PD’s Office Said Three Months Ago That Its Deputy Diana Teran Is Being Paid Out of Its Funds While She Is on Loan to DA; It Confirmed in July She’s on Loan; DA’s Office Says That It’s Paying Her, Won’t Say As of When
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Slated to come before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roger Ito this morning is a motion to disqualify the county’s Office of District Attorney from continuing to handle habeas corpus proceedings in a case in which a prosecutor is on loan from the Office of Public Defender and—according to the moving party—remains on its payroll.
The District Attorney’s Office yesterday insisted that it is paying Deputy Public Defender Diana Teran but declined to say when that began.
The disqualification motion was made by attorney Kathleen Cady of the Dordulian Law Group on behalf of the children of the victims of a slaying during the course of a robbery 25 years ago. The man convicted of the crimes, Samuel Zamudio, is contesting his death sentence.
Recusal is sought of the entire District Attorney’s Office or, at the least, ejectment from the case of prosecutor Teran—who is being paid $218,042.04 per year by the Public Defender’s Office, according to information provided by that office to the Dordulian Law Group in response to a Public Records Act (“PRA”) request—and Deputy District Attorney Shelan Joseph, a former deputy public defender.
The District Attorney’s Office was queried in an email as to Cady’s allegation. It was asked:
“If it is not true that Ms. Teran is being paid by the Public Defender’s Office, and she is being paid by the DA’s Office, when did she go on the DA’s Office payroll?”
The media relations department provide a statement from Alex Bastian, special advisor to District Attorney George Gascón, advising:
“Ms. Teran’s salary comes out of the LADA’s office budget.”
There was no response to a follow-up question pressing for when this came about, conceivably having occurred after the recusal motion was served.
Bastian also said:
“Due to Ms. Cady’s lack of notice in her filing earlier this week, the parties have requested a continuance to respond to her motion in writing. More details will be provided in our response to the court. Ms. Cady’s motion lacks merit and we are confident it will be denied.”
Cady related yesterday that she anticipates Ito will grant a continuance at today’s session. She noted that the District Attorney’s Office has expressed a preference for an Aug. 25 hearing.
Payment of Salary
Cady’s memorandum of points and authorities in support of her motion expresses an understanding on her part that the county’s criminal defense office is paying the salary of a temporary prosecutor, maintaining:
“It is inconceivable that the Public Defender’s Office would pay that amount of money and essentially give up a staff ‘position’ without deriving some benefit from that expenditure. The mental gymnastics one must employ to figure out what it means to have a public defender on loan to the district attorney’s office is frankly mind boggling.”
“It is inconceivable that the District Attorney, the Public Defender and whomever at County Counsel or the Board of Supervisor’s office approved this arrangement were unable to perceive any irregularity with this arrangement.”
The information upon which Cady relies is provided in an April 29 email to her from the Public Defender’s Office, in response to a PRA request, reflecting a $218,042.04 annual salary being paid to Teran by that office. A May 24 PRA response from the District Attorney’s Office shows that Teran is “[o]n loan” to it “from the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office,” and a July 16 email from Michael K Suzuki, chief of the Employee Relations Division of the Public Defender’s Office confirms that Teran remains on loan to the prosecution office.
The lawyer, whose firm is in Glendale, said yesterday that when a county employee is loaned by one county department to another, payment of the employee’s salary continues to be made from the lending department’s budget.
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley remarked yesterday:
“Gascón has front loaded his upper management and policy makers with very recent deputy public defenders. The conflicts are not just theoretical, they are real and breathtaking in sheer number and the importance of cases.
“It is not just who is paying the salaries and when they were employed by whom, the conflicts involves real cases, real victims, and real defendants where that group has handled both sides.”
Supported Gascón’s Directives
Joseph joined the Public Defender’s Office on Aug. 16, 1996 and left it last March 28, switching to the District Attorney’s Office on April 1. On Jan 14, she signed a declaration under penalty of perjury in connection with the challenge by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (“ADDA”) to certain special directives issued by District Attorney George Gascón on Dec. 7, his first day in office.
She provided support for the policies, ones which proved highly controversial. The then-deputy public defender noted in the declaration:
“For the last two years I have been assigned as the Assistant Special Circumstance coordinator. In that capacity, I oversaw all cases where the death penalty may be imposed. As such, all cases had special circumstances filed.”
In her new role in Gascón’s office, she responds to inmates’ habeas corpus petitions and, in a June 29 email to a daughter of one of Zamudio’s victims, said “that we are considering settlement in this case.” Gascón said in one of his Dec. 7 directives that his office “will not defend existing death sentences.”
Cady, in her memorandum, noted:
“As a deputy public defender Joseph not only advocated for defendants, but lectured defense attorneys on how to effectively negotiate capital cases.”
She asserted that Gascón “seeks to implement his policies through ‘settlement,’ while ignoring his oath to follow the law.”
The memorandum goes on to say:
“We respectfully submit that a crime victim’s constitutional ability to enforce his or her enumerated rights should include a mechanism for the Court to remove a prosecutor and/or prosecuting agency that has flagrantly violated those rights.”
Recusal at the instance of victims should occur, Cady acknowledged, “on exceedingly rare occasions,” but declared:
“This is just such an occasion. Because of the egregious conduct of the elected District Attorney in this case, the entire District Attorney’s Office should be removed. At the very least Ms. Joseph and Ms. Teran must be removed to avoid an actual conflict as well as the appearance of impropriety.”
Standing in Question
Since Gascón became district attorney and announced policies favoring leniency in sentencing, various motions have been made on behalf of the families of direct victims, citing “Marsy’s Law,” a statute according to them a right to an audience in sentencing proceedings. Los Angeles Superior Court judges have ruled routinely that victims and survivors of persons who were slain lack standing to make motions.
However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rob B. Villeza, in a May 24 order, granted the relief sought by Cady, but on his own motion, holding that her clients lacked standing. Villeza reinstated enhancements that were alleged in a case before Gascón took office and which, in obedience to a directive of his, a deputy moved to have withdrawn, to which the judge initially consented.
(Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant had ruled on Feb. 8, in response to the ADDA’s bid for a preliminary injunction, that it was “unlawful” for Gascón to require “that deputy district attorneys move to dismiss special circumstance allegations that cannot be dismissed by law,” but the ruling provided prospective relief, only.)
Cady’s memorandum does not ask Ito to grant the motion sua sponte should he find a lack of standing on the part of the proponents, though that remains a prospect.
High Court Opinion
The April 21, 2008 California Supreme Court opinion upholding Zamudio’s conviction and death sentence recites these facts:
“On Sunday, February 11, 1996, the dead bodies of 79-year-old Elmer Benson and 74-year-old Gladys Benson were found in their home. The evidence presented at trial established that defendant, who lived next door to, was friends with, occasionally did household chores for, and owed money to, the Bensons, stabbed them to death and stole their property.”
Cady commented on Tuesday, in an email:
“The victim’s family is devastated by the brutal murder of their elderly parents. They are retraumatized by Gascón’s policies and impropriety.”
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