Lawyers in the battery trial of a Los Angeles County judge accused of shoving a woman after a dispute over a bag of dog waste clashed in court Wednesday during testy closing arguments, with the prosecutor suggesting the judge could be mentally ill and the defense attorney comparing the case to the Salem witch trials.
Deputy City Atty. Joshua Geller questioned the mental health of Superior Court Judge Craig Richman while acknowledging that the alleged victim is "a troubled person." Geller accused the defense of trying to smear the woman and said Richman went out of his way to continue engaging her until he snapped and pushed her to the ground.
"He, too, may be suffering from some undiagnosed mental condition," Geller said.
But defense attorney James Blatt accused city prosecutors of failing to adequately investigate the allegations against Richman and of being more interested in "going after that big target" than in seeking justice.
"This is going to be the city attorney's Salem witch trial," Blatt said. "This case, I believe, will haunt the city attorney's office."
The back-and-forth capped a weeklong trial that included conflicting accounts about how Richman pushed Connie F. Romero and dueling demonstrations about how Romero put a bag of dog feces in the judge's car. Romero, 51, says she daintily dropped it into the vehicle; Richman, 55, testified she threw it with a side-arm motion.
Richman is charged with one misdemeanor count of battery in connection with the July 18 incident near his Chatsworth home. Closing arguments began after Superior Court Judge Christine C. Ewell denied a request by the prosecution to add a charge of "impersonating a peace officer."
Geller said Romero told a neighbor of Richman, paramedics and police that she was pushed from behind. Her injuries corroborate her account, Geller told jurors, holding up photos of a scrape to the front of her knee, an injury to her wrist and a cut above her eye.
Geller said Romero told Richman she would return for the bag and was, in her own way, "trying to solve the problem" when she put it in the judge's car. Richman, the prosecutor said, could have treated the interaction as a funny story about "dog poop" but instead "turned it into a misdemeanor."
"He acted out of impulse and he acted out of frustration," Geller told jurors.
But Blatt said Romero admitted fraudulently collecting disability payments while earning — and not reporting — money for walking the dogs and cleaning a house in Richman's neighborhood. He also cited testimony by an emergency room doctor who said Romero was confrontational, verbally abusive and appeared to be mentally ill when he tried to treat her at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center.
"She has zero credibility," Blatt told the jury.
He said Richman, a former county prosecutor and a judge for eight years, showed great restraint. "He's not a bully. He's not mentally ill," Blatt said. "This case is about an abuse by the city attorney's office."
Jurors are now deliberating.