In a surprising new development, Judge Manuel Real now apparently insists that he will be presiding over the Alex Sanchez trial, despite a several-day-old order transferring the case to a new federal judge.
The transfer order, filed December 4, was sent to Sanchez’ defense lawyer at 3:07 yesterday (Monday) afternoon, with the concurring December 2 signature of the new judge, Christina Snyder. The order was reported in The Nation this morning (Tuesday). Then, just hours later, defense counsel Kerry Bensinger received a new email from the government prosecutor saying that a call had been received from Judge Real’s clerk saying he now wanted to keep the case. According to the same source, Judge Snyder’s December 2 signature was a “mistake.”
The turn of events will raise new suspicions about alleged manipulation of the proceedings which began six months ago with Sanchez’ arrest on gang conspiracy charges. Sanchez, a well-known gang intervention worker who helped expose the Los Angeles police Rampart scandal a decade ago, asserts his innocence in the case. He is being held without bail at a federal prison in Los Angeles.
As of 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, no order reversing the transfer had been received by defense counsel, and no explanation offered for the unusual chain of events.
The order surprised and pleased the Sanchez defense team. His supporters, organized as www.wearealex.org, assert that Sanchez is being railroaded and denied any semblance of a fair trial. Sanchez’ court-appointed counsel, Kerry Bensinger, argued in a recent appeal to the Ninth Circuit that the case should be remanded to another judge.
Why the December 4 transfer order was withdrawn less than a day after it was made public will raise questions about the inner workings of the judiciary itself.
Sanchez supporters will demand a full explanation of the internal process by which the decision was reversed, when, and by whom. Their suspicion is that the government will go to any length to keep Sanchez in a courtroom where the judge favors the prosecutors’ positions. They believe Sanchez was trapped by overzealous prosecutors, LAPD officers and FBI agents pursuing racketeering indictments against members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang. Sanchez, a Salvadoran immigrant, is a former MS gang member who founded Homies Unidos, a gang violence prevention organization, a decade ago. They claim that police anti-gang units are pursuing revenge for the role Sanchez played in exposing LAPD corruption in the Rampart scandal, which resulted in a Clinton-era federal consent decree mandating extensive police reform.
They argue that Judge Real has shown hostility towards Sanchez by repeatedly interrupting defense counsel, by denying the right of Sanchez’ witnesses to take the stand to rebut police testimony offered from the stand, by misinterpreting as “irrelevent” declarations offered in direct response to police testimony, and by ignoring hundreds of letters defending Sanchez against charges that he is dangerous and a flight risk if granted bail.
Sanchez is not the first defendant to run afoul of Judge Real. In 2006, a US Supreme Court committee cited many of Real’s cases as examples of the federal judiciary’s failure to discipline its own. The Ninth Circuit judicial counsel studied 89 of his cases last year, concluding that they were “problematic” but requiring no sanctions. Court researchers calculate that that Real’s reversal rate on appeal is ten times the average among his federal counterparts.
The problem for Sanchez is that Real controls both the bail hearings and the trial proceeding, which may not commence for another year.