Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Sunday, April 24, 2016

California jurors misusing the Internet could face fines

California jurors misusing the Internet could face fines

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jurors who threaten to derail trials by researching them on Google or posting comments about them on Twitter are often dismissed with nothing more than a tongue-lashing from a judge.

But that may soon change in California. Legislation supported by state court officials would authorize judges in some counties to fine jurors up to $1,500 for social media and Internet use violations, which have led to mistrials and overturned convictions around the country.

As jurors and judges have become more technology savvy in recent years, the perils of jurors playing around with their smartphones have become a mounting concern, particularly in technology-rich California. A 2011 state law made improper electronic or wireless communication or research by a juror punishable by contempt.

Supporters of the latest California measure say a potential fine would give teeth to existing prohibitions against social media and Internet use and simplify the process for holding wayward jurors accountable.

"It's disruptive of the judicial process, and there ought to be a fairly simple and convenient way for a judge to sanction a juror based on the order that the judge has given," said Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, who authored the legislation.

But critics question whether it will have any practical effect on jurors who are constantly on sites such as Facebook and Twitter and suggest judges vet the social media activity of potential jurors before seating them.

"If you have an Internet addict who just can't psychologically stop, you may want to excuse that person," said Paula Hannaford-Agor, who studies juries at the National Center for State Courts.

Brian Walsh, a judge in the Silicon Valley county of Santa Clara, said a fine could also change the dynamic between judges and juries.

"You want to present the jurors' obligations to serve as an inviting opportunity to participate in the democratic process," he said. "One could consider it counterproductive to be laying out all the penalties a juror can incur if they blow it."

It is not clear exactly how many times juror social media or Internet use has affected trials. But anecdotal evidence suggests it is more than sporadic.

Eric Robinson, co-director of the Press Law and Democracy Project at Louisiana State University, said he used to track cases of juror social media or Internet misconduct using news accounts and other sources, but there were so many "it got to be more trouble than it was worth."

"Those are the ones we hear about," he said. "I'm sure it happens a lot more."

An Arkansas court in 2011 threw out a death row inmate's murder conviction in part because of Tweets. One said "Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken." Another said "It's over" less than hour before the jury announced its verdict.

A New Jersey appeals court in 2014 tossed the heroin possession conviction of two men after a juror was accused of searching the defendants' names online and finding information about their criminal records.

A California appeals court in January cited juror Internet research in throwing out a fraud conviction against an investment firm CEO. The juror looked up a case involving an accountant the defendant blamed for the fraud.

Judges warn jurors against using social media and the Internet, and have the power to hold them in contempt if they violate those rules.

Greg Hurley, a lawyer who studies juries at the National Center for State Courts, said he is unaware of any state that fines jurors outside the contempt process.

California judges say the contempt process can be time consuming and is rarely invoked. A juror facing contempt has a right to an attorney, and the court could get bogged down in a lengthy formal hearing. So judges often opt to replace a wayward juror with an alternate to keep the proceedings moving.

"Historically, contempt has been something judges are told, 'Don't do,'" said J. Richard Couzens, a retired judge from California's Placer County who now rotates through courts around the state. "You have to follow so many rules to institute a contempt process."

Couzens, a member of the judicial committee that recommended the fines legislation, said he dismissed a juror years ago in a theft case for using a cellphone to figure out the value of a stolen item.

The fine would be similar to a traffic citation, making it relatively easy to dispense, Couzens said.

Judges could mention it when warning jurors against Internet and social media use, said Steve Austin, presiding judge in California's Contra Costa County.

"At the very least with the sanction, it would be a good thing you'd be able to tell the jurors," he added.

The legislation initially called for giving all state judges the power to fine wayward jurors. But it was scaled back after legislators expressed concern that it could dissuade potential jurors from serving.

The bill now authorizes the judiciary to select some county courts for a five-year pilot program, which a legislative analysis said could save participating courts money. It is before the full assembly.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Suspension of licenses sought for investigators in Costa Mesa case

Suspension of licenses sought for investigators in Costa Mesa case

Los Angeles Times
Jeremiah Dobruck
January 18, 2015

State prosecutors want two private eyes accused of tailing and trying to embarrass two Costa Mesa councilmen before the 2012 city elections to have their licenses suspended as they await trial.

The investigators, Chris Lanzillo and Scott Impola, appeared in Orange County Superior Court this week, but did not enter pleas on charges of felony conspiracy and false imprisonment.

Prosecutors say Lanzillo and Impola were hired by the Costa Mesa police union to dig up dirt on political opponents. The Costa Mesa Police Assn. has said its members had no knowledge of the alleged unlawful activity until after the fact and then quickly fired the law firm where the two investigators worked.

Lanzillo and Impola are each free on $25,000 bond. But the state attorney general's office has asked that as a condition of their bail, an Orange County judge suspend their state licenses to work in the private security industry and to carry firearms and batons on the job.

According to prosecutors, Lanzillo and Impola used a GPS device to track Councilman Steve Mensinger and phoned in a false report while tailing Councilman Jim Righeimer.

A Costa Mesa police officer responded to Righeimer's home, where the councilman took and passed a sobriety test. The incident sparked the charge of false imprisonment, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

"Their false imprisonment of another person reflects a blatant violation of that person's personal liberty," the attorney general office's filing states. "Their choice to place a GPS device on someone's vehicle reflects a deliberate invasion of privacy. In short, one who commits such acts cannot be trusted to do business with unsuspecting consumers."

Lanzillo has a private investigator's license, and Impola is licensed to operate a private security patrol, according to online records.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Adrian Contreras said the requested suspensions wouldn't affect any local permits that Lanzillo or Impola may have to carry weapons.

Lawyers for the defendants have opposed the suspension request.

"Lanzillo is not a danger to anybody," said Nancy Kardon, one of his attorneys.

Impola's lawyer, David Vaughn, argued in court papers that the charges against his client involve nonviolent conduct and could have been charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

A hearing on the license suspension request is scheduled Feb. 6. The defendants' arraignment was rescheduled for that date.

Superior Court judges have authorized restraining orders on Lanzillo and Impola. Both are barred from contacting Righeimer and Mensinger or visiting Skosh Monahan's, a restaurant owned by Councilman Gary Monahan where the private investigators allegedly began tailing the politicians.

State appellate court hears arguments in case involving Costa Mesa councilmen

State appellate court hears arguments in case involving Costa Mesa councilmen

Los Angeles Times / Daily Pilot
Bradley Zint
February 19, 2016

A state appellate court heard arguments Friday in an ongoing lawsuit accusing the Costa Mesa Police Assn., its former law firm and a private investigator of conspiring against two Costa Mesa councilmen.

Attorney Andrew Chang argued that the police union, the firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, and investigator Chris Lanzillo, were "masterminds" in a scheme to implicate the councilmen during the 2012 election.

Chang represents Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Righeimer's wife, Lene.

Their case accuses Lanzillo, a former Riverside police detective working for the now-dissolved law firm, of falsely reporting to police that Righeimer — considered an adversary to the union for his tough stances on pension reform — was driving drunk. Lanzillo made the call after he saw Righeimer leave Councilman Gary Monahan's bar and restaurant in August 2012.

A Costa Mesa police officer administered a field sobriety test, and Righeimer passed.

"This was a setup," Chang told associate justices William Rylaarsdam, Eileen Moore and David Thompson of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. "This was not someone happening to see someone stumble out of a bar."

Chang and the councilmen's other attorneys have argued that Lanzillo's 911 call is not protected speech — Lanzillo's counsel has argued otherwise — and that his invoking of the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 200 times during a three-hour deposition in 2014 amounted to a no-contest plea.

Chang contended that the police union and law firm were "all involved" in the conspiracy, which also included Lanzillo's reported coordination with a woman tasked with flirting with Monahan, a political ally of Righeimer and Mensinger, that evening to see if he would behave inappropriately.

Chang contended that the police union was paying for the questionable actions of the law firm, to which Thompson replied, "People pay their lawyers after they hire them, don't they?"

Attorney Sy Everett, who represents the Costa Mesa Police Assn., told the justices that the association never had advance knowledge of the tactics and quickly fired Lackie Dammeier after news of the DUI call surfaced.

The union had "nothing to do" with Lanzillo's call, he said.

Everett added that the association's hiring of Lackie Dammeier, which represented many law enforcement agencies, was certainly within its First Amendment rights.

"You have the right to hire a lawyer to petition on your behalf," Everett said.

The association has also alleged that the lawsuit is an attempt to restrict its members' right to protected political speech. As such, Everett added, the Costa Mesa police union shouldn't be held liable for any allegations levied against the firm or Lanzillo, whom he called "twice removed" from the association.

Everett called the councilmen's case a "strategic lawsuit filed for the benefit of politicians."

Justice Rylaarsdam responded that it's "regretful" if the lawsuit's allegations were, as Everett attested, politically motivated.

"I don't think it speaks well for our political society," Rylaarsdam said, "if that's how you go about it."

Stephen Larson, counsel for Lanzillo and Lackie Dammeier, told the justices that the councilmen have not presented any evidence proving the 911 call was knowingly false.

He also contended that Lanzillo's taking of the Fifth Amendment doesn't imply guilt.

Like Everett, Larson called Righeimer and Mensinger's case "a political effort," to which Rylaarsdam replied, "To justify this as a political effort is pretty sad."

The case, first filed in 2013, was moved up to the appellate court the following year after the police association's motions to dismiss it altogether — on the basis of the union's actions being considered free speech — were denied by a Superior Court judge. The association then appealed the denial.

The justices are expected to issue a ruling within 90 days. If they deny the case's dismissal, all parties can proceed with discovery and it could go to a trial.

A separate criminal case against Lanzillo and an alleged accomplice, Scott Impola, is ongoing. The pair is facing various felony charges, including some in connection to placing a GPS device on Mensinger's vehicle to illegally track his movements.