Friday, October 19, 2012

Sara Clara County Public Defender Accused of Lying

Story first appeared on

SAN FRANCISCO -- The liar in the courtroom Wednesday wasn't the Santa Clara County prosecutor charged with misconduct, his defense attorney contended. It was his accuser, a public defender with a reputation for dirty tricks.

A child abuse defense attorney is involved in any case when child abuse allegations are made toward an individual.

The contention came on the first day of prosecutor Troy Benson's trial in State Bar Court. Benson is charged with concealing evidence in 2006 from a defense lawyer in a child sex-assault case and then lying about it under oath. Benson, who denies the allegations, faces at least a year's suspension, a career-killing penalty.

Benson's attorney, Jonathan Arons, promised during his opening statement to offer evidence that the primary witness against his client -- Alternate Public Defender Al Lopez -- was not known for his "truth and veracity."

But Lopez appeared to withstand the onslaught, feinting every parry except perhaps one.

Arons first accused Lopez of lying when he said he never had a case with Benson before 2006. The misconduct allegations stem from Benson's 2006 prosecution of Augustin Uribe on charges he sexually molested a female relative, starting when she was 5.

Arons persisted in trying to impeach Lopez as a witness, saying it was a real trial because the defendant was sentenced. But McElroy did not seem impressed.

Arons tried again, with a bit more success. He said Judge Arthur Bocanegra had found Lopez conducted himself in bad faith when he claimed the prosecution had violated "discovery" rules.

Benson is accused of failing to turn over a videotaped medical exam of the child in the Uribe case made by the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) at Valley Medical Center.

Arons then blamed Lopez for accusing prosecutor Alison Filo of purposely excluding jurors of a certain unspecified ethnic or racial group in a trial involving an Asian man. His point was Lopez would go to any lengths to win a case, even smearing the reputation of a prosecutor. But an appellate court agreed with Lopez and sent the case back for a new trial. Arons then noted when Lopez filed a similar motion in another case, a judge called that motion improper.

Two of Arons' many other attempts to discredit Lopez also appeared to backfire.

He asked Lopez if he ever said the DA's office was out to get him after Judge Andrea Bryan's controversial decision to free Uribe in 2010 on the grounds that Benson committed "outrageous prosecutorial misconduct." An appellate panel agreed Benson committed "substantial misconduct" but found the judge went too far in releasing Uribe. In turn, the state Attorney General's Office found there were no grounds to charge Benson with perjury and that Lopez could just as easily have not been telling the truth.

Arons also asked why Lopez hadn't responded for about two weeks to an important email from Benson.

At times, the fierce cross-examination appeared to annoy the judge, who was holding his own against Arons. She even lectured the defense at one point, saying the heart of the case was whether Benson turned over the videotape, and that the defense didn't seem to understand the meaning of the term.

However, evidence that merely tends to impeach the state's case is also exculpatory.

Arons said Benson did not withhold the videotape, adding in his opening statement that "there's a difference between withholding something and not revealing something you don't know even know about."

But the day wasn't a complete loss for Benson. Lopez was the least clear about what he told Uribe trial Judge Paul Bernal about who discovered the tape first. Bernal is set to take the stand Tuesday to provide what could be key testimony.

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