then interviewed the juror afterward? The clear implication from Levine’s questions is that the defense believes the prosecution, in order to protect the guilty verdicts it has won, deliberately sabotaged a meeting whose secretly recorded conversations might result in a mistrial.

Deputy district attorneys McIlvain and Young appear ill at ease in their unaccustomed roles as witnesses compelled to explain their actions. Both prosecutors tell Levine that they observe a hands-off attitude in regard to their department’s investigators and let them run the surveillance as they saw fit. McIlvain even says she hadn’t inquired about the results of the critical Starbucks meeting after it had been interrupted by the investigators, and only learned later about what had transpired.

The day’s highlight, however, is testimony from lead investigator Brian Bennett, a by-the-book straight arrow who seems to have stepped into court from out of a David Lynch movie. It was his decision to question the juror at Starbucks before the man had a chance to meet with Sanjana, and his plan that scared off the juror without getting him to divulge anything to her — or to investigators. Over and over, Levine asks Bennett what possible damage would have been done to the D.A.’s investigation if the Sanjana meeting had unfolded before his people confronted Juror No. 12. And over and over, Bennett replies that letting “civilians” run an investigation involving a recording device was not the way his office operated and was “not a road we were going to go down.” After all, he says, the defense could have been concocting the whole meeting as a prescripted show designed to win their client a new trial.

Before long, Lenny Levine, who’s been questioning witnesses from the defense table, is up on his feet prowling around the podium, unable to contain himself. Here is a D.A. investigator claiming that his department inadvertently wrecked the defense “sting” simply because he couldn’t “control” it.

“What was there to control?” Levine repeatedly asks, doubling over in disbelief, as though punched in the gut. “Was this a turf battle?”

Bennett denies this — just as he denies the insinuation that he thought his interception and attempted interrogation of Juror No. 12 would have a chilling effect on the man.

Before lunch recess, Judge Wesley asks Bennett a question of his own. What would Bennett have done had a civilian investigator behaved the way Bennett and his team had, during a police-run sting?

“I see where you’re going with that,” Bennett smiles, knowingly.

“No,” Wesley cuts him off, “don’t tell me where you think I’m going. You’d have him arrested, wouldn’t you?”

“Probably,” Bennett says quietly. Wesley then returns the witness to Levine.

“That says it all, your honor,” Levine says. “No further questions.”

The questions Judge Wesley puts to the D.A.’s investigators, and his clear impatience with their answers to Levine, does not augur well for the prosecutors, who are trying to keep this case from being taken away from them and given to the state Attorney General’s Office for retrial. Juror No. 12 has yet to be called into court and questioned under oath. The next hearing, with more D.A. witnesses, is scheduled for April 17. After today, this strange, shape-shifting case is no closer to a conclusion than before, but the search for something resembling light continues.

“The truth,” prosecutor McIlvain tells Levine, “is whatever the truth is, and that’s what we have to get to.”