According the Los Angeles Daily News the trial of a defendant accused of domestic violence collapsed and came to an abrupt halt amid allegations of jury tampering.
In a case prosecuted by the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ office, defendant Oleh Yemets faced up to a year in jail and possible deportation to Russia if convicted of misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend. The trial commenced on September 4 and was in its sixth day when defense attorney Andrew Flier discovered that a member of the City Attorney’s office had improperly spoken to a juror on the case.
According to California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 5-320 (B) and (C), during trial a member connected with the case shall not communicate directly or indirectly with any juror. Additionally, during trial a member who is not connected with the case shall not communicate directly or indirectly concerning the case with anyone the member knows is a juror in the case.
The juror in question was two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. The alleged tampering happened when a Reserve (volunteer) Deputy City Attorney approached Mr. Hanks during a break to offer her thanks for his serving on the jury, the Daily News reported.
“She was seen with Mr. Hanks in the stairwell of the building when she came up to him and thanked him and said how everyone was impressed that a celebrity would be here,” defense attorney Andrew Flier told the Daily News.
As a result of the prohibited contact with Mr. Hanks, the misdemeanor charges were dropped and the defendant was fined $150 for disturbing the peace. The Reserve Deputy City Attorney who caused the collapse of the case was not named, however, Oscar Winslow, President of the Los Angeles City Attorneys Association, told the Daily News that “She was one of the volunteers brought in by (former City Attorney Carmen) Trutanich,” Winslow said. “This is exactly why we were concerned about bringing in untrained people to prosecute cases.” He said.
Trutanich introduced the volunteer Reserve program during his sole term as City Attorney as a way of combatting staff cuts caused by the citywide budget crisis. As many as 100 volunteers, most newly-qualified attorneys who could not find paid employment, were used by Trutanich in place of full-time Deputy City Attorneys.
The City Attorneys Association was not alone in expressing their fears and concerns for Trutanich’s volunteer program. Gregory Keating, a law professor at University of Southern California, told the Daily News that the program could lead to less experienced and lower-quality attorneys trying cases for the city. "You can't be choosy when you're getting people for free," Keating said. "You wouldn't expect it to raise the quality of lawyering in general because you wouldn't do this on either side unless you have to.”
Although the collapse of the domestic violence case is the first time that the failings of Trutanich’s volunteer program have been reported publicly, it is understood that there have been other cases where both judges and defense attorneys have expressed concerns with the volunteer program. “It costs around $18,000 a day to run a courtroom,” one attorney, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. “They [the volunteers] are wasting the courts’ time and taxpayers’ money on cases that should not be tried, they should be settled.” He said.
Trutanich, who suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid to be reelected as City Attorney, nevertheless hails the program as “a nationwide model for prosecutorial programs.” While some might say that the program was just another one of Trutanich’s campaign gimmicks, it appears that no other prosecutorial agency in the United States has adopted his program. Perhaps wisely so.
A spokesman for newly elected City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Daily News that “he [Feuer] has been made aware of the situation and will review it.” The collapse of this case will provide Feuer with the opportunity to speak to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys before making a decision on whether the program can be continued.