A murder trial stemming from the 2010 slaying of a German tourist has been delayed after a contract court reporter failed to deliver a grand jury transcript and stopped returning lawyers’ phone calls.
Although observers do not expect this hiccup to derail the case, defense attorneys promptly demanded that the charges against their six clients be dismissed.
But the development troubles the District Attorney’s Office, which has made prosecution of the case a top priority.
The office began outsourcing court reporting last year in response to court system budget cuts. The underfunded system could face even more cuts amid continued uncertainty over state finances.
Prosecutor Eric Fleming said the court reporter should have finished transcribing his shorthand notes “at least two weeks ago.” State law requires a completed transcript within 10 days of the Sept. 27 indictment, although reporters can seek up to 20 more days. Final transcripts can run thousands of pages.
Fleming said health issues apparently prevented the reporter from finishing the transcripts. The reporter hasn’t returned calls and emails from either side’s lawyers, and no one knows when the transcripts will be done.
“I don’t believe that this will negatively affect the case, other than delay it a short time,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Omid Talai said.
Yet defense attorneys say their clients’ rights to a speedy trial are being violated, and will ask Judge Anne-Christine Massullo to dismiss the indictments next Monday. And after reasserting their client’s 60-day trial rights, a jury trial was set for Dec. 16. Massullo suggested there is no legal basis to dismiss the indictments for this reason.
On Sept. 27, a secret grand jury indicted Phillip Stewart, Delvon Scott, Willie Eason, Marcus Blueford and Raheem Jackson on murder and gang charges in the shooting of 50-year-old Mechthild Schröer. Gethsemane Pita was charged as an accessory to murder.
Schröer was struck by a bullet Aug. 8, 2010, while walking with her husband near Union Square. Prosecutors say the suspects were rival gang members shooting at each other outside a crowded party.
One month later, budget cuts forced San Francisco Superior Court to stop paying court reporters to cover grand jury proceedings, spokeswoman Ann Donlan said. Reporters are now hired by the District Attorney’s Office.
Defense attorney Rebecca Young, who represents Scott, questioned whether it is proper for prosecutors to hire their own court reporter. However, Talai said, the program isn’t unique to San Francisco and poses no conflict.
“This is practice for DAs offices up and down the state,” he said.
Talai said the court reporter in question is state-certified and previously worked for the court for years. But outside court, lawyers called this development unique.
“I’ve never encountered anything like this before,” said attorney George Borges, who represents Blueford.
Pita’s attorney Robert Amparán said the court reporter should have sought additional time or notified a colleague of his problem — especially in a case of this magnitude. “This is ridiculous, it’s so basic,” Amparán said, adding that his client was being kept in custody “with no proof, basically.”
Talai said the court reporter’s recent health issues “made him unable” to request additional time. He would not elaborate on the nature of the problem.
“We are working hard on our end to get the transcripts,” Talai said.
It has been more than 15 months since a Union Square shooting that killed an innocent bystander. A late court transcript has delayed the criminal case again.
Aug. 8, 2010: Mechthild Schröer, 50, shot and killed at Geary and Mason streets
Sept. 1, 2010: S.F. Superior Court ends court reporter services for grand juries; outsourcing begins
May 4: Schröer murder suspects arrested after months-long investigation
Sept. 27: Grand jury indictments handed down
Oct. 31: Prosecutors announce grand jury transcript delay
Nov. 7: Hearing scheduled for defense motion to dismiss indictments
Dec. 16: Trial scheduled to begin