For the second time in a week, the judge in the trial of three men accused of assaulting Reginald O. Denny tried to facilitate plea-bargain discussions, telling defense attorneys and prosecutors that his boss was willing to act as a neutral party in the process.
Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk's remarks during a pretrial hearing drew an angry response from one of the lawyers, who last week voiced no objection to such talks.
"I think it's inappropriate for the court to try to force us to solve this case by putting a gun to our heads," attorney J. Patrick Maginnis told Ouderkirk in court. "It is inappropriate for the court to keep talking about the issue."
Ouderkirk, who said Supervising Judge Cecil J. Mills has offered to mediate any discussions between attorneys, denied that he was exerting pressure.
Maginnis represents Antoine Eugene Miller, one of the three men accused of attempted murder and other charges stemming from events at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues at the start of the Los Angeles riots.
Denny was one of several motorists pulled from his vehicle, beaten and robbed as television cameras broadcast the images. The trial of Miller, Damian Monroe Williams and Henry Keith Watson is scheduled to begin April 12.
Three men accused of lesser crimes at the same intersection have pleaded guilty to various charges as a result of plea bargains.
Last Monday, Ouderkirk urged all six defense lawyers and the two prosecutors to talk to each other about a settlement, saying such discussions are routine.
At the time, none of the lawyers voiced objections to at least trying to reach common ground.
In fact, Earl C. Broady, who represents Watson, said he had discussed his client's case with prosecutors twice. Edi M. O. Faal, who represents Williams, said he spent two hours in talks with prosecutors Friday.
But Maginnis, after formally protesting Ouderkirk's intervention, said outside the hearing that the judge is prejudicing potential jurors by repeatedly implying that his client has committed a crime for which he could plead guilty.
Mills said Ouderkirk had done nothing improper by twice bringing up the issue of a settlement.