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Nov. 19, 2009 - Courtroom Notes from Change of Venue Hearing
by Pigo N. Tajayil
Tuesday Nov 24th, 2009 1:11 AM
Last Thursday a hearing was held to determine the county where the PEOPLE vs. johannes mehserle will be relocated. The hearing started with a few housekeeping items. The judge then allowed each attorney one hour to present an argument why this trial should be moved to either Los Angeles or San Diego.
Notes from the PEOPLE vs mehserle. Change of Venue Hearing - November 19, 2009 - 1:30 pm. Courtroom of Judge Morris Jacobson. Dept. 11 - Seventh Floor

Last Thursday a hearing was held to determine the county where the PEOPLE vs. johannes mehserle will be relocated. The hearing started with a few housekeeping items. The judge then allowed each attorney one hour to present an argument why this trial should be moved to either Los Angeles or San Diego.

Defense Attorney Rains was first, and predictably argued that the case should be moved San Diego. Rains argument focused primarily on his defendant’s right to a speedy trial and media coverage associated with the case. Rains used these two factors in favor of San Diego County, but was faced with significant factors that favored Los Angeles. Security concerns and incurred costs for Alameda County being the two most significant factors favoring L.A.

Rains began his argument by reviewing the when and where and who associated with each county. Should the case be moved to L.A., the trial would be held in the downtown courthouse(a venue that is already set up to handle the security of a high profile case) with L.A. county providing the trial judge(Alameda County may or may not have to pay for a L.A judge - Judge Jacobson didn’t know for sure). A move to L.A. would delay the beginning of trial for at least six months to a year(depending on whether or not Rains uses his time waiver - Rains using his time waiver would force the courts to adjust their schedule so that this trial could begin ASAP).

Should the case be moved to S.D, the trial would be held in the downtown central district courthouse(a venue that will have to make necessary security improvements for a high profile case at a cost to Alameda county). In S.D. county the trial could potentially begin by the third week in January if Alameda County provides a trial judge(if the trial judge is provided by S.D., Alameda County would also be charged for this service).

Once the particulars of each relocation site were presented, Def. Attorney Rains then focused in on the crux of his argument in favor of S.D. Rains argued that the court should consider the right to a speedy trial and relative hardship of parties. Rains used the fact that a move to L.A. would mean that bail for Mehserle would have to be renewed at a cost to he and his family. And then Rains contended(in a sympathetic tone) the reality facing a murderer looking for a job, especially in today's job market.

Rains then used publicity surrounding the case in favor of a move to S.D. He discussed the abundance of media stories covering the murder, including actual videos of the murder on the Fruitvale platform. According to Rains there was much more media coverage in L.A. than there was in San Diego. Rains specifically cited four articles from the Watts Times. He claimed these articles used “invective language already pronouncing Mehserle a murderer.” Rains then paints this trial as a “boiling cauldron” for L.A. county, which will in turn create a financial burden on Alameda County should there be unrest surrounding the verdict. This insinuation by Rains forced Judge Jacobson to interrupt the argument and explain that; Alameda County would only have to pay for damage to the courthouse, and wouldn’t be liable for any destruction to property in the streets.

Rains touched a bit on the demographics of the two counties, but stated for the record that “the demographic numbers in both L.A. and S.D. won’t affect the likelihood of johannes mehserle receiving a fair trial.

Rains ended his argument by supporting a move to S.D., where the trial will begin sooner - which to him and his client is an aspect outweighing the potential costs incurred to the taxpayers of Alameda County.

Distict Attorney David Stein began his argument predictably with a request of the PEOPLE that the trial of johannes mehserle be moved to downtown Los Angeles. Stein focused on three reasons to support this request. These reasons included; first - L.A. has the best equipped facility for this trial, two - L.A. county makes the most financial sense for the PEOPLE of Alameda County, three - L.A. county is the best fit for the interests of justice.

Stein then argued each factor more in-depth. According to Stein, the facility in L.A. is not only preferable but also necessary for this high-profile case. Stein addressed the fact that the defense justified a change of venue based on security concerns, thus a move to a facility where these concerns will be met - at no cost to Alameda County taxpayers - makes the most sense.

D.A. Stein briefly touched on the defense contention that S.D. county has ignored this case in their media. The defense team claimed that the S.D Union Tribune only published two articles about this case from Jan. to Oct. Stein refuted this claim with evidence that there were 90 articles published about this case during the same time period. The Judge seemingly squashed all argument about media coverage by alluding to the fact that; both counties published a fraction of news pieces compared to the Bay Area "media saturation" of this case.

Stein’s second point covered the financial aspects of this change of venue. A move to San Diego would mean that Alameda County would be responsible for the cost of a trial judge, and security enhancements for the courthouse. On the other hand, L.A. has both the facility and is willing to provide a judge at no additional cost to taxpayers of Alameda.

Finally, Stein addressed the PEOPLES assertion that the interests of justice will be served in L.A. more so than in S.D. Comparing African American demographics , Stein used the fact that L.A.(9% African American) more closely resembles Alameda County(13% African American), and while San Diego(5.3 to 5.5% African American) isn’t a huge difference from L.A., the PEOPLE are the most comfortable with a potential jury pool from Los Angeles. Judge Jacobson maintained that demographic differences weren’t sustantial enough to affect the right to a fair trial.

When D.A Stein concluded his justification for a move to L.A., Judge Jacobson asked him to respond to the major difference in start dates associated with each potential change site, a topic which formed the basis for Rain’s argument. In response, Stein pointed out that Rains ultimately has control over the beginning of the trial with his time waiver.

After both lawyers argued for each county. The Judge issued his ruling based on the following criteria: pretrial publicity, relative hardship to parties, conservation of judicial resources and public funds, and demographics. After considering each of these, Judge Jacobson ruled in favor of the PEOPLE vs. johannes mehserle moving to Los Angeles County.

The hearing concluded with Judge Jacobson letting the attorneys know that he will issue a request that the Chief Justice of California decide on a judge to preside over trial.
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Author’s Note: For those of us in the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement who view a move to L.A. as a small “victory” - based on an already absurd notion that residents of Alameda County cannot listen to evidence presented and make a fair and impartial decision based on this evidence - we are not out of the woods yet. There is still a chance - because of the pervasive bureaucracy that is the courts - this trial will be moved to S.D. Being still unclear on the exact reason for this, maybe someone who knows the inns and outs can comment on how this may happen?


Author’s Note II: I typed these notes in the attempt to be as fair and impartial as possible. I personally hold the opinion that this case isn’t a matter of “innocent until proven guilty,” in this case the defendant is “guilty and awaiting sentence.” Consider that in a murder case one of D.A.’s most difficult challenges is recreating a murder scene. D.A. Stein is prosecuting a murder scene filmed live on video. Anyone who has sufficiently kept up with this case has seen the shocking murder and heard(from eye-witness testimony) the resulting coverup by defendant mehserle and his co-conspirators. And let me also be clear, I am of the opinion that all the BART police officers on that platform were criminal in their actions. Each one of them should serve time in jail, especially if you consider that Gabe Meyers is currently serving a weekend jail term for dumping some washable red children’s paint on Dorothy Dugger and Allen Fang(cowards). And mehserle should serve a significant portion of his adult life behind state bars. If the lackof justice system wants to maintain it’s last shreds of integrity, these so-called “peace” officers will be held accountable for their actions.