A deputy public defender who became the center of a squabble between branches of the criminal justice system when he was dragged from a Van Nuys courtroom by police officers will be transferred against his will.
Deputy Public Defender Howard C. Waco will be reassigned from the Van Nuys Courthouse, where he has worked for the last nine years, to the San Fernando Courthouse early next year, his boss said.
"I'm somewhat disappointed in the move, to say the least," the 50-year-old veteran deputy defender said Wednesday. "I'm glad you did not track me down yesterday. I was not emotionally fit to answer my phone" after hearing the news, he said.
Waco's boss, head Van Nuys Public Defender William D. Weiss, said the incident with police was "a consideration" but not the only factor in Waco's transfer.
"This was just a catalyst to do what should have been done a long time ago," said Weiss, noting that the average assignment for a deputy defender is two to three years.
"An enormous amount of energy went into this thing," Weiss said. "It was time to defuse the situation, let everybody get back to work."
Waco's transfer was only one repercussion of the Nov. 6 incident in which Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Raymond T. Mireles sent two Los Angeles police officers, who were witnesses in a probation violation hearing, to get Waco, who was representing the defendant. Mireles quipped to the officers to "bring me a piece" or "body part" of Waco, witnesses said.
The two officers, Gregory Baltad and Nicholas Titiriga, dragged Waco from another courtroom and hurled him into Mireles' courtroom.
This set off a confrontation between Mireles, the police and the public defender's office.
Waco last month filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Mireles and the two officers, seeking $250,000 in emotional and $100,000 in punitive damages.
In addition, the top leadership of the public defender's office declared that deputy public defenders would refuse to appear in Mireles' courtroom. As a consequence, the presiding judge of the Van Nuys court ordered Mireles kept off all cases in which defendants are represented by public defenders--90% of Mireles' previous caseload. Mireles now hears only cases in which defendants are represented by private attorneys or the alternate defense counsel.
Even before the incident, Waco was controversial around the Van Nuys Courthouse for an unorthodox professional style that many judges, clerks and deputy district attorneys found frustrating.