[CN] – Former LA County Sheriff Leroy Baca faces a December trial on charges that he obstructed an investigation into civil rights abuses after a federal judge said Wednesday that delaying the trial is not in the public’s interest.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ignored the pleas of Baca’s attorney Nathan Hochman to delay the trial so he could mount a medical defense based on the retired official’s early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and trawl through 1,000 gigabytes of records and documents to prepare for trial.
“This team right here has tried this case four times,” Hochman said, gesturing to three prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jaurequi. “I haven’t tried it once.”
Hochman asked for a February or March trial date. But Anderson saw no need to delay the trial, saying that Baca’s case is less complicated than other cases involving the obstruction charges.
Four cases have gone to trial so far including one against Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison in June.
Anderson scheduled a Dec. 6 trial date that he said will likely take place at the new downtown federal courthouse.
Hochman is still weighing whether he should make a defense based on Baca’s medical condition. He said that he needs two medical experts to evaluate Baca’s case and then provide a report of their findings. If Baca gives notice of the defense, Fox said the government intends to have its own expert examine Baca.
Anderson appeared skeptical of the medical defense. He asked Hochman if he was suggesting that people with Alzheimer’s “don’t know right from wrong,” but gave Hochman until Sept. 12 to inform the court of his plans.
Hochman told the judge there is also the possibility that he would ask to move the trial to a different court, saying that pretrial publicity may have tainted the jury pool in Los Angeles County.
That prompted Anderson to make reference to meetings with the press and media that had happened outside of hearings. He noted that the details of a sidebar discussion had also been reported. Sidebar talks are typically obscured by white noise in the courtroom so they cannot be heard by the audience.
“Something that doesn’t help is holding press conferences out on the courtroom steps,” Anderson said to Hochman.
He did not single out Baca or Hochman by name, but both have talked to the press after hearings.
Baca, 74, who appeared in court wearing a blue jacket and tan chinos, was not given the opportunity to speak during the proceedings. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to obstruct justice and lied to the FBI and federal prosecutors.
On Aug. 1, Baca withdrew a guilty plea of making false statements to federal investigators after Anderson indicated that the government’s recommendation of six months in prison was too lenient.
The judge said the sentence would not account for Baca’s alleged part in a scheme that involved the destruction of records, cover-ups, interference with a grand jury investigation, tampering with witnesses, and threats to an FBI agent.
If a federal jury finds Baca guilty, he faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, 10 years for obstruction and up to five years in prison on the false statement charge.
Earlier this month, seven of Baca and Tanaka’s underlings lost the appeal of their convictions. Twenty current or former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials have been convicted in connection with the crimes, according to federal prosecutors.