Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Supreme Court Upholds Davis Veto of Rosenkrantz Parole
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Gov. Gray Davis acted within his constitutional authority in vetoing the release on parole of convicted murderer Robert Rosenkrantz, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a 5-2 decision, the justices overturned an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Gutman for Rosenkrantz’s release. That order was affirmed by this district’s Court of Appeal but stayed by the high court pending review.
The lower courts held that Davis had violated the 1988 amendment establishing the governor’s veto power over parole suitability of the Board of Prison Terms. The governor, they said, had acted contrary to the evidence presented at Rosenkrantz’s parole hearing and had established an unconstitutional blanket policy of vetoing parole for murderers.
But Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing yesterday for the court, concluded that judicial review of the governor’s parole decisions is more limited than the lower courts had held, and that there was enough evidence before the board to support the governor’s ultimate decision that Rosenkrantz is unsuitable for release.
Rosenkrantz is serving a 17-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder in the June 28, 1985, shooting death of Steven Redman, a former Calabasas High School classmate who exposed him as a homosexual. Rosenkrantz was 18 and had just graduated from high school when he shot Redman 10 times with an assault weapon.
The assault came after Redman and Rosenkrantz’s brother had broken into the Rosenkrantz family beach house, caught Rosenkrantz with another man, and assaulted him while yelling anti-gay epithets.
Prosecutors, who charged Rosenkrantz with first degree murder, said he waited all night in his car for Redman to come out of his Malibu condo. He then threatened to kill Redman unless he told Rosenkrantz’s father—Calabasas attorney Herbert Rosenkrantz—that the claim that Robert Rosenkrantz was gay was really a joke, and shot him 10 times with a newly purchased Uzi after Redman allegedly laughed.
Rosenkrantz has, by all accounts, been a model prisoner, studying computers and receiving several offers of post-release employment. But his efforts at rehabilitation were outweighed, the governor said, by the brutal nature of the crime, the planning involved, and the helplessness of the victim, whom Rosenkrantz continued to shoot as he lay on the ground.
Davis yesterday issued a statement commending the high court for “its well-reasoned decision upholding the voters’ intent in adopting Proposition 89 in 1988.”
The intent of the amendment, Davis said, was to institute close, multilevel scrutiny before a convicted murder could be released. “I take this responsibility very seriously and will continue to review each case thoroughly, “ the governor declared.
Davis praised the attorneys who backed his side of the case. Deputy Attorney General Robert D. Wilson argued it before the Superior Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court, while Los Angeles District Attorney supported Davis in an amicus brief. The governor’s position also drew support from law enforcement groups and from Crime Victims United of California.
Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office at San Quentin, who argued the case for Rosenkrantz, expressed dismay at the ruling.
“Today’s decision effectively eliminates parole in California during the Davis administration for murderers,” Specter told the Associated Press. “It slams the door on a model prisoner who has been rehabilitated and who is no danger in society.”
The case has been politically charged almost from the moment Rosenkrantz became eligible for parole seven years ago. Gay activists, backed by then-Assemblywoman Carol Migden, D-San Francisco, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, and Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, lobbied for Rosenkrantz’s release.
On the other hand, Cooley charged that predecessor Gil Garcetti’s decision—on which he later reversed himself—not to oppose parole was based on political considerations. Rosenkrantz’s local†attorney, Rowan K. Klein, in turn told reporters that Garcetti changed his position because he was in a tough race for re-election, which he ultimately lost to Cooley two years ago.
The judge who sentenced Rosenkrantz, James Albracht—who has since retired—supported parole and joined with Jewish and Catholic groups that filed an amicus brief in his behalf.
The high court rejected the governor’s argument that judicial review is limited to whether the governor followed the procedural requirements of Proposition 89, essentially that he read the board’s report and issue a timely, written decision.
The chief justice said, however, that the governor was only required to show that there was “some evidence” to support denial, the same standard required to uphold a denial by the board itself. The facts cited by Davis, he said, were sufficient to meet that standard.
George cited in particular the “dispassionate and calculated manner” in which the murder was committed and Rosenkrantz’s behavior after the crime and before he surrendered, including his purchase of ammunition for the Uzi and his posing for photographs with the weapon.
The chief justice also rejected the argument that Proposition 89 is an ex post facto law as applied to those, such as Rosenkrantz, who were convicted before the measure was enacted. The amendment, he reasoned, did not lengthen sentences but merely altered responsibility for the decision on release.
George was joined by Justices Marvin Baxter and Carlos Moreno and by Third District Court of Appeal Justice George Nicholson, sitting in place of the recused Justice Janice Rogers Brown. Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar concurred separately.
Justice Ming Chin, joined by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, dissented with regard to the ex post facto issue. Noting that Proposition 89 has been used in an overwhelming number of cases, the justice concluded that it is a roadblock to parole that cannot be applied retroactively according to the ex post clauses of the state and federal constitutions.
The case is In re Rosenkrantz, 02 S.O.S. 6067.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company