Tuesday, May 7, 2002
Two-Lawyer Defense Proposal Delays Trial of Former Rampart Officer Cohan
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A surprise proposal yesterday by former Rampart Officer Ethan Cohan to bring in a lawyer to defend him against perjury while allowing a second attorney to defend him against four other charges in connection with a 1998 beating of an 18th Street gang member could delay the 14-month-old case for months, Cohan’s attorney Harland Braun said.
“It appears to be a rather novel idea,” Deputy District Attorney Ron Goudy said of the plan.
A new lawyer would take six months to get up to speed on the case before he was prepared to go to trial, Braun said. Cohan’s trial was scheduled to start yesterday.
Goudy told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bob S. Bowers Jr. he needs more time to study the proposal.
Goudy said he knew nothing of the plan that would substitute Pasadena attorney Ira Salzman for Cohan’s original attorney, Braun, to defend the ex-officer against charges that he and four other LAPD anti-gang officers beat 18th Street gang member Gabriel Aguirre and then conspired to cover it up.
Goudy balked at substituting Salzman for Braun because Salzman represented “six or seven” 18th Street gang members in fighting a gang injunction that was signed by Cohan. Prosecutors are charging Cohan with lying in a declaration to obtain that same injunction.
Bowers agreed with Goudy that there is a conflict for Salzman in connection with the injunction, but said he saw no problem in having a “firewall” erected between Salzman, who would be the attorney of record for all charges against Cohan except perjury, and a second attorney, who would represent the ex-officer against the perjury charge.
Salzman argued his representation of the 18th Street gang members should not preclude him from representing Cohan because the injunction matter has been completed. But after being overruled by Bowers he suggested that another attorney, Robert R. Rico, be brought in to deal only with the perjury charge and allow him to be the attorney of record on the other counts.
“I would have nothing to do with [the perjury count],” Salzman promised the court.
Salzman is probably best known for representing ex-LAPD Sgt. Stacey C. Koon against federal charges in the Rodney King beating. Koon and LAPD Officers Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno were acquitted on most counts in the state trial, but Koon, the senior officer on the scene of the 1991 arrest and beating, and Powell, the officer who delivered most of the blows, were convicted in federal court and sentenced to 30 months in prison.
The attorneys are due back in court May 29 to discuss the substitution.
In addition to perjury, Cohan is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, filing a false police report, assault under the color of authority, and conspiracy. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of five years and two months in state prison.
During the preliminary hearing, Aguirre testified he was kicked in the legs, back, elbow and groin between “20 and 30” times by five officers, with most of the blows being delivered by Cohan. Officers Rafael Perez, Shawn Gomez, Manuel Chavez and Camerino Mesina were also on the scene that night.
In March, Mayor James Hahn approved a $590,000 settlement for Aguirre’s lawsuit against the city over the beating.
The request for two lawyers is the latest in a series of bizarre twists and turns in the 14-month-old case.
Three weeks ago Braun, who has been representing the ex-officer up until the last two court proceedings, said he has a conflict of interest because he has represented other Rampart officers in the past.
Braun said he could no longer represent Cohan because prosecutors were trying to get Cohan to talk about Rampart in general and Braun’s past clients could pose a conflict.
“There’s obviously a chance of conflict there,” Braun said. “It would inhibit Cohan’s ability to talk and my ability to represent him.”
Goudy said the District Attorney’s Office has not approached Cohan to talk about Rampart and that the conflict of interest was between Braun and his client.
Braun is representing actor Robert Blake, who was arrested last month on murder and conspiracy charges in connection with the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Braun denied that the sudden announcement of conflict just weeks before Cohan’s trial was to begin had anything to do with his representation of Blake.
Goudy expressed frustration that the months-long case is going to be dragged out even longer with the addition of a new lawyer who would have to familiarize themselves with the case material. The case has already been continued a number of times at Braun’s request because Cohan had been attending law school in New York and is currently studying for the July bar exam.
“[Braun has] had the material for a very long time,” Goudy said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company