The first four Los Angeles police officers charged with conspiring to frame suspects in the Rampart scandal on Tuesday waived their right to a preliminary hearing and demanded a prompt trial.
"My client wants to go to trial quickly to demonstrate his innocence," said Harland Braun, attorney for Sgt. Michael Buchanan.
Prosecutors agreed to waive the preliminary hearing, a step that means the trial could get underway as early as Sept. 29.
Defense attorneys said they made the unusual move in the interest of exposing a lack of prosecution evidence as quickly as possible.
"We believe this is a political prosecution and we want to bring this case to the people and let them see the evidence and clear the officers," said Barry Levin, attorney for Sgt. Edward Ortiz.
Defense attorneys also concluded that they had little chance of prevailing at a preliminary hearing.
One had been scheduled for next week. But it was delayed, probably for months, when prosecutors last week added a fourth defendant and new charges to the case. Defense attorneys said it would have taken months for the new defendant's attorney, Braun, to read thousands of pages of witness interviews and investigative reports prosecutors had compiled.
Defendants rarely win dismissals at preliminary hearings. The standard of proof is so low that the prosecution is not even required to present key witnesses. It can use hearsay accounts of their testimony instead.
That, defense attorneys said, was what prosecutors told them they intended to do with former CRASH officer Rafael Perez, who became a key informant.
Thus, defense attorneys knew they would have no chance to confront Perez and possibly shake his testimony until trial.
Under those circumstance, the preliminary hearing is "not of significance," Braun said.
Braun, who is inveterately colorful, referred to Perez as a "police monster" and gave reporters a small taste of the buffeting Perez has in store. "He didn't find Jesus," the attorney observed of the ex-officer. "He was caught with cocaine and now he's setting up innocent officers to save himself."
Perez began cooperating with authorities as part of a plea bargain after he was caught stealing cocaine from a police locker. As a result of his telling authorities that suspects were framed, approximately 100 criminal convictions have so far been overturned.
The district attorney's office is still investigating his allegations and Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Murphy, who oversees the probe, said Tuesday that it involves "a large number of targets."
Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor accepted both sides' waivers of the preliminary hearing. Over defense objections, he gave the prosecution the standard two weeks to file a new charging document, called an information, and scheduled re-arraignment of the defendants for July 31. At that point, if they still insist on their right to speedy trial, one must be scheduled in 60 days.
Defense attorneys said they still have not decided whether they will ask that the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench be disqualified from hearing the case.
Last week, the supervising criminal court judge, Larry P. Fidler, told the defendants he would grant a motion to disqualify the entire bench because one of the new charges involves Sgts. Buchanan and Brian Liddy allegedly making false statements to a Los Angeles judge.
That judge, Mark Arnold, was a deputy district attorney at the time, prosecuting one of the arrestees who was allegedly framed.
Levin said that he plans to interview Arnold soon to assess his importance to the case.
Defense attorneys face no deadline in making their disqualification decision. If they elect to disqualify, the case could be transferred to another county or a judge from another county could be sent to Los Angeles to preside over the trial.
The fourth officer charged in the case is Paul Harper.