CORRUPTION WATCH-Hamlet anguished over “To be or Not to Be,” but in November, 2016 Californians quickly answered the question of “To Kill or Not to Kill” with a rousing “Kill ‘Em.” Then Californians slapped on an addendum – “Kill ‘Em Faster.”
Prop 66 also gives a lot of power to the trial court judge who has presided over a legal case to thwart an effective review of the conviction. Due to legal challenges, the California Supreme Court put Proposition 66 on hold and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Ming Chin had to recuse themselves from hearing the case since they are two of the defendants. The Los Angeles Times has discussed the procedural aspects of this case.
We Cannot Entrust Our Lives to the California Courts
California’s judiciary is an ethical swamp. As briefly discussed in a prior CityWatch article, California’s court system is a disgrace to the notion of justice.
People who are used to living within a polluted environment come to accept the status quo without question. In the 1950s many people inhaled the exhaust of buses, feeling good about the sign of progress, oblivious to the dangers of lead poisoning and other toxins. Many people fought against cleaning the air and still argue in favor of smog and against a clean environment. When assessing the State of California’s judicial ecology, take a look at the air quality in Beijing during one of China’s smog alerts.
This China analogy provides a rough idea of the polluted nature of California’s judicial climate. In November 2016, Californians voted against cleaning their judicial system of one of its worse carcinogens by retaining the death penalty. Then they went a step further to ensure that innocent people are put to death. This language may sound strong to many, but they do not know the rot which has eaten away the moral fiber of our judicial system.
Given the number of people nationwide on death row who have already been found innocent, California could have about 30 innocent people awaiting execution. Prop 66 would reduce the chance of ascertaining who is innocent before they are executed. Prop 66 gives new meaning to the phrase, “Speed Kills.”
The Courts Have Brought Us Some of California’s Most Memorable Murders
Fifty-four people died in the aftermath of the exoneration of the police officers in the Rodney King trial held in Simi Valley. Angelenos do not know, however, how the California State court maneuvered the acquittal of those police officers (two of whom were subsequently convicted of federal civil rights violations in the federal court room of Judge John G. Davies.)
Back in 1992, the Law and Order judiciary feared that if the police officers involved in the 1991 beating of Rodney King were tried in the downtown criminal courts building, that a Los Angeles jury would convict them. The feeling was the same if the trial were to have been held at the Van Nuys Criminal Courthouse, which served the area where Rodney King was beaten.
Thus, a bogus claim was made that the LAPD Officers could not get a fair trial and the case had to be moved. The California appellate court came up with two alternatives: Oakland which they knew would be labeled too expensive by the District Attorney’s Office, and Simi Valley, a nearby bedroom community for police officers. Gerrymandering the location of the trial made an acquittal a foregone conclusion and thus the court laid the ground work for the deaths of fifty-four innocent people. Had the California courts allowed the prosecutions to proceed in a fair manner, the State court outcome would most likely have mirrored the officers’ later convictions in federal court where two of the officers were found guilty and served prison time.
The Rodney King case was not the first time the California judiciary has been implicated in outrageous injustices. Anyone who has spent time in courtrooms gains a sense of when something hinky is going on. The situation was worse with the LA criminal courts since many of the judges were former prosecutors who worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office to obtain convictions.
For our purposes, the most significant fact is that many judges are former prosecutors. The judges knew that lying jailhouse informants were being used. Before they were judges, they had worked in the DA’s office where the use of lying jailhouse informants was routine.
In the Mid-1990s We Were Explicitly Told that Innocent People Were Being Set up
After pleading no contest to a perjury charge in 1996, Detective Mark Fuhrman of OJ Trial fame, asserted that “all true cops lie, cheat and set people up.” But no one wanted to hear the truth, especially from a disgraced cop whom they incorrectly blamed for the loss in the OJ trial. (Fuhrman’s perjury conviction was later expunged.)
Before the end of the 1990s, we learned about the scandals at the Ramparts Division with the LAPD being placed on parole under the supervision of the United State Department of Justice, effective June 15, 2001. Once again, criminal court judges are very often former prosecutors who work very closely with the police. As we saw with the use of lying jail house informants, as former assistant district attorneys the judges had to be well aware of the illicit procedures by the district attorney and the police. The Rampart Scandal could not have existed without the support of the judges who allowed the unconstitutional abuses to grow to such proportions that the LAPD ended up having its own “Parole Officer” from 2001 until 2013.
While the LAPD emerged from the Consent Decree in 2013 as a transformed institution, the public never learned about the role the judges played in the use of jail house informants and condoning the abuses which resulted in the Consent Decree. Since there is no accountability for miscreant judges, the misconduct continues.
Prosecutors who use perjury did not die in the 1980s or in the 1990s or even in the 2000s. In January 2015, the 9th Circuit of local federal court complained about a prosecutor who took the witness stand and committed perjury. Even after his lying ways had been uncovered, the judiciary did nothing. Let’s be clear – not only did the prosecutor get an informant to testify, the prosecutor himself then took the stand to support the informant’s veracity. To aggravate matters, other courts had decided that the prosecutors had obtained the conviction in Baca's trial by the use of false evidence, but these other judges upheld the conviction.
“The 9th Circuit (the federal court) keeps seeing this misconduct over and over again,” commented Gerald Uelmen of the Santa Clara University School of Law. Nor, has the judicial misconduct ceased. Currently, the FBI is investigating the Orange County Sheriff Department’s long-term misuse of jail house informants. On Thursday, December 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the FBI’s investigation of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department use of jail house informants.
The investigation will focus on allegations that the OCDA and OCSD “systematically used jailhouse informants to elicit incriminating statements from specific inmates,” inmates who had been charged and were already represented by attorneys. The investigation will also examine if county prosecutors violated defendants’ rights to a fair trial by “failing to disclose promises of leniency that would have substantially undermined the credibility of the informants’ trial testimony.”
Since a high percentage of judges come from the district attorney’s office, they are well aware of these unconstitutional practices. Without the cooperation and supervision of the judges, these decades of serious constitutional abuses would not exist. We have to remember that we are not talking about short cuts to “catch the bad guys,” but rather, are plagued with intentional schemes to convict the innocent.
California’s Judges Preside over a System with an Epidemic of Misconduct
The three federal judges in the Baca Case did not limit their criticism to objecting to this one prosecutor’s behavior in that case, but they went on to charge that the California judicial system has “an epidemic of misconduct” and they laid the blame at the feet of the California State court judges who turn a blind eye.
These three federal judges’ observation on the lack of ethics in the California judiciary brings us full circle to Proposition 66. One thing which Proposition 66 does is return Habeas Corpus hearings to the original trial judge. Habeas Corpus is Latin for You May Have the Body. A person requests a court to free a person from jail, and if the court grants the request, it gives a Habeas Corpus order, which says, “You may have the body.”
Proposition 66 wants this vital decision to be made by the judge who has the highest likelihood of helping to railroad an innocent person to the death chamber. Before Proposition 66, the Habeas Corpus hearings were held before other judges who had no vested interest in denying this particular request. The last person on earth who should preside over a Habeas Corpus hearing is the judge who just orchestrated the conviction.
This aspect of Proposition 66 doubles down on the corrupt nature of the California judiciary, and it is not surprising that it contains this provision gutting Habeas Corpus hearings.
Assuming California has the same percentage of innocent people sitting on death row as other states, then about 30 innocent people are likely to die if Proposition 66 is found constitutional. For judges, who have helped railroad innocent people by looking the other way at prosecutorial misconduct, anything that reduces the chances that their complicity in wrongful convictions can be revealed is a good thing. As the saying goes, “dead men tell no tales.” They see Proposition 66 as a way to prevent their epidemic of misconduct from being exposed.
What Will Become of Proposition 66's Requirement that We Kill People Faster?
Rejecting Proposition 66 will not rectify the decades of judicial misconduct in the California judiciary. Rejecting Proposition 66 will, however, temporarily slow down California’s slide into an ethical morass.
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.