Monday, August 19, 2002
Altoon Orders Reporters From Courtroom, Permits Others to Stay
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alice Altoon on Friday ordered two journalists from her courtroom and called a halt to proceedings when they declined to leave while other members of the public remained.
Altoon told Metropolitan News-Enterprise reporter Kimberly Edds and Fox 11 News reporter Aidan Pickering they could remain at the pretrial hearing in the prosecution of former Beverly Hills lawyer Angela Wallace and her co-defendant, Timothy Mack, only if they promised not to report what they heard. The reporters rejected the condition and insisted on remaining in the courtroom if the rest of the public remained.
Altoon repeatedly told the reporters she distinguished them from other members of the public because “[t]hey’re not going to report it to everybody.”
“I don’t want it reported. This is not to be reported.”
At one point, a bailiff approached the two to take them out and noted that he would “get an escort.” Altoon warned Pickering that “I’d hate to have the bailiffs have to forcibly evict you.”
Earlier, Altoon ordered a Metropolitan News-Enterprise photographer to turn over her film after she had inadvertently taken a picture of the wrong criminal defendant.
The standoff over Edds and Pickering began when Mack asked to “go in pro per” and his attorney, Anthony R. Garcia, told Altoon that there were members of the media present.
It ended when Altoon returned from a recess and Garcia said his client did not have “a Marsden issue”—meaning Mack was not asking for a closed hearing for the purpose of determining whether there is an insurmountable conflict between the criminal defendant and his appointed counsel.
Altoon then proceeded to question Mack on his bid to go in pro per and accepted the motion.
Wallace and Mack are accused of embezzling $380,000 from the two sons of a dead Los Angeles police officer. Prosecutors say the brothers, Howard and Jontrae Byrdsong, were later gunned down by a man dressed as a postal worker at the Inglewood home where they had been staying while awaiting settlement of their mother’s estate.
Wallace has retained attorney Milton Grimes.
Under the 1970 California Supreme Court case of People v. Marsden, judges routinely conduct closed hearings when they believe a defendant’s differences with appointed counsel are so great that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel could be compromised. Prosecutors are generally excluded from Marsden hearings.
It is common for judges to interpret requests by defendants with appointed counsel as Marsden issues.
Instead of conducting an in-chambers hearing or asking that the courtroom be completely cleared, Altoon ordered only the prosecutors and the reporters to leave.
The judge repeatedly rejected Edds’ assertion that she and Pickering had a right to remain for a public proceeding.
“We have a right to be here,” Edds told Altoon. “It is a public courtroom.”
The judge responded:
“You have a right to be here, ma’am. You do not have a right to report this proceeding.”
After Edds replied, “We have a right to report anything that goes on in a public courtroom,” Altoon set aside the matter and continued with the rest of her calendar. But the other matters were interrupted as Deputy District Attorney Marcia Daniel asked whether she needed to stay, and Altoon responded that she would wait until Edds and Pickering left—or promised not to report.
During the proceedings, Superior Court Public Information Officer Allan Parachini telephoned Altoon to assess the situation and suggested that she hold the hearing in chambers. But Parachini said the judge did not indicate at that point what she was going to do.
After accepting Mack’s motion to be allowed to represent himself, and setting a Sept. 6 trial date, Altoon said:
“And for the benefit of the media that’s out there, I guess I have to make a clearer record than I did.”
The judge then said that she “anticipated a Marsden hearing.”
“So that’s why I didn’t want it reported,” she said, “because that is confidential, that record is always sealed, so the record is clear.”
The film that Altoon ordered confiscated was later returned by the court.
The roll of film was taken when the MetNews photographer took a picture of a male defendant appearing in a case that was being heard before Mack’s and Wallace’s was called. A form was on file and signed by Altoon under Rule of Court 980, which allows the judge in her discretion to permit photographs. But the form was only for Wallace.
“Does that look like Angela Wallace?” Altoon asked the photographer. “That’s a man.”
The judge permitted the photographer to remain and take pictures of Wallace. But Grimes objected and stood between his client and the photographer.
Altoon brought up photography in courtroom again in the midst of her exchange with Edds and Pickering over their presence in the courtroom.
“You’ve got your boss, and I’ve got the law. You know, what do you want from me? Next time I’ll say no cameras, not even stills.”
Pickering asked if that was retaliation, but the judge left the bench at that point without responding.
Parachini told the MetNews that judges are “not hostile” to reporters doing their work, but may be unfamiliar with court protocols.
Altoon declined a reporter’s request for comments on her action in ordering the journalists to leave.
Transcript of Proceedings
THE COURT: This is the matter of people versus Timothy Mack and Angela Wallace.
Both defendants are present. Counsel, State your appearances.
MR. GRIMES: Milton Grimes representing Ms. Wallace, who is present out of custody.
MR. GARCIA: Anthony R. Garcia on behalf of Mr. Mack. Mr. Mack is here at the counsel table.
DEFENDANT MACK: And I want to go pro per. I want to represent myself.
THE COURT: All right. Just a movement[sic], Sir.
MS. DANIEL: Marcia Daniel for the people, standing in for Ron Gaudy.
THE COURT: All right. We’re here for a pretrial conference. And I think I better deal with this issue, first, that’s just come up. So I’ll ask all of the prosecutors to please step outside.
MR. GARCIA: Your honor, there are also representatives from the media. I ask that they be excused, otherwise –
THE COURT: Yes. This is a confidential hearing in the sense of I don’t want any of this in the newspaper. That’s why we have the prosecutors step outside during this kind of a hearing, Sir. So if the media would please step outside, I would appreciate it.
MR. PICKERING: your honor, I’m not trying to be difficult here, but if you’re letting the public stay – it is a public proceeding.
THE COURT: They’re not going to report it to everybody. They’re not going to report it to everybody. This is not a hearing that is to be reported, Sir. If I can get a guarantee that it is not going to be reported, then I’ll let you stay. If I don’t have that guarantee, you’re asked to leave.
MR. PICKERING: I can’t give you a guarantee that I ‘m not going to report what –
THE COURT: all right. Then you need to step outside.
MR. PICKERING: — happens in a public court.
THE COURT: then you need to step outside. Please, both of you, outside.
MS. EDDS: it is a public hearing.
MR. PICKERING: it is a public hearing. You cannot do that.
THE COURT: I don’t want it reported. This is not to be reported. That’s why we have the prosecutors go outside. They’re not even allowed to hear what the defendant has to say in this proceeding. You’re not guaranteeing me that you will not report it, so I’m going to ask you to leave. Please do so. Now.
MR. PICKERING: Well, your honor –
THE COURT: I know your objection. You may leave. Thank you.
THE BAILIFF: Let’s go, and let’s do it now.
MS. EDDS: We have a right to be here.
THE COURT: We’re not going to do the proceedings. Please leave now.
MS. EDDS: We have a right to be here. It is a public courtroom.
THE COURT: You have the right to be here, Ma’am. You do not have a right to report this proceeding.
MS. EDDS: We have a right to report anything that goes on in a public courtroom.
THE BAILIFF: I’ll get an escort.
THE COURT: We’ll do this later. This proceeding will be done later. Please take them inside. I have other matters to do. Get the prosecutors.
MR. GRIMES: They’re going to stay here all day, Judge.
THE COURT: Well, if they do, then we’ll stay here all day too. I’m here all day anyway. Not a problem. You know, I can only protect so many rights here at a time. When they conflict, then they conflict.
(Pause in proceedings.)
(Unrelated matters handled by the court.)
MS. LEWIS: Your honor, may I make an inquiry? Your honor, on the Mack and Wallace Case, since all of the prosecutors were out of the courtroom, the prosecutor here was wondering why everybody disappeared on it.
THE COURT: The reason is because I asked the press to step outside if they would not guarantee that they would not report the confidential hearing in the sense that the people and law enforcement are not supposed to know about it. They would not guarantee that to the court and so, therefore, I asked them to leave, and they refused, so we’ll do it later. We’ll call you when we’re ready.
MS. DANIEL: I don’t work in this building. That’s the problem.
THE COURT: okay.
MS. DANIEL: So I’ll just wait.
THE COURT: I’ll just wait until they decide to either cooperate with the court’s orders or leave of their own volition or guarantee the court that they will not report it, in which case they can stay as long as they like.
MR. PICKERING: I’ll be here all day.
THE COURT: I’m sorry?
MR. PICKERING: I’ll be here all day.
THE COURT: Well, you know, you can’t have it both ways. You either guarantee me you’re not going to report it, sir – because I’m not supposed to have the prosecution or law enforcement hear it. If you put it in the newspapers, they’re going to have access to it. You know?
MR. PICKERING: It is probably –
THE COURT: That’s all there is to it. If I need to have the Supervising Judge come up, I’ll do that.
MR. PICKERING: That’s fine. We can have a hearing, and we’ll bring counsel then.
THE COURT: Please do. That’s fine. That would be great. Because I’d hate to have the Bailiffs have to forcibly evict you. I mean, just tell me you won’t report it, and we’ll be happy. It will all be done.
MR. PICKERING: I don’t think we can make undertakings to Judges about what we’re going to report or not report. We can’t do that. It is a first amendment issue.
THE COURT: then don’t do it. Just sit here. Just sit here through my calendar. That’s fine.
MR. PICKERING: Can you do it at Sidebar or in Chambers?
THE COURT: I’m going to change my entire thing so I can have a defendant in my Chambers? I can’t do that. And I can’t have them come up to Sidebar. I’m in a difficult – You’ve put me in a really though position.
MR. PICKERING: you’ve put us in a tough position.
THE COURT: You’ve got your boss, and I’ve got the law. You know, what do you want from me? Next time I’ll say no cameras, not even stills.
MR. PICKERING: What, as retaliation for –
(Whereupon, the Judge left the courtroom.)
THE COURT: And for the benefit of the media that’s out there, I guess I have to make a clearer record than I did. I anticipated a Marsden hearing because most of my defendants who want to go pro per – It has always have a problem with their attorney. And the way Mr. Mack made that comment, I thought for sure that’s what it was. So that’s why I didn’t want it reported, because that is confidential, that record is always sealed, so the record is clear. Thank you.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company