Lawyer's illness halts L.A. City Hall bribery trial
Ex-Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan's lead lawyer, Harland Braun, is hospitalized.
Retired Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan’s public corruption trial is on hold until March 27.
Chan’s lead lawyer, Harland Braun, has been hospitalized since Thursday night. A doctor wrote U.S. District Judge John Walter on Sunday saying Braun needs to stay in bed for two weeks.
Braun’s associate Brendan Pratt told the judge on Monday that Braun’s prognosis is unknown.
“I wish I had good news,” Pratt said. Pratt said Braun underwent surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and he “might require further procedures.”
Pratt said he spoke with Braun via phone on Sunday and he “expressed his concern that he does not know when he will be discharged from the hospital.”
Judge Walter said his clerk will order jurors to return to the courthouse on March 27, and he’ll stay apprised of Braun’s health in the meantime. He scheduled another status conference for Friday at 8 a.m. Each juror had said before trial that they were available for 14 weeks, though the trial length shortened to six to seven weeks after ex-Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar took a plea deal.
The judge told prosecutor Mack Jenkins he can visit Braun in the hospital.
“I do like UCLA,” Jenkins said, adding that while “we all wish” Braun a speedy recovery, “I don’t think my presence would expedite that.”
A licensed attorney in California since 1968, Braun is a “double Bruin” as they say in the L.A. legal community, earning both his undergraduate degree and his law degree from UCLA.
The 80-year-old has been at the forefront of some of the most high-profile legal battles in Los Angeles over the last decades, including successfully defending John Landis and George Foley Jr., on manslaughter charges arising from a deadly helicopter crash during the 1982 filming of “Twilight Zone: The Movie.”
According to a 2001 Los Angeles Times profile, the case that kickstarted his career was his successful defense of Vincent Bugliosi, the chief prosecutor in the Charles Manson murder trial who was accused of perjury. Braun also successfully defended one of the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King in 1992.
He’s always been brash and unfiltered, once comparing the boot worn by his client in the King beating to a ballet slipper, and once calling a prosecutor in the Rampart police corruption scandal “pond scum.”
Braun was taking the same no-holds barred approach in Chan’s case, with prosecutors in a pre-trial filing quoting an email in which he wrote, “We do not plan to put on a cultural defense nor do we think the government's motive is racist. The government is simply stupid.”
Chan, 66, is charged with 12 felonies, including bribery and racketeering, for allegedly working with Huizar in a years-long scheme involving two wealthy developers with projects in Huizar’s downtown district. Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Har told jurors in her opening statement that Huizar and Chan had three goals: “Get money, keep power and avoid the feds.”
Chan served as a Chinese-to-English translator between Huizar and Chinese billionaire Wei Huang, and he encouraged the men’s lavish gambling trips to Las Vegas, according to testimony from Huizar’s former special assistant, George Esparza. Chan also helped arrange Huang’s $600,000 gift to Huizar to pay for a settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a staffer with whom Huizar had an extramarital affair, Esparza testified.
Chan retired from the City of Los Angeles in June 2017 after 33 years. He led the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety from May 2013 to June 2016, then was deputy mayor of economic development during his final 12 months.
What he did after he left the city is a big part of the federal case against him: His consulting job at Synergy Consulting, prosecutors say, was a reward for steering business to the company while he worked for the city. The consulting company is owned by George Chiang, an associate of developer Fuer Yuan. Yuan’s Luxe Hotel is one of two projects at the center of the case, along with Huang’s L.A. Grand Hotel.
Chiang started testifying Thursday afternoon and is to retake the stand whenever the trial begins again. He’s one of the final witnesses: Jenkins said Monday that prosecutors have about three days remaining in their case. Chan is expected to testify in his own defense.
Chiang is one of several people who’ve taken plea deals in connection with the scandal. The highest profile is, of course, Huizar, who took a deal in January that calls for prosecutors to recommend no more than 13 years in prison. His sentencing currently is scheduled for April 3, but it could be delayed, pending on what happens with Chan’s trial.
I had a great and wide-ranging discussion about the trial with former Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, for his podcast “What’s Next, Los Angeles?”
March 3: Former L.A. Planning Commission president testifies about strange meeting with Ray Chan
March 2: Testimony implicates ex-L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan in developer's $600K sex harassment settlement bribe to Jose Huizar
Feb. 25: 'This is scary, boss': Jurors hear ex-Los Angeles Councilman Huizar's covert bathroom meeting
Feb. 22: 'Your Honor! This is proper!' Harland Braun gives his opening statement in ex-L.A. deputy mayor Raymond Chan's federal corruption trial
Feb. 21: Trial begins today in ex-L.A. deputy mayor Raymond Chan's federal corruption case. His attorney has already angered the judge.
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