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Judge Keeps D.A. on the Ryder Case

July 16, 2002|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge refused to disqualify the Los Angeles County district attorney's office Monday from prosecuting actress Winona Ryder in her shoplifting case, despite accusations by her attorney that prosecutors are trying to taint prospective jurors.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox ruled after a hearing in the Beverly Hills courthouse that the district attorney's office was not involved in a conflict of interest and that the case should not be turned over to the state attorney general's office.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Sharlene Honnaka had opposed the motion, arguing that prosecutors did not appear to have an ax to grind with Ryder or to have a conflict in the case. "This is nothing more than speculation," she said.

Though defense attorney Mark Geragos had filed his motion under seal, he said in court that the motion included 22 items that he believed show that Ryder was "not getting fair treatment" and that prosecutors were trying to publicly humiliate her and to taint potential jurors.

For example, Geragos said, the district attorney's spokeswoman, Sandi Gibbons, inaccurately told reporters in February that a Saks Fifth Avenue security tape showed Ryder cutting off sensor tags on merchandise. He said Gibbons also told a reporter in June that she shops at Target, not Saks, adding, "I don't know what kind of jury she's going to have, but if they're people like me, then perhaps they won't be laughing either."

Geragos suggested in court that prosecutors would not allow Ryder to plead unless she admitted guilt, which he said violated both state and federal case law.

Fox said he was concerned about what appeared to be inaccurate statements made by the district attorney's office. But he said they do not rise to the level necessary to disqualify the office from the case.

"The district attorney can proceed with the prosecution," Fox said.

Fox warned that he might impose a gag order on the attorneys to ensure that Ryder receives a fair trial.

Ryder, star of "The Age of Innocence," "Girl, Interrupted" and other films, is free on $20,000 bail and was not in court. She faces felony charges of second-degree burglary, grand theft, vandalism and possession of a drug without a prescription.

The 30-year-old actress is accused of shoplifting about $6,000 worth of merchandise from the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills and could face three years and eight months in state prison if convicted.

Geragos said he would consult his client before deciding whether to appeal Fox's ruling. Attorneys are to return to court for a pretrial hearing in the case on Aug. 13.

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