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'Slow Road to Justice'

August 05, 1988

Over the years in reading your editorials I did not always agree with what you said but at least thought your reasoning valid and your comments fair. Then came your editorials of July 20 and July 21.

In "Breaking the Shield" (July 20) you take the position that a journalist should not be forced by contempt proceedings to testify on behalf of a criminal defendant, even if the testimony would lead to the dismissal of criminal charges against that defendant.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights and the corresponding sections of the Constitution of California is to protect the individual citizen from the excesses and illegalities of government police and prosecutor activities. The First Amendment and the state Constitution do not provide a shield for members of the press as to what they observed police officers doing in a public place.

On July 21, I was appalled when I read your editorial that advocated doing away with preliminary hearings in California as a way to speed up the judicial process and to rely on grand jury indictments instead. Has the writer of this editorial considered that most county grand juries in California are charged with and spend most of their time in overseeing the functioning of various branches of county government and the political subdivisions of county government? To take the grand juries away from this task of overseeing would allow the local governments to operate without this public scrutiny, which I think all agree is necessary.

Nor is the assertion that time would be saved correct. Most preliminary hearings last less than four hours. The preliminary hearing also serves to actually reduce time in courts as the evidence is tested as to whether or not the accused committed the crime before a legally trained and experienced judge, providing both the prosecution and defendant grounds for later decisions. In over 90% of the thousands of felony cases each year in Los Angeles a plea results. Without the tested evidence who would plead? Who would be in a position to negotiate a plea?

GERALD PALMER

Oxnard

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