Sneddon has History of Prosecutorial Misconduct? MJEOL Bullet #190

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Sneddon has History of Prosecutorial Misconduct? 3-Part MJEOL Bullet #190 In the face of prosecutors now trying desperately to convict Michael Jackson in the court of public opinion, there seems to be a developing story surrounding the current Santa Barbara district attorney’s propensity to level criminal charges and allegations against attorneys who, some say, are in the way of a case he’s attempting to prosecute.

The DA’s office apparently has a history of ruining the reputations, practices, and lives of attorneys and others, who they deem as preventing them from pursuing a case. Just last week, prosecution sympathizer and tabloid reporter Diane Dimond made claims on Court TV’s Crier Live that her sources say prosecutors are inclined towards bringing attorney Mark Geragos into this conspiracy charge against Jackson.

This is a “case” where prosecutors seem to be leveling criminal allegations at any and everyone who was around Jackson to witness the “manipulative” and threatening behavior of the accuser’s mother.

As dubious as Dimond’s sources have proven to be, what if there is some semblance of truth to what she and her sources are claiming? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the current district attorney, “cronies” in tow, have attempted to prosecute and/or ruin the reputations of a lawyer he sees as standing in the way of them getting what they want. We already learned in court the week of August 16 that both the kidnapping/abduction allegation and the threats/intimidation allegation are all but non-existent now. The stepfather testified in court that Geragos’s private investigator came over to his house, where the family were staying, to tape an interview with them. They can’t have been abducted and held hostage at Neverland if they were AT the stepfather’s house when they did at least one of the audio interviews exonerating Jackson. Now we may have found out what prosecutors plan to do about the many people that will probably come forward to discuss the family’s behavior during the time they were around Jackson, including Geragos. Some may not know what to make of this Geragos rumor. For all the public knows, it could be the ramblings of a desperate wanna-be-insider using a “lazy” and biased tabloid reporter to further their lies. But what exactly to make of the Geragos rumor? We shall see if Sneddon wants to go down the dangerous road of accusing yet another attorney of a crime in an effort to taint testimony of events that happened while the family is claiming to have been “held hostage” and conspired against at Neverland. Geragos certainly wouldn’t be the first to experience it. Attorney Gary Dunlap gave an exhaustive interview about his experiences with the Santa Barbara County DA. He talked about his opinions on the Jackson “case” as well. City attorney Art Montandon has also filed a claim against Santa Barbara County for similar allegations. Even Judge Diana Hall is currently battling the Santa Barbara DA’s office for these same types of allegations. And each have very similar experiences to report, which are stunningly similar to what’s happened thus far in the Jackson “case”. The media wants to find a pattern of prior bad acts? They’re looking in the wrong place. Gary Dunlap is an attorney currently suing Sneddon, some of his Deputy DAs, the District Attorney’s office as well as investigators in federal court for $10M. Dunlap gave a radio interview at the beginning of this year. He says that the DA’s office wanted him out of the way. He was successfully defending too many excessive force cases against the sheriff’s department. The allegation is that certain authority figures, including Sneddon, concocted baseless felony charges against him supposedly in an effort to hinder such acquittals and stave off excessive force allegations. Sources say there have been many settlements between the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Dept. and citizens who have been subject to excessive force as well, some of which have been covered by the local press. Dunlap was acquitted on all 6 felony charges filed against him by Sneddon, but not before prosecutors used the media to try to ruin his reputation. Sound familiar? What started this whole Dunlap case? According to Dunlap, he isn’t financially dependant on his law practice. Because of that, he could afford to take cases on the merits. Dunlap says that there is a practice of abuse of authority. Being specifically interested in defending excessive abuse cases and trumped up charges, he became a target himself. Dunlap says there’s a generation of young people charged with felonies that may not have deserved them. And with northern Santa Barbara county being mostly government dependant, those with felony convictions are “locked out of any kind of meaningful employment forever.” During the interview, he protests: “And then, it’s almost like they take some of these kids right out of high school” and throw felonies at them. “And I’ve always opposed that and I do oppose it. And so the district attorney and I are always at odds with one another…” He became a target because of the significant amount of successes he’s had with defending his clients. In a 102 page complaint, most of which was recently approved to go forward by the U.S. District Court, Dunlap says Sneddon and others are guilty of conspiracy, malicious prosecution, racketeering, witness tampering, illegal searches and violating his civil rights. In a Dec 5 2003 article from the Lompoc Record, Dunlap describes his arrest and prosecution as an “emotional drain” and a “financial fiasco”. In the attorney’s complaint, he says—and see if this rings a bell—that:

“In fact, it is difficult, if not impossible to discern any ethical standards on the part of the defendants [Sneddon]; they appear to have been intellectually destitute and morally bereft during the entire sequence of events giving rise to this complaint” (see Dunlap sues over arrest ).

“Intellectually destitute”? Well that would explain how, in the Jackson “case”, everybody was investigating the private investigator(PI) working for Mark Geragos and, according to them, nobody seemed to notice he was working for the defense. But “morally bereft?” Well that too could put another angle on how they may have known the PI was a defense team member, but raided his office anyway, and then lied on the stand about it. Dunlap told the Lompoc Record that the original ordeal surrounding his case was an emotional nightmare which has tarnished his practice, even though he was never guilty of any crime. He says that Sneddon and company engaged in a sting operation that turned into a witch hunt:

Well, they engaged in a sting operation, which they manufactured and allowed to get out of hand, and it essentially became just a real witch hunt. There were a number of violations of my rights in the investigatory stage as well as during the prosecution stage. And we’ve additionally alleged…that in other cases…we have information he has done the same thing. We have alleged the civil RICO violations, which are essentially engaging in racketeering and conspiracy by public officers. (see Gary Dunlap Interview )

RICO violation pertains to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It “provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization” (see RICO (law)). It is common where a group of individuals use the courts to retaliate against whistle-blowers to try to silence them. Legal experts say that the RICO law could also conceivably be used in situations where “lawyers and/or their clients conspired and collaborated to concoct fictitious legal complaints solely in retribution and retaliation.” Also notice that Dunlap says his attorneys, through their own investigation, have found similar cases where these types of abuses were alleged to have been committed by the Santa Barbara DA’s office. The attorney says that when police raided his building, they had a reporter(s) in tow to capture the event and to make sure it received maximum attention. The police broke into his office with the press present, reports Dunlap: “They are already in my home when I came in from a court appearance in Santa Maria,” he says. “…When I was waiting for them to finish up in my home, they were in my office doing the same thing, breaking into my office with the press present.” Of his ordeal with the DA and law enforcement, Dunlap says that what they did when they got a complaint against him was not simply investigate it like regular law enforcement. But they, instead, used it as an opportunity to prosecute him whether it was true or not:

What I think is that they got a legitimate complaint. They got a complaint, which they had to investigate. However, rather than looking at that complaint and doing a straightforward and honest investigation, they saw it as an opportunity to prosecute me. And what they did is they tried to add legitimacy to an illegitimate charge.

Notice the similarities between what Dunlap is saying and what some observers of the Jackson “case” have said. Attorney Joe Tacopina previously commented that if an unbiased set of prosecutors and police looked into the so-called “case” against Jackson, there’s no way it would have gotten this far. Could prosecutors be using the complaint by the accusing family to further a “case” against Jackson? While they were investigating Dunlap, he says they engaged in “unreasonable search and seizure” and illegally recorded phone conversations Dunlap had. They also sent people to his office wearing wires:

DUNLAP: They sent in people wearing wires under the pretext of being supposed clients who made up false scenarios, and they recorded some of the conversations and did not record others of the conversations in order to basically cover up their misconduct; and created this false scenario in order to get me to give what they alleged was illegal advice and assistance. SWEET, Radio Host: What evidence do you have of the illegal recording of the phone calls, you know, were you able to obtain that somehow? DUNLAP: Well, yes. Because the calls were all recorded and during the course of the prosecution, during discovery, we obtained the phone calls which they had recorded SWEET: Without your knowledge or permission? DUNLAP: Right. SWEET: So obviously they weren’t able to use that as evidence, correct? DUNLAP: Well, that is correct. Although, some of the phone calls we allowed them to bring in [the court case] because we wanted to demonstrate what they had done.

Looks like unethical behavior as alleged by Jackson’s attorneys isn’t the first time the prosecution’s credibility has been called into question. Watching Sheriff Jim Anderson, and later former sheriff Jim Thomas, talk about a press conference claiming vindication—from a one-sided Attorney General investigation—brought to mind Dunlap’s recounting of another case involving the sheriff’s department. It also sheds light on the mentality of these people. Dunlap says a person in Santa Maria announced his candidacy for public office, and was illegally detailed shortly thereafter by sheriff’s deputies on bogus charges:

DUNLAP: Well I don’t feel comfortable talking in too much detail about them, but in one instance there is a gentleman in Santa Maria who had announced his candidacy for a public office and shortly thereafter he was illegally detained by sheriff’s deputies on what were pretty clearly bogus charges. And instead of the district attorney acknowledging that, the district attorney attempted to cover up the police officer’s excessive force by filing charges against [the man] and attempted to prosecute him on those charges, and essentially ruined his opportunity to run for public office.

So what of the man’s claims? “He ultimately sued the district attorney as well as the law enforcement officers and won a judgment in federal court for several hundred thousand dollars and several hundred thousand dollars in attorney’s fees,” according to Dunlap. For the record, it is not an easy task to win a judgment of any kind against a DA’s office or law enforcement. Thus, something egregious must have occurred for there to have been a judgment in the complainant’s favor. To piggy-back on how hard it is to further suits against DA’s, in May 2004, Dunlap’s lawsuit against the DA’s office and 2 of its investigators was approved to go forward by the U.S. District Court. Observers say if Dunlap’s claims were bogus, the District Court judge would have tossed it out. Meaning, for it to even get this far, there must have been something to his claims of prosecutorial misconduct. And what about the crimes the DA’s office is alleged to have committed in Dunlap’s case? What exactly did they do? Their first illegal act was secretly tape-recording the court proceedings of a case Dunlap was trying, according to Dunlap. Another thing prosecutors–who later charged him—did was talk to the judge privately in a case being tried by Dunlap. They tried to undermine Dunlap’s credibility and convince her to change a decision she made that they didn’t think was correct. Dunlap says:

…they went and they talked to the judge privately, which is against the law and in violation of the rules of professional conduct. They have an Ex Parte conversation with the court, told the court about the fact that they were investigating me for criminal activities…

And who was that judge? Diana Hall. Remember that name because she too is currently fighting her own battle on allegedly bogus charges with this DA’s office, partially because she didn’t bow down and cower to this prosecutor’s will. On a side note, Hall was assigned to shadow another judge possibly so that they can keep an eye on her. Who is that judge? Rodney Melville. Small world, isn’t it? Again, Dunlap’s has documented the same type of conduct which was recently investigated and brought out in open court by Jackson’s defense team. There is also a pattern in how Sneddon and prosecutors handle grand juries. Dunlap says that some of the grand jurors in the case against him wanted to ask questions about some of the “fishy” things that occurred. And the district attorney would shoot them down by saying “that’s not important.” “There were some things that sort of stood out as exculpatory, or …exonerating towards me. And a few grand jurors asked about, well, ‘what about this?’ Or ‘what about that?’ ” he says. He continued, “And the district attorney said, ‘well, you’re just suppose to ignore that.’ ‘Don’t worry about that.’ You know, ‘We’ll try to get around to explaining that later,’ which they never did.” As for the white-hot spotlight being shown on the current DA’s choice to seek the secrecy of a grand jury in the Jackson “case”, Dunlap comments:

And I think in this case, the DA wants to avoid the glare of a probable cause hearing, because it will be extraordinarily embarrassing to him if he can’t even get past a preliminary hearing. And so he doesn’t want to have a regular preliminary hearing while his officers will be subject to examination.

That same spotlight has been used by prosecutors and their PR firm, Tellem Worldwide—who once represented Rent-A-Wreck—to taint the jury pool in this case. Part 2 will continue to look at the case against Dunlap, including how prosecutors tried to get him disbarred while they were prosecuting him; the judge overseeing Dunlap’s case likening Sneddon & co.’s behavior to a John Grisham novel; and the close relationship between the DA’s office and the sheriff’s department. You can listen to Dunlap’s interview online: Stay tuned. -MJEOL

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