Friday, July 29, 2011
Lawyers Duel Over Credibility as Silberman Case Goes to Jury
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The prosecutor and a defense attorney took opposing views on witness credibility as they made their final arguments to jurors in the trial of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey Silberman yesterday.
Orange Superior Court Judge Richard M. King, sitting on assignment, sent the case to the six-man, six-woman jury at about 4 p.m. Deliberations are expected to resume Monday, as King is to be back in Santa Ana calling his own calendar today.
Silberman is charged with the felony of offering an inducement to his 2008 election opponent, Deputy District Attorney Serena Murillo, to quit the race and run against someone else. Evelyn Jerome Alexander and Randy Steinberg, who entered into agreements to plead no contest to misdemeanor charges and have cooperated with the prosecution, said Silberman agreed to the approach.
Alexander and Steinberg, who ran the campaign, and former Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Lori Jones, who communicated with Murillo at Alexander’s behest, had no reason to lie, Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez told jurors. “These people lost alot” because of their own roles in the events, she noted—the consultants are now out of business; Steinberg, a Pennsylvania attorney, faces discipline there; and Jones, who testified under a grant of immunity, was forced to leave the bench.
Defense attorney Shepard Kopp, however, lashed out at the three, calling them “murderer’s row” and directly accusing them of lying in order to justify their arrangements with the prosecution.
Noting that Alexander and Steinberg are awaiting sentencing, and that they reduced their exposure from a possible three years in prison to at most a year in a local jail, Kopp directly accused them of lying.
Alexander, he said, was a “rogue consultant,” with a history of operating outside the bounds of what clients authorized. He cited her admission that she had gotten another judicial candidate in trouble by mistakenly referring to her as a judge in a slate mailer when she was in fact a referee.
He also said jurors had no reason to disbelieve Judge Bobbi Tillmon, who insisted that Alexander did not, as the ex-consultant testified, have Tillmon’s authorization to offer to pay a filing fee for a hypothetical opponent who never materialized in Tillmon’s 2006 bid for election to the court.
Rodriguez insisted that the dispute between Tillmon and Alexander as to what Tillmon did or did not authorize in 2006 was a matter of “she said, she said,” that had “nothing to do with the events of 2008.” Kopp, however, said Tillmon had a clear recollection and no motive to fabricate, and that her testimony “shows Evelyn Alexander is a liar.”
D.A.’s Office Criticized
Kopp also tore into the handling of the investigation, which was initiated by the District Attorney’s Office, where Murillo was, and remains, employed. The attorney noted while there were several agencies Murillo might have contacted, she went directly to a friend, Sandi Roth, a deputy district attorney in the Public Integrity Division, to complain that Silberman was trying to manipulate her out of running against him.
He also pointed out that Roth’s husband, a senior investigator in the District Attorney’s Office, sat in on the first meeting at which the office considered what to do about the case.
Rodriguez countered that while the investigation could have been transferred to the Attorney General’s Office at an earlier stage, it ultimately was taken over by her agency, whose actions she said were uncompromised by anything that happened earlier.
Murillo, she said, had shown professionalism and “exhibited integrity” throughout the proceedings.
Rodriguez argued that while Silberman never spoke directly to Murillo about getting out of the race, the combination of Murillo’s testimony and that of former State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation chair William Kopeny, and the records of numerous phone calls going back and forth among the principals, lead inexorably to the conclusion that there was a specific plan, approved of by Silberman, to create an incentive for Murillo to run elsewhere.
Kopeny testified that Silberman called him and tried to use him to pressure Murillo out of the race, threatening to make what Rodriguez said “amounted to a false claim”—that Murillo was using confidential information, gained from Silberman’s earlier application for appointment to a judgeship, for her own advantage.
This not only corroborated the consultants’ testimony that Silberman wanted Murillo out of the race, the prosecutor said, it refuted the defense contention that Silberman had no incentive to want Murillo out because he was confident he could, and ultimately did, defeat her.
Kopp, on the other hand, said that Murillo offered little more than her opinion that Silberman was behind the offer to Murillo, and a biased opinion at that.
“The election is not over for Serena Murillo,” he said.
He reminded jurors of Murillo’s testimony that becoming a judge was an ambition of hers even before she became a lawyer, and that before reaching the 10 years’ State Bar membership needed to qualify, she applied for, and was appointed to, the JNE Commission.
She did that, he said, not to provide a public service, but “to learn how the inner machinery worked.”
As for Silberman’s call to Kopeny, he insisted, there was an innocent explanation—Silberman was truly concerned about the information in his JNE questionnaire, particularly his acknowledgement that he is “an openly gay man” being used for campaign purposes.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company