Thursday, April 22, 2010
In Aftermath of Handcuffing, Detention of Deputy by Bailiff:
Public Defender Lodges Complaint With Sheriff’s Officials
By Kenneth Ofgang , Staff Writer
Public Defender Michael Judge said yesterday that he has complained to Sheriff’s Department officials about a Feb. 11 confrontation between a courtroom bailiff and one of Judge’s deputies.
Judge said he wrote last week, telling the department that his internal investigation revealed no justification for the use of physical force against Deputy Public Defender Florentina Demuth at Los Padrinos Juvenile Court.
Demuth’s attorney, meanwhile, told the MetNews he is prepared to file suit against the department shortly after the statutory 45-day period for consideration of his client’s claim for damages runs out, which will occur next week.
A sheriff’s spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment late yesterday.
Report on Incident
Judge said he was not yet ready to release his report on the incident, but he gave a detailed summary in a telephone interview. He said that Demuth had a number of matters on calendar on the day in question, before Superior Court Referee Heidi Shirley.
While Shirley was calling matters involving private attorneys, Judge said, Demuth returned to her office to work on a report that she had been directed to prepare for the office about her cases. She was in the process of delivering that report when Deputy Sheriff Wai Chiu R. Li, a bailiff assigned to Shirley’s courtroom, rushed into the office.
The office is secure, Judge said, so that the only way a non-employee can enter it is to be admitted by an employee, or, as in Li’s case, to enter after someone has opened the door while entering or exiting and before the door has closed behind that person.
Li, he said, grabbed Demuth, handcuffed her hard enough to damage her bracelet and watch and cause “visible bruising and contusions,” and marched her down the hall to Shirley’s courtroom.
In the course of investigating the incident, Judge said, his office discovered that the court reporter’s machine had recorded certain events that transpired in Shirley’s courtroom prior to the episode in the office, and had recorded the time of the events as well, although those events are not part of the court record.
“I think the timeline is significant,” he commented.
At 9:45 a.m., Judge explained, the referee asked the bailiff to page Demuth for a case, stating:
“I order Ms. Demuth to court. If she refuses, then call Ms. [Patricia] DeLaGuerra-Jones [a supervising deputy public defender] to explain why Ms. Demuth isn’t here.”
Interviews with persons present in the courtroom, including a private attorney and an interpreter, confirm that Shirley did not order or suggest that Demuth be brought to the courtroom by force.
At 9:48 a.m., just three minutes after the referee asked that Demuth be paged, the bailiff was “back in the courtroom with Ms. Demuth in handcuffs,” Judge said.
The public defender acknowledged a comment by Demuth in which she reassured the bailiff she intended to come to court, but indicated that if he wanted her to proceed there immediately, rather than waiting until after she had handed her report to the supervisor, “you’ll have to cuff me.”
But “everyone who we’ve interviewed” says Demuth was obviously joking, Judge said.
In a tort claim dated March 9, Daniel Crawford, a Sherman Oaks attorney with Crawford Weinstein LLP who is representing Demuth, said his client remained in handcuffs for about 25 minutes, that she was arrested without “warrant or reason,” and that she “suffered trauma, and injuries to her shoulders and wrists as a result of the incident” along with injury to her reputation.
Crawford also asserted that the referee “cooperated in Li’s actions” and that the county is responsible for the conduct of both the deputy and the judicial officer.
The attorney told the MetNews yesterday that the claim was served on March 10 or 11, and that he has received no response beyond the standard reply that the form had been received and that the matter would be looked into.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company