Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Oki Says He Regrets Decision, but Is Not to Blame for Releases
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dan Oki, who faces three challengers in the March 2 primary, said yesterday he regrets his decision to order felony arraignments halted at 4:30 p.m. on May 28 but never anticipated it would result in the release of criminal suspects.
Oki, who cited the election challenge as the reason he decided not to seek election next year to the post of assistant presiding judge, said he would not have issued the controversial order had he known it would cause those who could not be arraigned to be released. He said he believed the Los Angeles Police Department would immediately re-arrest them and continues to believe police could have done so.
“The failure, if you want to call it that, was a failure of the entire criminal justice system,” Oki asserted.
“Had I known that it would result in this sequence of events that ultimately allowed the release of anyone considered dangerous, I would have found some other way to resolve the problem.”
Oki, who was then criminal courts supervising judge, and Judge David Wesley, then the assistant supervising judge and now supervising judge and also facing election opposition, have been accused by Association of Deputy District Attorneys President Steven Ipsen of “an intentionally engineered plan to send some kind of warped message to the DA’s office” by causing the May 28 releases. The released suspects were ordered by arraignment court Commissioner Jeffrey Harkavy to return the next day, but some did not and one has been charged with a subsequent murder.
Ipsen took out a full-page ad in a local legal daily urging candidates run against Oki, Wesley and one other judge.
Oki provided the MetNews yesterday with a seven-page account of efforts dating back to 2001 to resolve delays in Div. 30, where Harkavy presided, and of the events of May 28 (see box, page 4). Oki said on some occasions Harkavy, who commutes by train, had been forced to spend the night in his courtroom because arraignments could not be completed until after the last train had already left.
According to Oki’s written account, in which the judge refers to himself in the third person, a “management-level” meeting on March 20, which included prosecutors, police agencies, and public defenders, resulted in “[a]ll parties... pledging to make a concerted effort to reduce the late filings,” but did not succeed actually resolving the problem.
Oki said he expected that the Los Angeles Police Department would re-arrest those who could not be arraigned by the time the court closed, permitting them to remain in custody. But after consulting with the City Attorney’s Office, the LAPD declined to comply with a request from the Sheriff’s Department that it do so, he asserted.
Oki’s account of the events of May 28 declares that he advised the District Attorney’s Office that he would authorize keeping Div. 30 open beyond 4:30 p.m. only if that office would agree to reimburse the court for overtime expenses for clerks, bailiffs and reporters. When that office rejected the proposed arrangement, Oki “indicated that he had no choice but to stop arraigning defendants at the designated close of the official court hours,” the account explains.
“Neither Judge Oki, nor Judge Wesley..., intended or ordered that any defendant who was not arraigned by 4:30 p.m. be released from custody,” the account explains.
“According to a Sheriff’s Department report of the incident, discussions between their office, the LAPD Liaison Officer, Commissioner Harkavy, and the Deputy District Attorney determined that the best course of action would be for the Sheriff’s Department to release the remaining individuals, and that LAPD would re-arrest them upon their release.”
The problems that led to the May 28 events have since been resolved, Oki said, explaining that prosecutors and detectives have now been assigned to work on busy weekends to ensure that complaints are ready earlier on the following court days. May 28 was the Wednesday following the Monday Memorial Day holiday.
The budget crisis facing the courts had resulted in the first layoffs in the court’s history, Oki said.
“If we had kept the courts open for the benefit of the police and the District Attorney’s Office, regularly incurring overtime, we would have had to lay off more of our employees for reasons beyond the court’s control,” the judge asserted. “I don’t say I am free of blame in what ultimately happened. It was certainly my decision to stop arraigning people. But I don’t accept responsibility for creating the situation that made that occur.”
The controversy played no part in the end of his tenure as criminal courts supervising judge, Oki said, explaining that he and Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes made plans in January to turn the criminal court reins over to Wesley in mid-year. But both the controversy and the election challenge influenced his decision not to run for assistant presiding judge next year, he said.
“I’ve had my fill of court management positions” for now, Oki said, though he declined to rule out a bid for the APJ spot in 2006.
“I would never say never,” he commented.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company