Political campaigns can be at times gritty and nasty; take, for example, the current race for Los Angeles County District Attorney. Voters have had to duck as they watched incumbent D.A. Gil Garcetti and challenger Steve Cooley engage in an old-fashioned political battle, replete with name-calling, insults and even the occasional debate on a real issue or two, all in the hope of being crowned Mister Head Prosecutor.
But late last month, television viewers were treated to a softer, and often hidden, side of Gil. Appearing on the Chabad Telethon broadcast on KCOP Channel 13, the reigning Mr. Prosecutor revealed, “I don’t want to put anyone in jail.” The Gilster also confided that he believes drug addicts just need a helping hand.
While that may be good news to those who support Chabad’s charity work with drug-treatment centers, it came as a surprise to many criminal-defense attorneys.
“That is just pure political rhetoric. It’s just malarkey,” said Andrew Stein, a criminal-defense attorney whose clients include a man sentenced to 25 years to life for possession of rock cocaine, courtesy of Garcetti’s office. “There is no policy as to how to apply three strikes coming from the D.A.’s Office,” Stein added.
Moreover, Garcetti’s sudden blossoming as an old softie left many wondering what had happened to the tough-talking Gil who, during a televised debate in June, defended his tough enforcement of the three-strikes law thusly: “If we get a gang member who stole a CD, and we know he is guilty of other crimes . . . I’m going to use that three-strikes law to put that guy away for the rest of his life.”
The Garcetti campaign doesn’t think the candidate’s many sides should confuse voters. In fact, campaign manager Erik Nasarenko says that only 29 percent of those convicted of crimes in Los Angeles County receive the maximum sentence, thanks to his boss’s discretionary use of the law.
While we at OffBeat aren’t up to date on the new math, we think the more salient statistic emerged in a 1996 opinion piece in the L.A. Times, in which defense lawyer Charles Lindner, a former president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Association, summed up Garcetti’s legacy to date with this startling factoid: More than 70 percent of third-strike convictions were for petty thefts or minor drug violations.
Growing up Gay in Latin America
By all accounts, attorney Robert Gerber should have been celebrating last week after he walked out of a Pasadena courtroom, having persuaded a federal appeals court to recognize that his gay client faced persecution in Mexico because of his sexual identity and his practice of dressing and acting like a woman.
But just minutes after winning the landmark immigration case, Gerber was reminded that while 22-year-old Geovanni Hernandez-Montiel has won the right to remain in the United States, his problems aren’t over.
“Following the trial, I was standing out in the hallway when an immigration lawyer said, ‘Now we are going to have every Mexican coming over here in a dress,’” says Gerber, a San Diego intellectual-property lawyer who represented Hernandez-Montiel pro bono. In fact, while the case has captured headlines and the attention of legal scholars who debate the significance of the ruling for U.S. courts and immigration law, it is also a stark reminder of the problems and violence still facing gays in many Latin America countries.
Hernandez-Montiel’s odyssey began in Veracruz, a southern Mexico city where being gay is a hazard to your health. By age 8, he realized “he was attracted to people of the same sex,” according to court papers, and by age 12, he had begun wearing skirts, and dressing and behaving as a girl. From then on, his life became more complicated. He was kicked out of school, received threats from schoolmates and parents, and eventually was forced to drop out, after education officials refused to transfer his paperwork unless he agreed to change his sexual orientation.
By 1992, it was Hernandez-Montiel’s life that was at risk. In November, a police officer in Veracruz stopped the 14-year-old and forced him to perform oral sex, court documents say. Two weeks later, police again stopped him and a friend as they walked down the street. This time, the two policemen drove the boys to a remote area, ordered them to strip, placed a gun to Hernandez-Montiel’s temple and raped the teen. It was clear to the youth that he needed to leave home.
In October 1993, Hernandez-Montiel pulled together enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Tijuana, where he crossed the border into San Diego. But his stay in the U.S. was short-lived. The 15-year-old was arrested a few days later and returned to Mexico to live with his sister, who enrolled him in a program that promised to cure him of his homosexuality. His nails were trimmed, his shoulder-length hair cut, and the female hormones he used to alter his appearance were tossed out. But while his appearance was altered, little else had changed. Upset at his lack of progress, his sister kicked him out of her house, charging he didn’t want to be “cured.”
At that point, he again made his way to San Diego, where a shelter referred him to the attorney who would eventually change his life. Gerber says Hernandez-Montiel initially struck him as a smart kid, but one who had obviously been abused. “I think he was really resigned to a terrible place in life . . . I warned him at the outset, ‘This is going to be a long process and you have to find a way to get along and provide for yourself.’”
Hernandez-Montiel managed to scrape by, staying at shelters or with friends and getting after-school work at restaurants. But even the part-time jobs proved difficult, after employers or co-workers discovered that he was a teenage boy dressed as a girl. His case was finally heard by an immigration judge and, later, by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which found that while his testimony was “coherent, sincere and credible,” it wasn’t enough to merit asylum. But late last month, U.S. District Judge William W. Schwarzer reversed the decisions, finding that Hernandez-Montiel had been persecuted as a member of a particular social group. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
Gerber will say little about his client’s current situation, except that he is living in Southern California and happy with the latest decision. “He is subject to deportation if the decision is reversed,” Gerber explains. The lawyer says the case is causing an uproar, even among his colleagues, including one associate who refused to work on it.
“You know, I don’t really see this as a gay case. I see this more as a human-rights case,” Gerber says. “The goal here isn’t to validate his lifestyle but to save his life.”
24-Carat 99 Cents Store
Move over, Prada! Make way, Gucci! There’s a new store looking for space in the gold-plated Rodeo Drive shopping district. And its name is . . . the 99¢ Only Store?
“Our best store is located on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, which leads us to believe a Beverly Hills location would be great,” said 99 Cents president Eric Schiffer, who advertised for a Rodeo storefront in the August 29 edition of the L.A. Times.
Schiffer said he does more than $9 million a year in business at his Beverly Hills–adjacent Wilshire Boulevard shop, where Richard Gere and Vanna White have been spotted buying Pelegrino and toothpaste, respectively. Schiffer’s plans to capitalize on 90210’s nose for a bargain did not come as good news, however, to the retailers already on Rodeo.
“I don’t think any one of the landlords would be thrilled,” said manager Ron Michaels of Louis Vuitton, president of the Rodeo Drive Committee. “This is a unique location, where it is three short blocks of luxury-goods businesses. I don’t think it would be a positive impact on the street and business area.”
Michaels doubted whether the 99 Cents Only Store could swallow the rents of $192 a square foot and up that have already driven out such well-heeled merchandisers as Yves Saint Laurent, Etro Milano and Baby Guess. And he questioned the store’s appeal to the big-spending tourists who crowd the drive.
“What are they going to do — buy tin foil and Gatorade?” he said.
Schiffer, however, remains optimistic. “Maybe a struggling Rodeo business owner will see our ad and will want to split their space with us,” he said. “Or maybe there is a person with more space than he or she needs who thinks it would be a novelty to let us take half the space because we bring in traffic . . . We wouldn’t want to compete with the stores in Beverly Hills. It would allow people to save money on regular items so they have extra to spend on the fancy items at the upscale stores.”
Critics aside, there is little to stop the chain from opening if owners can find an appropriate location. But that’s a big if. “I assume it is like Home Depot and relies on a large volume of sales, so would need a large storefront to make the money,” said Mahdi Aluzri, deputy director of the Beverly Hills Planning Department.
“On the surface, they [the store owners] might act like they were upset,” Schiffer mused. “But when they closed at 5 p.m., they would come to the store and do some shopping.”