Ex Sheriff Corruption

In this May 12, 2017, file photo, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca leaves federal court in Los Angeles after he was sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran. Baca faces time behind bars after a court Monday rejected the appeal of his conviction on corruption charges.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A federal appeals court panel Monday rejected former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca’s appeal of his conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.

The 76-year-old for­mer sheriff, who has Alz­hei­mer’s disease, was sen­tenced in May 2017 to three years in federal pris­on, but has remained free pending his appeal.

The appellate panel’s ru­ling does not auto­matically mean Baca will be going to pris­on. He could request a review by the full 9th Cir­cuit or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During arguments be­fore the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in No­vem­ber, Baca attorney Ben­jamin Coleman con­tended that the trial judge in the case had abused his discretion by barring jurors from hearing evidence of the former sheriff’s Alz­heimer’s diagnosis.

Coleman argued the ru­ling could have affected all of Baca’s criminal con­vic­tions and urged the ap­pel­late panel to overturn the guilty verdicts.

But the appellate panel found that the trial court “did not abuse its dis­cre­tion” by rejecting as “un­reliable” testimony about the extent of the disease’s impact on Baca when he lied to investigators.

“We find no basis for re­versing,” the panel wrote. “... The government in­tro­duced sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that Baca acted with (the) requisite intent.”

Baca’s trial lawyer, Nathan J. Hochman, saidthe defense disagreed “com­pletely” with the “skim­py analysis and er­ro­neous conclusions” reached by the appeals court in its seven-page opinion, “after we and the government submitted well over 150 pages of factual and legal arguments on the appeal.”

Hochman said he would seek further review from the court’s full panel of 11 judges.

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna applauded the ap­pel­late panel’s decision, say­ing it “confirms the principle that no one is above the law.”

“Prosecutors presented a fair and thorough case that demonstrated Mr. Baca acted corruptly by ob­struct­ing a federal grand jury investigation. Instead of cooperating with a fed­er­al investigation that ul­tim­ate­ly was concerned about im­proving conditions in the county jails, Mr. Baca chose to obstruct and then lie to federal authorities,” he said in a prepared state­ment. “I am extremely proud of the prosecutors and the FBI agents whose work led to significant re­forms in the Sheriff’s De­part­ment.”

During the November ap­peals court hearing, As­sist­ant U.S. Attorney Bram Alden said the lower court judge made the cor­rect decision re­gard­ing the Alzheimer’s di­ag­nosis, arguing that the Alz­hei­mer’s evidence prof­fered by the defense ex­pert witness was “un­duly speculative” and based upon “unreliable meth­od­ology.”

Further, evidence of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be “extremely prejudicial” to a jury, Alden said.

Alden said the defense could not prove that Baca was actually suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time of the events for which he was convicted. All ev­id­ence supporting the Alz­hei­mer’s claim, Alden said, was “anecdotal,” in­clu­ding incidents where the ex-sheriff had forgotten the name of a medication he was taking, that he was de­scribed by a co-worker as being “confused,” and that he had forgotten the last name of a colleague.

Coleman argued that Baca’s conviction for making false statements during an FBI interview in 2013 was the direct result of mild impairment caused by early stages of the disease. Baca was diagnosed with the disease in May 2014.

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