Call it a case of legislation imitating life, or personal motivation being the best there is, but Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) hopes to create a new law that grew out of his own experience of being indicted.
Baugh's bill would allow potential defendants or witnesses to be accompanied by lawyers when they go before a grand jury. Under California law, no such privilege exists, and Baugh says the deck is stacked.
Baugh submitted the bill to the Assembly's legislative council Thursday. Within a few months, it could become law while its author continues his own struggle against Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael Capizzi, who accuses Baugh of campaign fraud.
Capizzi said Thursday that Baugh's motive for introducing the bill "is obvious without comment from me--and that's my comment."
The district attorney called the proposed legislation a "bad idea because the grand jury is an investigative body. It would be like having the criminal defense attorney accompany the investigators around as they're gathering evidence."
But lawmakers in Sacramento may see it differently.
Legislative sources said Thursday the bill could make strange bedfellows of Baugh and some of his fiercest adversaries--liberal Democrats. They will no doubt support a bill that seeks to protect and uphold defendants' rights. Baugh contends that "healthy bipartisan backing" greatly enhances the bill's chances.
Baugh said the motive for the legislation was "common sense."
"The target of a grand jury investigation--if he's invited to testify at all--has one of two options," Baugh said. "He can either go to the grand jury completely exposed, without a lawyer, and face examination by trained prosecutors without a judge being present. Or, he can not go in and testify and never have his side of the story heard."
Baugh opted for the latter course in his own brush with the grand jury, which he says led to his indictment on four felony and 18 misdemeanor counts of falsifying campaign records during a special election in 1995.
But last September, an Orange County Superior Court judge dismissed the bulk of the indictment, saying the district attorney failed to present crucial evidence that would have cast doubt on the credibility of a key witness.
Capizzi has since refiled criminal charges against Baugh, accusing him of numerous campaign violations in connection with Baugh's successful effort to unseat former Assembly Speaker Doris Allen.
But Baugh's experience hardly warrants such a fundamental change in how grand juries conduct inquiries, a prominent prosecutor said Thursday.
David LaBahn, deputy executive director for the California District Attorneys Assn., said putting defense attorneys in the grand jury room could damage the process irrevocably. He said he knows of no state in the country that allows defense attorneys in the grand-jury room, and his organization intends to oppose the legislation.
Furthermore, LaBahn warned that having defense attorneys present could have a devastating impact on victims of child abuse or gang violence who, in the presence of defense attorneys, might feel squeamish about telling what happened.
"If you start putting defense attorneys in that room, then instead of 19 citizens feeling free to ask questions, you've made it a trial," LaBahn said. "If that's the case, you should have a judge there as well."
Baugh argues that it's impossible for lawyers to accurately advise clients when they haven't been privy to the entire line of questioning. Under his proposal, he said, attorneys would be allowed to give advice only, not to ask questions of witnesses or raise objections.
State Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), who would ordinarily oppose Baugh on most votes, said he "wholeheartedly" supports the grand-jury legislation.
"It takes somebody who's been bitten by a mad dog to understand the nature of rabies," Burton said. He said the state's grand jury system is "full of abuses. . . . This only seeks to curb them."