LOS ANGELES -- The judge in the McMartin Pre-School molestation trial aid Monday that District Attorney Ira Reiner tried to contact him in an apparently improper attempt to discuss reports of plea bargain discussions in the case.
Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg said he refused to speak with Reiner on the telephone, saying it would be improper for him to do so because he was presiding over the retrial of Raymond Buckey, the sole remaining defendant.
'I personally cannot conceive of any reason why Mr. Reiner would want to communicate with me,' Weisberg, appearing angry, told lawyers in the case as the retrial resumed Monday after a one-week recess.
Reiner was out of his office Monday and was unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman, Sandi Gibbons, said. But Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Thompson, Riner's chief deputy, said the judge had misunderstood 'a totally innocent contact.'
Thompson said Reiner was concerned that the publicity over the reported plea bargain discussions might cause a mistrial and merely wanted the judge to arrange a conference call with prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case to discuss the situation.
A district attorney's office investigator mistakenly told the judge that Reiner might want to speak with him during the conference call, Thompson said, but 'Mr. Reiner never had any intention to speak with the judge.'
Buckey's lawyer, Danny Davis, told reporters he was 'shocked' to learn that Reiner, a Democratic candidate for state attorney general, had tried to speak with Weisberg without notifying the defense. He said to do so is a breach of legal ethics. 'If (Reiner is) trying to mess with our judge, then I want to know about it,' Davis said. '(Reiner's) a desperate man. Only a desperate man would seek a private meeting with the judge.'
Weisberg said that, while he was in New York last Tuesday to attend the graduation of his stepson from Columbia University, Reiner's investigator telephoned him and said that 'Ira Reiner wanted to talk to me the next morning and wanted to know if I would make myself available.'
The judge said investigator Ed Aleks told him that Reiner apparently wanted to talk with Weisberg about an article in the Daily Journal, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, that reported last week that prosecutors had discussed a possible plea bargain with Davis.
The judge said he refused the next day to make himself available to speak with Reiner on the telephone and heard no further on the matter.
Campaign officials for Reiner's rival in the Democratic primary for the state attorney general's race, Arlo Smith, were quick to seize on the controversy.
'The code of professional ethics has never been a major consideration of Ira Reiner's career,' said Marc Dann, Smith's campaign manager. 'The voters are simply going to have to decide for themselves whether he was trying to influence the case for his own political advantage.'
The Daily Journal reported that Davis had played for one of its reporters a tape-recording of plea bargain discussions between himself and prosecutors in the Buckey case. The discussions were reportedly held April 2, before Buckey's retrial began.
The recording was first mentioned during a May 11 campaign debate in San Francisco between Reiner and Smith, the district attorney of San Francisco.
When a reporter asked Reiner about the possibility that his office had made a plea bargain offer to Buckey, Reiner denied it and said he did not know of any tape recording.
The Smith campaign, reacting to the Daily Journal report, branded Reiner 'a liar.'
In the taped discussions, prosecutors talk about the possibility of Buckey pleading no contest to child molestation charges without having to serve any additional time beyond the five years he has already spent in jail.
Buckey, 31, a former teacher at the now-closed Virginia McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach, has confirmed there were discussions about a plea bargain, but said he refused a tentative offer from prosecutors.
He is being retried on eight molestation charges stemming from the alleged molestations of three girls at the preschool from 1979 until 1983.
Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 63, were acquitted Jan. 18 at the first McMartin trial of 52 other molestation counts. Jurors at that trial deadlocked on the charges on which Buckey is being retried.
The first trial lasted nearly three years and cost taxpayers $13 million, becoming the longest, costliest criminal trial in U.S. history.