Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Silberman Defense Rests After Tillmon Testifies
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Attorneys for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Silberman rested their defense yesterday after calling just two witnesses at the jurist’s Los Angeles Superior Court trial.
Daniel Nixon and Shepard Kopp announced they had no further witnesses following the testimony of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bobbi Tillmon. The jurist testified after Orange Superior Court Judge Richard M. King, sitting on assignment, denied her motion to quash a subpoena requiring her to testify.
The defense announced last week it would call Tillmon to testify as to whether she authorized Evelyn Jerome Alexander, the consultant to her 2006 campaign for the court, to pay the filing fee of a potential opponent had one materialized on the last day of filing. Alexander testified last week that she was prepared to make such a payment, and that Tillmon had agreed to the arrangement.
Alexander and Randy Steinberg, who was Alexander’s partner during Silberman’s campaign—in 2008—but not during Tillmon’s, were indicted along with Silberman two years ago on charges of offering a similar payment to Deputy District Attorney Serena Murillo in an unsuccessful bid to get her to run against someone other than Silberman. Both consultants have pled no contest to misdemeanor charges under plea agreements and await sentencing.
In denying the motion to quash, King said Tillmon’s testimony would be relevant to the critical issue of whether the consultants schemed with Silberman to get Murillo out of the race, or whether they made a practice of operating “out on the perimeter” and making strategic decisions without client input.
After the motion was denied, Tillmon’s attorney, Winston McKesson, announced that the judge would—contrary to his advice—waive any Fifth Amendment privilege. McKesson remained present during her testimony, and the judge told her she could consult with him at any time, but she did not do so during her brief time on the stand.
Tillmon testified that she never told her consultant, then Evelyn Jerome, to offer to pay a filing fee for another race as an inducement to avoid opposition. She also testified that her understanding was that it would have been illegal for her to do so.
On cross-examination by Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez, Tillmon acknowledged that she had been a family law commissioner at the same time as Silberman and endorsed him in the election, in which he defeated Murillo by 52 to 48 percent. But on redirect, she said her relationship with the judge was purely professional and that “under no circumstances would I consider” lying to aid him.
The only other witness called by the defense was Steinberg, who testified as a prosecution witness last week. He testified yesterday about a series of phone calls among himself, Alexander and Silberman.
Unlike Alexander, Steinberg did not testify that Silberman personally said it was acceptable to pay Murillo’s filing fee.
Earlier yesterday, the judge denied a defense motion for direct acquittal.
Nixon argued that the case should be thrown out because the prosecution’s evidence was “so lacking in credibility and integrity that no reasonable factfinder could find the defendant guilty.”
He specifically argued that the testimony of Steinberg, Alexander, and former Superior Court Commissioner Lori Jones was uncorroborated accomplice testimony, and thus could not form the basis for a conviction.
Jones testified under a grant of immunity that she, in Alexander’s presence, spoke to Murillo and conveyed what Jones—a potential candidate and Alexander client at the time—called a “hypothetical” offer to have Silberman pay Murillo’s filing fee.
King agreed that Steinberg, Alexander, and Jones were accomplices as a matter of law. In doing so, he rejected Rodriguez’s contention that Steinberg—who testified that Alexander was the lead consultant on judicial races—was not an accomplice with respect to what Alexander and Jones told Murillo, because Steinberg was not actively involved in the Silberman campaign until more than two weeks later.
But the judge cited the testimony of William Kopeny, an Orange County attorney and former chair of the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. Kopeny testified that Silberman called him to suggest that he persuade Murillo to pull out of his race because she was a JNE commissioner at a time that he was being evaluated by the commission and might have had access to confidential information she could use in the campaign.
Nixon argued that the testimony did not inculpate Silberman, because there was an innocent explanation—Silberman had a sincere concern that the commission not be compromised. But King said there was at least an inference that Silberman—whom the defense argues had no reason to be afraid of Murillo’s candidacy—had taken an active interest in forcing the prosecutor out of the contest for that seat.
Today’s court session is scheduled to be taken up with preparation of jury instructions. King said the case could go to the jury tomorrow.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company