[CN] – Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca says he will not get a fair trial on charges he obstructed an investigation into jailhouse abuses because a federal judge is already convinced of his guilt and media coverage has prejudiced him.
The court on Tuesday referred Baca’s motion to disqualify U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to Judge Michael Fitzgerald, following two other motions filed Monday by the retired sheriff’s attorney Nathan Hochman.
The trial is set for Dec. 6. But Baca has asked that his case be tried in another courthouse, arguing he has been prejudiced by media coverage of the case. He wants the case moved to another district or to either Riverside or Orange counties.
Baca has also asked the court to recuse prosecutor Brandon Fox. Baca says that he intends to call the prosecutor as a witness to talk about the April 2013 interview in which Baca allegedly lied to prosecutors.
This year, Baca agreed to plead guilty to making a false statement, based on statements he made in the interview with Fox. But in August, Baca withdrew his guilty plea after Anderson said the government’s recommendation of a six-month sentence was too lenient.
“All Mr. Baca wants is a fair trial that has a fair judge, a fair prosecutor and a fair jury,” Hochman said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “If he receives that fair trial he believes that he will prevail.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles declined to comment.
In his motion to disqualify Anderson, Baca questions the judge’s impartiality based on comments made at a July sentencing hearing in which the judge accused Baca of being part of a “wide-ranging conspiracy” that obstructed an FBI investigation into civil rights abuses at two jails.
Anderson said at the hearing that it was “one thing” to lie to prosecutors but “it’s another thing entirely, as the evidence has shown, where the chief law enforcement officer of the County of Los Angeles is involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up abuse and corruption occurring in the Men’s Central Jail.”
The judge said that Baca had, in his judgment, taken part in a “broad-ranging conspiracy to obstruct justice that included hiding an inmate from the grand jury, altering records, witness tampering, and threatening an FBI agent.”
Prosecutors had told the court that in contrast to other officials charged in the scheme, Baca’s intent was “not as clear” and there is nothing in the evidentiary record before Anderson that showed he was culpable for conspiracy or obstruction, Baca says.
“Stated differently, the court has already convicted Mr. Baca of the conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges that were not before it on July 18, 2016, but which the government added in the first superseding indictment weeks later,” Baca says in his motion.
Anderson’s predetermined view of the case is consistent with his role as part of the blue-ribbon panel that was highly critical of LAPD officials after the Rodney King beating in 1991, Baca says in a footnote.
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 for making a false statement.
Baca is accused of participating in a conspiracy to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from investigators after an FBI phone was found in his jail cell.
In August 2011, Baca asked Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to investigate how the phone had ended up with Brown. The following month, Baca instructed officials to “do everything but put handcuffs” on FBI agent Leah Marx, who was investigating the case, prosecutors say.
Baca says he has early-onset Alzheimer’s. He intends to use the diagnosis as a defense during the trial.
Twenty current or former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials have been convicted in connection with the crimes, according to federal prosecutors.
In June, Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison after a jury trial.