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De La Torre Pleads 'Not Guilty,' Next Court Date Sept. 20 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 23 August 2012 01:54

Hernandez Refuses to Testify; Lawyer Says He Will Ask for Change of Venue


During a short arraignment at the San Fernando Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 21, San Fernando City Councilmember Maribel De La Torre pled "not guilty" to the charges of battery and vandalism stemming from a physical altercation with former Mayor and Councilmember Mario Hernandez, who was also present at the courtroom. Commissioner Martin Gladstein set the next court hearing for Sept. 20, and ordered both the defendant and "the victim," as Hernandez was referred in court, to return to the courthouse on that date.

De La Torre and Hernandez kept their distance during the arraignment, arriving at different times and sitting a few rows apart in the courtroom. No words were exchanged between them, but they did walk outside at the same time, with De La Torre's lawyer separating them. De La Torre faces two misdemeanor counts of battery and vandalism following a physical fight with former Mayor and Councilmember Mario Hernandez that occurred in his residence on June 28.

Hernandez, who is married, and De La Torre have been engaged in an affair, which Hernandez acknowledged last November. Following the altercation, Hernandez filed a police report, and pictures were taken of bruising around his face and neck. Both Hernandez and De La Torre filed restraining orders against each other, but eventually withdrew them.

Hernandez – who resigned from the council on July 10 – also sought to recant the filed police report, but was told police are now mandated to take action when they see evidence of battery or domestic violence. After reviewing the report, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office decided to proceed with the case.

Following Tuesday's arraignment, both De La Torre and Hernandez, as well as De La Torre's lawyer, Bob Steinberg, made comments before the bevy of media eagerly waiting to hear from them.

De La Torre, smiling, appeared to bask in the attention. "I will continue to affirm I am not guilty," De La Torre said. "What transpired, I will continue to say it was in self-defense."

Steinberg said the prosecutor has made a plea offer. But De La Torre does not want to admit to any crime and will go to trial if the charges aren't dropped. "I want to take it to trial because we will prove that (that it was in self-defense)," De La Torre said. She also mentioned that she wanted to take the case to trial to make sure "my record continues to stay clean."

When asked about her current relationship with Hernandez, who was standing nearby waiting his chance to speak, De La Torre said "there is no relationship.

He is here because he wants to be here. I'm trying to stay civil. We're human beings. I still think what happened is not a matter to be handled on the court, but a matter to be handled by medical professionals." In a previous interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Steinberg said that he advised the pair to wait until after this situation is resolved before resuming their relationship and also played down the physical fight that occurred.

Steinberg described the altercation as a "family spat," however in separate police reports filed by Hernandez and De La Torre their statements both described a violent physical fight.

In the police report, Hernandez claimed De La Torre choked him and told him that he 'wasn't going anywhere' and also stated said De La Torre told him she 'could f____ing kill him.' De La Torre, in her statement to police, claimed that Hernandez pinned her down and claimed she was even knocked unconscious. Last November, Hernandez – then mayor of the small city – announced his relationship with De La Torre while his wife was sitting in the front row at a council meeting.

For his part, Hernandez, who stayed several feet to the side while De La Torre spoke, continued to blame the San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) for "botching" the case. The commissioner on Tuesday, supporting the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, ordered Hernandez to appear at De La Torre's next court date to provide testimony.

"I will not testify," Hernandez told reporters. "They (SFPD) botched the investigation. I would like to see them make the same effort investigating this case as they do in other cases," he said.

Steinberg also said they will try to ask the court for a change of venue, given the "high profile" case.

"My client turns out to be the victim because it's a high profile case. I still hope the case is resolved before trial, but we're going to prepare for trial," Steinberg said.

"She's very well known, very popular and in some cases not very popular and we're concerned she gets a fair trial." Before heading into court, Steinberg mentioned he would seek to transfer the case to downtown Los Angeles.

Gladstein told him that motion would be considered when De La Torre returns to court on Sept. 20.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 22:19