Friday, March 21, 2014
Candidate Expresses Regret Over Profanity in Argument to Jury
Deputy District Attorney Schreiner and Criminal Defense Lawyer Stein Each Accuses the Other of Having a Misleading Ballot Designation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles deputy district attorney who is running for a judgeship yesterday expressed regret over his use of profanity in addressing a jury, but said he was intent on budging jurors from their deadlock.
The remarks by Steven Schreiner, one of three candidates for Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 87, came on July 23, 2013, in the case of People v. Orozco, tried in Long Beach in the courtroom of Judge Tomson Ong. Four defendants were charged in connection with a gang homicide and robbery.
After jurors announced that they were deadlocked, Ong permitted each side a 10-minute reargument.
There were indications that jurors had been affected by the acquittal in Florida, 10 days earlier, of a man who, while on neighborhood patrol, fatally shot an unarmed 17-year-old African American, Trayvon Martin.
“In fact,” Schreiner said in an e-mail, in response to an inquiry from the MetNews, “a protest line was staged outside the Long Beach courthouse through which the jurors had to pass on their way to lunch.”
After jurors announced they had reached an impasse, Ong directed them to put any questions they had in writing. Schreiner recounted:
“They were particularly concerned about the race of two of the defendants.”
Two of them were African American.
Transcript of Argument
A transcript of the ensuing remarks to the jury shows that Schreiner told jurors:
“We have been here for months. This trial has taken six weeks. The investigation took a year, and we got people coming in here talking about race and other bullshit that has nothing to do with this case.”
At another point, he said he didn’t “give a crap” about one of the four defendants, but was confining his present remarks to “three killers [who] do this for a living.”
Personally vouching for the prosecution’s case, Schreiner declared:
“This is the most thoroughly investigated, thoroughly documented case I have ever seen, bar none, bar none.”
He also said that “something stinks in that jury room” and proclaimed:
“It’s not going to get any better the next time around. It just means 12 other people are going to have to do your job for you at the cost of another half million to the public—and those of you who are holding this up and disregarding the evidence should be ashamed of yourselves.
“It is appalling.”
In a new trial motion following convictions, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Kwanq Chul Ma declared that Schreiner’s argument “was not based on evidence, but instead based on influencing the emotions of the jurors,” and charged:
“Prosecution’s argument included yelling, slamming of hands on furniture and physical demonstrations of emotion by the Prosecutor. Prosecution argued that the Jury had to be biased, otherwise would have come to a verdict already.”
Bellflower criminal defense attorney Andrew Stein, a competitor in the contest on the June 3 ballot, has charged, based on the transcript, that Schreiner “doesn’t have the judicial temperament to be a judge.”
Deputy City Attorney Tom Griego, the third person in the contest, did not respond to an e-mail yesterday asking if he joins in Stein’s assertion.
“In retrospect, I could have chosen words other than ‘bullshit’ and ‘crap’ at the point I used them. Other equally strong words could have been chosen to accomplish the goal of moving the jury from a deadlock position. Nonetheless, my argument in that phase was made without objection from any of the parties or the court; this in a trial that had seen more than its share of defense objections. In fact, in the subsequent “Motion for New Trial,” the court made the specific finding that there was no prosecutorial misconduct, only juror misconduct.”
He also explained:
“In the brief period of time allotted, I attempted to respond to the juror questions and to persuade them to decide the case based on the evidence presented and not on outside issues. My goal was to convince the juror/jurors, who were bringing outside issues into the jury room, that doing so was a violation of their duty as jurors and simply wrong. I made this point as emphatically, passionately and honestly as I could. I pointed out to the jury that the detectives simply followed the evidence where it lead them and race was not an issue. The evidence was in the cell phone, cell site and wiretap evidence produced in trial. After seven more days of deliberation, the jury reached unanimous verdicts on each of the three murder defendants, finding each guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances.”
Taking the offensive, Schreiner charged:
“It is ironic that an attorney who claims to be qualified to be a Superior Court judge would illegally copy and distribute a transcript that is the property of Judge Ong’s court reporter. Either Mr. Stein did not know he was violating the law in doing so, or worse, he simply did not care. As a Deputy District Attorney for the past 27 years, I have been a passionate, honest advocate for the People. I have never been disciplined by the State Bar, nor cited by an Appellate Court for incompetence, something Mr. Stein cannot claim.
“Worse still, 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.”
Stein said in a recent interview that he is consulting with a copyright attorney to determine if the court reporter has a protectable interest in the transcript. He attributed his two public reprovals—in 1985 and 1993—to his youth, at the time.
Yesterday, he defended his own ballot designation and took issue with Schreiner’s.
Schreiner is listed as “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” Griego as “Criminal Gang Prosecutor,” and Stein as “Gang/Homicide Attorney.”
“My Designation was vetted by over 20 current sitting Superior Court Judges, as well as County Counsel. I provided documentation to the Registrar and County Counsel, and after reviewing that evidence, they found that a substantial portion of my work load was dedicated to Gang Homicides.(eg; of my last six trials in the previous calendar year, all but one involved either gang homicides, or attempted gang homicides).”
He questioned the accuracy of Schreiner’s designation on the grounds that he no longer handles gang prosecutions. Schreiner was transferred from Long Beach to Norwalk and is now a general trial deputy, he said.
Stein attributed that transfer to Schreiner’s misconduct in the Orozco case and another case, People v. Ragsdale.
In the latter case, he remarked, Schreiner sought the death penalty without the approval of higher-ups in the office, in contravention of office policy. The state Supreme Court stayed the proceedings, the lawyer noted.
The public reprovals he incurred “due to my inexperience over 27 years ago,” Stein said, “reflect less on present ability and fitness for office than Mr. Schreiner’s conduct in the Orozco and Ragsdale matters just 8 months ago.”
Schreiner denied that his transfer was punitive. He maintained:
“I was assigned to the Long Beach Branch for the last five years, The transfer to Norwalk was part of a normal rotation. No one in our office has ever told me anything other than that.”
He drew attention to the 2009 decision in Madrigal v. Yates in which the U.S. District Court granted habeas corpus relief to one of Stein’s clients in light of Stein’s “constitutionally deficient performance that resulted in prejudice to Petitioner.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has endorsed most of her deputies who are running for judgeships but has not endorsed Schreiner (nor Deputy District Attorney Carol Najera, who is opposing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Pierce). Former District Attorney Steve Cooley has endorsed Stein.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company