Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Jury Seated, Testimony Underway in Silberman Trial
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Testimony got underway yesterday after a jury of six men and six women was empaneled yesterday to try allegations of elections bribery against Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Silberman.
Silberman, who has been collecting salary and benefits but has been off the bench since being indicted two years ago, is accused of having offered to pay Deputy District Attorney Serena Murillo to drop out of their 2008 contest for an open seat on the court.
Murillo stayed in the race, which Silberman, a court commissioner at the time and a former legal services lawyer, won by a 52 to 48 percent margin.
Silberman, Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez said in his opening statement, “wanted to become a judge ...by buying out his opponent,” while Murillo “ran her campaign by following the rules.”
Both Rodriguez and defense attorney Daniel Nixon laid out their cases for the jury as they have in numerous pretrial hearings and court filings.
The prosecutor said she would call Silberman’s campaign consultants, Randy Steinberg and Evelyn Jerome Alexander, both of whom were indicted with the judge but recently entered into plea agreements. The consultants, she said, would implicate the judge in offers, first to pay Murillo’s filing fee if she would leave the race, and later to pay more than $80,000 for a candidate statement in the sample ballot pamphlet.
Also testifying, Rodriguez said, would be former Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Lori Jones. Jones, who had run for judge before and was contemplating doing so again, has been granted immunity and told the grand jury that she acted as an intermediary, conveying to Murillo the message that Silberman was prepared to pay.
Nixon, however, said that it was the consultants, not Silberman, who wanted Murillo out of the race. They questioned their client’s ability to defeat a candidate with Murillo’s perceived strengths as a Latina prosecutor, he said, a fear not shared by their client.
“Judge Silberman wasn’t afraid of Serena Murillo,” Nixon told the panel. “He chose to run against Serena Murillo. Judge Silberman is an innocent man, accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He beat a deputy D.A. by 30,000 votes in an election he won fair and square.”
Jones, he said, had her own motivations for wanting Murillo out of the race.
The commissioner, who is African-American, was talking to Alexander about representing her in an as-yet-undetermined race, Nixon explained, but had not hired her. She had determined, however, that she would not run against another woman, a deputy district attorney, or another person of color, the defense attorney said, so the only way she could enter the race for that particular seat was to get Murillo out.
Jones wound up running in a four-way race, with Alexander and Steinberg heading up the campaign. She lost a runoff to Pat Connolly, a white male who was then a deputy district attorney, after Deputy Attorney General Bob Henry, an African-American, and Workers’ Compensation Judge John Gutierrez were eliminated in the primary.
Jurors also heard yesterday from the first two witnesses in the case.
William Kopeny, an Orange County lawyer and former chair of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, of which Murillo is a former member, testified that he received a phone call from Silberman after he and Murillo took out papers to run for the same seat.
Kopeny said Silberman urged him to convince Murillo to pull out of the race, in order to preserve the image and integrity of the JNE Commission. Silberman, Kopeny said, maintained that Murillo’s candidacy would discredit the commission because he had applied for a judgeship while Murillo was on the commission, giving her access to confidential information that she could use against him in the campaign.
Kopeny said he told Silberman that he took the charges very seriously, and would look into the matter, but subsequently investigated and determined that Murillo had not accessed any such information.
The second witness, Alex Olvera, is an elections official who explained the judicial candidate filing process to the jury.
Testimony is scheduled to resume this morning. Orange Superior Court Judge Richard King, hearing the case on assignment, told jurors the trial should be concluded by Aug. 5.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company