Geragos keeps up the pressure

June 24, 2003 

Defense attorney Mark Geragos has a duty to defend clients with zeal, so his aggressive style comes as no surprise to legal experts watching Scott Peterson's double-murder case unfold.

Whether the legal ins and outs are enough to capture the average person's attention -- and raise doubts about the prosecution's case in the minds of potential jurors -- remains to be seen.

To Maribel Escobedo, the courthouse intrigue is a non-starter. The medical interpreter from Modesto followed the disappearance of Laci Peterson closely, but is waiting for the trial to tune in again.

"I'm not really listening to the filler stuff," she said.

But Bill McCarthy of Modesto, a retiree who managed the food service in the Stanislaus County Jail, said every new nugget is something to ponder.

He wants to hear more about the police wiretaps and forensic evidence now kept under seal. Also, he's glad to see the defense team putting some heat on the prosecutors.

"I think the police pulled an O.J.," McCarthy said, referring to the case against O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 of killing his wife and another man.

Scott Peterson, 30, faces murder charges in the slayings of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. The district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty.

A trial might be years away, but plenty of legal maneuvering is under way. In recent weeks, Geragos has:

Accused Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton and attorney Gloria Allred of violating a gag order imposed by Superior Court Judge Al Girolami.

Accused investigators of bungling a wiretap investigation and subpoenaed Judge Wray Ladine in the matter.

Asked an appeals court to reverse the order of Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne, who said eight search warrants should be made public July 8. The appellate court has not ruled on the search warrants.

John Burris, a defense attorney from Oakland and a frequent guest on cable television talk shows, said Geragos' style suits the high-profile case.

"He has certainly been extraordinarily aggressive, and properly so," Burris said. "He is responding to what has been presented to him."

Brazelton on Thursday told The Bee he wants to take the case to a preliminary hearing, scheduled for July 16, rather than to a grand jury, where he would lay out his evidence behind closed doors.

Such a strategy is needed, Brazelton said, because leaks to the media and speculation on television talk shows force prosecutors to "spend all our time running down this phony baloney stuff they throw up."

A week earlier, Geragos asked the court to sanction Allred. She represents potential prosecution witness Amber Frey, who admitted having a relationship with Peterson. Allred went on a television talk show hours after the gag order was issued.

Girolami is expected to consider the contempt of court motions Thursday.

David Miller, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific, said Brazelton probably can talk about the process without violating the gag order.

But the district attorney's "phony baloney" comment might have crossed the line.

"That might be interpreted as expressing or implying some view of the strength of the case," Miller said.

Police wiretaps on Scott Peterson's telephones between Jan. 10 and April 18 also are bones of contention.

Geragos subpoenaed Ladine because a court reporter was not present during meetings about the taps.

State law requires a court reporter in all proceedings in death penalty cases. Prosecutors said the case does not start until a criminal complaint is filed or a grand jury is convened.

Also, the defense has alleged "grave prosecutorial misconduct" in the interception of 71 calls, because three calls between Scott Peterson and his attorney were recorded.

Police are supposed to turn off the tape during such conversations.

The matters will have to be ironed out if the prosecution seeks to use the wiretaps as evidence.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or sherendeen@modbee.com.

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