A San Francisco defense attorney’s private investigator made his first appearance in court today since his arrest last week on witness intimidation charges, and his attorney expressed confidence he would be “vindicated.”
Defense investigator Steve Vender, 59, was indicted by a San Francisco Superior Court criminal grand jury last Tuesday on one felony count of witness intimidation.
Prosecutors have accused Vender of phoning a shooting victim and a lead prosecution witness in his attacker’s attempted murder case last month and warning him that he would be arrested if he showed up in court to testify.
Vender’s scheduled arraignment on the charge today was postponed until Dec. 7 to allow him time to hire a new attorney. Several local defense attorneys attended the brief hearing in Vender’s support.
“The bottom line is that this thing has been taken out of context,” defense attorney Robert Waggener, who appeared today in court on Vender’s behalf, said after the hearing. He would not elaborate.
“I think that Steve Vender’s a great investigator,” Waggener said.
“I’m confident that he will be vindicated.”
Vender is free after posting $75,000 bail last week.
In October, Vender worked with attorney Eric Safire on the defense of 19-year-old Philip Pitney in his trial for the attempted murder of 21-year-old Ladarius Greer on Easter Sunday of this year. Greer was shot several times while standing at a bus stop in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood.
In the days leading up to Pitney’s trial, Greer told police that Vender had been continuously calling him and trying to persuade him not to testify. Greer reportedly had a warrant for a probation violation out of Solano County, and was detained by San Francisco police on Oct. 9.
On a voicemail message that Greer played to police that day, Vender allegedly told him there was a no-bail warrant out for him and that “it’s a good time to visit … the Fresno Riviera.”
A few days after he played the recording to police, Greer failed to show up to testify at Pitney’s trial.
Despite Greer’s absence, however, the jury convicted Pitney on Oct. 29 of attempted murder, assault with a semiautomatic firearm and participation in a criminal street gang. He faces 50 years to life in prison.
Safire himself was the subject of a separate witness intimidation probe earlier in October but was never charged. In that case, Safire called on several alleged gang members and associates of his client, Charles “Cheese” Heard, to stand up in the courtroom and face a witness as she was testifying in Heard’s murder trial.
Safire claimed at the time that he merely wanted the witness to see that there were others who matched her description of Heard.
Today, Safire called the investigation and charging of Vender by the district attorney’s office “an assault on the Constitution.”
“It’s an abuse of power and it’s politically motivated,” Safire said.
Safire said such a prosecution would have “a chilling effect” on him and other defense attorneys, arguing that “if the district attorney doesn’t like what they do, they’re subject to a grand jury investigation.”
“You can’t investigate your opponent and you clearly shouldn’t be empowered to charge your opponent,” he said.
Safire likewise would not discuss the specific allegations against Vender, but said the case should have been assigned to an independent federal investigator.
The district attorney’s office declined to respond this morning. Spokesman Brian Buckelew said last week that Vender’s alleged behavior “fundamentally undermines the promise of equal justice for everyone, everywhere.”