Monday, September 14, 2009
Silberman Transcripts Remain Sealed, at Least for Now
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The newly assigned judge hearing election-bribery charges against Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Silberman and two others declined to rule Friday on whether the grand jury transcripts in the case should remain sealed, but took the issue under submission.
Orange Superior Court Judge Richard M. King heard argument on the motion by one of Silberman’s co-defendants to have the transcripts remain sealed. But the jurist, who took over the case after Orange Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue was disqualified, said he had not yet read all of the papers.
Silberman, who took office in January but is on paid leave while under indictment, 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. They involve alleged efforts to induce Deputy District Attorney Serena R. Murillo, whom Silberman defeated in June of last year, to quit the race.
Steinberg’s attorney, Steve Meister, argued Friday that release of the transcripts would damage his client’s reputation as a political consultant, “which heretofore is spotless and hard-won.” He noted that the case has drawn print and electronic media coverage, and said his client would have “a better chance of getting an unbiased jury” if the transcripts were not made public before trial.
King, sounding skeptical, noted that Steinberg and Silberman have moved to throw out the indictment under Penal Code Sec. 995, contending that the grand jury testimony did not establish probable cause to believe they committed the charged crimes. Arguing those motions would necessarily entail discussion of the content of the testimony, the judge pointed out, to which Meister responded that if the transcripts were still sealed, the hearing on the Sec. 995 motions would have to be closed to the press and public.
A.G. Opposes Secrecy
Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez, who is prosecuting the case, opposed continued secrecy. “This just isn’t the kind of case that warrants sealing,” she said, noting that transcripts have been unsealed at an early stage of the proceedings in a number of high-profile cases involving local political figures.
When transcripts are kept under seal, as in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, Rodriguez argued, it has been because of factors beyond mere notoriety, including the sensitive nature of the accusations and the desire to protect the privacy of child witnesses.
On another issue, King declined to rule on whether Donahue was correct in accepting the attorney general’s disqualification declaration under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6. Larry M. Bakman, who represents Alexander, argued that the challenge was untimely and that the issue should be sent back to Donahue.
King agreed with Rodriguez that review of Donahue’s ruling can only be secured by writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal. King said he was not seeking to prevent the defense from moving before Donahue for reconsideration, but added that he was unsure Donahue had jurisdiction to take the matter back up.
Rodriguez, citing Department of Justice policy, declined to tell the MetNews why Donahue was challenged.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company