Monday, August 5, 2013
Attorney to Face New Trial on Witness Tampering Charge
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The latest development in the see-sawing case of an attorney who was convicted of attempting to dissuade a witness from testifying, was then granted a new trial by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who, in short order, dismissed the charge, was again put under the gun by the Court of Appeal which reinstated the charge, but was granted a rehearing, is that the man will face a retrial.
The defendant is attorney Sergio Jose Lopez, 37, against whom seven charges were filed in connection with an alleged beating of his girlfriend and terrorizing of her with a firearm, as well as events that followed. A jury acquitted him of four charges, deadlocked on one, which the prosecution dismissed, and convicted him of two offenses: attempting to dissuade the girlfriend from testifying, a felony, and willful disobedience of a court order (to stay away from her), a misdemeanor.
On the misdemeanor count, Lopez was sentenced to 241 days in county jail, but received credit for time served.
Judge Tia Fisher granted a new trial to Lopez on the remaining count of attempting to dissuade a witness from testifying, based on her independent assessment of the evidence. However, once having done that, she expressed agreement with the defendant’s lawyer that Lopez had already once been in jeopardy and that a retrial was therefore constitutionally impermissible, and dismissed the charge.
The Court of Appeal for this district on May 16, in an opinion certified for publication, reversed Fisher’s order of dismissal, declaring that she lacked the power to take that action. Justice Kenneth Yegan of the Ventura-based Div. Six recited that a defendant, in moving for a new trial, necessarily waives any double jeopardy objection.
Lopez sought a rehearing, insisting that new points were raised in the prosecution’s reply brief to which he was entitled to respond. A rehearing was granted on June 11.
A new opinion by Yegan, this time not certified for publication, was filed Thursday. It mirrors the basic conclusions expressed in the initial opinion in the case.
It repeats the declaration that where a new trial is granted, “there is simply no authority upon which” a motion for dismissal, based on double jeopardy, “can be made or granted.”
Addressing the point raised in the petition for rehearing, Yegan said that authority cited in the People’s reply brief was simply in response to what was raised in Lopez’s brief.
Although Yegan’s opinion finds that the granting of a new trial was within Fisher’s discretion, it appears to question the wisdom of the exercise of that discretion. At a time when Lopez’s trial was nearing and authorities were attempting to serve the alleged victim with a subpoena, he was secluded with her for four days in a motel room.
“[T]he inferences that can easily be drawn against respondent are compelling,” Yegan wrote.
He said that as Lester Wm. Roth, longtime presiding justice of Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal (since deceased) “so eloquently indicated” in a 1978 opinion, “[t]here is, of course, no talismanic requirement that a defendant must say ‘Don’t testify’ or words tantamount thereto....”
(In 1978, Yegan was a research attorney for Div. Two, ghost-writing opinions. He did not respond Friday to an e-mailed inquiry as to whether he had penned the words he quoted.)
Deputy Los Angeles District Attorneys Phyllis Asayama, Patrick D. Moran and Scott D. Collins acted for the People on the appeal and David Andreasen, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, acted for Lopez.
‘Premier’ Law Group
Lopez, who was admitted to practice on Dec. 2, 2008, handles criminal defense and family law matters. He heads SJL Law Group, which bills itself on its website as “the premier Southern California law group.”
His main office is in Santa Ana, but he also has offices in downtown Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Riverside.
On May 22, Lopez received a public reproval from the State Bar Court, pursuant to a stipulation. There is a recital that “the gravamen of Respondent’s misconduct is his failure to refund unearned fees and failure to completely release a file” and that his “current misconduct…evidences multiple acts of wrongdoing or demonstrates a pattern of misconduct.”
Lopez is also facing possible discipline in connection with his conviction for disobedience of a court order, as well as for a 2012 misdemeanor conviction for possessing a firearm in violation of a court order.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company