When disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca went to court today for sentencing on his plea bargain, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson surprised everybody. Instead of accepting the deal prosecutors had negotiated — up to six months in jail — Anderson said Baca needed to serve more time. Six months "would not address the gross abuse of the public’s trust … including the need to restore the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” Anderson said. Baca had pleaded guilty for lying about his role in keeping a federal informant in the county jail hidden from the FBI.
The six-month sentence would have been far less time than the other dishonest sheriff's officials who were nabbed with Baca were receiving. Judge Anderson told Baca to come back to court on August 1 prepared to accept whatever the judge's sentence would be, or to withdraw his guilty plea and take his chances at a trial. There's also the possibility of a new deal with federal prosecutors that would call for more prison time, provided the judge accepts it.
Baca's side argued that he should not get any jail time, in part because he shows the early signs of Alzheimer's disease. From the LA Times story:
Baca, 74, had pleaded guilty in February to a single charge of lying to federal investigators. But the former sheriff’s involvement in trying to derail the investigation reached further than that, Anderson said....
After Monday’s hearing, [Baca attorney Michael] Zweiback said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision but hoped to resume talks with prosecutors. He said that if he cannot reach an agreement that includes a specific sentence, rather than an open-ended guilty plea, he will not leave his client’s fate in Anderson's hands.
“At that point, we might as well take our chances at trial,” Zweiback said.
Baca’s Alzheimer’s could be a factor if the case heads to trial and his ability to understand the proceedings deteriorates. The trial could be put on hold if he is declared mentally incompetent.
“If the government believes it’s two years in ... getting to trial and sentencing him, that could leave Mr. Baca in very bad shape,” Zweiback said.
I talked about the latest turn in the sheriff's corruption investigation in Monday's weekly LA Observed segment on KCRW.