Rodney King Redux?

A judge moves the murder trial of an ex-BART cop, but there's a chance it could lead to a repeat of the infamous LA case.

Judge Morris Jacobson ruled late last week that the murder case of
Johannes Mehserle should be moved, saying the ex-BART cop can’t get a
fair trial in Alameda County. The judge cited extensive media coverage,
inflammatory comments made by some political leaders, and the
possibility of daily protests as the main reasons for his decision. But
while the judge’s ruling is good news for Mehserle, it may turn out to
be unfair for the people of Alameda County and to the family of Oscar
Grant. Plus, it could put the City of Oakland in grave danger.

In his ruling, Jacobson acknowledged the highly charged racial
aspects of the case. Mehserle’s defense team argued repeatedly that
black jurors will be more likely to convict a white cop of murdering
Grant because he was African American. But the judge’s ruling could
lead to precisely the opposite situation.

If the case is moved to a predominantly white county, it could end
up with a jury biased for Mehserle and against the People, that is, the
prosecution, which represents the citizens of Alameda County. Moreover,
if a nearly all-white jury acquits Mehserle, the verdict will be widely
viewed as illegitimate. It’ll be Rodney King all over again. In that
case, the trial of four white LA police officers who were videotaped
beating King relentlessly was moved to conservative Simi Valley in
front of a mostly white jury. And the resulting not-guilty verdicts
sparked epic rioting throughout Los Angeles.

To avoid the same thing happening in Oakland, state and county
officials must do everything they can to move the Mehserle trial to a
place as diverse as Alameda County. Clearly, if Jacobson’s fears about
extensive media coverage are correct, then the case has to be moved out
of the Bay Area. Sacramento has been mentioned as a possibility, but it
may not be diverse enough. The only cities outside the Bay Area that
truly mirror the demographics of Alameda County are Los Angeles Long
Beach. The perception of fairness matters greatly in this case.

School Board Member Quits

No one worked harder to return Oakland public schools to local
control than David Kakishiba. So it was ironic that just a few months
after the state finally released its grip on the district that the
longtime school board member was forced to resign. The district’s new
general counsel, hired by the board after it regained authority, ruled
that Kakishiba had a conflict of interest. And apparently the alleged
conflict is only a problem because the district is back under local
control.

Kakishiba is the executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth
Center, an influential nonprofit that does about $1 million of business
annually with Oakland schools, providing after-school programs.
Although Kakishiba has been scrupulous about recusing himself from
issues involving his nonprofit and the school district over the years,
Jackie Minor, the district’s new general counsel, determined that his
dual positions represent a conflict of interest.

The school district is refusing to release the legal opinion that
prompted Kakishiba to resign, citing attorney-client privilege.
Kakishiba also told the Express that he wasn’t allowed to keep a
copy of the document. But he said that Minor was concerned that his
position as school board member could influence district personnel into
giving preference to his nonprofit over competitors, especially since
the school board now has authority over those very same personnel. In
addition, there’s a concern that Kakishiba’s colleagues on the board
might vote for contracts involving his nonprofit in the hopes of
currying favor with him so that he would support issues important to
them.

Kakishiba said he essentially had no choice but to quit because
Minor threatened to stop processing contracts with his nonprofit unless
he resigned from the school board or from the youth center. He said the
school board likely will appoint a replacement for him sometime before
February 1. And the new appointee will be able to run as incumbent in
the June primary.

This is the second conflict-of-interest ruling from the new general
counsel. Earlier this year, Minor determined that the wife of new
superintendent Tony Smith had a conflict because of her high-level job
with the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools, which has been
involved in multimillion-dollar contracts with the district and its
small schools program. According to the Oakland Tribune, Smith’s
wife, Kathleen Osta, resigned her position with the coalition after
Minor issued her opinion.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Obama Justice Department announced that it will no longer
investigate and prosecute medical marijuana users and suppliers in
fourteen states, including California. … A federal judge ruled that
the legal challenge to Prop. 8 brought by a Berkeley lesbian couple can
go to trial. … Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill that gives gay
couples who married in other states full marriage rights in California.
… The state’s jobless rate remained at historic levels last month as
more people stopped looking for work. … Bank of America posted a $2.2
billion loss because its customers can’t repay their credit cards and
mortgages. … Oscar Williamson, the UC Berkeley economics professor
who won the Nobel Prize last week, plans to lobby against cutbacks in
the UC system. … Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson reversed herself and
now opposes the ballot initiative by developer SunCal for its planned
housing project on Alameda Point. … Oakland’s violent crime rate
remains down, plummeting 14 percent from 2008. … Deadly sideshows,
however, killed three young people in East Oakland over the weekend as
they did a stunt called “the hyphy train.” … And Berkeley’s Chez
Panisse and Oakland’s Commis restaurants each made this year’s
prestigious Michelin rankings.

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