A final round of legal sparring as Baca's retrial nears

With his retrial on obstruction of justice charges scheduled to begin next week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca lost several judicial rulings Monday in a final round of pretrial legal jockeying.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ordered Baca not to wear a lapel pin that is a replica of the Sheriff’s Department’s star insignia. 

The pin, which Baca has continued to wear in public on his custom-tailored suits since retiring as sheriff, amounted to communicating with jurors and ran the risk of generating sympathy, prosecutors alleged in court filings and in arguments Monday. Baca also wore the pin throughout his first trial.

Anderson also sided with prosecutors on a request that Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, be barred from asking witnesses about programs that were in place under Baca that addressed jail issues and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. 

The testimony, Anderson ruled, was only marginally relevant to the charges Baca faces, could confuse jurors and would be a “waste of time.”

And Hochman lost a long-shot bid to convince Anderson that retrying Baca on charges he conspired with other sheriff’s officials in 2011 to obstruct an FBI investigation into abuse by deputies in county-run jails violated Baca’s constitutional rights. In court filings, Hochman argued Anderson acted rashly when he found the jury deadlocked in the first trial and declared a mistrial. As such, Hochman argued, a retrial was tantamount to double jeopardy — trying someone on the same criminal charges twice.

Anderson said he needed more time before deciding one important issue: whether to allow some or all of the testimony of a prominent psychiatrist who would tell jurors that Alzheimer’s disease, which Baca was diagnosed with last year, could explain why he allegedly made false statements to investigators during a 2013 interview about his involvement in the obstruction scheme. The statements are the basis for one of the charges Baca faces.

In the first trial, which ended in late December, all but one juror voted to acquit Baca of the obstruction charges. After several days of deliberating, Anderson found the panel was hopelessly stuck and declared a mistrial. Despite the result, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox quickly announced plans to retry Baca.

Baca will face the same two obstruction-related charges leveled against him in the first trial, as well as the charge of making false statements. Before the first trial, Anderson opted to break off the false statement charge and hold a separate trial on it, but reversed that decision at Fox’s request.

Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin early next week.

 

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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