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D.A. Joins Call for Grand Jury Inquiry of Jail Informants

Times Staff Writer

In a surprise move, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has joined two leading defense lawyer organizations in calling for an independent grand jury investigation of the use of jailhouse informants, it was learned Friday.

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregory Thompson confirmed the move, saying: “We thought it was in the public interest that they conduct an independent review. . . . It’s a matter of public confidence in the system.”

Thompson confirmed that he and two other top prosecutors, Assistant Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay and Richard Hecht, director of the district attorney’s branch operations, met recently behind closed doors with a committee of the 23-member Los Angeles County Grand Jury that concerns itself with criminal justice matters.

The grand jury, which was asked last month by defense lawyers to conduct a more far-reaching investigation, has not announced whether it will conduct an inquiry. Attempts to reach spokesmen for the panel Friday night were unavailing.

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Calls for investigations have come in response to disclosures that began last October when longtime informant Leslie Vernon White demonstrated that he could gather enough information to fabricate the murder confession of a defendant he had never met.

A source familiar with the district attorney’s position said prosecutors want the grand jury to conduct a review of the use of jailhouse informants by police agencies and the district attorney’s office, but steer clear of reviewing individual cases in which informants testified, the source said.

Prosecutors suggested that reviewing individual cases would be time-consuming and have little impact since only courts have the power to reverse convictions found to have been obtained with perjured informant testimony, the source said.

The district attorney’s office has said it is encouraging defense attorneys to challenge in court any questionable convictions involving informant testimony.

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The source said the district attorney’s office, which usually provides an attorney to advise the grand jury, should not be involved in providing legal advice during a grand jury review, and noted that such advice could come from the state attorney general’s office, the county counsel’s office or from a “special counsel” appointed by the courts.

Thompson, in confirming the source’s account, said: “Suffice it to say that we just decided that we should not be the body that advises them on this. . . . We have our own focus of inquiry (aimed at reviewing jailhouse informant cases and bringing questionable cases to court for review) and we’re doing that. But if theirs is to be truly independent, it ought to be truly independent of us too.”

Gigi Gordon, a spokeswoman for the defense lawyer groups who requested in December that a special prosecutor be appointed to advise the grand jury in a more far-reaching investigation involving possible criminal misconduct, said Friday night:

“I hope the grand jury will act upon the D.A.'s request. I think it is the only right thing to do, that an outside agency investigate. But I think it should be more than an investigation into (the) policy (of using jailhouse informants.) If they’re going to investigate only the policy, who is going to investigate any misconduct committed by members of their office? Who is going to investigate any misconduct commited by members of the Sheriff’s Department?”

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