Bid to throw out Coli­seum case re­jected

Pros­e­cu­tor’s read­ing of de­fen­dant-lawyer email was due to poor train­ing, judge says.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Stephen Ceasar and Marisa Ger­ber stephen.ceasar @la­times.com

A Los An­ge­les County judge re­jected de­fense re­quests to dis­miss charges in the L.A. Me­mo­rial Coli­seum cor­rup­tion scan­dal but crit­i­cized the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice for fail­ing to pre­vent a pros­e­cu­tor from read­ing emails be­tween one of the de­fen­dants and his at­tor­neys.

Su­pe­rior Court Judge Kath­leen A. Kennedy said Mon­day that the ac­tions of the pros­e­cu­tor were not a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to vi­o­late the rights of the de­fen­dants but said she was shocked that the of­fice, par­tic­u­larly the “public in­tegrity unit,” lacks proper train­ing in han­dling ev­i­dence that could po­ten­tially fall un­der the at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege.

“You above any other sec­tion in the D.A.’s of­fice should be this high in terms of your own in­tegrity in the way ev­i­dence is han­dled,” she said, rais­ing her hand above her head. “You sim­ply can’t do what was done in this case.”

Kennedy also re­jected a de­fense re­quest to re­move the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice from the case, paving the way for a new team of county pros­e­cu­tors to pro­ceed with the case, which is ex­pected to go to trial this sum­mer.

Mon­day’s rul­ing comes af­ter the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice’s de­ci­sion last month to re­move the lead pros­e­cu­tor and an in­ves­ti­ga­tor from the case “in an abun­dance of cau­tion” af­ter de­fense at­tor­neys ar­gued the pros­e­cu­tor vi­o­lated the rights of a de­fen­dant by view­ing emails he ex­changed with his at­tor­ney.

Pros­e­cu­tors took the ac­tion af­ter at­tor­neys for the sta­dium’s for­mer event manager and two con­cert pro­mot­ers fac­ing trial in the case lodged al­le­ga­tions of “out­ra­geous pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct” over the view­ing of the emails.

The Coli­seum scan­dal grew out of a se­ries of sto­ries re­ported in The Times be­gin­ning in 2011.

The three de­fen­dants are ac­cused in an al­leged bribery and con­spir­acy scheme. Todd DeSte­fano, the sta­dium’s for­mer event manager, is ac­cused of tak­ing at least $1.9 mil­lion from two con­cert pro­mot­ers — Pasquale Rotella of In­som­niac Inc. and Reza Gerami of Go Ven­tures Inc. — in ex­change for help­ing them put on raves and keep­ing costs down.

In court doc­u­ments, pros­e­cu­tors de­scribe DeSte­fano as a “tire­less ad­vo­cate” for keep­ing raves at the sta­dium com­plex even af­ter a 15-year-old girl died af­ter overdosing on Ec­stasy at In­som­niac’s June 2010 Elec­tric Daisy Car­ni­val rave. DeSte­fano, who at the time over­saw pro­mot­ers as part of his gov­ern­men­tal du­ties, re­signed shortly af­ter The Times be­gan in­quir­ing about his re­la­tion­ship with In­som­niac.

Gary Jay Kauf­man, who rep­re­sents Rotella, ac­cused Deputy. Dist. Atty. Dana Aratani of de­lib­er­ately and re­peat­edly read­ing emails Rotella had sent his at­tor­neys, in­clud­ing Kauf­man.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice said the pros­e­cu­tor used a “flawed” method­ol­ogy to sort through more than 60,000 emails seized as ev­i­dence. Aratani’s view­ing of the emails was “in­ad­ver­tent” and didn’t prej­u­dice the de­fen­dants’ rights to a fair trial, the of­fice said.

In a re­sponse filed a cou­ple of weeks later, Rotella’s at­tor­neys ar­gued that “noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth” and urged Kennedy to dis­miss the case to “send a mes­sage” to the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice that such ac­tions will not be tol­er­ated.

Kennedy said she did not be­lieve that “Mr. Aratani was pur­pose­fully try­ing to tram­ple the rights of the de­fen­dants in this case. He hadn’t got­ten the right train­ing and right pro­ce­dures.”

Kauf­man told the judge that the pros­e­cu­tor’s con­duct was “out­ra­geous” and that al­low­ing the of­fice to re­move a sin­gle pros­e­cu­tor with­out a se­vere penalty con­dones such mis­con­duct.

“It sends the mes­sage to the D.A. and to the public that they can read at­tor­n­ey­client ma­te­rial — just don’t get caught,” he said. “How is that a de­ter­rent?”

Larry Bak­man, who rep­re­sents Gerami, said the of­fice had a duty to cre­ate poli­cies and safe­guards to prop­erly guard against a pros­e­cu­tor read­ing priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“They got away with it,” Bak­man said af­ter Mon­day’s hear­ing. “It shocks the con­science.”

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment on Kennedy’s rul­ing.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

TODD DeSTE­FANO, the sta­dium’s for­mer event manager, is ac­cused of cor­rup­tion.

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