The judge in the trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle on charges that he murdered Oscar Grant III in Oakland last year indicated today that he will run a tight ship, according to the lawyer for Grant’s family.
Oakland attorney John Burris, who is representing Grant’s family in a $50 million civil rights suit against BART, Mehserle and other officers, said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry “lived up to his reputation as a stern, no-nonsense judge who runs an orderly courtroom.”
Burris said that at a 45-minute hearing in Los Angeles today Perry said he won’t allow cameras in his courtroom, kept in place a gag order that prevents the attorneys in the case from talking to the news media and warned that he won’t allow protesters to disrupt Mehserle’s trial.
Perry said he tentatively plans to have Mehserle’s trial start in mid-May but he said he might delay it if he thinks protesters will influence potential jurors in the case, according to Burris.
More than 50 protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse in Los Angeles today before Mehserle’s hearing began, Burris said.
Perry also warned that if protesters are disruptive he might consider moving Mehserle’s trial, which already has been moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles County, to yet another county, Burris said.
Mehserle, 27, who is free on $3 million bail, is charged with murder for the shooting death of Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man who was unarmed at the time, on the platform of the Fruitvale station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009.
Mehserle and other officers were responding to reports that there was a fight on a train.
On Oct. 16, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled that Mehserle’s trial should be moved out of the county because the case has received a large amount of publicity and created “a high degree of political turmoil” and other factors that could endanger Mehserle’s ability to get a fair trial.
On Nov. 16 Jacobson selected Los Angeles County as the new venue for Mehserle’s case and on Dec. 2 California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George chose Perry, a veteran judge who has handled numerous high-profile cases, to preside over it.
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant but claims that the shooting was accidental because Mehserle meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant but fired his gun by mistake.
Los Angeles County Court Administrator’s Office spokeswoman Mary Hearn said Perry ordered Mehserle to return to court on Feb. 19 for a hearing on two motions that will be filed by Rains on Mehserle’s behalf.
One motion will seek to reduce Mehserle’s bail and the other will ask that the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office be removed from prosecuting the case.
Burris said he had been considering joining news organizations in trying to convince Perry to allow still and television cameras for Mehserle’s trial but he said he doesn’t think he will make such an effort because the judge expressed strong opinions on the matter today.
“Given what he (Perry) said, it would be wasted energy to try to get cameras in the courtroom,” Burris said. “He had written his legal opinion and he had given a lot of thought to it.”
Perry’s view is that “cameras can only have a negative impact in the courtroom,” Burris said.
He said Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, his uncle, Cephus Johnson, and other family members attended the hearing today and also plan to attend all future hearings for Mehserle.