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Court Orders Release of Data on Kraft Defense Costs

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge who had sealed the records on defense costs in the Randy Kraft murder case was ordered by the 4th District Court of Appeal on Friday to release part of the records.

The case grew out of a lawsuit that was filed against Judge Luis A. Cardenas by Freedom Newspapers Inc., which publishes the Orange County Register. The documents were requested under the provisions of the California Public Records Act.

However, Cardenas said he would not issue an order to the county auditor to make the records available until he is officially notified of the appellate court order, which could take another month.

Cardenas added that he expects the Kraft defense attorneys to appeal the issue and that any orders to release the records might be held up pending that appeal.

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Denied Other Data

The appellate court ordered the release of records pertaining primarily to attorney fees but denied Freedom Newspapers’ request to see records pertaining to expenses, such as the hiring of investigators and other staff help, and the purchase of equipment, such as the computer Cardenas approved for the defense.

The appellate order, approved 2 to 1, was written by Presiding Justice John K. Trotter, with Justice Thomas F. Crosby concurring and Justice Edward J. Wallin dissenting.

Kraft, 42, is accused of 16 murders of young men in Orange County and another 21 murders. The prosecution has informed the court that it may use information pertaining to those additional murders, at least in the penalty phase of Kraft’s trial, if it reaches that stage.

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Cardenas has been overseeing the expenses of Kraft’s three court-appointed attorneys, but he has refused to let the public or the district attorney’s office see the records.

“I think the public should have access to the information about the defense costs, but not until after the trial is over,” Cardenas said Friday.

Estimated at $2 Million

The district attorney’s office has sent a notice to the Board of Supervisors estimating the Kraft defense costs at $2 million. Cardenas has refused to comment on that amount but said the public should understand that it costs far more to defend someone against 16 murder charges and an even higher number of murder allegations in a trial than it would to defend someone charged with a single murder.

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“I just think we need to protect Mr. Kraft’s rights to a fair trial, and any publicity about the costs of his defense could jeopardize that right,” Cardenas said.

But the appellate majority disagreed.

“The public’s right to information concerning the conduct of government business is a fundamental and necessary right,” Trotter stated, adding that “disclosure of the amount of public money expended in defense of Randy Kraft is very unlikely to be prejudicial relative to what has already been published.”

In his dissenting opinion, Wallin called the Kraft case a procedural nightmare and stressed that Cardenas should be upheld until someone can show why the public’s right to disclosure necessarily outweighs “a potential impairment to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

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Jab at Associate

But Crosby, supporting Trotter, took a few verbal jabs at Wallin for implying that Kraft’s due process rights may be violated.

“Not one, not two, but three veteran criminal specialists have been named by the Superior Court to defend him. Some denial of due process,” Crosby declared.

William J. Kopeny, one of three Kraft attorneys, said Friday that he will file some kind of appeal. But he said he did not know yet if it would be for a rehearing before the appellate court or a direct appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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