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Officers' Trial May Be Delayed Until Next Year : King case: Judge also says proceeding will remain in Los Angeles unless appellate court orders change in venue.

June 20, 1991|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The judge hearing the trial of four police officers accused in the Rodney G. King beating said Wednesday that the case will stay in Los Angeles unless a state appeals court rules otherwise.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins said the case, which he has tried to propel to trial within three months of the indictment, now could be delayed until next year by the appellate court's decision to halt proceedings.

The trial, which had been scheduled to begin Wednesday, was placed on hold indefinitely last week when the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a stay pending a review of a defense request for a change of venue. The appeals court indicated it was leaning in the direction of ordering the trial moved because of local political fallout caused by the beating of King on March 3 by Los Angeles police officers.

Kamins said he is still "100% sure" that 12 unbiased jurors can be found from a jury pool of nearly 4 million people, and offered in a letter to the appeals court to move the trial out of Los Angeles County only to avoid further delay.

"The court has not changed its mind," Kamins said, explaining that he was prepared to begin trial next week in another county because, "to me, justice delayed is justice denied."

He said that under the recently passed Proposition 115, California voters mandated "expeditious" trials in all criminal cases and an end to the excessive continuances that clog the courts.

"My feeling was if I could move this to a county that would satisfy the law and everyone else, I'd have this case under trial before we ever got to appeals arguments," Kamins said.

He said that all-day court sessions in a county where careful questioning of prospective jurors about pretrial publicity would be unnecessary could have telescoped jury selection into days and the trial into weeks.

The judge's letter notwithstanding, the appeals court refused to let the trial proceed here or elsewhere. It asked prosecutors for a response by Monday and defense attorneys for a reply by July 12.

"All I can say is the heck with the letter," an obviously irritated Kamins told attorneys gathered for a status conference on the case Wednesday. "We didn't get the stay lifted. The case will stay here."

Kamins said that the losing side is certain to go to the state Supreme Court, which does not hear oral arguments during the summer and would not consider the case before September. And there is also a chance that one side or the other could go to the U. S. Supreme Court, Kamins said.

The judge said he is confident that the appeals court will agree with him--as it has on all other issues in the King case appealed so far--once both sides have been heard. He attributed the issuance of the stay to "creative work" by defense attorneys who argued that the political controversy surrounding the King case sets it apart from other high-profile cases.

Defense lawyers also said that publication of confidential Police Department records on the defendants by The Times has compromised chances of a fair trial here.

But Kamins said many people called for jury duty in the downtown Criminal Courts building come from areas just outside the city of Los Angeles where Mayor Tom Bradley, the Police Commission, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and the City Council do not have jurisdiction. The judge also expressed doubts that many city residents are closely following the City Hall political battles set off by the King incident.

Cost estimates for moving the trial or bringing in a jury from another county were not available Wednesday.

The judge noted that it has been nearly two decades since the last change of venue from Los Angeles County was granted. The McMartin Pre-School molestation case, the Night Stalker case, the Robert Kennedy assassination case and the Charles Manson case were tried here despite extensive publicity and a strongly opinionated populace.

However, in 1973, the trial of three men charged with the shotgun slaying of Joyce Ann Huff, 4, of Hawaiian Gardens, was moved from Norwalk to Redwood City, in San Mateo County, because of what a judge called "massive saturation" publicity locally. The three were convicted.

The only other change of venue from Los Angeles County that legal historians recall was a 1969 political corruption case. City human relations commissioner and building developer Keith Smith was charged with bribing harbor officials to award his firm a $12-million contract to build the World Trade Center on Terminal Island.

In that case, an appellate court said a motion for a change of venue should not be denied simply because a county has a large population. Smith's trial was moved to San Francisco, where he was acquitted. The harbor commissioners he allegedly bribed were tried in Los Angeles County and convicted.

Kamins said state law requires trials to be moved only after attempts have been made to impanel an impartial jury and all available panels have been exhausted.

Describing the King case as now "in a state of flux," Kamins said he is "trying to ride the roller coaster" of developments and retain control of the case. He ordered attorneys to submit any last-minute pretrial motions by June 28, and to return to court for another status conference on July 19.

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