Friday, August 9, 2002
Judge Rejects Request for Civil Grand Jury’s Rampart Materials
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday flatly rejected a motion to order release of secret grand jury transcripts from a probe of the Rampart police scandal.
Judge David S. Wesley told defense lawyer Gigi Gordon he had no authority to review confidential proceedings of the civil grand jury, which conducted a three-week investigation of Rampart earlier this year but disbanded in June without reporting its findings.
Wesley also abruptly cut off a prosecutor who seemed about to tell him what she recalled of the probe. Any “speculating or broadcasting” of what happened in confidential grand jury proceedings could result in sanctions, the judge said.
“I am really getting tired of hearing people tell me what goes on in the grand jury room,” Wesley told Deputy District Attorney Lael Rubin.
The ruling appeared to leave the issue of the grand jury’s work on Rampart in limbo. Gordon said the District Attorney’s Office had the obligation to determine whether anything was uncovered that would prove exculpatory to her clients. But district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said, “There is nothing else we can do. Our hands are tied due to the secrecy surrounding grand jury proceedings.”
Reports leaked earlier this year that the civil grand jury was investigating the Rampart matter, in which officers in the police division just west of downtown admitted planting evidence, falsifying police reports and lying on the stand to obtain convictions. Witnesses testified, but it is not clear exactly who or how many.
Gordon, who runs the Post Conviction Assistance Center in Culver City and represents about 2,500 people whose convictions may have been tainted by police misconduct, has wanted to get information from the Los Angeles Police Department about the scope of the corruption. She filed her request after learning of the February probe from news leaks.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, too, has tried to get the information from the probe made public or released to his office. Rubin told Wesley yesterday that the grand jury asked the District Attorney’s Office to assist in a report but that the 23-member watchdog group decided later not to make its findings public.
Cooley urged the grand jury several times to reconsider or, in the alternative, to turn over its data to his office and let him issue a report, Rubin said. The panel declined.
It was later revealed that the original transcript of the proceedings was stolen. Rubin said her office borrowed a copy from the grand jury but later returned it and has no other materials from the investigation, other than deputies’ own recollections.
Gordon said prosecutors have an obligation under Brady v. Maryland to take to Wesley in chambers any potentially exculpatory evidence they heard in the proceedings or saw in the transcript that was briefly in their possession. But the District Attorney’s Office has not yet turned over any Brady material.
“The prosecution has a constitutional obligation to turn over that material,” Gordon said. “The question is, does that constitutional obligation supersede grand jury secrecy. I think everyone would say that it does.”
Wesley is the chair of the Superior Court’s Grand Jury Committee and has been adamant about maintaining the confidentiality of proceedings.
“This is a constant problem for this court, especially with the District Attorney’s Office,” Wesley said yesterday, noting that prosecutors earlier this month asked for release of grand jury transcripts in the probe of a videotaped beating of a youth by an Inglewood police officer.
It was not immediately clear whether the new grand jury, which convened in July, has access to its predecessor’s work or has an interest in pursuing Rampart. Gibbons said she was not aware of any request by her office that the new panel reopen the probe.
It also was not clear just where the transcript of the proceedings is. One Superior Court official said it was most likely placed in a locked vault, where only another grand jury would be able to get it. But another official said it was most likely returned to the court reporter who prepared it.
Cooley promised in his 2000 campaign to get to the bottom of the Rampart scandal. In a statement to reporters last year he said his office was prepared to “close the book” on Rampart, but he later said there was more to do.
After the sentencing Wednesday for ex-officer Nino Durden, Head Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said prosecutors no longer saw Rampart as widespread.
“We probably had a situation along the lines of a communist cell-type model as opposed to a vast conspiracy,” Hodgman said.
In addition to Durden and his partner, Rafael Perez—whose arrest and subsequent revelations touched off the scandal—seven other officers have been prosecuted. Two are awaiting sentencing, one is awaiting trial, one was acquitted and three were found guilty but had their convictions overturned by the trial judge. Cooley’s office is appealing the ruling.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company