Thursday, January 8, 2009
Court Affirms Attorney’s Convictions for Preying on Minors
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday reversed two misdemeanor convictions of a suspended Santa Clarita attorney who used the Internet to solicit sex from teenage girls, but affirmed the man’s eight related misdemeanor and felony convictions.
Ruling that state law extending the statute of limitations for child molestation to three years does not apply to misdemeanor attempt charges, Div. Eight overturned two of certified family law specialist and former Glendale police officer Arthur G. Crabtree’s 2006 convictions because they were not prosecuted within one year.
A former judge pro tem, Crabtree was sentenced to five years and eight months in state prison, followed by two years in county jail, after a jury convicted him of five felony counts, including attempted lewd acts on a child and trying to send harmful matter electronically. He was also convicted of one misdemeanor count of child molestation, and four misdemeanor attempt counts, and later placed on interim suspension by the State Bar as a result.
Joint Task Force
Agents from a joint state and federal task force arrested Crabtree in January 2005 at a Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles at the culmination of an online sting in which agents posed as a 13-year-old runaway from Sacramento.
Police said he had sent the bogus teenager $20 and a bus ticket, and had several items with him including a massaging device, a bottle of Viagra and condoms, as well as bubble bath soap and a bikini swimsuit he allegedly purchased within the preceding 24 hours.
Crabtree, who maintained he was planning a weekend getaway with his wife, a Glendale police sergeant, had previously engaged FBI agents and officers of the Los Angeles and San Jose police departments posing as teenage girls in similar online stings.
However, at trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Melvin D. Sandvig, he contended that he knew he had been dealing with police and that his conduct was motivated by revenge for perceived mistreatment during an internal affairs investigation which resulted in the end of his police career.
Crabtree resigned in 2001 amid charges that he and other officers had harassed female colleagues, allegations that resulted in discipline for others and a more than $3.5 million judgment against the city.
On appeal, Crabtree argued that two of his attempted child molestation convictions resulting from online stings in 2003 were barred by the statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeal, in an opinion by Presiding Justice Candace Cooper, now retired, agreed.
Noting that Penal Code Sec. 802 generally provides for a one-year statutory limitations period, which can be extended to three years in cases of child molestation, Cooper wrote that the applicable period depended on how the prosecution elected to charge the offense in the first instance: as a completed crime, or as an attempt.
Examining caselaw, she explained:
“[I]f an offense is an alternative felony/misdemeanor (wobbler) initially charged as a felony, the three year statute of limitations for felonies applies, without regard to the ultimate reduction to a misdemeanor after the filing of the complaint…. If, however, the initial charge is a felony, but the defendant is convicted of a necessarily included misdemeanor, the one-year limitation period for misdemeanors applies….
“In this case, the counts…were originally filed as misdemeanors. For this reason, the convictions…must be reversed.”
Justices Laurence D. Rubin and Madeleine Flier concurred with Cooper in the result, but Rubin wrote separately to emphasize that reversal of the two convictions was required under the rules of statutory construction.
“I believe the legislative history’s two reasons for enacting a three year statute of limitations for misdemeanor child molestation apply with equal force to attempted molestation,” he said. “However, unless and until the Legislature acts with clearer direction to the courts, I agree with the majority’s conclusion that we must reverse.”
In a separate portion of her opinion, Cooper affirmed the remainder of Crabtree’s convictions, writing that Sandvig did not err when he declined Crabtree’s request for co-counsel status during his trial, or when the trial judge excluded statements related to the earlier internal investigation.
Cooper also opined that evidence of prior bad acts by Crabtree was admissible as to his motive and intent, and rejected his assertions of prosecutorial misconduct.
However, she did agree that admission of a receipt for the bubble bath soap as a business record was error—albeit harmless—in the absence of a qualified witness with custody of records of the store from which it was purchased who could authenticate the receipt.
Cooper similarly agreed with Crabtree that Sandvig erred when he stayed execution of sentence on one other count without actually pronouncing sentence first, and remanded the conviction for resentencing.
The case is People v. Crabtree, B192743.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company