A grand jury court reporter who has not responded to repeated requests to produce transcripts of testimony in the case of a German tourist fatally shot near San Francisco’s Union Square last year was disciplined in 2008 for similar stalling, defense attorneys said today.
Patrick Heard was assigned with transcribing the grand jury testimony in the case of six suspects who were arrested in May in connection with the death of Mechthild Schroer.
Schroer, 50, of Minden, Germany, was slain on Aug. 8, 2010, in the 400 block of Mason Street after getting caught in the crossfire between groups of people outside a private party, prosecutors said.
Schroer had been visiting the U.S. with her husband Stefan and the couple had been staying at a nearby hotel.
Two teens were also struck by the gunfire but survived. None of the victims was the intended target of the shooting.
Phillip Stewart, 19, Marcus Blueford, 19, Delvon Scott, 20, Willie Eason, 19, and Raheem Jackson, 17 — who is being tried as an adult–were charged with murder in a grand jury indictment on Sept. 27.
Gethsamine Pita, 18, was also charged with being an accessory to murder by the grand jury, but the charges were dismissed today because he has been indicted in federal court, prosecutor Eric Fleming said.
Prosecutors indicted the suspects through the grand jury process because of the complexity of trying several defendants at once in a case that also involves roughly 70 witnesses and testimony that spanned about three weeks.
The case became even more complicated though when prosecutors revealed last week that Heard was apparently suffering from some sort of medical issue and had not finished the transcription.
The case returned to San Francisco Superior Court today, where attorneys for the suspects asked Judge Anne-Christine Massullo to dismiss the charges against their clients, saying the lack of the transcript threatens their right to a speedy trial that is currently scheduled to start on Dec. 16.
“The grand jury transcript is not some little trifle,” said Rebecca Young, who is representing Scott. “We need it to see if this indictment can stand.”
Fleming, the prosecutor, said the district attorney’s office was filing a court order today to make Heard complete and hand over the transcript within the next few weeks or show cause for why he is unable to do so.
Fleming said he had recently spoken to someone involved in the grand jury program who relayed that Heard was suffering from some sort of medical issue, but he did not know what the issue was.
But during today’s hearing, the defense attorneys revealed that Heard was disciplined in 2008 by the Court Reporters Board of California for a 2007 case that involved similar stalling in the turning over of transcripts.
According to disciplinary documents in that case, Heard stalled in returning transcripts in a review of peace officer personnel records, then later revealed that he had lost the disk for part of the proceedings.
In another case, Heard lost notes for proceedings in February 2008 because he realized his stenography machine was broken but did not notify the judge or try to address the equipment problems during a break in the proceedings, according to the disciplinary documents.
Despite the charges, the state board ruled that he could keep his license.
San Francisco Superior Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan said Heard worked as a court reporter there from September 2004 through April 2009 when he resigned.
Outside of court, Young said Heard has been unresponsive in this case.
“We’ve emailed the court reporter, called him, and he hasn’t responded to any defense inquiries,” she said.
Young also criticized the relatively new policy of having the district attorney’s office hire its own grand jury court reporters.
The reporters were under the jurisdiction of the court until September 2010, when they began being outsourced to contractors hired by the district attorney’s office.
“He’s shielded and protected because he’s an independent contractor of the prosecutors,” she said.
Donlan said the decision was made last year by new administrative leadership at the court who determined that under state law, they were not required to provide those services.
Donlan said the use of independent contractors is standard practice for counties around the state.
At the end of today’s hearing, Massullo eventually declined to dismiss the charges against the suspects, saying “what we have here is a delay” that doesn’t yet merit further action in the case.
Fleming said outside of court that despite the delay, he was still “very confident that we’ll get the transcripts.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News