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.
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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