Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Wickersham's medical ailment has delayed San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock's felony retrial until next week, angering the mayor's attorney and prompting Hedgecock to charge Thursday that "there appears to be one set of rules for the prosecution and one set of rules for us."
Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr. canceled Thursday's court session and recessed the case until Monday after learning that Wickersham, who has been under a doctor's care for hemorrhoids, would be unable to appear in court Thursday.
Todd said that he had spoken with Wickersham Wednesday night and called jurors early Thursday morning to advise them of the delay.
However, Hedgecock and his attorney, Oscar Goodman, did not learn of the delay until reporters told them of it when they arrived together at the courthouse early Thursday morning; and neither was pleased that, as Goodman put it, "the defense is the last to know what's happening."
"We're here for trial, not for delays," Hedgecock said, shaking his head as he walked into the courtroom.
Although Todd had already made his decision, Goodman, who has been critical of the judge in the past, decided to press the issue by making Todd aware of his displeasure--a decision that led to a sharp exchange between the judge and the defense attorney.
Saying that the district attorney's office "has a lot of capable lawyers," Goodman strongly protested the postponement and suggested that David Cox, a deputy district attorney who is assisting Wickersham, take over the case in Wickersham's absence.
Cox, however, told Todd, "As of this time, I'm not prepared without Mr. Wickersham."
Goodman also pointedly reminded Todd that when the judge last month advanced the starting date for the mayor's retrial from Aug. 22 to July 31, he put both Goodman and Michael Pancer, Hedgecock's attorney in his first trial, "on notice that one of us better be here"--despite the fact that Goodman was scheduled to handle another case in Las Vegas at the same time. The revised timetable for the Hedgecock trial forced a federal judge in Nevada to postpone the other trial, a major racketeering case involving more than a dozen defendants.
After listening to Goodman for about one minute, Todd interrupted the attorney and proceeded to upbraid him for remarks that the judge termed "illogical and ill-advised."
"I'm surprised, I really am surprised, Mr. Goodman, that you'd say this," Todd said.
Todd explained that Wickersham told him that his doctor had advised him to rest Thursday, but that he expected to be able to return to court on Monday. However, the judge also warned Cox that if Wickersham cannot return then, he has no intention of allowing the trial to fall further behind schedule.
"I assure you we're not going to have continuing delays," Todd said, telling Cox that "you or whoever" should be prepared to handle the case on Monday in the event that Wickersham cannot.
Steve Casey, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said that Wickersham underwent "minor surgical procedures" for hemorrhoids both last week and Wednesday.
In addition to Thursday's cancellation, the prosecutor's ailment also caused a brief delay during opening arguments in the case on Tuesday and the cancellation of Wednesday afternoon's session. The Hedgecock trial is normally not in session on Friday, and Todd said Thursday that it was too late to alter that schedule.
Goodman complained that the recent delays "hurt our ability to effectively present our position in a logical, meaningful manner to a jury."
"There's a certain continuum that takes place in a lawsuit, and when you have interruptions like this, the jurors, being . . . regular, non-legally attuned people, can lose their concentration," Goodman said. "When you have these kinds of interruptions, it's not good for anyone."
Hedgecock called the delay "very frustrating (and) very disappointing," adding, "When there was a discussion in court (last month) about whether or not we were going to be prepared to go . . . the judge in effect told me, 'You show up and have some attorney and you get here and start.' And I said, 'OK, if that's the rules, we'll abide by them.' There appears to be one set of rules for the prosecution and one set of rules for us."
Goodman also questioned whether Todd would have displayed the same leniency toward the defense.
"Believe me, if I were ill, Mr. Pancer would have been ordered to be here," Goodman said. "If we were in a similar position, I submit to you we would be going today. The fact that the district attorney's office with all of its forces can't send somebody down here to try the case is shameful."