California

Ex-L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca to stay out of prison while he appeals his conviction

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2016: Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca talks
Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted for his role in a scheme by Sheriff’s Department officials to interfere with an FBI investigation into county jails.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court ruled he could remain free while he appeals his conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying.

Baca, 75, was convicted this year for his role in a 2011 scheme by Sheriff’s Department officials to interfere with an FBI investigation into alleged inmate abuse and corruption by sheriff’s deputies working in county jails.

In sentencing Baca in May, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson told the career lawman that his three-year prison sentence should serve as a deterrent to other public servants.

“Your actions embarrass the thousands of men and women [in the department] who put their lives on the line every day,” Anderson said at the time. “No person, no matter how powerful, no matter his or her title, is above the law.”

Baca promptly appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that rulings by Anderson in the lead-up and during the trial had unfairly disadvantaged him.

And when Anderson ordered him to begin his prison sentence immediately, Baca asked the appeals court to overrule the decision. The court initially declined, telling Baca he had to make his case for leniency once again to Anderson.

Anderson again ordered Baca to prison, saying he should spend his “best remaining days” behind bars. Baca suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, which doctors expect will become increasingly more severe in coming years.

In granting Baca bail, a three-judge panel of the appellate court found he posed no risk of fleeing and was not using his appeal as a ploy to delay his prison sentence. And, the judges said, the former sheriff had raised a legitimate challenge to a ruling Anderson made before the trial that barred any experts from testifying about Baca’s illness.

“Sheriff Baca very much appreciates the Ninth Circuit’s decision,” said Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, criticizing what he called “the flawed and constitutionally deficient trial and verdict.”

The guilty verdict capped a string of prosecutions in which 10 sheriff’s deputies and supervisors were convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the obstruction plan.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Follow @joelrubin on Twitter


UPDATES:

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with details about the court order and comment from Baca’s attorney.

This article was originally published at 5:55 p.m. on Oct. 18.