Fighting the Establishment is nothing new to Daniel Villanueva Hernandez. And neither, it seems, is seeking trial delays based on medical excuses.
In at least two previous criminal cases in Northern California, a court has fined the defense lawyer in the Night Stalker trial for delaying cases by not showing up and citing stress.
Hernandez, 44, again evoked stress this week in asking for a hiatus of up to six weeks in the ongoing serial-murder trial of Richard Ramirez in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The request was denied Wednesday by Judge Michael A. Tynan.
It is ironic that Hernandez, now with a statewide reputation for dilatory courtroom tactics, once described himself in an interview as a person who is always “in a hurry.”
He had made that remark last fall, while explaining his eagerness to plunge into law practice upon graduating from the Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco 11 years ago.
But after passing the State Bar exam, Hernandez had difficulty gaining his license to practice because the FBI had a file on him. Its existence, according to Hernandez, had to do with his involvement in farm workers’ organizing drives and in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations as an undergraduate at San Jose State University.
He had also spent three to four months in Cuba as a guest of the Castro regime.
Intervened on His Behalf
Eventually, a senior member of the California judiciary, whom Hernandez declined to publicly identify, intervened on his behalf and the lawyer obtained his license from the State Bar.
Hernandez met Arturo Hernandez, 35, while both were studying for the Bar exam and, according to the latter, “We hit it off really well.”
Arturo Hernandez is officially the second Night Stalker defense attorney, although he has rarely appeared in court since jury selection began on July 21.
Daniel Hernandez, now married to a civil-law practitioner, said he began his first trial the day after he was sworn in as a member of the California Bar.
By the time he began representing Ramirez in the fall of 1985, Hernandez had participated in 17 trials, mostly involving defendants in drug-related cases. But he also defended clients in four murder trials, although none of them were death-penalty cases. Ramirez faces 13 murder charges and 30 other serious felony counts and could receive the death penalty if convicted.
Short of Requirements
The number of cases he has handled fall far short of the typical requirements for an attorney to represent a defendant in a capital case. Los Angeles County Bar Assn. standards, for instance, require a lawyer in such a case to have participated in “at least” 50 trials.
Yet Los Angeles Municipal Judge Elva R. Soper, in pretrial proceedings, eventually allowed both Daniel Hernandez and Arturo Hernandez to represent Ramirez, saying that a defendant’s right to the lawyers of his choice is a paramount consideration.
It was in some of those earlier 17 trials that Daniel Hernandez got into trouble with various courts.
In one of them, a state Court of Appeal said Hernandez had been professionally “deficient” in representing a San Jose man convicted of murder in 1985.
But while faulting Hernandez for inadequate preparation and legal research in that case, the appeals court said his performance had not been sufficiently harmful to the defendant to warrant a new trial.
In another 1985 case, Gilroy Municipal Judge Richard C. Turrone fined Hernandez $1,500 for missing a court date. Hernandez explained at the time that he missed the preliminary hearing because a doctor had told him to stay away from court for two weeks because of stress.
In a third case, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge fined Hernandez $1,000 for not appearing on the second day of a murder trial. In that case, Hernandez had also cited stress as his excuse, according to Santa Clara County Deputy Dist. Atty. Rod Braughton.
After Wednesday morning’s court session with Tynan, Hernandez spoke only briefly with reporters before departing.
But later, during lunch in the cafeteria of the downtown Criminal Courts Building, the attorney was fuming.
“We’re scheduled for two years of trial. And I’m being treated like I’m making an unheard-of request (for several weeks off). The logic of it doesn’t make sense. How many other lawyers would get this kind of treatment?” Hernandez asked.