The Well-Connected Molester
WITH HIS INTEREST IN MOVIES, music and computers, and his access to a car and hot concert tickets, David Newman came off as a hip young guy. The son of a New York lawyer, he lived in Los Angeles, where he schmoozed with entertainment-industry players and the children of studio bosses, screenwriters and celebrities, such as Steven Spielberg and lawyer Robert Shapiro.
Teenagers could sense that Newman was older, even though, at 5-foot-5, he was close to their size. They were impressed that the 21-year-old had worked as an A&R representative with bands such as Limp Bizkit. He also impressed his teenage friends by showing off pictures of the Hilton sisters and other celebrities he knew.
Eventually a darker side of Newman surfaced. Sharing adult magazines and going on outings to the movies led to Newman’s suggestive talk about masturbation, and e-mails and phone calls from him in which he obsessed about sex and pornography, according to court records. Parents and law enforcers soon took notice, but for years, despite multiple arrests and his alleged attempts to seduce minors, he did as he pleased.
As a pattern of bad behavior emerged, the Los Angeles criminal-justice system boiled him down to a name, a case number and a court file — a partial sketch of either a manipulative child predator or a deeply troubled young man, whose father hired topnotch lawyers to keep him out of jail.
TicketsFri., Oct. 28, 7:00pm
UCLA Bruins Men's Soccer vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Men's Soccer
TicketsSat., Oct. 29, 7:00pm
CSUN Mens Soccer
TicketsSat., Oct. 29, 7:00pm
Los Angeles Clippers v Utah JAzz - Verified Resale Tickets
TicketsSun., Oct. 30, 1:30pm
The excuses and glitches in the system varied, though from the perspective of some parents, they always seemed to work in Newman’s favor. Someone — perhaps a judge — failed to clarify the time he was to serve on a misdemeanor jail sentence, so it was reduced; Newman’s intolerance for gluten wouldn’t allow him to survive on jail food, so a judge placed him under house arrest; Newman moved to New York and couldn’t make all of his Los Angeles court dates, so his lawyer appeared in his absence.
One prosecutor was dead set against cutting him slack. Former Assistant City Attorney Lynn Magnandonovan was an aggressive and sometimes annoying adversary who fought tooth and nail to put Newman behind bars. Magnandonovan was already at odds with her supervisors for complaining about gender discrimination when Rocky Delgadillo took over as city attorney in July 2001. By then, Newman was sliding through the cracks in a legal system that wasn’t paying close enough attention.
When Newman walked out of court scot-free later that year under questionable circumstances, a gay Los Angeles judge accused Magnandonovan of attacking him for allowing it to happen. Soon Delgadillo’s office launched an investigation of Magnandonovan, for supposedly suggesting that the judge’s sexuality caused him to go soft on an alleged child molester. Before long the office expanded the investigation until it had enough dirt to end her career as a prosecutor.
Magnandonovan was not alone in her view of Newman, now 27. Parents saw him as a danger to their children. Last November, seven years after his first arrest for attempting to seduce a group of 13-year-olds, Newman pleaded no contest to a felony lewd act against a 15-year-old. For the first time, Newman contemplated the possibility of state prison.
On a recent Thursday, Newman was due in court in Van Nuys for sentencing. High-profile defense lawyer James Blatt appeared instead and asked for yet another delay — an expert witness had given birth and could not travel to testify for Newman. The District Attorney’s Office, which had felony jurisdiction over Newman, could not say where he was. Blatt assured the court he was in close contact with Newman. “He does not present any risks,” Blatt told a reporter.
Buried in a transcript of a hearing in which Newman was described as a flight risk was a cell-phone number with a Northern California area code: 925. The Weekly called, and Newman answered with a Brooklyn accent and an attitude. He was in New York. He claimed he was set up. “How’d you get this number?” he insisted. “I’m getting death threats. People are calling me a pedophile. Nothing ever happened. I’m being punished for being immature. I may be gay, but I’m not a pedophile. I never had sex with a minor. If I go to jail, I’m going to die.”
Talking nonstop for the next several minutes, Newman ranted about the company he was keeping when he was arrested in January 2004 and charged with molestation. He referred to his alleged victim as “white trash” and a “druggie.” In discrediting other witnesses, he pointed to a world of sex-crazed teenagers who he said meet their partners on MySpace.com. He said it was his past record — a misdemeanor for contributing to the delinquency of minors and six probation violations for being alone with minors — that caused him to plead no contest to this recent felony. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Newman and Magnandonovan are approaching closure of their seemingly intertwined ordeals. Magnandonovan, who was fired after devoting her life to putting criminals behind bars, claims Delgadillo violated her civil rights and city law. She has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the city and is scheduled to go to trial February 6. Newman is to appear in court in Van Nuys for sentencing on February 16.
Both cases appear straightforward: Newman is portrayed in court documents as a child predator; Magnandonovan is the overzealous prosecutor who lacked judgment and deserved to be fired, according to Delgadillo, his top deputies and their private attorneys.
But court documents show that the downtown legal establishment ganged up on Magnandonovan with more zeal and purpose than they showed in getting to the bottom of the Newman case. The opportunistic decision by Delgadillo to fire an unwanted employee has resulted in a costly three-year effort to justify her termination — at taxpayer expense.
The intersection of the two cases also has exposed an overburdened and often lackadaisical criminal-justice system hampered by dispassionate prosecutors, sloppy court files and thin-skinned judges. “I’ve never seen a bigger mess in my life,” defense attorney Gerald Klausner told the court on August 24, 2004, in describing Newman’s confusing misdemeanor court file. “If Lynn was a defense attorney, she’d be respected for being such a firebrand,” says a former colleague of Magnandonovan’s from the City Attorney’s Office. “Some judges just weren’t used to people from this office giving a shit.”
Dragged into the whole mess, which has cost the city at least $1.25 million in legal fees, are five Los Angeles Superior Court judges who may have shown poor judgment by granting interviews in the one-sided employment investigation that called for Magnandonovan’s firing. Their participation has resulted in the disqualification of the entire Los Angeles court, forcing her lawsuit to be moved to Orange County, where a trial could last weeks. The judges have been subpoenaed and could end up testifying in court.
NEWMAN, WHO TURNS 28 IN MARCH, is, by his own admission, an emotionally troubled person who has struggled with his sexuality. A religious Jew who prays at temple three times a day, he suffers from osteoporosis, glandular dysfunction and a bleeding disorder, he says. Court records state that he once told a young friend he was forced to perform oral sex on a camp counselor at age 13. Because of his immaturity and impulsiveness, he says, he befriended teenagers easily. Because he is short, he blended in with them, say parents who recall his unsettling presence.
Some see him as a fine young man. Howard Fisher, a family friend and a lawyer in Beverly Hills, describes Newman as “sensitive, intelligent and considerate,” the kind of person to bring flowers to dinner. Others see him as a danger to minors, skilled at working his way into their homes. “I came downstairs one morning and he was in my kitchen,” says Timothy Harris, a screenwriter whose 13-year-old son had invited Newman to stay the night — without consequence. “He was the same size as my son, but he had a 5 o’clock shadow. I thought, he wants one of two things: to sell my son drugs or to fuck him.”
Once, Newman could count the children of Steven Spielberg and lawyer Robert Shapiro among his friends. He says he still keeps in touch with Shapiro’s wife, who has been supportive of him. Newman lived with the Shapiro family for a while. No allegations involving the Shapiro or Spielberg children ever surfaced. Shapiro, whose son Brent died recently of a drug overdose, declined to comment. “He knew a lot of people,” Shapiro’s other son, Grant, says of Newman. “I know about his allegations. Nothing ever happened with me. I no longer have a relationship with him.” Spielberg did not return calls.
In 1998, when Newman was 20, he was charged with 15 misdemeanor counts alleging he showed pornography to minors in an attempt to seduce them. There were seven minors; all were 13. They met Newman at the Century City Mall. According to court records, Newman sent pornographic cartoons via the Internet and called some of them and asked them about masturbation. Two of the minors told detectives that while they were at the movies, Newman placed his hands on their legs during sexual scenes and said, “Doesn’t that make you want to jerk off?”
On January 12, 1999, he pleaded no contest to contributing to the delinquency of minors, a misdemeanor. He was ordered not to be alone with anyone under 18. In March 2001, a judge ruled he violated the order, sentenced him to 545 days in jail and ordered him to register as a sex offender. “Through many sleepless nights, I realized my maturity level is sorely undeveloped,” he wrote to Judge Joseph Biderman on March 23, 2001. “Together with [my] insecurities, [this] has resulted in my inappropriate behavior.”
Newman underwent therapy, but his social life still involved minors. According to Patty Ostrander, her teenage son met Newman through a friend. One day in 2001, private investigator Kevin Berman came to her home and got her son to initiate an anonymous Internet exchange with Newman by posing as a teenager willing to meet him. Ostrander says Berman told her that he was hired by Spielberg. Court records confirm that Berman investigated Newman. Berman refused to confirm the name of his client or to comment.
IN HER LAWSUIT against the City Attorney’s Office, Magnandonovan says she was the victim of a witch-hunt. By the time Delgadillo took over in July 2001, she had alienated the office by filing a discrimination claim against her supervisors that led to a strained outcome. In exchange for dropping her claim, she became a supervisor in the Hate Crimes Division. Later she accused the office of refusing to recognize her status.
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.
Physical evidence was inconclusive, but with Newman’s record and three witnesses, attorney James Blatt advised him to plead no contest to a felony lewd act against a minor — the same as a guilty plea. He must register as a sex offender in California and New York. Newman has plenty to say about his record and his plea: “Lynn Magnandonovan kept saying I violated my probation by hanging out with minors, but there were parents home.” As for witnesses who say he molested the 15-year-old, he says, “They said I was under the covers. If that’s true, how would they know what happened? I’d be crazy to have sex with a kid while someone’s parent was home.” As for what he was doing in a bedroom with a teenager 10 years younger, Newman says he was there to meet a 22-year-old.
Yet he admits teenagers were part of his world, even after he reached adulthood and got a rap sheet: “For a long time I couldn’t acknowledge it, but I’ve come out as gay. A lot of teenagers are gay, but kids their age won’t come out. They end up hanging out with adults. Go to any gay youth-group meeting, you’ll see.”
Court records identify Newman’s alleged victim as “John Doe.” Additional documents obtained by the Weekly reveal that John Doe is not an innocent led astray, even if the crime occurred as he says it did. He hangs out with teenagers who have experimental attitudes about sex and drugs — a world that scares some parents.
In his personal message on his MySpace account, John Doe announces he’d like to meet “hot naked guys,” and that he is “in a relationship.” One of John Doe’s friends, who did not witness the alleged molestation but gave a statement to the police, also has a MySpace account, and calls himself “Sadistic Little Fuck.” It was Sadistic Little Fuck who informed John Doe’s school that a molestation might have occurred, prompting authorities to investigate, according to John Doe’s mother. On his MySpace account, Sadistic Little Fuck, now 18, declares: “Fuck me I’m single . . . Sex is my top interest.”
The MySpace account of an actual witness, who was present at the time of the alleged molestation, begins, “Well, I’m a stoner . . .” In an instant-message exchange, the teenage witness identifies himself by his full name and describes his participation in group-sex situations and large-scale drug dealing. In response to a question about whether he is bisexual, he writes, “I used to be. Just got sick of guys.”
The Weekly also obtained instant-message exchanges between a friend of Newman’s and John Doe, now 17 and living with his parents in North Hollywood. John Doe gives his full name and phone number and describes the encounter with Newman. “Very bad time for me and the other guy,” he writes. “It was confusing.” John Doe did not return calls for comment; his mother, who was listed as a witness, answered the phone recently and spoke to the Weekly about her son’s encounter. “That’s not true,” she said of Newman’s claim that he never molested her son, whose MySpace account lists him as 6 feet tall. “It’s not as if my son isn’t gay and wasn’t experimenting around, but he didn’t want to have sex just then. He was a lot smaller at the time. He just didn’t put up enough of a fight. He was absolutely violated and he was scared. He didn’t know what to do.”
PARENTS WHO HAVE FORMED RIGID opinions about Newman are still angry about the firing of Magnandonovan. A child molester went free in 2001, they say, only to molest again. And the City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Superior Court punished the one person who worked tirelessly to see that it did not happen.
“I am the father of a boy who nearly fell into Mr. Newman’s web and am also a firsthand witness of Miss Magnandonovan’s tireless, skillful, impassioned and heroic efforts to get this pedophile off the streets,” Timothy Harris wrote to Delgadillo and his former chief deputy, Terree Bowers, on September 24, 2001. “Anyone who spends any time in court gets a clear sense that many people involved are simply going through the motions. Events are clouded or go awry through incompetence and lack of will.”
But David Newman is not necessarily the monster some make him out to be, according to experts who have evaluated him. Dr. Raymond Anderson, a clinical psychologist in Van Nuys who specializes in the treatment of sex offenders, says he has examined Newman for two years and found that he has personality-function problems but that “he doesn’t suffer from pedophilia.” Anderson says Newman has made progress overcoming his psychological conditions, and that “it would be good if he received psychotropic medication to improve his grounding and focus.”
Anderson could be dismissed as a paid mouthpiece of the defense. Even he, however, wonders whether Newman could have benefited from help earlier, had he not fallen through the cracks. “Ordinarily there’s a price to pay for not committing to therapy and the terms of probation. I see no reason why that approach could not have helped David.”
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.