The hung jury in the excessive-force trial of ex–Inglewood police Officer Jeremy Morse and the acquittal of his partner, Bijan Darvish, were defeats for L.A. County prosecutors but victories, in a way, for their star witness.
Sheriff’s Department Commander Charles Heal watched the videotape of Morse slamming a handcuffed teenager, 16-year-old Donovan Jackson, onto the hood of his patrol car, then punching Jackson in the face. That tape was enough to outrage the public, evoke the tape of Rodney King’s beating more than a decade ago and compel District Attorney Steve Cooley to press charges against the two officers. But to Heal, it was also enough to tell the jury that Morse’s conduct, while wrong, was not criminal.
The jury, which voted 7-to-5 in favor of convicting Morse, may have agreed with Heal that Morse acted with unnecessary force. But its charge was to determine whether that force was beyond what a reasonable officer would do in a similar situation. In the end, the jurors may have believed that officers in similar situations do the same thing all the time, as long as they don’t know they are being taped.
Order in the State
The recall drive against Governor Gray Davis could have a near-immediate effect on the state’s highest court. Last week, President Bush nominated California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to a U.S. judgeship. If confirmed to the District of Columbia’s federal appellate court, Brown would vacate her seat here — and allow the governor a rare shot at reshaping the seven-
member, Republican-dominated state court. But which governor?
Much depends on the calendar. The Brown nomination would have to move through the Senate swiftly — unusually swiftly — for Davis to name her replacement before the October 7 election. Senate Republicans usually press to get Bush’s judicial picks on the bench as soon as possible, but this time they will want to slow things down in the hope that Brown outlasts Davis and gets replaced on the state high court by a justice selected by a new — Republican — governor.
Of course, voters might pick a Democrat or a Green or someone else, or Davis could survive the recall and get the chance to replace Brown after all. Davis already appointed the state Supreme Court’s only Democrat, Carlos Moreno, lifting him from a federal trial post. Brown, the California Supreme Court’s most conservative member, would move the other way — to a lower federal court — amid speculation that Bush is grooming her for an eventual appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Without a Prayer
The Los Angeles Superior Court judge overseeing mediation in sexual-abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church has been tossed off the court’s leadership team after criticizing the court’s focus on number crunching.
In launching a campaign earlier this year for the court’s powerful number-two post, Peter Lichtman wrote a letter to his colleagues complaining that the court has become too “bogged down” in case-management statistics, pitting judges against each other in a race to rack up the best numbers for cases dismissed or completed. He told the Los Angeles Daily Journal on July 18 that lawyers have to “barf up a lung” to get a continuance, while judges stay home whenever they have “a sniffle.” Presiding Judge Robert Dukes removed Lichtman from his position as supervisor of complex litigation that morning.
But several judges asserted that the true motivation for demoting Lichtman was to derail his campaign to eventually succeed Dukes, who instead is said to be supporting Judge Dan Oki. Oki currently is under fire for his role in releasing several criminal suspects, rather than keep the court open late to get them arraigned. The LAPD has reported that one of those suspects may have committed murder after his release and is still at large.
In his June letter to his colleagues, Lichtman said he wanted to combat the perception that court leaders would select an “heir apparent” to succeed themselves. He did not say he was referring to Oki, but told the Metropolitan News-Enterprise that he intended to take up the statistics issue with “anyone who wants to pick up the gauntlet.”
Unlike San Diego and San Francisco, Los Angeles County lacks any plan for Proposition 215, the
medical-marijuana “compassionate use” law passed by California voters in 1996. Assemblyman Paul Koretz and Los Angeles County HIV & AIDS Commissioner Richard Eastman are attempting to change that with a public meeting Saturday of a task force they hope will receive the blessing of the county Board of Supervisors.
Eastman said the group will conduct hearings and draft guidelines, which likely will include a moratorium on arrests of people growing and distributing marijuana for medical purposes.
The meeting is set for Saturday, August 2, noon to 6 p.m., at the Ramada Inn, 1160 N. Vermont Ave. in Hollywood. For more information, call Koretz’s office at (310) 285-5490.
Hahn’s Holding Pattern
Mayor James Hahn’s controversial $9 billion plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport by limiting passenger traffic (in the hope of shifting growth to airports in nearby cities) and concentrating passengers at a remote parking and check-in site was due for sign-off from his Airport Commission in August. But the City Council voted Tuesday to extend the public comment period to November 7.
Meanwhile, Hahn’s plan to limit the LAPD’s response to burglar alarms pleased no one but nearly became official anyway, winning the approval of four of his Police Commission appointees. Chief William Bratton wants his officers to stop responding to unverified alarms so he can focus on crime fighting. Hahn, under pressure from the alarm industry, got the commission to give users two false calls before the cops stop showing up. But the council moved to block the change pending further study — leaving the policy of unlimited, and costly, police response to false alarms in place for now.
On another major initiative, Hahn is expected to sign a measure this month that will cost the city nearly $3 million in business taxes but — city officials hope — will prevent companies from fleeing to places where local taxes are not so baffling. Until now, many businesses had to pay different rates in numerous categories, escalating the cost for accounting and filling out the paperwork well beyond the actual taxes owed. The council passed the single-category regulation last week.
The activity may keep the mayor’s mind off his personal life. Hahn’s separation from his wife, Monica, was formally announced Tuesday, although their estrangement has been long discussed among City Hall insiders.
Los Angeles and the tiny city of Calabasas stepped up their battle last week over the Leonis Adobe, a 19th-century house owned by a Basque rancher, smuggler and local strongman who lived on what is now the border between the two cities. The house stands as the gateway to an ersatz Old West town that makes up the central Calabasas business district, but it actually is located at the far western edge of Los Angeles. Nearly bulldozed in 1962, Miguel Leonis’ house was saved at the last minute by preservationists who quickly created a list of historic-cultural monuments and made the adobe its first entry.
As the Calabasas City Council continued efforts to annex the house, in part to recoup its costs for maintaining the road that takes visitors to the attraction, the L.A. City Council unanimously backed Dennis Zine’s effort to resist all attempts to carve off the parcel. The annexation effort also includes the Sagebrush Cantina, a decidedly non-historic nearby property best known for its crowd of Harley-riding revelers.
It is not the first attempt to wrest a piece of history from Los Angeles. The city of San Fernando has from time to time made a bid for Mission San Fernando Rey, which gives the tiny Valley city its name but sits squarely in Los Angeles.
The Police Commission on Tuesday elected attorney David Cunningham III to be the panel’s president. Cunningham, who started his legal career at the same firm as outgoing president Rick Caruso, was the only commissioner to buck Mayor James Hahn and back Bernard Parks for a second term as chief.