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Feud Escalates as Jurist Calls for Reiner's Defeat : Courts: Judge Dorn calls his removal from Denny case an insult to blacks and urges voters to support the district attorney's challenger in November election.

September 04, 1992|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Calling his removal from a racially charged trial a "slap in the face to the African-American community," Superior Court Judge Roosevelt F. Dorn urged voters Thursday to boot Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner out of office in November.

The running feud between Reiner and the black judge he ousted from the Reginald O. Denny beating case last month escalated when Dorn took his anger to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the most influential black congregations in Los Angeles.

"The issue is how African-Americans are being treated by elected officials in the community," Dorn said in an emotional address to about 100 congregants in the church hall.

Clearly referring to Reiner's upcoming runoff against challenger Gil Garcetti, Dorn said: "I am not going to tell you what to do. But if you have an elected official who is going astray, you know how to deal with it."

Dorn--the only black judge who hears criminal cases in the downtown Superior Court building--had been chosen by Presiding Judge Cecil J. Mills to preside over the trial of three black men accused of beating truck driver Denny in the first hours of the riots.

But Reiner ordered Dorn's removal, at first citing the judge's busy calendar and lack of a high-security courtroom. When Dorn protested, Reiner said his real concern was the judge's judicial temperament. After days of jockeying to find a replacement, Judge John A. Reid, who is white, was selected to preside over the case.

A self-described lay minister and Sunday school teacher who is a member of First AME, Dorn told the group that the trial presented a "no-win situation" for any black jurist and assured that Judge Reid would be "eminently fair."

"In this Denny case, it's not necessary to have a black judge preside," Dorn said. "What's necessary is to have an effective, fair judge preside over that case. Do we want to go back to when only blacks could deal with blacks? No! What we want is justice."

Nonetheless, Dorn called Reiner's action an insult to the black community, saying the prosecutor's justification for the removal was "a lie."

He asserted at the church, and later in a television interview, that he had presided over more cases than any other judge while assigned downtown, "and not once has any lawyer complained about my temperament."

Damian Monroe (Football) Williams, Antoine Eugene Miller and Henry Keith (Kiki) Watson are accused of attacking 13 people as the unrest erupted April 29. Denny was severely injured in the attack, which was broadcast live on television from a helicopter hovering overhead.

All the defendants are black and their supporters have leveled charges of racism since the three men were arrested.

Judge Mills, who originally assigned Dorn to the trial, said he selected him because he believed Dorn was qualified to handle the emotionally charged case and was sufficiently experienced to deal with the intense media interest it has drawn.

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