Thursday, October 31, 2002
Ruling That Overturns Whistleblower’s Sentence Hailed
By ALLISON LOMAS, Staf Writer
The lawyer who represented the family of a woman killed by her ex-husband, a Los Angeles police officer, yesterday hailed a federal appeals court’s decision to overturn the sentence of the whistleblower who sparked LAPD reforms in its handling of officer-involved domestic violence.
Los Angeles attorney Gregory A. Yates said that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling vacating the sentence of Robert Mullally reconfirmed his confidence in that court.
“I always felt that while Mr. Mullally took an inappropriate action, that to impose a jail sentence on a man of his integrity, given his purpose, which was to protect the public…probation would be appropriate,” Yates said.
Mullally was convicted in early 2001 of contempt of court and sentenced to 60 days in jail by U.S. District Judge William D. Keller for violating a court order not to discuss or share the contents of reports showing lax treatment by LAPD brass of officers who beat their spouses and girlfriends.
Even prosecutors argued against jail time for Mullally, after public outcry over the content of the documents moved the LAPD to apply new scrutiny to domestic violence complaints against its own officers.
But Keller told the former legal consultant, who leaked the sealed documents to television reporter Harvey Levin, that the “system has to be vindicated.”
Yates had hired Mullally to testify as an expert on public entity liability and personnel matters in the case of Melba Ramos, who was killed by her husband, LAPD Officer Victor Ramos.
Mullally’s sentence had been stayed pending appeal.
In an unpublished unanimous opinion Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit upheld the contempt conviction but vacated the sentence. Yates said the court’s reason was that two paragraphs of the protective order he signed were vague.
James Weinstein, one of Mullally’s defense attorneys and a law professor at Arizona State University, applauded the court for vacating the sentence, which he deemed “excessive and unjust.”
Weinstein also said he was pleased that the appellate judges had remanded the case to Keller with the strong suggestion that he seriously consider probation.
The prison sentence was imposed by the district judge after Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Warren told him that “the government does believe sentencing to prison for contempt of a civil discovery order would be extreme.”
Weinstein, who said he was disappointed that the conviction had not been reversed, argued before appellate Judges Alfred T. Goodwin, Pamela A. Rymer and M. Margaret McKeown that the protective order was invalid because the magistrate who issued it had not seriously considered the public concern.
The attorney noted yesterday the danger that such protective orders pose when they keep vital information “from the public eye.” The appellate court did not address the issue of the order’s validity in its opinion.
The panel held that Mullally was barred under Supreme Court precedent from challenging the validity of the order after he had violated it. Weinstein said, “I respectfully disagree.”
“The Ninth Circuit was wrong,” the defense attorney said, “in saying that the collateral bar rule applies” to a protective order when the magistrate has not carefully considered the public interest.
Weinstein, who continues to assert that his client “did nothing wrong under the circumstances,” said it was unreasonable for the court to expect a lay person, like Mullally, to go through the complicated judicial process to challenge the order before taking action.
Weinstein noted that Mullally had attempted to address his concerns by taking the matter to the City Council and the city attorney, but that they were unresponsive.
Yates contended that Mullally revealed the documents to Levin after the settlement had been reached in the Ramos case and the city attorney and police departments failed to address the issue. Mullally, a “man of impeccable dignity in all respects,” was not motivated by ego, Yates said, agreeing with the Ninth Circuit.
After documents disclosing criminal conduct by numerous police officers were given to the media by Mullally, Katherine Mader, then-inspector general of the police commission, published a report in July 1997 that focused on the issue of domestic violence involving LAPD officers. Mader is now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
The report criticized the department’s “flawed” investigations and punishments in those cases and recommended that a special unit be developed within the police commission to deal with charges of domestic violence. A Domestic Violence Unit within the police commission was established in mid-1997.
The report revealed that between 1990 and 1997, the LAPD investigated 227 domestic violence cases involving department employees. Mader’s office concluded that “many of the investigations lacked objectivity or were otherwise flawed or skewed.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company