Friday, July 10, 2009
Judge Silberman, Consultants Indicted for Bribery
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Grand Jury has indicted Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Silberman and two campaign consultants on felony charges related to Silberman’s successful election campaign last year.
The judge, who took office in January, and consultants Evelyn Jerome Alexander and Alan Randall “Randy” Steinberg are each charged with solicitation to induce a person not to become a candidate for public office and solicitation to offer, accept, or join in the offer or acceptance of a bribe. Both offenses, under Elections Code Sec. 18205 and Penal Code Sec. 653f(a), are charged as felonies.
All three appeared in court Wednesday and were released on bail of $20,000 each. Court papers were unsealed Wednesday.
While the indictment sets forth few details, the MetNews reported in March of last year that the District Attorney’s Office was actively investigating allegations that SJA Strategies, the consulting firm operated by Alexander and Steinberg, illegally offered something of value to induce Silberman’s opponent to leave the June primary. That investigation was eventually taken over by the Attorney General’s Office.
Silberman defeated Deputy District Attorney Serena Murillo last June to win the open seat then held by Judge Tracy Grant.
Murillo yesterday declined to comment on the indictment, saying it would be improper because she is a witness. She told the MetNews last year that she was not personally contacted about getting out of the race, but that she believes an approach was made to the consulting firm representing her, Cerrell Associates Inc.
Hal Dash, president of Cerrell Associates, is also listed as a witness in the case. Matt Klink, a partner in the firm, said that they could not comment because of Dash’s status as a witness.
Others listed as witnesses include Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Lori Jones, who was also a client of SJA Strategies, Orange County attorney and former Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission chair William Kopeny—Murillo also served on the JNE Commission—and Montebello attorney Armando Duron.
The Elections Code section provides:
“A person shall not directly or through any other person advance, pay, solicit, or receive or cause to be advanced, paid, solicited, or received, any money or other valuable consideration to or for the use of any person in order to induce a person not to become or to withdraw as a candidate for public office. Violation of this section shall be punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months or two or three years.”
The Penal Code provision reads, in relevant part, that “[e]very person who, with the intent that the crime be committed, solicits another to offer, accept, or join in the offer or acceptance of a bribe...shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or in the state prison....”
Each of the defendants is accused of having committed those offenses on a different date—the judge on Feb. 10 of last year, Steinberg on Feb. 28, and Alexander on March 4.
Silberman was the first candidate for the seat, filing his declaration of intent on Feb. 5. Murillo filed her declaration the next day, and finalized her candidacy by returning nomination documents Feb. 19.
Silberman hedged his bet, however, by filing a second declaration on Feb. 11, for the seat being vacated by Judge Michael Duggan. He did not finalize his candidacy until March 7, the last day for doing so, when he submitted his nomination documents for the Grant seat.
The Elections Code allows a candidate to file declarations for multiple seats—paying a separate filing fee for each—before settling on a specific seat to run for. Murillo never filed for any seat other than Grant’s.
Had Silberman filed for the Duggan seat, he would have faced Deputy District Attorneys Eduard R. Abele and Michael J. O’Gara and Deputy Public Defender C. Edward Mack.
O’Gara defeated Mack in a runoff.
Steinberg’s attorney, Steve Meister, said he believed “completely” in his client’s innocence and expects his “complete vindication.”
Silberman’s attorneys, Daniel Nixon and Mark Byrne, said their client was unaware of the investigation before it was reported by the MetNews. The attorneys reiterated what he said at that time—that he made no inducements to Murillo to get out of the race and that if anyone else did, it was without his knowledge or authority.
A spokesperson for Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the chief justice has designated Orange Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue to hear the case. Outside judges are typically assigned to cases in which a judge is charged.
Murillo’s husband, Christian Gullon, is also a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
The defendants are due to return to court July 23, but that could change now that a visiting judge has been assigned. Silberman is required by the state Constitution to take a paid leave of absence while under indictment, and is also subject to investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Alexander’s attorney, Kenneth J. Kahn, did not return a phone call.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company