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320 Criminal Cases Slip Through Court Crack

Times Staff Writer

More than 200 bench warrants have been issued in an effort to round up felony defendants who managed to elude prosecution in Inglewood Municipal Court, because the complaints against them were stored on a clerk’s shelf and never pursued, the court’s presiding judge said Thursday.

The Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported Thursday that 320 cases, nearly all involving narcotics violations resulting from the sale of drugs to undercover officers, had slipped through the system over a three-year period.

Understaffing Blamed

In a prepared statement read by a clerk, Judge William Ormsby, blamed the mix-up on “understaffing of the court . . . which leads to situations where there is inadequate communication between the law enforcement agencies . . . and the court clerk.”

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Ormsby, who did not respond to requests for an interview, said in his statement that the 211 defendants for whom bench warrants will be issued “will be arraigned after they are taken into custody, after which their cases will be brought to trial.”

“The remaining 109 cases are being reviewed to get a fix on the status of each case so appropriate action may be taken,” he said.

The district attorney’s office learned of the missing files after a routine review of the office’s computerized tracking system turned up three cases that appeared to have vanished, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter Berman, who is in charge of the Inglewood office. Subsequent investigation led to the discovery of 320 complaints stacked in the clerk’s office and marked “open cases.”

“It’s very difficult to identify a single problem that caused this,” Berman said Thursday.

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He contended, however, that the clerk’s office was at fault.

“I don’t think you’re going to find another clerk’s office where they put cases on a shelf and don’t notify anyone,” he said.

Office Defended

Joseph White, clerk of the Inglewood court, declined comment, but Ormsby defended White’s office, saying, “This is not a situation where fingers should be pointed, nor fault found.”

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Berman said it “could take years” to determine how many cases will be lost as a result of the misplaced complaints. In some cases, narcotics evidence may have been destroyed, and in others, defense attorneys can be expected to argue that their clients’ right to a speedy trial was violated.


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