City, state authorities discuss ways to delay L.A. verdict or soften impact

April 02, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- As Los Angeles' most volatile civil rights trial speeds to its conclusion, a new urgency swirls around questions of how to handle a potentially explosive outcome: Should the judge impose a highly unusual delay on the reading of the verdicts? Should there be a massive show of force on the streets, and if so, when?

A spokesman for Mayor Tom Bradley disclosed yesterday that )) the mayor, Police Chief Willie L. Williams and California Gov. Pete Wilson have had repeated discussions about postponing the verdicts with representatives of U.S. District Judge John G. Davies, who is hearing the case of four police officers accused in the beating of Rodney G. King.

Cardinal Roger Mahony has also called for a delay, asking that the verdicts not be issued during the coming spring breaks for public and private schools -- so that educators can discuss the outcomes with students and help vent any hostile feelings. Councilman Nate Holden has called for a reading of the verdicts at 3 a.m., when instigators would find it more difficult to mobilize forces for an insurrection.

Short delays are common in trials, usually because it takes time for the parties to get to the courthouse for the reading of the verdicts, and one federal judge, speaking anonymously, said it was his understanding that Judge Davies would delay announcement of the verdict for just three hours.

But a longer delay would be highly unusual, and community activists and legal experts questioned the wisdom of imposing such a wait.

"The people in the community can get edgy hypothesizing what's happening. It's like the unknown is worse than the known," says Loyola Marymount University law professor Laurie

Levenson, who has been an observer throughout the trial.

Postponing the reading of the verdicts is well within the powers of the judge, according to several legal experts. The postponement issue has been before Judge Davies for weeks, following a request from defense attorney Ira Salzman, but he has yet to rule on the matter.

There is no accepted procedure for government officials to formally request the judge to mandate such a delay, says Assistant City Attorney Byron Boeckman. Because of that, the city has not made a formal legal request for a postponement.

"The federal judges run their own shop," Mr. Boeckman says, "and they may listen to political requests, but it's their call . . . It is one of those quirky little things: political consideration for a judge to decide."

The accelerated interest surrounding the verdicts comes as defense attorneys brought their case to an abrupt conclusion yesterday, creating the possibility that the case will go the jury by next week.

Mr. Bradley is on a four-nation European tour, and has not altered his plans to return to the city tomorrow. Aides say that will put him back in City Hall in plenty of time for the outcome of the civil rights case.

Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani and Police Commission President Jesse Brewer say a comprehensive response to the King verdict has been in the works for months.

The key to the Police Department's plan will be to have a large number of uniformed officers on the streets from the moment the King jury begins its deliberations. Those stepped-up patrols will continue through the jury's delivery of a verdict, Mr. Fabiani said.

National Guard forces will be in the region this weekend for regular training, emphasizing control of urban unrest.

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