Former Sheriff Lee Baca Wants His Trial Moved Out Of L.A.
Back in August, a federal judge rejected Lee Baca's six month plea deal as too lenient, meaning the former Los Angeles County Sheriff is presently set to stand trial on charges of lying to federal investigators. Now, it looks like Baca is trying to get that trial the hell out of town—and away from U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, who has already handed down harsh sentences to others involved in the jail corruption scandal.
The Daily News reports that Baca's lawyers filed three motions in federal court last week, asking that the trial be moved out of the federal court’s Central District (preferably to Riverside or Orange County), and that Anderson be disqualified from the case because of his "bias" against Baca. Last we checked, handing down tough sentences for abominable behavior and utter abuse of power didn't exactly qualify as bias, but okay. Baca's case was made more complicated in June, when he announced that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
So, what exactly makes Anderson so biased, at least according to Team Baca? Well, back in 1991, Anderson was a member of the Independent Commission of the Los Angeles Police Department (aka "the Christopher Commission"), which authored "a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD," in the wake of the Rodney King beating. The group came to the shocking conclusion that a) there were officers within the LAPD who repetitively used excessive force and ignored department guidelines, b) that the department had failed to properly discipline "problem" officers, and c) that the LAPD should be held to "a new standard of accountability." According to the Daily News, Baca's lawyers cite Anderson's involvement with the report as evidence that the judge is biased against law enforcement. For what it's worth, Erwin Chemerinsky—widely known as one of the preeminent scholars in United States constitutional law and federal civil procedure—wrote in a 2001 law review article that the Christopher Commission, "by all accounts, did a superb job in a very short time."
Baca's lawyers have also asked that his trial, which is set to begin in December, be relocated from Los Angeles because “the constant, inflammatory, and far-reaching media coverage surrounding this matter," would make "a trial within the Central District of California, particularly within Los Angeles County," a violation of Baca’s due process rights. According to the Daily News, Baca's lawyers would like to see the trial held in Riverside or Orange County. What, was Simi Valley unavailable?
In a statement to LAist, George Hofstetter, President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), wrote that ALADS applauded Anderson for throwing out Baca's "slap on the wrist" plea agreement. "We do not support moving the trial out of Los Angeles," Hofstetter wrote (emphasis his).
"A six-month sentence would have been a travesty of justice. Baca knew what was going on, and he perpetuated and encouraged the culture. And, when confronted with the mess he had created, he blamed his subordinates instead of taking responsibility as a leader should. Seven lower-ranking sheriff’s officials were sent to prison for 18 months to more than three years for their roles in the scandal. Baca’s henchman, former Lt. Paul Tanaka, received a five-year prison sentence last month after being convicted in a related obstruction-of-justice case. The former Sheriff deserves no less."