Los Angeles Skid Row Defendant Fights Prosecutors, His Own Lawyers

May 5, 2009
By Press

Skid Row Defendant Puts Up a Pro Per FightBy Greg Katz

Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES – Patrick Dean has defied the odds, but now he may be defying common sense. The 38-year-old homeless man who was ensnared last year in a highly controversial Los Angeles program to clean up Skid Row has put up a respectable pro per defense after firing his public defender, in spite of the fact that he has no background in law. He has also turned down the free services of a well-known lawyer. Even as he faces possibly more than 10 years in prison on drug charges. “He’s a smart guy. He knows what he’s doing,” said Ronald O. Kaye, of Pasadena firm Kaye McLane & Bednarski, after a recent hearing. He was hired by an anonymous benefactor to defend Dean, but in that hearing, Dean rebuffed the private lawyer. “Well, I don’t think he knows what he’s doing,” Kaye corrected. “But he’s a smart guy.” Kaye wouldn’t say who hired him, but the program that landed Dean in jail has many critics. The Safer Cities Initiative, begun three years ago, is an ostensive attempt to clean up Los Angeles’ downtown area, which has experienced an influx of new residents in recent years. But it also has led to thousands of arrests of homeless people like Dean. He was arrested last year at the intersection 6th Street and Stanford Avenue, allegedly with enough crack cocaine to charge him with intent to sell. Authorities said Dean, who has a long rap sheet, tried to sell the drug to an undercover officer. People v. Dean, BA341674, (L.A. Super. Ct., filed July 2, 2008). Critics of the initiative, including Kaye, say the program criminalizes homelessness. “To characterize [a Skid Row resident] as somebody who’s in the drug-sales trade is outrageous,” Kaye said. “The truth is, these are people engaged in using drugs, trying to get food and trying to get shelter.” Dean’s case could be a rare test of the Safer Cities Initiative. Most who are arrested cop a plea – including the co-defendant in Dean’s case – but Dean has made a point of fighting, mainly by himself. Armed with not much more than hand-written, dog-eared moving papers, Dean managed to convince Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner to grant discovery into past misconduct by the officer he allegedly sold drugs to. Dean’s case caught the eye of an anonymous benefactor, who hired Kaye to represent Dean. Kaye is bestknown for representing Thomas Goldstein, a Long Beach man wrongly convicted of murder in 1980, in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County prosecutors after he was released from prison. (The claim against the prosecutors was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.) Kaye quickly set to work on Dean’s case, bolstering the defendant’s claim of discriminatory prosecution in a lengthy brief arguing that prosecutors were seeking harsher sentences than neccessary under the Safer Cities Initiative. During a recent court appearance before Bachner, Dean, who is black and slightly chubby with closelycropped hair and many missing teeth, entered the court room unrestrained and in a jail jumpsuit. He carried a tall stack of moving papers. Bachner allowed Kaye to take a seat next to Dean. Dean requested that Kaye be added as his co-counsel. He didn’t want to turn the case over to the lawyer, the defendant explained, because he didn’t want to be “silenced in the court.” But he wanted Kaye to do the litigating. Bachner nixed the request in fairly short order. “I am very well aware of the representation … by that law firm, and certainly you would be in excellent hands,” the judge said. “However, the court is denying the request for co-counsel status.” The judge offered Dean a chance to give the reins over to Kaye, but Dean refused, leaving Kaye with his lips pursed. The hearing went downhill from there. Bachner denied Dean’s motions for more discovery about police misconduct. Deputy District Attorney Robert Wallace, the prosecutor, said hardly a word. As the rulings against Dean began to pile up, the defendant began interrupting the judge more and more frequently. “I have a right to address the record, Judge Bachner!” Dean demanded at one point, interrupting the judge to argue his point. “No, you may not,” Bachner shot back. Lawyers from other cases who were waiting around in the jury box began to look on with amusement. “I would like to invoke the canons,” Dean said defiantly, waving his moving papers. “Don’t talk at the same time as me,” the irked judge replied. Dean was eventually led away from court with little accomplished. Bachner is expected to decide whether Dean is entitled to review district attorney’s office documents on Skid Row prosecutions. He is likely to find many cases similar to his. What makes Dean’s case unique is not so much the crime or the prosecution, but his drive to fight. That same drive, though, may be keeping him from a better defense. “There’s a tremendous amount of drug crime on the street,” Wallace, the prosecutor, said when reached by phone recently. He has not yet filed a reply to Dean’s accusations of discriminatory prosecution. “The only thing unusual about the case is that Mr. Dean seems to be obsessed with the idea that he’s being singled-out or targeted.”