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De La Torre Denied Change of Venue PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 05:04

San Fernando Councilmember’s Trial Will Remain In The City


Maribel De La Torre

San Fernando Councilmember Maribel De La Torre will have to face a jury of her peers in San Fernando in a trial tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 3, just days from when she will face the voters of San Fernando, who will decide on Nov. 6 whether to keep her in her council seat or remove her in a recall election.

De La Torre's petition for a change of venue to downtown Los Angeles for her battery and vandalism case was denied last week, and the case will remain in her hometown.

Her attorney Robert Steinberg had asked Superior Court Judge Lesley C. Green to move the case from the San Fernando Courthouse to the Criminal Courthouse in downtown, arguing the council member's position, the recall election, and media attention over the last months involving her and her relationship with former mayor and council member Mario Hernandez made it impossible for her to get a fair trial in the city.

"The jury pool she should face should be in downtown Los Angeles, where nobody knows or cares about a misdemeanor battery," Steinberg argued during a pretrial hearing held last week.

"She can not get a fair trial (in San Fernando)," Steinberg continued, as De La Torre stood next to him.

But Judge Green would reject all of Steinberg's arguments for a venue change.

The criminal case against De La Torre stems from a June 28 domestic dispute with Hernandez at the latter's residence. According to the San Fernando Police Department 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____in' kill him.' De La Torre, in her statement to police, claimed that Hernandez pinned her down and also said she was knocked unconscious.

Hernandez, who is married, and De La Torre have been engaged in an affair, which Hernandez – then mayor of the small city – publicly acknowledged last November during a council meeting while his wife was sitting in the front row of the council chambers.

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 – had 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.

De La Torre has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If found guilty, she could face a maximum of two years in jail and a $3,000 fine.

In making his case for a change of venue, Steinberg sought to present to the judge a stack of what he called 102 "derogatory" newspaper articles written by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol and The Los Angeles Daily News documenting De La Torre's travails this year. Hernandez brought the articles to court in a big bundle, and then sat in the "victim" section of the courtroom.

"Everyday they (the media) are castigating my clients," said Steinberg, who added that because of his client's high profile in the community, the recall election involving her seat, and the media frenzy over her romantic relationship with Hernandez, "this case is harder to defend than a murder case."

Steinberg added "there is also an issue with the San Fernando Police Department," as De La Torre and Hernandez have alleged the city's police force made errors in handling their domestic dispute.

But Judge Green shot down each of Steinberg's arguments. First she rejected the bundle of articles Hernandez brought into the court for not being presented in the "proper" form.

"Even if I assume these are derogatory articles, I do not find basis to approve this motion," said the judge, who didn't even look at them.

Secondly, Green noted that change of venue requests usually involve changes from county to county, not from San Fernando to Downtown. In addition, such motions are done in cases due to the gravity and nature of the crime and are "only granted in grave and serious crimes," not in misdemeanor cases such as the one involving De La Torre. "This is not to the level of the crime," Green said.

As to the issue of publicity, the judge said, "I don't have any evidence of that," noting that in this hearing, the only media present was the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol. TV cameras, which had been covering the case, were absent on this day.

Prosecutor Kathy Lee agreed, and said that "after reviewing the motion, we have opposition" to a change of venue.

"Whether she wants to go to a different venue, that is not relevant or a factor that the court should consider," Lee said.

With respect to the jury pool being tainted by De La Torre's prominence in the community, Green replied, "this city is very small. The jurors are pooled from a 20-mile radius of the courthouse. There are many cities from which we pull jurors. I find no basis to move this case and to grant the change of venue motion.

"Even if there has been local publicity, that still does not support the change of venue," the judge said.

Steinberg also sought to keep Hernandez from appearing in court. "Mr. Hernandez filed proper documentation that he will not testify, that he wanted the case dropped," Steinberg said. "The People bring him here every time for no reason.

This is just a means of harassment." Green asked the prosecutor if she still needed Hernandez for the case. When Lee responded positively, the judge asked Hernandez to stand up. When Hernandez began speaking and repeating his intention to not testify, he was cut short and told he would have to continue appearing in court, as he was the victim in the case.

When Steinberg brought up the fact a couple of bench officers refused to hear the domestic dispute case in Family Court, citing that they knew De La Torre, Green once again said that was no basis for her to approve that motion.

"This is an entirely separate matter. This is a criminal matter," she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 September 2012 05:07

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