Did want of Judge Dunn minute order lead to killer's release?

James R. Dunn
"Five separate homicide suspects were mistakenly released between mid-1995 and mid-1996: Gregory Stinson, Juan Espino, Pedro Quezada, Anait Zakarian, and Angel Moya.  Four of the five suspects were released because of confusion about court paperwork by records clerks.  Zakarian was still at large four years later." — University of New Orleans Center for Society, Law, and Justice

Lubomyr Prytulak
Ukrainian Archive, www.ukar.org

09 December 2002

Gary Klausner
Supervising Judge, Civil Division
Los Angeles Superior Court
111 North Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA
USA     90012

Re: Rambam v Prytulak   BC271433   James R. Dunn

Gary Klausner:

Upon the non-arrival in the 09-Dec-2002 mail of an awaited James R. Dunn minute order covering Defendant Prytulak Motion-to-Quash-D putatively heard on 25-Nov-2002, I begin to wonder if this may be as symptomatic of Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) laxness in demanding prompt and accurate minute orders from its judges as it is symptomatic of incompetence or bias on the part of James R. Dunn.

Such speculation springs to mind from my acquaintance with an admittedly small sample of three LASC minute orders, all three happening to be fatally defective, and all three happening to be the responsibility of James R. Dunn:

  1. The James R. Dunn minute order covering the hearing of Defendant Prytulak's Motion-to-Quash-D

    Still unproduced as of 09-Dec-2002, which date is

    1. fourteen days after the hearing of 25-Nov-2002,

    2. twelve days after the 27-Nov-2002 appearance on the LASC web site Case Summary of the unacceptably cryptic "motion granted in part,"

    3. ten days after the 29-Nov-2002 receipt of two Gary Kurtz notifications contradicting the above LASC web site "motion granted in part" with the Gary Kurtz "Court denied the motion,"

    4. six days after the 03-Dec-2002 Prytulak delivery to the Court of the Prytulak-Request-for-Minute-Order, and

    5. five days after the 04-Dec-2002 Court bringing its web site Case Summary into conformity with the Gary Kurtz notifications by revising its online "granted in part" to "motion denied," which continues to confuse because it is upon the Court's instance that the paper has been construed as containing two motions, one to quash service of summons, and the other to vacate default entry.

    The awaited minute order, then, will be belated if it ever comes at all, and what fragments of information have been released concerning it are changing and sometimes contradictory, and leave the impression of Court indecision, vacillation, irresponsibility, incompetence, and — not least — bias.

  2. The James R. Dunn minute order delivered 19-Aug-2002

    The James R. Dunn minute order, delivered to Lubomyr Prytulak 19-Aug-2002, came with three fatal flaws:

    1. It misdated the entry of default from the true 24-Jun-2002 to the false 24-May-2002, and from this erroneously concluded that the delivery to the Court on 29-May-2002 of Prytulak Motion-to-Quash-B arrived five days after default entry, whereas in reality it arrived almost a month before default entry.

    2. As discussed in detail in Defendant Prytulak Reply of 05-Nov-2002 under the heading What is to be found in case reports?, this same minute order offers as one justification of the Court's refusing to file Motion-to-Quash-B the non-remittance of a filing fee, and cites as authority, Hu v Silgan Containers.  However, reading Hu v Silgan Containers reveals that the court notified Hu by certified mail of the need to pay a filing fee, and gave Hu 20 days to make good the payment, whereas the instant Court failed to give Lubomyr Prytulak 20 days notice, or any notice, by certified mail or otherwise, to pay any filing fee.  Hu v Silgan Containers, then, succeeded only in disclosing a view of the Court's normal helpfulness in assisting litigants which contrasts starkly with the Court's withdrawal of its normal helpfulness from Lubomyr Prytulak, and the minute order's citing of inappropriate authority leaves the impression of amateurish legal scholarship.

    3. In addition to misinterpreting and misapplying the one authority cited — Hu v Silgan Containers — this same James R. Dunn minute order was even more deficient in legal scholarship in failing to cite authorities that were maximally pertinent, as for example McDowell v Delaware State Police:

      We also agree with the district court's conclusion that remittance of a filing fee is not jurisdictional and that the clerk should have accepted McDowell's complaint despite his failure to submit a filing fee or request IFP status.  Although a complaint is not formally filed until the filing fee is paid, we deem a complaint to be constructively filed as of the date that the clerk received the complaint — as long as the plaintiff ultimately pays the filing fee or the district court grants the plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis.
      McDowell v Delaware State Police, 88 F3d 188 at 191 (U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, 1996).

      McDowell v Delaware State Police serves to bring to the fore James R. Dunn's confusing the immediate non-remittance of a filing fee with its ultimate non-payment — it is the latter that is jurisdictional, and not the former.

  3. The James R. Dunn minute order whose non-delivery may have been responsible for convicted killer Juan Espino going free

    Juan Espino, who should have been in jail awaiting his 05-Aug-1996 sentencing for killing a Hollywood drug dealer, was instead erroneously released on 17-July 1996, possibly because of Judge James R. Dunn's having failed to send a minute order to sheriffs informing them of Espino's conviction:

    Sheriff's officials said they released Espino because they could find no records in their inmate management system showing that he was being held on any other charges or warrants.

    Sheriff's officials, in an announcement last weekend, said they discovered that Espino was a murder convict only after receiving a tip July 18 from an anonymous caller asking why Espino had been released after his conviction.

    The sheriff went on to cite "a courtroom paperwork error" stemming from the fact that Espino had been tried for murder, without the department's knowledge, in Juvenile Court last year.  [...]

    However, court officials, prosecutors and court records have made clear this week that Espino's murder trial actually took place beginning late last month before Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn, at a time when the defendant was in the custody of the Sheriff's Department.

    Sheriff's officials, who say that they are continuing to investigate the circumstances involving Espino's release, refused to concede until late Tuesday — after receiving a fax from The Times of a publicly available court record detailing the jury's verdict — that Espino's murder trial had even taken place this year.

    "This was not in our possession and never has been," said sheriff's spokesman Ron Spear of the document, known as a "minute order."  "I don't doubt the piece of paper you sent me is truthful.  We have nothing sent to us from court indicating he was convicted of murder."

    Espino is at least the 14th County Jail inmate erroneously released by the Sheriff's Department this year, the department acknowledged.  In 1995, the sheriff mistakenly released 14 prisoners in the entire year.  [...]

    Although any erroneous release is disturbing, a leading watchdog of the law enforcement system says the number is tiny in light of the tens of thousands of prisoners processed each year by the department.

    "When you look at the entire system, the numbers are minuscule compared to the number of people who flow in and out of the jails on a daily and yearly basis," said Merrick J. Bobb, a Los Angeles lawyer who serves as special counsel to the sheriff on implementing departmental reforms.

    Bobb, though, said the sheriff's system of tracking inmates does merit a fresh look.

    "I'm very interested in gaining an understanding of the system for classifying, sorting and tracking inmates," he said.  "One of the things I'm interested in looking at is the interaction between the court system and the Sheriff's Department."  [...]

    Sheriff's officials, who say that Espino was transferred to their custody from Juvenile Hall in December, contend that the first step in the breakdown occurred because they were never informed by juvenile officials that the young defendant faced anything other than robbery charges.

    Even if Espino were cataloged incorrectly at that time, questions persist as to why the sheriff's jailers never learned the reason they were repeatedly transporting Espino to Judge Dunn's courtroom, the site of the murder trial, while in their custody this year.

    Spear said written court orders known as "removal orders" calling for Espino's appearance in Department 119 "did not indicate what the charge was."  [...]

    Superior Court Judges Dunn and Patricia Collins, who handled the robbery case, both refused Wednesday to comment on the mistaken release.
    Paul Feldman, Records Rebut Sheriff's Version of Killer's Release; Law enforcement: He was in department's custody before and during trial, they show. Officials say they didn't know about murder case when they freed him, The Los Angeles Times, 25-Jul-1996.  Bold emphasis added.

    The following details from the University of New Orleans reveal a Los Angeles prisoner processing system that is cumbersome and unwieldy, and call to mind that procedures lax enough to produce false negatives (unauthorized release of prisoners) are likely to produce false positives as well (unauthorized detention of prisoners) whose incidence is reported below as reaching a staggering 400,000 over five years, with deficiencies in "court paperwork" taking the brunt of the blame:

    Los Angeles County Cases

    Perhaps nowhere have the results of poor communication between jail and court information systems been better documented than in Los Angeles County, California.  This system is one of the busiest in the country.  As of 1996, about 2000 inmates arrived at the jail from county courts each evening.  In an entirely paper-driven process called the "pony express," court paperwork is tossed off each prisoner transport bus in yellow bags and two dozen clerks labor into the night sorting, filing, and entering information into the Sheriff’s Office computer system.  The cumbersome process led to the (known) mistaken releases of 36 inmates in 1996.  Five separate homicide suspects were mistakenly released between mid-1995 and mid-1996: Gregory Stinson, Juan Espino, Pedro Quezada, Anait Zakarian, and Angel Moya.  Four of the five suspects were released because of confusion about court paperwork by records clerks.  Zakarian was still at large four years later.

    In addition to mistaken releases, the cumbersome process led to many inmates being held in custody too long.  County supervisors recently agreed to pay $27 million to settle five class action lawsuits involving the illegal detention of 400,000 inmates over a five-year period.  This second problem stemmed in part from attempts to remedy the erroneous release problem by waiting for release until there was assurance all court paperwork had been received.

    Source: Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1995, August 22, 1996, October 23, 1999; interview with Commander Chuck Jackson, LASD.
    University of New Orleans Center for Society, Law, and Justice, Consequences of inadequately integrated justice information systems: A project Report, March 2002 www.cslj.net/recent/Consequences%20study.pdf

    Excuses offered higher above which appeal to the large number of prisoners processed indicate that the LASC leadership fails to appreciate that unauthorized prisoner release or confinement is an area in which zero tolerance of errors is mandated.  Analogously, 14 airliners crashing in one year, and 36 more the following year, cannot be excused on the ground that a large number of other flights landed safely, and so under the same principle of zero tolerance, 14 prisoners being erroneously released in 1995, and 36 in 1996, similarly cannot be excused on the ground that some large number of others were either kept behind bars or released as they should have been.  The attempt to offer the flaccid excuse of large numbers brings only one benefit — it identifies the speaker as bearing an attitude that disqualifies him from leadership.

    Equally unsatisfactory is the brute-force solution of reducing false negatives (unauthorized releases) through the adoption of policies that incidentally send the number of false positives (unauthorized detentions) through the ceiling.

    Leaders who offer either such feeble excuses or such punishing solutions should be removed from office, and all who acquiesce to defective systems, and reveal themselves incapable of devising and implementing efficient fail-safe mechanisms, should be recognized as lacking the capacity for leadership, and should be blocked from climbing to higher office.  Had such winnowing of the ineffectual taken place over past years, the Rambam v Prytulak show trial of 2002 might have been stopped in its first hours instead of being allowed to drag on for eight months.

With respect to minute orders — the topic of the instant letter — the three above defective examples from the bench of James R. Dunn suggest that the administration of justice in Los Angeles might be upgraded by the Court raising its standards of minute order quality and timeliness.  Someone dropping James R. Dunn a hint that he really does owe Defendant Lubomyr Prytulak a minute order covering the 25-Nov-2002 hearing might be a place where such upgrading could begin.

Lubomyr Prytulak