Ex-judge jailed in stand­off

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Sarah Parvini, Veron­ica Rocha and Matt Hamil­ton

In Los An­ge­les’ legal com­mu­nity, James A. Bas­cue was a tow­er­ing and ad­mired fig­ure.

As a top pros­e­cu­tor, he be­came a na­tional ex­pert on gang pros­e­cu­tions. Ap­pointed to the bench, he rose to pre­sid­ing judge of Los An­ge­les Su­pe­rior Court.

But shortly af­ter 2 a.m. Thurs­day, Bas­cue found him­self on the other side of the law.

Los An­ge­les po­lice said they ar­rived at Bas­cue’s West L.A. townhouse to find him in­side hold­ing two guns. Au­thor­i­ties said he fired on of­fi­cers, prompt­ing a stand­off with a SWAT team that ended with the ar­rest of the 75-year-old re­tired jurist.

While Bas­cue sat in jail, friends and long­time col­leagues strug­gled to un­der­stand the bizarre twist af­ter such a dis­tin­guished ca­reer.

“How do you ex­plain some­one who is ac­com­plished and up­stand­ing for six decades all of a sud­den

en­gag­ing in an act that’s this se­ri­ous?” asked for­mer Los An­ge­les County Dist. Atty. Steve Coo­ley.

“Some­thing went on here. Some­thing broke.”

“It’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble what led to this sit­u­a­tion,” said Robert H. Phili­bosian, an­other for­mer dis­trict at­tor­ney who ap­pointed Bas­cue as his chief deputy in 1983. “I’m glad he didn’t in­jure him­self, or God for­bid, kill him­self.”

About 11:45 p.m. Wed­nes­day, Bas­cue called po­lice re­port­ing that he was be­ing held hostage in­side his home in the 1900 block of South Bar­ring­ton Av­enue, po­lice said.

Dis­patch­ers gleaned lit­tle in­for­ma­tion from Bas­cue’s call. He of­fered few de­tails and re­fused to turn down the vol­ume on a blar­ing TV set, said LAPD Of­fi­cer Lil­iana Pre­ci­ado.

When of­fi­cers ar­rived, au­thor­i­ties said, they peered into a win­dow and saw him sit­ting in a living room chair with two guns in his lap. He loaded the guns’ mag­a­zines and pointed a gun at his head, po­lice said.

Of­fi­cers pleaded with him to drop the weapons.

He fired two shots: one in­side his house, an­other to­ward the of­fi­cers at the win­dow.

“Thank­fully he was a bad shot,” Pre­ci­ado said.

Af­ter the SWAT team was called in, of­fi­cers tried to talk Bas­cue into sur­ren­der­ing. Fam­ily mem­bers were con­tacted, but he would not emerge, po­lice said.

A neigh­bor even­tu­ally per­suaded him to give up.

Po­lice eval­u­ated Bas­cue for men­tal health is­sues, but they did not place him on a psy­chi­atric hold. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they were look­ing into whether he was un­der the inf lu­ence of drugs or al­co­hol.

The stand­off sur­prised neigh­bor Ellen Hoffman, who has lived for more than a year in the small, gated com­plex but saw Bas­cue only about three times.

“The judge,” as neigh­bors call him, kept to him­self, she said.

For­mer state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp said the Bas­cue he knew would never flout the law. The two met in the 1970s, when Van de Kamp was L.A. County dis­trict at­tor­ney and Bas­cue a pros­e­cu­tor. He praised Bas­cue as a “se­ri­ous, straight ar­row.”

Un­der Van de Kamp, Bas­cue spear­headed the hard­core gang unit that pros­e­cuted the county’s most vi­o­lent of­fend­ers.

Phili­bosian, who later served as chief deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, was so im­pressed with Bas­cue that he named him his sec­ond-in­com­mand, then rec­om­mended him to help re­form the State Bar of Cal­i­for­nia.

Gov. Ge­orge Deuk­me­jian ap­pointed Bas­cue to the bench in 1990. He rose through the ranks to be­come head of the crim­i­nal di­vi­sion. While hold­ing the post, he fre­quently crit­i­cized the state’s “three-strikes” law for fail­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate crim­i­nals and for plac­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sure on lo­cal courts.

In an in­ter­view with the Los An­ge­les Times in 1996, Bas­cue said he of­ten es­caped the sto­ries of vi­o­lence he heard in court by re­treat­ing to his va­ca­tion home in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he planted more than 8,000 trees.

Peers on the bench elected him to serve as as­sis­tant pre­sid­ing judge; he served as pre­sid­ing judge from 2001 to 2002. As leader of the state’s largest county court sys­tem, he worked through the tur­bu­lent process of merg­ing the mu­nic­i­pal courts with the su­pe­rior courts.

The mas­sive merger ruf- fled a lot of feath­ers, Phili­bosian said, but “Jim, with good hu­mor and dig­nity, was able to make it all work.”

The Ju­di­cial Coun­cil of Cal­i­for­nia awarded Bas­cue the jurist of the year award for his work to unify the courts.

At­tor­ney Richard G. Hirsch, who is rep­re­sent­ing Bas­cue, said the re­tired judge was re­leased Thurs­day af­ter­noon af­ter post­ing $100,000 bail.

“I’ve known Judge Bas­cue for many, many years. When he was a D.A. and a judge, and since he’s left the bench,” Hirsch said. “He’s de­voted his en­tire life to seek­ing jus­tice for ev­ery­one, and I hope will re­ceive the same.”

Clarence Wil­liams Los An­ge­les Times

JAMES A. BAS­CUE in 1996. The re­tired judge was ar­rested af­ter po­lice said he opened fire on of­fi­cers.

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