Former Sheriff denied trial venue change

Former Sheriff Lee Baca attends Black History Month program at First AME church, Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca attends Black History Month program at First AME church, Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

Judge denies motion to move Baca trial

By André Coleman 11/03/2016

After serving as one of Los Angeles County’s highest ranking law enforcement officials since the late 1990s, Lee Baca will be tried here in December on charges that he obstructed justice and lied to federal investigators.    

Related:  Restoring trust in the Sheriff’s Department

On Monday, a federal judge shot down a motion by Baca’s attorney to move the trial out of the county, claiming the former sheriff, who says he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, could not get a fair trial here due to biased media coverage.

“The pervasiveness of the coverage and its prejudicial effect to Mr. Baca receiving a fair trial by an impartial jury free from outside influence cannot be overstated,” wrote attorney Nathan Hochman in a court filing. 

Baca confessed that during an FBI investigation into abuse committed by deputies in the county’s jail system he instructed deputies to visit an FBI agent at her home and do “everything but arrest her.” The deputies attempted to convince the agent she would be arrested if she did not back off.

Baca later denied sending his deputies to visit the agent, but later admitted to it as part of a plea deal that did not pan out. Baca originally reached a plea deal with prosecutors that would have allowed him to do no more than six months behind bars in exchange for a guilty plea on one count of lying to the FBI.

But US District Court Judge Percy Anderson refused to accept the plea after deciding the sentence would not repair the public trust that Baca had violated.  

In addition to lying, Baca also admitted that he ordered his Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to carry out a plan to hide an inmate that the FBI was using as an informant. Anthony Brown was allegedly rebooked under a number of different names and transferred to several locations in order to keep him from testifying before a federal grand jury.

Baca retired in January 2014 following the indictment of 18 mostly low-level deputies by a federal grand jury. He won the sheriff’s seat in 1998 and cruised to re-election in the next two elections. He ran unopposed in 2010.

Baca backed off of running for a fifth term in 2014. Tanaka, however, launched a failed bid to become sheriff but was soundly defeated by Jim McDonnell two years ago. 

Tanaka received a five-year sentence for his role in efforts to hamper the investigation. Twenty other former sheriff’s officials have been convicted.

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