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Molested Justice

Photo AP / World WideWhen Patty Ostrander saw the case against an alleged sex offender who had pursued a relationship with her son fall off the court’s calendar, she was angry. When no one from the City Attorney’s Office contacted her to revive the case, in which she was prepared to testify, she was outraged.Then, when she learned of the firing of an assistant city attorney who had tried to prosecute the case, Ostrander could scarcely contain her rage.Ostrander had distrusted David Newman from the start. He was in his early 20s, but he looked younger. He drove fancy cars, was drawn to celebrity and power, and liked to invite teenagers to rock concerts. Sometimes he allegedly gave them drugs and alcohol.While Ostrander had been aware of allegations that Newman exposed minors to pornography, she got a chill when she saw the longing e-mails he had sent to her 14-year-old son. She was sure something was terribly wrong. Along with several other parents, some of them Hollywood moguls, Ostrander believed Newman was attracted to children and that he posed a danger. One family was so concerned they contacted private-investigator-to-the-stars Kevin Berman, who investigated Newman.But what really concerned Ostrander was whether the City Attorney’s Office and Los Angeles Superior Court took Newman seriously. He had been convicted in 1999 of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, sentenced to 545 days in county jail, placed on probation, ordered to register as a sex offender and required to undergo therapy. Yet more than a half-dozen different assistant city attorneys had handled the case against Newman, which was presided over by five different judges. Usually it was an attorney and not Newman appearing in court for progress reports. Meanwhile, Ostrander and other parents were certain that Newman was violating his probation by being around their children without adult supervision.Ostrander took comfort that Assistant City Attorney Lynn Magnandonovan was committed to putting Newman behind bars. Though other parents were reticent, Ostrander had already testified once against Newman. Ostrander recalls telling Judge Joseph Biderman that she had once threatened to kill Newman if he ever came near her son again. However, Magnandonovan was having problems with Biderman. On November 27, 2001, those problems came to a head, when Biderman terminated proceedings against Newman because Magnandonovan was late for court. Rather than going back to jail for violating his probation, or being forced to register as a sex offender, which he had never done, Newman slipped away. “Shame on him,” Magnandonovan said to a court clerk when she heard that Biderman had allowed Newman to walk. Biderman complained about the remark to Magnandonovan’s bosses, and she was fired. Last week, Ostrander’s worst fears were realized, while Magnandonovan’s zeal as a prosecutor made more sense than ever: Newman pleaded no contest to a felony lewd act against a 15-year-old, which has the same effect as a guilty plea. It was no surprise. In a letter dated March 23, 2001, he confessed to Biderman that he had a problem. Now he’s facing three years in prison. He will be sentenced January 12. Magnandonovan is now three years into a wrongful-termination lawsuit against City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo for discrimination and retaliation. Whereas Newman and his alleged victims and their parents are approaching some sort of closure for now, Magnandonovan and the city are still entrenched in a legal battle that has cost the public more than $1 million.Equally troubling are unanswered questions about how Newman was allowed to go out in the world and commit another crime against a minor, after showing signs of recidivism. And the allegations, being furiously litigated, that Magnandonovan was made a scapegoat by her own office and a Los Angeles judge. After reviewing nearly three dozen docket entries spanning more than three years in the life of David Newman, court officials acknowledge that the abrupt ending of the case, on November 27, 2001, is difficult to comprehend. “File entries seem incomplete,” says Susan Matherly, public-information officer for Los Angeles Superior Court. “There are parts of the record that appear to be missing. If I were a court manager reading these minutes, I’d have questions about what was going on.” By most accounts, Lynn Magnandonovan was an uncompromising and dogged prosecutor who was difficult to get along with. She tended to call attention to the mistakes of others and didn’t hesitate to challenge ethical lapses no matter the culprits or their connections. She also was someone a crime victim would want handling a case, according to former Assistant City Attorney Christine McCall, now a judge with the California Office of Administrative Hearings. “Lynn does not easily accept contrary views or anything that would cause her to have self-doubt, but if I were a victim of a crime, I would pray that she was the prosecutor. No crime victim has ever done better than Lynn. I don’t know why that doesn’t trump everything else.” According to lawyers for Delgadillo and former chief deputy Terree Bowers, Magnandonovan was not serving the office well, and has a lot of nerve to be fighting tooth and nail. They point to her scheduling of more than two dozen depositions and her insistence that her case be taken out of Los Angeles. Because so many Los Angeles judges gave interviews in the process leading to her firing, the case has been moved to Orange County, and the Los Angeles Superior Court has recused itself. Lawyers for Delgadillo have asked Orange County Judge Michael Hayes to dismiss the case; Magnandonovan has asked Hayes to rule that Delgadillo instructed the City Council to violate a city ordinance by not convening a special committee to investigate the cause of disciplinary action against her.“Lynn Magnandonovan has overzealously litigated this case,” says Kim Talley of Baker & Hostetler, the firm the city has hired because the City Attorney’s Office cannot represent Delgadillo or itself. The City Council has set aside $1.5 million to defend the case. “She has ordered all these depositions. She is the one who asked to recuse the Los Angeles court. She is forcing the city to incur defense costs,” Talley adds.To veteran labor lawyer Bob Hunt, general counsel to SEIU Local 347, which represents city attorneys, finger-pointing is silly. Hunt says even if Magnandonovan is guilty of some sort of misconduct, it fell short of a firing offense. Hunt believes that if Magnandonovan had gone to an administrative hearing instead of court, an arbitrator would have reinstated her long ago. “This is a war,” he says. “Both sides want their pint of blood. Taxpayers might say, ‘What is going on here?’ ” Magnandonovan was a seasoned prosecutor in the Special Enforcement Unit in 1999 when, according to court documents, she pointed out a mistake by a colleague and complained that one of her supervisors had appeared in court under the influence of alcohol. After she filed a claim that she was retaliated against, in 2001, the City Attorney’s Office resolved the matter by naming her supervising attorney in the fledgling Hate Crimes Unit. However, she alleges the office did not honor the settlement, and that her supervisors marginalized her in further retaliation for filing a claim. When the Newman case put her crossways with Biderman, her demise was accelerated. Says McCall: “This started with the administration of James K. Hahn. But there was a feeling, when Delgadillo was elected in 2001, that a rational approach would resolve this matter. I don’t know why Rocky has plunged down this ill-begotten path. They wanted out of that settlement and were watching her like a hawk. They waited for some colorable argument, and when Biderman took umbrage, they leapt at the opportunity. It’s not as if Lynn’s strengths and weaknesses were not out there for everyone to see.” A veteran member of the office says Delgadillo’s labor lawyers failed to advise him against firing Magnandonovan. Now Delgadillo claims that decisions such as advising the City Council not to convene a special committee to investigate the matter were not his — even though Bowers, his chief deputy, signed off on a memo to that effect. “You sign it, you own it,” Judge Hayes of Orange County told lawyers representing Delgadillo and Bowers at a hearing in October.McCall, who acted as a labor representative to Magnandonovan, says she advised Delgadillo, Bowers, chief of staff Ann D’Amato and Assistant City Attorney Molly Roff-Sheridan repeatedly that they were making a serious mistake. She says she was ignored. “The office has become politicized. Dissent is not tolerated. That is a more recent development.” McCall was shocked to learn that Delgadillo’s deposition has been sealed. “What is so explosive that a public official’s deposition needs to be sealed?” Parents of children who associated with David Newman are perplexed by the fate of Lynn Magnandonovan. They know, from spending hours in court along with private investigator Kevin Berman, a formidable but below-the-radar consultant to Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, that Newman was allegedly preying upon children of the rich and famous. They are haunted by visions of Newman sleeping in their children’s bedrooms, taking their children to Limp Bizkit concerts and gliding through the justice system. That is, until a felony conviction caught up with him last week. In Magnandonovan they had found someone willing to fight for them. “I know Lynn quite well,” says one parent of a potential witness against Newman. “I never understood her case against the city. I witnessed appalling behavior by the judge towards her. Newman was violating his probation repeatedly. Aggrieved parents felt impotent in the face of various judges. What do you need to take action?” Ostrander recalls Biderman looking bored as he glanced at his watch, while Magnandonovan was fighting traffic to get to court on November 27, 2001. No other entries exist in the court file after that day. “Lynn finally showed up with her boxes of evidence ready to fervently prosecute. The degree of difficulty was never enough to make her back down.” She waited but never heard from the City Attorney’s Office, Ostrander says. “The ball got dropped. Someone had to pay, and it was going to be Lynn. It certainly wasn’t going to be that judge.” Asked last week to comment on Newman’s recent conviction, Ostrander said, “I feel as if my son was in an arena, the lights were turned off, and a predator was turned loose. In retrospect I’d say we were lucky.”

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