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Ventura County

Molestation Suspect Now Wants Jury Trial

Court: The Ventura County school board trustee was confused when he opted to have a judge rule in the case, his lawyer says.

June 12, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just moments before a Ventura County judge was to rule on his guilt or innocence Tuesday, county school trustee Albert Rosen halted court proceedings and requested that a jury decide the child molestation charges pending against him.

"Mr. Rosen has had second thoughts," said Oxnard attorney Joseph O'Neill, who told reporters his client was confused when he waived his trial rights last week.

Rosen, 75, a retired teacher and longtime member of the Ventura County Board of Education, is accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl at his Simi Valley residence more than 30 years ago. He is charged with 10 counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than 14 and faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted.

A week ago, Rosen agreed to forgo a jury trial and submitted the case to Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath, who told Rosen that he would most likely be found guilty based on transcripts from a preliminary hearing last fall. Rosen ignored the warning and asked McGrath to make a ruling.

But Tuesday morning, just before McGrath was to announce his decision, Rosen indicated through his attorney that he wanted to withdraw the waiver and let a jury hear the case. A hearing is set for July 3.

Outside the courtroom, O'Neill said his client did not understand what he was doing last week and has a right to ask the court to withdraw the waiver.

But Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ernesto Acosta said Rosen did not appear confused at the time. Acosta said that Rosen consulted with his lawyer and answered "yes" when asked by the prosecutor whether he understood the waiver.

"We have no idea where he is going with this," Acosta said. "My suspicion is that the defendant is concerned about losing his position with the Board of Education."

Rosen, who is free on $50,000 bail, remains a member of the county board, which oversees the superintendent of schools office and runs special-education programs, continuation schools and classes for incarcerated juveniles. His term expires at the end of the year but Rosen has indicated he will not seek reelection in November.

School officials say they cannot force Rosen, who joined the board in late 1989, to step down sooner. Under state law, elected officials cannot be removed from office without a recall election unless they are convicted of a felony or of a crime connected with the duties of their office.

Rosen was charged with child molestation last year after a woman came forward with allegations that he had sexually assaulted her between 1966 and 1970. The defense has twice challenged the constitutionality of a state law that permits prosecutors to charge Rosen with sex crimes decades after the six-year statute of limitations has expired.

O'Neill contends the law is unfair and unconstitutional and has left his client in a difficult position, because after so many years there are no witnesses or evidence to contradict the woman's claims.

But those objections were overruled because the law has been upheld by the California Supreme Court.

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