Prosecutors on the Bench

July 21, 2012 Criminal Defense

Every day we face a hard challenge against a well-funded prosecution aided by federal agencies, state and local police departments, crime labs and other publicly funded agencies too many to mention. Add to that the public’s general support of prosecutors and the erosion of presumption of innocence, it is surprising we can win any case, no matter how innocent the defendant.

While we can understand all the resources thrown into the prosecution of crimes, the one part that still disturbs all of us is the judge with his or her thumb on the scales of justice. This morning’s Los Angeles Times reported the latest example.

An LAPD police officer, Brett Goodkin, an investigator on the case, served as a technical advisor on a film called “Bling Ring” about the home burglaries of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan being directed by Sofia Coppola. Hardly earth shattering news except that the defendants in the real case were still pending trial and filed a motion to dismiss citing outrageous police conduct.

None of that was of any interest to me except for the judge’s comments when denying the motion. Judge Larry P. Fidler: ”You should have a field day with his credibility during the trial…It’s a shame what he did. It’s harmful to the people’s case.”

Why is he, the so-called impartial umpire, concerned about the “harm” to the prosecution’s case? Goodkin’s actions overtly prove what we already suspect – he has a financial motivation for a guilty verdict. We are all aware of judges who assist prosecutions but normally they are clever enough to hide it in their seemingly unbiased rulings. But Fidler is so clueless he actually verbalized it. And if you asked him about these comments he would have no concept what is wrong with them.

I looked him up on the net. One article discussing the LAPD Ramparts scandal said the following:

“Fidler has commented on the scandal on network television, and his concerns are more likely to resonate with prosecutors than with the defense bar. It grieves him, he says, that clearly guilty people in totally unrelated future cases are going to walk free because jurors no longer feel they can trust the word of police officers.” In his mind, the damage to police integrity outweighed the exposure of police corruption and setting up of innocent suspects.

Fidler was also the trial judge in Phil Spector’s murder trial and allowed the prosecution to parade a large number of former girlfriends as witnesses to Spector’s ungentlemanly yet generally irrelevant conduct. This insured his conviction.

Fidler is clearly a prosecutor in black robes. The defense bar should root out overtly biased judges like this, but we don’t have the will to take them on. We are more interested in keeping friendly with them instead of exposing who they are.

A friend of mine told me a story we laughed about but is deadly serious. He appeared at a trial sounding and the judge asked if he was ready for trial. Then he turned to the prosecutor and asked: “Are we ready?” A Freudian slip.