With Marion "Suge" Knight watching silently in jail blues and handcuffs, a judge Monday issued a bench warrant for Knight's attorney and strongly suggested that the state attorney general's office take over the rap mogul's case from the district attorney's office.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk issued the warrant for the arrest of attorney David Kenner after the lawyer did not appear Monday in court.
Ouderkirk also gave the district attorney's office until Wednesday to decide whether to give up the case voluntarily in the wake of reports in The Times about a potential conflict of interest involving prosecutor Lawrence M. Longo--reports, the judge noted sharply, that he learned about not from the district attorney's office but by reading the newspaper last Friday.
Longo's daughter was signed to a Death Row Records deal while Longo was monitoring Knight's probation from a 1992 assault case, and Knight lived this summer in a home leased from the Longo family in the exclusive Malibu Colony--and nobody from the district attorney's office, Ouderkirk said, "brought any information to the attention of the court."
Longo's newly hired attorney, meanwhile, contended that the plea bargain that resolved the 1992 case was forced on the veteran prosecutor by higher-ups in the district attorney's office.
A top aide to Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti did sign off on the deal, which led to five years probation and a suspended prison term, said a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. But sources familiar with the plea negotiations said it was ultimately approved by all involved, including Longo.
Outside court, the Knight case blossomed into a campaign issue, with challenger John Lynch charging that Garcetti tried to keep the office's investigation of Longo quiet until after the Nov. 5 election.
"The more I think about the Knight case, the madder I get," Lynch said.
But Lynch's campaign manager, Rick Taylor, confirmed Monday that Longo had contributed $90 on June 12 to the challenger's campaign. The money was returned late last week, Taylor said Monday, adding: "We wanted to take away any perceived conflict of interest."
Garcetti again declined to comment, referring calls to aides, who said he was not trying to hide anything. Campaign manager Matt Middlebrook said Garcetti "is taking this matter very seriously. He's going to get to the bottom of it."
Kenner said he was surprised at Monday's developments. "I've never known a situation like this. . . . I have two co-counsels who were there. It's not like he [Knight] was left unrepresented," he said.
Kenner said he feared that if he had come to the hearing it would have fueled the furor precipitated by the relationship between him, Knight and prosecutor Longo.
"Believe me, I wanted to be there. I don't walk away from a legal battle," Kenner said.
Ouderkirk said that Kenner had no excuse for being absent. The judge said Kenner is "critical to the fair and orderly progress of the case."
After issuing the warrant, he said he fully expected Kenner to appear Wednesday, adding that the warrant would be recalled if the lawyer appeared.
Knight, who was sent to jail last Tuesday for alleged probation violations, appeared Monday in court with his hands shackled in front of him, wearing blue jail garb and new white Nike basketball shoes. His attorneys protested that the handcuffs were unnecessary for the record executive, who they said had frequently shown respect for the court by appearing in suits and ties.
Ouderkirk said the sheriff's deputies who provide courtroom security decided to keep Knight in handcuffs. Knight made no statements in court.
Longo, who was asked by his superiors to stay home Monday, declined to comment.
In an interview Sunday night, Westwood attorney Donald Wager, representing Longo, said the prosecutor "didn't do anything unlawful or unethical."
Wager added: "When the district attorney's office administration took Mr. Longo off the case, they created a problem for themselves and for Mr. Longo that never needed to be created."
Longo was taken off the case Sept. 17 after having handled it since 1992. Knight, 31, was charged in connection with an assault July 13, 1992, against Lynwood and George Stanley, two brothers and would-be rappers.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in 1992, the brothers were attacked in a Hollywood recording studio after Knight told Lynwood Stanley not to use a company phone. Knight pulled a gun and ordered him to hang it up, saying, "I should kill you, Blood."
Knight ordered both brothers to their knees and fired one shot near them. Knight then beat Lynwood Stanley with the gun, then ordered both brothers to take off their pants.