The judge in the McMartin Pre-School preliminary hearing turned aside defense objections on Tuesday and rested the defense case herself.
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb made the move after turning down a defense request to postpone until Jan. 6 the 20-month-long hearing into alleged child molestations at the school.
Attorney Daniel Davis, who represents defendant Raymond Buckey, 27, had asked for the delay last Friday. He and other defense lawyers told the judge then that they were abandoning plans to call about 25 witnesses and extend the hearing through March.
They said, however, that they would need a two-week delay for a defense medical expert to prepare to testify in the molestation case.
'It Seems Ludicrous'
Bobb scheduled an argument on their request for Christmas Eve and Davis missed the argument. He was at a family gathering in Florida.
Standing in for him was attorney Harland Braun who, along with other lawyers, argued that medical slides that the expert needs to study had not yet been enlarged.
"This is a 20-month case," Braun said. "It seems ludicrous--I hate to use that word--to do something on Christmas Eve that's going to jeopardize this case in the long term."
Bobb said, however, that the defense, which started its presentation in October, had failed to make a "strong showing" that its witness was unavailable until Jan. 6. At one point she wondered aloud whether Davis might have asked for the delay as a ruse to take a week's vacation.
"Unless defense counsel is ready to proceed with the next witness, this court will deem the defense to have rested," she said late in the afternoon.
No witness was proffered.
At stake in the proceedings is whether Bobb will order seven defendants associated with the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach to stand trial on molestation charges in Superior Court.
The hearing is not over, however. Still to come on Jan. 7 is defense cross-examination of a pediatrician who testified for the prosecution that she had found physical evidence that 10 of 14 children the defendants are accused of molesting had, in fact, been molested.
In addition, the prosecution must decide whether it wishes to call any rebuttal witnesses.
The lead prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin, did not take a position on the defense request for a delay but urged Bobb to consider it carefully and expressed a worry that a denial of the request might cause problems with an appellate court and "jeopardize the long hearing."
Some defense attorneys were critical of Bobb's ruling but said they had no immediate plans to appeal.
Deputy Public Defender Forrest Latiner, who represents Peggy Ann Buckey, 28, said, "Favorable expert medical testimony apparently now will not be allowed. To that extent, it seems the preliminary hearing will be ending before the totality of the evidence was addressed."
Attorney Dean Gits, who represents Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58, said he believes that the "court made an erroneous ruling which effectively deprived us of our constitutionally guaranteed right to put on evidence."
Davis, reached by telephone, called the ruling irregular. "Anomalous," he said. "That's the only comment."
Attorney Walter Urban, speaking on behalf of defendants Betty Raidor, 65, and Virginia McMartin, 78, indicated that he approved. He said his clients had not wanted a preliminary hearing in the first place, preferring to go directly to trial.