Thursday, May 10, 2012
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 65:
Veteran Deputy DA Competes With Less-Tenured Prosecutors
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Andrea C. Thompson is competing for an open seat with a colleague in the District Attorney’s Office, Shannon Knight, as well as a Los Angeles deputy city attorney, Matthew Schonbrun. Thompson’s rivals were profiled yesterday.
ANDREA C. THOMPSON
Deputy District Attorney, Time After Time, Is Hailed for Professionalism
“In my race, it’s all about experience and maturity,” Deputy District Attorney Andrea C. Thompson says. She points out:
“I’ve been an attorney for 27 years. I have been an attorney longer than the other candidates in my race, combined.”
Deputy District Attorney Shannon Knight has been a State Bar member for 13 years and Deputy City Attorney Matthew Schonbrun for just shy of 10 years.
Thompson, a 1984 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, was admitted to practice on Dec. 3, 1984. It was on April 29, 1985, that she became a deputy district attorney.
She was able to fit in, right from the start. A Nov. 15 memo from the deputy in charge of the Beverly Hills office, John H. Reid (now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge) says of the probationary deputy:
“Ms. Andrea Thompson has been assigned to Beverly Hills for the last three months. During that time she has completed five jury trials, five court trials and several motions. Her performance has been excellent.
“Ms. Thompson came to Beverly Hills with limited experience as a lawyer, yet she has handled her trials as if she were an experienced trial lawyer. She is able to quickly grasp the issues of a case, argue in a professional and confident manner to a jury, and gets along well with fellow employees. She is well organized, quickly adapts to new situations, and shows a high amount of initiative. An outstanding grade one deputy.
“I spoke with Commissioner John Murphy, the court in which Ms. Thompson is presently assigned, and he agrees with the above assessment.”
A “Report on Probationer” was filled out on Jan. 7, 1986, by the head deputy of the Santa Monica office, James Bascue (later a Los Angeles Superior Court presiding judge, now retired). It includes this:
“Judicial officers have commented favorably about her professionalism in the presentation of cases.
“She gets along well with other employees and is here often after normal working hours preparing her cases for the following day.”
Bascue’s Nov. 14, 1986 report notes that Thompson had “recently completed a tour of duty in Santa Monica which included an introduction to superior court calendar administration as well as some felony trial work.” The report continues:
“She is a conscientious worker, mindful of office policy, and careful to protect the integrity of that policy. Ms. Thompson has a pleasant personality and gets along with everyone well. She displays a dignified, professional image and is a good representative of the Office.”
Thompson received a final appointment.
Works in Compton
A Report on Performance Evaluation covering the period from May 1, 1988 to April 30, 1989 reflects that she was serving at that point at the Compton Courthouse. The rater calls her a “bright and articulate attorney” who “is anxious to try cases before juries and is skilled at legal research.”
A May 14, 1992 letter was sent to then-District Attorney Ira Reiner by a man whose daughter had been murdered a year earlier. Thompson was the prosecutor, and she gained a conviction. The letter says, in part:
“Throughout these proceedings, Ms. Thompson was empathetic and sensitive to our feelings. She obviously worked many long hours on this case. Our family was impressed with her preparation, strategy, and professionalism. She was often reassuring as she led us through many difficult times. Her great sense of humor was always timely, refreshing, and uplifting. She prevented demoralizing surprises by being honest, straightforward, and sharing at all times. To the extent possible, she allowed us to contribute as team members, not helpless by-standers. Our family was very grateful for that privilege. Ms. Thompson is a fine human being and an excellent representative of your office.”
Reiner sent back a letter which recognizes Thompson as “a fine young trial lawyer, who is making a good reputation for herself in our office.”
‘Professionalism’ Repeatedly Cited
Evaluations of Thompson through the years have contained the word “professional,” used by Reid and Bascue, or “professionalism,” employed both by Bascue and the father of a murder victim.
A performance evaluation for April 1, 1992 to March 31, 1993, refers to her presentations in court as being “very professional.”
A Jan. 7, 1994 letter from a private investigator to then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti says of Thompson: “It is obvious that her professionalism and dedication are well above average.”
(A response by Santa Monica Head Deputy John F. Lynch, now retired, says: “Ms. Thompson’s conduct in this particular case is a reflection of her normal conscientiousness and dedication in seeking the right result in cases entrusted to her for prosecution.”)
An evaluation for April, 1996 to March, 1997—during which time she was moved from Malibu to San Fernando—says Thompson “has clearly demonstrated an ability to adapt and be effective wherever assigned,” adding: “She has handled the new, unusual and emergency matters capably and professionally.”
The report for the ensuing one-year period comments:
“In court, she is professional and tenacious in her presentation of her cases. Her courtroom demeanor and bearing is one of a well-prepared, professional prosecutor.”
The evaluation for the year’s period ending March 31, 2002 hails her as “the consummate professional prosecutor.” At this point, she was in the Victim Impact Program (“VIP”) in Van Nuys and had become the acting coordinator of it. (Prosecutors assigned to that program specialize in cases involving such matters as child abuse, elder abuse, sex crimes, domestic violence and hate crimes.)
Thompson became coordinator during the following one-year period, drawing praise in the annual report as one who “can and will handle any assignment or issue capably and professionally.”
The next annual evaluation points out the high-stress nature of VIP and observes: “She handles any situation calmly and professionally.”
A report of Aug. 17, 2004, recommending Thompson’s “final and complete appointment” as VIP coordinator, makes note that “[h]er personal appearance is always professional.” By this point, she was a “grade 4” deputy (the highest level outside of management).
An evaluation of Thompson for the period of Oct. 6, 2004 to Oct. 5 of the next year says:
“She serves as the VIP coordinator; filing and assigning cases, reviewing them for settlement, and mentoring two less experienced trial deputies on legal issues and trial strategies. Additionally, Ms. Thompson carries a full vertical prosecution caseload of murders, sexual assaults, child abuse, and domestic violence. She is a highly skilled professional who is trusted with major cases involving complex issues.”
The report goes on to say:
“Her professional maturity, experience, and adaptability make her particularly well suited for her position as the VIP coordinator….
“Ms. Thompson is personable and highly regarded by her co-workers and supervisors. Her demeanor with law enforcement, the public, defense bar, and court officials is outstanding. She is sensitive to victims, and projects a positive, confident, professional image on behalf of this office.”
For the period ending Oct. 5, 2006, there is this assessment:
“She is an experienced prosecutor who astutely evaluates VIP cases for filing and settlement. Ms. Thompson is currently in trial co-prosecuting the guilt phase of the capital case of People v. Beltran. Beltran murdered his [common law] wife and two children and claims to have a brain abnormality which has been the subject of extensive pre-trial litigation. Ms. Thompson has outstanding professional skills and is a steadfast advocate.”
(A judge sentenced Beltran to death the following year.)
Thompson moved to the Sexually Violent Predator unit. The 2009-2010 evaluation of her says:
“DDA Thompson maintained a caseload with an average of 22 cases. In response to the appellate court’s 2009 decision in In re Edward Ronje she experienced in 2010, along with the other members of the SVP Unit, a deluge of Ronje motions from defense counsel seeking new evaluations and new evaluators for respondents previously deemed to qualify as sexually violent predators. DDA Thompson has weathered the storm of motions handling at least 12 of them, many of them on cases that were otherwise scheduled for trial. She did so and stayed abreast of her duties and cases even when emergency family circumstances required her twice to be out of state for significant periods of time. She did so while also serving as an After Hours Duty prosecutor, a volunteer trainer at the Haven Hills Domestic Violence Shelter, and appearing on lifer hearings. Throughout it all, she performed virtually all of her duties with the highest level of professionalism….”
Performance evaluations also consistently refer to Thompson putting in long hours, working well with others, knowing the law, and having high ethical standards.
The last four evaluations have given Thompson the next-to-the-top rating of “Exceeded Expectations (Very Good).”
FBI Director’s Praise
Thompson draws praise in an April 3, 2002 letter to District Attorney Steve Cooley from Robert S. Mueller III, then director of the FBI. It tells of his agency’s investigation of a third-grade teacher in connection with downloading child pornography from the Internet, and recites that this led to the FBI identifying 12 victims of sexual child abuse by the man. The letter says:
“[Y]our office, represented so ably by Ms. Thompson, pursued prosecution aggressively and without hesitation. Ms. Thompson left no stone unturned in an effort to bring this matter to a successful conclusion, successfully navigating through a myriad of difficult legal issues in order to bring the case to trial and, thereafter, organizing a well-structured trial strategy which included combining 20-year-old witness testimony with computer evidence, modern forensic evidence, and well-prepared testimonies from witnesses and a behavioral expert on pedophilia. Even then, with a staggering caseload, Ms. Thompson took the time to address all concerns of the victims and witnesses in the case.”
The letter notes that the defendant pled no contest to 15 counts right after the jury had been selected, and says of Thompson:
“She performed magnificently and in the highest tradition of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. It is with deep gratitude that I commend her efforts to you.”
One Los Angeles Superior Court judge, speaking on condition of anonymity, comments that Knight is found “in the courtroom” while Thompson is found “in her office.”
Thompson rejects any suggestion that she is not a courtroom prosecutor. She responds:
“There are individuals who become supervisors who do stay in their office, and that may, in fact, be their job. But I have alternated between being a supervisor and being a trial attorney, back and forth, over the years.”
Thompson goes on to say:
“The first time I did some supervisory work was as early as 1989 [in Compton], but then I went back and did trial assignments. In fact, I was a supervisor in Van Nuys, in charge of the victim impact program, which is a very demanding assignment, from 2002 to 2007….During that time, I carried my own very heavy caseload, and tried murder cases, child abuse cases, sexual assault cases, serial rape cases, and a capital case.”
She recites that she then went into the Sexually Violent Predator unit “which is technically a civil assignment,” entailing civil commitments of sex offenders who completed sentences for their crimes. Under a statute, those who are still viewed as continuing menaces to the community can be tucked into state hospitals.
Since November, Thompson has been the deputy in charge of Stuart House to which child molestation victims are brought. The location of the facility, like that of battered wives sanctuaries, is confidential. Little is known of the program conducted there.
Thompson says she can reveal this much:
“It is under the auspices of the rape treatment center at Santa Monica/UCLA Hospital, and it is a multi-disciplinary facility where children who have been sexually abused are brought by the law enforcement agencies. And the idea behind it is that it is a one-stop shop, so to speak, so that the children, when they come in, do not have to go to speak to the patrol officers, and then go to the police station, and then go to the DA’s Office, and then go to the Social Workers’ Office.
“The idea is that they come to Stuart House and there is one interview that is conducted where the prosecution, the social workers, the DCFS [county Department of Children and Family Services] workers, the police officers, are all present and they’re able to make their assessment of what the child has to say, and act appropriately for their respective disciplines.”
But the child is not surrounded by all of these individuals. Thompson explains:
“The interviews are conducted in a room that has two-way glass, and they’re recorded on video, and the child is advised that they are. In the room, is a professional forensic interviewer, a neutral party who’s not part of the DA’s Office, not part of the police…but she is specifically trained to neutrally evaluate what the child has to say. She’s part of the Santa Monica/UCLA staff—she’s part of the Stuart House staff….She’s specifically trained to not ask questions in a suggestive manner.”
Others, Thompson says, are “present, in the little room behind the glass.”
Before the interview is concluded, she relates, the questioners asks those viewing behind the glass for any additional lines of inquiry. Thompson says that a representative of her office might want to ascertain, for its purposes, dates on which alleged attacks occurred, something that would not be of concern to social workers.
There are five prosecutors attached to Stuart House, two police officers, and two DCFS workers, she advises.
“I’m very impressed and very pleased by the process,” Thompson remarks.
She says that a videotape of the interview is provided to the defense prior to a preliminary hearing, and that this “results in more pleas,” eliminating the need for the child to testify.
Letters Urge Appointment
During the closing days of the gubernatorial administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thompson—as she thought about the numbers of deputies she had supervised who had become judges—made a pitch for appointment to the bench. Her bid was supported in letters, including one, dated June 7, 2002, from Cooley. It says, in part:
“Ms. Thompson’s background and experience as a deputy district attorney who has had the unique opportunity to handle both criminal and civil matters, as well as her community involvement make her very well-suited for appointment to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend her for appointment.”
An Oct. 4, 2010 letter to the then-governor from veteran criminal defense lawyer Richard G. Hirsch declares:
“I have known Ms. Thompson for many years having opposed her in several cases in her capacity as a Deputy District Attorney. I can state unequivocally, she is fair, professional, and has a reputation for the highest integrity in the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County. 1 always found her to be forthcoming and reasonable with respect to the cases we worked on and believe that the qualities that I observed and that she possesses would make her a fine judicial officer.”
This assessment appears in an Oct. 27, 2010 missive to Schwarzenegger from long-time criminal defense attorney James E. Blatt:
“Ms. Thompson possesses excellent knowledge of the law, she has a wonderful courtroom demeanor, and is considerate to all parties. I know Ms. Thompson to be a hard-worker, always on time, and well-prepared. Importantly, Ms. Thompson has a reputation for fairness to both the prosecution and defense.”
Judges Praise Thompson
Two Los Angeles Superior Court judges urged the appointment of Thompson.
A June 28, 2010 letter from Judge Gregg Marcus to Schwarzenegger’s judicial appointments secretary says:
“Andrea C. Thompson has appeared in my Court on numerous occasions while I was assigned to a Criminal Court. She is respected for her professional ability, demeanor, legal experience, case preparation and work ethic.
“I have found Ms. Thompson to be among the most skilled Prosecutors in presenting a felony case, with fairness, preparation of complex legal issues, and complete knowledge of her case.”
An Aug. 30 communiqué from Judge Michael B. Harwin says:
“I do not recommend many lawyers, but I am pleased to do so for her since she has appeared in my court on numerous occasions. She tried a lengthy sexual assault case…in my court and obtained a conviction. More importantly, she conducted herself in a competent, professional manner. On that case and on others, I was impressed by her sound judgment, calm reasonable demeanor and an ability to successfully interact with opposing counsel.
“She has had significant trial experience and is held in high regard both by other bench officers and by her co-workers in her own offices. She is also bright and a pleasure to work with.”
Brown Appointment Sought
Thompson continued to seek appointment after Schwarzenegger left office.
A Nov. 24, 2011 letter to Gov. Jerry Brown from Ezekiel P. Peelo, directing attorney of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s Indigent Criminal Defense Appointments Program, contains these observations:
“I first met Ms Thompson some fifteen years ago when she prosecuted a client of mine in a very serious case of some length and complexity. During the pendency of that matter, I learned that she was meticulously prepared, thoroughly knowledgeable in the law, effective in her presentation and able to anticipate or respond to my every action. Above all, from my point of view, she was honest and fair.
“Since that time, I have come in contact with Ms Thompson either as opposing counsel, to seek her advice, or merely as an observer in a court where I had a matter calendared and she was appearing before the same court.
“What has stood out in my mind, beyond her skills as an advocate, is Ms. Thompson’s integrity, honesty, and fairness. She has an outstanding grasp of the law. She is willing to share this knowledge with both prosecutors and defense lawyers. She evaluates cases objectively insuring a proper result for both sides.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck have also sent letters urging Thompson’s appointment.
Harris, Coen Comment
Twenty seven sitting Los Angeles Superior Court bench officers have endorsed Thompson for election. One of them, Judge Leland Harris, says of her:
“She has previously appeared in my courtroom on sensitive felony matters. She was always prepared and well organized in her presentations and displayed great empathy for victims.”
Judge Ronald S. Coen:
“Andrea Thompson has tried cases before me. I have found her knowledgeable in the law, forthright with the court, and liked and respected by opposing counsel. In interviewing her for my endorsement, she displayed a maturity that would be an asset on the bench. Most importantly, she displayed a temperament that showed no bias or animosity. Her ‘people skills’ are excellent. She would make an excellent judge.”
The candidate is also endorsed by the Los Angeles Times. She has a “well qualified” rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., while her competitors are described as “qualified.”
Thompson is married to a Los Angeles police sergeant, Greg White. They have two sons: Gunnar, 13, and Garth, 11.
—Roger M. Grace
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company