Tuesday, May 27, 2014
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 87
All Three Candidates in Race Have ‘Gang’ in Ballot Designation
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
Each of the three combatants for this office is designated on the ballot as someone dealing with gangs.
Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney Steven P. Schreiner is listed as a “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” Deputy City Attorney Tom Griego is identified as a “Criminal Gang Prosecutor,” and criminal defense lawyer Andrew M. Stein is said to be a “Gang Homicide Attorney.”
At a candidate forum earlier this month, Schreiner told the audience:
“One of my opponents is, in fact, a criminal defense attorney, and the other one is a deputy city attorney, and that may appear somewhat different from their actual designations.”
In a comment to the MetNews in March, he said:
“Mr. Stein has chosen the ballot designation of ‘Gang/Homicide Attorney’ in another blatant attempt to mislead the public into thinking he is a prosecutor. Beyond that, Mr. Stein has no demonstrable specialty in defending gang murderers. Mr. Stein’s business cards indicate he is a criminal defense attorney. If he was honest, his ballot designation would clearly reflect his occupation.”
Some—such as criminal defense attorney David D. Diamond, a supporter of Stein—question whether Griego is actually a gang prosecutor. He comments:
“Griego has misled the public in his last election [claiming in 2010 to be a “Criminal Prosecutor”] and still is not truly a gang prosecutor. The City Attorney doesn’t really prosecute gang cases…they file injunctions.”
In response to such allegations, Griego says:
“I don’t procure or obtain the injunction. That’s done by a different section in our office. They go ahead and get the injunction. They get it in civil court, as a matter of fact. Once the injunction is approved by a civil judge, then that injunction is ready to be served….
“I prosecute the violation of the injunction.
“One commonality in the injunctions is a ‘Do not associate’ provision. It prohibits gang members from associating with each other in particular areas. It’s normally by a zone, by a different geographic area. If they’re in that zone, and they’re associating, then they’re subject to arrest.”
Other typical provisions in the injunctions, giving rise to a prosecution if they violated, are proscriptions on “drinking, using drugs, possessing a weapons, doing graffiti,” Griego notes.
He declined Friday to comment on his opponents’ designations.
For his part, Stein acknowledges that Griego “is a gang prosecutor now,” being in a gang unit. He disputes Schreiner’s designation, however, declaring:
“It appears that my opponent tried one or two gang homicides in the previous [calendar year].
“So it is very questionable that his ballot designation is accurate.
“When I make the runoff, if he is my opponent, my lawyers and I will devise if the outlay of cash is warranted in a ballot challenge.”
In choosing the designation that he did, Stein says, “[m]y position was, if Mr. Schreiner is going to call himself a ‘Gang Homicide Prosecutor,’ then I can call myself a ‘Gang/Homicide Attorney’ because I’m now on the opposite side of the table. And if he’s a prosecutor, I’m the attorney.’ ”
He says the Office of Registrar-Recorder and Office of County Counsel determined that he has recently defended gang members in several cases.
Today, a look at Griego and Schreiner.
Candidate Has No Apologies For His Ballot Designation In 2010 Judgeship Race
Four years ago, Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Tom Griego ran for the Los Angeles Superior Court. His ballot designation, challenged by none of his three opponents, was “Criminal Prosecutor.”
The problem, as some saw it, was that as of the time he filed his nominating papers and submitted the ballot designation—Monday, March 8, 2010—he was not prosecuting criminals. In fact, he had been in the civil side of his office for 13 years.
When he met with the MetNews three days later, he was insistent that his chosen title did comply with the Election Code because he was about to embark on duties as a prosecutor the following day. Sec. 13107 permits use of one of a candidate’s “current principal professions, vocations, or occupations” (or those in the past calendar year) but makes no provision for a reference to a future undertaking.
Griego reasoned that the new assignment was current because it was made prior to March 8 and, while engaged in wrapping up his duties on the civil side, he had been “reacclimating” himself to criminal law. That process, he explained, consisted of viewing a video shown to deputies entering the criminal branch of the office and reading “our sheet that discusses what the charges are, what the offers are during the arraignment, what are the conditions of probation.”
A March 19, 2010 column in this newspaper argues that at the time he filed his papers, Griego was “in preparation for the role of a criminal prosecutor,” which was “quite different from being a criminal prosecutor.” It terms his ballot designation “a falsehood.”
There was intensified scrutiny of Griego right before the November general election. He was in a run-off with then-Deputy District Attorney Alan Schneider, who won.
A October 23, 2010 editorial on the “What Would Reagan Do?” blog comments that use in the MetNews of the word “falsehood” is “a polite way of calling Griego a ‘Liar,’ and given that the Met News reported that Griego had not prosecuted a single criminal case when he gave himself the title of ‘Criminal Prosecutor,’ the latter appellation seems to fit like a glove.”
An article of the same date on the “City Hall Insider” blog declares:
“[I]n the case of Thomas ‘Tom’ Griego, there’s good reason to question whether Griego has ever really ‘put a bad guy in jail,’ and it certainly appears that he hasn’t done anything like that recently. Sources at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office say that Griego has spent most of his lackluster career hidden away on the civil side and only recently requested a transfer out of his obscure civil duties to the criminal side.
“Griego is believed to have requested the transfer because it would help him in his bid to become a judge, a role that many do not feel [he] is qualified for.”
The Oct. 24 issue of the Daily Breeze says, in endorsing Schneider:
“Tom Griego, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney whose experience is mainly with civil cases yet who calls himself a criminal prosecutor, is ranked [by the Los Angeles County Bar Association] as not qualified. Alan Schneider, a prosecutor who actually prosecutes, has a long list of endorsements from judges, prosecutors and even defense attorneys. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a journal specializing in coverage of the judicial system, says Schneider is ‘far and away the worthiest of the candidates.’ He’s got our vote.”
A Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial on Oct. 28 expresses similar sentiments.
(The Los Angeles Times did not allude to Griego’s billing of himself in March as a prosecutor. Its April 24 endorsement of Schneider in the primary says, “Deputy City Atty. Tom Griego is politically well connected (his brother is a well-known Democratic political consultant), but that’s no reason to elect him to the Superior Court.” An Oct. 1 re-endorsement says that Schneider “is an easy choice over Griego, an affable lawyer who has strong political connections.”)
Judge Sees Change
One judge, before whom Griego has recently appeared, says of him:
“When he ran in 2010, I didn’t think very highly of him. My impression is that he has changed dramatically. Something must have happened in those four years.”
The judge calls him “very measured, very balanced.”
Griego, himself, says that four years have made a difference. He remarks:
“I think I’ve learned a lot. I think I grew as an individual, as a professional.
“I think age does that.”
Does he now, on reflection, have any regrets as to his ballot designation in the 2010 primary as a “Criminal Prosecutor”?
Griego offers no apology. He says:
“I think that what I’ve learned from that time period is a person can be legally correct on a particular issue and not really focus on other areas such as perception, and it could involve a moral perception, an ethical perception. So, I accepted that criticism, those concerns and those comments about my designation, and I turned it into a positive. I ran a very hard and successful campaign. I obviously came up short, and what I learned from that experience was to continue to do my best and to use those comments in a positive and a constructive manner, because I don’t think those criticisms or comments about me, I think they were constructive. So, I continued in my craft and continued to move forward into my career.”
Continuing his response to the question as to whether he has regrets over the 2010 ballot designation, he says:
“Getting the position with the gang unit was really important, and I think that showed further growth and further development and it also showed my willingness and my ability to continue to try to make a difference in our office, to continue to take on difficult assignments.
“I was actually, during the time…we were under furloughs during that period, and we were not getting paid because there was an action by the city that withheld our pay and we actually had to go to court and still, in the process of being resolved. What I meant to say is that there are few people that—because at the time I was staffing an arraignment court, and a few of my colleagues said:
“ ‘Why do you want to go in the gang unit?’ You’re going to have to work harder and you’re going to have to work nights. You’re going to have to maybe do some weekend work. You’re not going to get paid for it. You’re going to put in more hours than necessary.’ ”
“And I saw it as a challenge, that I had to continue to try to contribute in the way that I have been up to that point, the way I was raised. I couldn’t just sit there and just use my skills and abilities in a limited way.
“So I sort of took that situation and tried to become a better attorney because of it”
‘Not Qualified’ Ratings
Looking back at his 2010 rating by the Los Angeles County Bar Association as “not qualified,” he says:
“I think a lot of it had to do with the ballot designation and timing of it. I think an additional reason [was] the fact that I hadn’t had, at that particular time, recent courtroom experience.”
That’s been remedied, he says, noting:
“This year alone, there are times I’m in court everyday.”
Griego says, in an interview taking place prior to the release of this year’s LACBA ratings, that he hoped to snag the “highest rating possible,” which is “exceptionally well qualified,” explaining:
“I believe the depth and the range of my experience over the past 22 years as a lawyer has given me a very, very broad perspective that will allow me to be fair, independent and competent which is a principle that judges depend on in order to interpret and apply the laws. And I’ve come to appreciate, that over the years, and I believe that in my different variety of jobs, I see myself as a collaborator, as a resolver, as someone willing and able to help people. And I think those are necessary abilities in order to receive the highest rating.”
He was again rated “not qualified.”
Griego, who obtained a law degree from Whittier School of Law in 1990, was admitted to the State Bar on Oct. 14, 1991.
In 1990-91, he was chief of staff for then-Los Angeles City Council member Mike Hernandez; worked in the Law Office of Rosato & Samuels from 1991-93, and was a sole practitioner before being hired by the Office of City Attorney in 1994.
Griego is married and has a daughter 6, and sons 8 and 12. The family has a golden retriever and two mixed breed dogs, as well as a bearded dragon lizard, a snake, and two tortoises.
STEVEN P. SCHREINER
Prosecutor Asks to Be Judged by Entire Career, Not by One Boner
Conducting his 77th murder prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Steven P. Schreiner on July 23, 2013, in the span of 10 minutes, indelibly stained a 27-year career in the office.
A jury, deliberating in the four-defendant gang homicide and robbery case of People v. Orozco, was at an apparent impasse, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Ong gave each side a chance to present further argument. It appeared from questions that jurors had written out that a concern had crept into their discussions in connection with race. Two of the defendants were African Americans.
Just 10 days earlier, in Florida, a man was acquitted of charges in connection with the fatally shooting, while on neighborhood patrol, of an unarmed 17-year-old African American, Trevor Martin. Outside the Long Beach Courthouse, where Orozco was being tried, demonstrators were protesting the Florida verdict.
As Schreiner recounts the incident:
“We had a 6-week trial, a hanging jury that was obviously considering improper issues. We were certainly trying to impress upon them in the strongest possible terms that any jury or juror who was considering penalty, punishment or race was not doing their job properly. And given the 10 minutes that I had in which to convey that, it was a rush of words, and…certainly there was a couple of those that I would change.”
Schreiner employed the terms “bullshit” and “crap.”
“But it certainly wasn’t a matter of anger or temper—it was, rather, my expressing in the strongest possible terms that the jury should follow the instructions, follow the law, and do their jobs based upon the evidence that came into court rather than considering outside, extraneous issues,” he says.
He also vouched for the prosecution’s case, which is ethically proscribed, and berated the jury.
“I’ve been able to get through over 200 felony trials,” Schreiner points out, commenting:
“I guess when you argue that many times, sooner or later something’s going to happen. I just would put it in the context of having gotten up and doing opening argument, rebuttal argument over 400 times.”
(The jury convicted three of the defendants of first degree murder with special circumstances, but Ong granted a new trial based on juror misconduct. Schreiner says that Ong rejected the contention that there had been prosecutorial misconduct.)
Stein Criticizes Opponent
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Stein asserts, based on Schreiner’s argument in Orozco: “He doesn’t have the judicial temperament to be a judge.”
So far as Schreiner being a “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” Stein observes:
“That is not what he will be doing in the future, I can guarantee you that. I’m not sure he will ever try another homicide again. I’d be shocked if he did.”
Griego, by contrast, withholds judgment on Schreiner’s conduct.
“With regard to what happened…, I wasn’t there, so it’s really hard for me to comment on his language,” he says. He does provide this analysis:
“There’s certain times in a trial where you’re allowed to use—you have wide latitude. If you’re repeating something that someone else said, or to make a point, I can see how certain words—there’s probably very few exceptions. I would think that the use of the ‘n’ word, no matter when it’s said or how it’s said, should not be used, even if someone else has repeated it.”
Numerous observers fault Ong for not interceding during Schreiner’s argument. Instead, he merely periodically reminded the lawyer of how many minutes he had remaining.
“I don’t want to blame anyone else for words that I chose to use, regardless of how ill-advised it might have been. I think probably, had I been in Judge Ong’s position, I might have interrupted and made a curative instruction at that point, which would have alleviated any potential problem. But I can’t really criticize Judge Ong. It was a very difficult situation.”
The general impression is that Schreiner was transferred to Norwalk because of his argument in that case. He remarks:
“I was never told anything to that effect, and it was certainly a good assignment in terms of being closer to home.”
He notes that he had been in Long Beach for five years, and a transfer after that amount of time would be normal.
Lacey Withholds Endorsement
District Attorney Jackie Lacey has continued the practice of her predecessor, Steve Cooley, of endorsing deputies, unless there is a particular problem. While Cooley has endorsed Schreiner (as well as endorsing Stein), Lacey has made no endorsement in the race.
Schreiner says he met with Lacey and was unable to persuade her to support him.
“I did say to her that I thought it would be fairer to judge me based on the entire body of work that I’ve done for the office,” he recounts. “I think that there are very few deputies who have anywhere close to my record in terms of trial work—numbers, seriousness, and results of those.”
He goes on to say:
“She was very diplomatic, very patient….She made me immediately aware that she had been provided with a copy of the transcript by an ‘outside party,’ as she put it, and that she had reservations. I made my case based on my entire 27-year career, in special trials, hardcore gang, capital cases and all the things that I’ve done, and then, essentially a couple of poorly chosen words in a transcript.”
The candidate says of Lacey’s decision:
“I didn’t think was fair. But that was her decision, and I understand that it’s a political office and there are reasons for making those decisions.”
Others View Schreiner
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Frisco, a judge-elect of the Superior Court, hails Schreiner as “a very talented and exceptional trial lawyer.”
One judge sees the address to the jury in Orozco as “inappropriate,” but “more of an aberration,” saying that Schreiner is a “very good lawyer.”
Others view him less favorably.
A prosecutor familiar with Schreiner’s performance declares:
“He should not be a judge. Mr. Schreiner does not have the patience, does not have the compassion, and does not have the integrity to be on the bench.”
The person adds:
“He’s contemptuous of rules, regulations, and policies.”
The address to the jury in Orozco is cited as an example. Schreiner committed “multiple acts of vouching” and “essentially harassing and bullying a jury,” the prosecutor observes, adding:
“Mr. Schreiner desires to win at all costs.”
Another judge says of him:
“At his best, he is a terrific trial lawyer.”
But, the judge continues:
“He has a temper. He doesn’t control himself. He goes off half-cocked.”
The jurist also says that Schreiner is not industrious.
A knowledgeable observer in Long Beach opines that while Schreiner “seems to be a very good trial attorney,” he can be “arrogant and unprepared.”
The observer relates that Schreiner, on one occasion, told a bailiff, on the telephone, to “f— off.”
A person stationed in the Deukmejian-Long Beach Courthouse says Schreiner is a “cowboy.” There are two approaches prosecutors or criminal defense lawyers can take, the individual says, explaining that one way is to be “friendly and nice and compromising, so people like you and you can make deals” and the other way—adopted by Schreiner—is a “take-no-prisoners” posture.
A prosecutor decries Schreiner’s “temper,” saying he “he goes off, he loses it,” adding:
“Usually, it takes a judge awhile to become arrogant. He’s already arrogant.”
1998 Case Recalled
Criminal defense attorney Anthony Salerno, a past president of the Italian American Lawyers Association, recounts in an e-mail:
“I did a murder trial against him in about 1998, People v. Quincy Collins. There were two counts. There was one acquittal and one conviction. The conviction was reversed for two issues; evidentiary error and prosecutorial misconduct (Steve mentioned a witness in opening statement which he knew he didn’t have under subpoena).”
I remember the Quincy Collins case, having tried it twice. Mr. Salerno’s allegation: “Steve mentioned a witness in opening statement which he knew he didn’t have under subpoena” is simply false.
After Quincy Collins murdered Sean Crosby in Long Beach, California, he fled to Delhi, Louisiana. When Long Beach Police Department detectives located him in Delhi, he was in the hospital with a gunshot wound. As the murder weapon had followed Collins from Long Beach to Delhi, Collins prevailed upon his family to dispose of the weapon. It ultimately fell upon Marvin Myles, Collins’ cousin, to retrieve the gun and “throw it in the swamp.” Myles couldn’t bear to do so, so he hid it instead. Myles ultimately admitted to retrieving and hiding the weapon on Collins’ behalf.
Understandably, the defendant’s relatives were not anxious to cooperate in a prosecution of their kin. I went to great lengths to ensure the appearance of Felicia Banks, Lashonda Johnson, and Marvin Myles by working with the Quachita Parish District Attorney through the Interstate Compact. Ultimately, they were brought into court by the local DA and ordered to go to California, escorted by Detective Kevin Oswell of the Delhi Police Department. …
The end result was the witnesses were not only in California, but in the DA’s office lobby when I made my opening statement. When the 5th Amendment issue arose, each of the three was appointed counsel. The court ultimately ruled that each had a potential 5th Amendment concern due to being accessories after the fact. As their actions occurred in Louisiana, I couldn’t offer them immunity.
The court cured the problem by allowing me to play tapes of their interviews with detectives. Ultimately the Court of Appeal reversed due to the admission of this hearsay evidence. I retried Collins in 2001, again bringing in the same witnesses, and again convicted Collins of First Degree Murder.
The attached minute orders corroborate the presence of each of the witnesses and their subsequent invocation of their right against self-incrimination as well as the court’s excusing of the witnesses.
“[T]he witness to whom I am referring is not among the group of witnesses brought in from Louisiana. The witness to whom I am referring was Quincy Collins’ ex-girlfriend….It was her prior statement that Mr. Schreiner mentioned during his opening statement, yet she was never under subpoena.”
The opinion, filed Dec. 1, 1999, was supplied by Salerno. Authored by then-Justice Dan Curry of this district’s Div. Four, it declares there to have been prosecutorial error, but not misconduct.
The court reverses on the primary ground that the tape recordings were inadmissible hearsay. It includes this discussion:
“Our Supreme Court has said that ‘remarks made in an opening statement cannot be charged as misconduct unless the evidence referred to by the prosecutor was so patently inadmissible as to charge the prosecutor with knowledge that it could never be admitted. [Citation.]’…Under this standard, the reference to the Griffin testimony may have been an innocent mistake. However, it appears that the prosecutor intended from the start to play the interview tapes of the three Louisiana witnesses rather than put them on the stand. In that case, much of the ‘testimony’ that the prosecutor told the jury they would hear from these witnesses constituted patently inadmissible hearsay. We presume that on retrial the prosecutor will have a better grasp of the identity of the witnesses who will and will not be called to testify, and that this problem will not recur.”
Schreiner, 57, received a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1984, and was admitted to the State Bar on Dec. 11, 1986.
He is not married.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company