A lawyer for a judge on trial for allegedly shoving a woman after a dispute over a bag of dog waste compared the case to the Salem Witch trials on Wednesday and accused the Los Angeles city attorney's office of unethically pursuing his client.
Attorney James Blatt told jurors during closing arguments that city prosecutors had failed to adequately investigate the allegations and relied solely on the word of the victim, whom Blatt described as mentally ill.
Blatt said the city attorney's office was more interested in "going after that big target" than listening to Superior Court Judge Craig Richman's account of what happened.
"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."
Richman, 55, is charged with one misdemeanor count of battery in connection with the July 18 incident near his Chatsworth home.
The city attorney's office contends that Richman pushed Connie F. Romero from behind. Romero, 51, suffered minor injuries including a cut above her eye and scrapes on her wrist and knee.
Blatt noted that Romero admitted in court that she was collecting disability payments at the time she was earning — and not reporting — $250 a month for walking the dogs and cleaning the house of a couple in Richman's neighborhood.
He also pointed to testimony by an emergency room doctor who tried to treat her at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center after the incident and who said Romero was aggressive, verbally abused him and appeared to be mentally ill. The doctor said Romero's behavior was so combative that she was reassigned to another physician.
"She has zero credibility," Blatt told jurors.
The attorney said in his closing argument that his client was acting as a "decent citizen showing respect" for his neighborhood when he stopped his car to ask Romero to pick up a bag of dog waste he saw her drop while walking three small dogs.
Romero, he said, refused and verbally abused Richman with a stream of profanity. Blatt took issue with the prosecutor's suggestion that Romero was trying to solve the dispute when she put the bag into Richman's car. Romero says she dropped the bag onto a seat; Richman said she threw it into his car.
Blatt described Romero as the aggressor, and said she walked onto Richman's driveway after he had parked in his garage and pushed him before the judge pushed her.
"She was enraged. She was angry. She lost control," Blatt argued. "There was a moment of mental illness."
He objected to Deputy City Atty. Joshua Geller's suggestion that the judge could have a mental illness and said Richman -- a former county prosecutor and a judge for eight years -- showed great restraint during the encounter with Romero.
"He's not a bully. He's not mentally ill," Blatt said. "He's done more for this community than you can imagine.... This case is about an abuse by the city attorney's office."