No Bucks, No Buck Rogers

Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2014 at 12:00AM

Barnett & Barnett

     In the award-winning movie about the Mercury space program, The Right Stuff, astronaut Gus Grissom succinctly described exactly how and why the program succeeded in putting the first Americans into space: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” In other words, without funding, and a lot of it, no American would have been launched into space. The very same must be said about the case of People v. Ramos and Cicinelli.
     Last month, Michael Schwartz gave an excellent description of why the criminal trial resulted in acquittal of the charged officers. As a corollary of the why, it is useful to look at the how the acquittal was obtained. From the moment Fullerton Police Officers Manny Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were charged with murder and manslaughter and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced that he personally would try the case, it was clear that the state would devote enormous resources in the attempt to convict these police officers. The defense needed to be able to respond. From the day of the officers’ arrest to the day they were exonerated, PORAC Legal Defense Fund provided every conceivable resource to the defense.

The Investigation
     At least three investigators were assigned to the case. One investigator was in the field, tracking down every possible witness who could attack the credibility of the prosecution’s case and support the defense theory of the case. Another investigator was present during the entire preliminary examination and jury trial to assist the attorneys in presenting the evidence. This enabled the attorneys to know every possible piece of evidence that was available — and it was invaluable.

The Experts
    The case involved experts from several different disciplines: use of force, cardiac pathology, and respiration. LDF authorized the hiring of the very best (and most expensive) experts in the country. The experts not only testified, they sat through the preliminary hearing and jury trial to assist the attorneys as issues arose midstream. They spent hours outside of court preparing the attorneys to cross examine prosecution experts. The result of this assistance was outcome-determinative in this case: The prosecution was unable to establish the cause of death. This result could not have been achieved without the extraordinary funding needed to employ these witnesses. No bucks, no Buck Rogers!

The Jury Consultants
     The defense requested and received authorization to employ jury consultants. The consultants not only assisted the attorneys in selecting the best jury possible, they arranged for a mock jury to hear the defense case before trial so that the attorneys would know what types of jurors best suited this case and what arguments would — and would not — be persuasive. This resource is rarely available in criminal trials and contributed greatly to the ultimate result.

The Videographer
     This case involved a 32-minute video of the alleged crime. Videographer David Notowitz spent hundreds of hours breaking down each frame, preparing individual slides and slow-motion versions that allowed the defense theory to be presented in a clear and compelling way. The defense had the great fortune of having Mr. Notowitz sit through the entire trial and present, on demand, segments of the tape that supported the defense case. He made the defense attorneys look good and made the defense successful.

The Attorneys
     Except in capital cases, it is extremely rare that an accused has two attorneys. LDF authorized two attorneys for each officer. This was necessary because the case was both factually and legally complex. In the last 40 years, only a handful of peace officers have been charged with murder in an on-duty setting. Because the law in this area is complex and unsettled, and because of the far-reaching impact to all police officers, the defense sought review of these issues in the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.

No Cap
     As the above demonstrates, PORAC Legal Defense Fund stood behind its promise of “no cap” on the defense of these police officers. This no-cap approach led directly to the acquittals in this case and makes true Gus Grissom’s observation, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”


About the Author

John Barnett has been a criminal defense attorney in Orange County for 40 years. His practice includes the defense of numerous peace officers. 


PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.