Littlefield, In re

Decision Date03 September 1992
Docket NumberNo. B061445,B061445
Citation9 Cal.App.4th 329,11 Cal.Rptr.2d 703
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPreviously published at 9 Cal.App.4th 329 9 Cal.App.4th 329 In re Wilbur F. LITTLEFIELD, on Habeas Corpus.

Wilbur F. Littlefield, Public Defender, in pro. per., Laurence M. Sarnoff, Alan Stuart Chapman and Albert J. Menaster, Deputy Public Defenders, for petitioner.

Ira Reiner, Dist. Atty., Donald J. Kaplan and Brentford J. Ferreira, Deputy Dist. Attys., for the People.

GRIGNON, Associate Justice.

Petitioner, Wilbur F. Littlefield, the Public Defender of Los Angeles County, challenges an order of the municipal court holding him in contempt of court for refusing to comply with a discovery order made pursuant to Penal Code section 1054.3, part of the "reciprocal discovery" provisions of Proposition 115 (Pen.Code, § 1054 et seq.). 1


In a misdemeanor complaint filed May 9, 1991, Armando Orosco Montiel ("defendant") was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, and driving without a license. The following language appeared at the end of the complaint: "Pursuant to Penal Code Section 1054.5(b), the People are hereby informally requesting that defense counsel provide discovery to the People as required by Penal Code Section 1054.3."

Defendant was arraigned on the charges in the complaint on the same date it was filed. He was represented by Deputy Public Defender Chapman. On June 12, 1991, the parties appeared in court for jury trial and the case was trailed to June 17, 1991. During the June 12, 1991 proceedings, Mr. Chapman requested that a defense witness, Sandra Pavon, who was present in court, be ordered back for June 17, 1991. Ms. Pavon was placed "on call" to Mr. Chapman, who had her phone number. The prosecution made an oral motion "for discovery of any statements of the defense witness that [the defense] would intend to use." The court replied, "I will allow all discovery to be handled informally between counsel. The Court does not involve itself in discovery matters unless there is a failure to comply."

When the defense answered ready for trial on June 17, 1991, the prosecutor informed the court that the defense had not complied with the prosecution's informal discovery request. The court ordered the defense to comply with the prosecution's discovery request forthwith. Mr. Chapman, having conferred with his "supervising attorney from the appellate section," then requested a stay of any discovery order so he could file "appropriate Points and Authorities with respect to the very serious Constitutional issues involved...." After a short recess, a 29-page "Opposition to Request for Prosecution Discovery" and a "Demand For Fifteen Days Notice of Prosecution Motion" were filed by Mr. Chapman. Mr. Chapman argued that under rule 19 of the Uniform Rules of the Since the court had already made its immediate disclosure order and the deputy public defender had declined to comply, the court presumed that "Mr. Littlefield is intending to challenge [the order] directly." The court put the matter over to the next day for further discussion of which of the sanctions authorized by section 1054.5 would be appropriate. When the parties appeared in court the next day, June 18, 1991, Mr. Chapman requested that the court not impose any sanction which would prejudice the defendant. The court then stated it was left with "no further option to consider other than a contempt proceeding." The contempt hearing was set for the next day, June 19, 1991, and apparently trailed to June 20, 1991.

Municipal Courts of Los Angeles County, the defense was entitled to 15 days' formal notice of any prosecution request for a formal discovery order. The court stated its interpretation of the Penal Code differed from that of defense counsel, and it found that section 1054.5 prevailed over the local rule cited by the defense. 2 The court also found that the defense request for 15 days' notice of the prosecution's motion, in order to respond to the prosecution's request for discovery, was untimely. The court noted that the prosecution's discovery request was first made on May 9, 1991, was reiterated orally on June 12, 1991, and was not opposed until June 17, 1991, when a panel of prospective jurors was waiting outside the courtroom. The court again ordered the defense to provide the discovery immediately, pursuant to section 1054.7. 3

Petitioner appeared in court on June 20, 1991, accompanied by his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Albert Menaster. Petitioner filed with the court a "Brief in Opposition to Contempt Citation." After extensive oral argument, the court made a finding that "there is a reasonable and likely possibility that Sandra Pavon is a witness who has material information with respect to this case, and the defense is under an obligation to provide either the witness' address or obtain the address so the prosecution may interview the witness." The court further found that the defense intended to call Ms. Pavon as a witness and was able to obtain her address, because the defense had her phone number. The court ordered the defense to provide Ms. Pavon's address to the prosecution. The court alternatively ordered that the defense make Ms. Pavon available in court the next day. Petitioner respectfully declined to obey the court's order.

The court then stated, although it held the Los Angeles County Public Defender in the highest esteem, it had considered the explanation of the defense to the contempt charge and found the explanation "pales in comparison to the aggravating aspect of this refusal to comply with a lawful Court order." The court also stated: "This is not a contempt which has occurred in the heat of trial with emotions running high or where a thoughtless remark or deed might have otherwise been avoided upon careful reflection. This is instead a contempt of contemplation, of study, and of some degree of calculation. It is in this Court's opinion a contempt which, in refusing to The court then asked petitioner if he would reconsider his position. Petitioner respectfully refused, stating that the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the reciprocal discovery provisions of Proposition 115, and "I feel it would be a gross neglect of my duty if I did not wait until the Supreme Court made a decision." The court suggested that until that provision was invalidated by the Supreme Court, it was the law. The court found beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner was in contempt of court, fined him $1,000, and sentenced him to 5 days in jail. The court indicated it would stay the sentence for 90 days to give the defense a chance to seek relief in this court.

abide by a court order in this particular case, strikes at the very heart of the judicial system because it is a contempt which denies the sovereign power of the bench to be an arbiter of legal disputes. [p] The precedent set by this action--that being the ability of any attorney who has a personal disagreement with the wisdom or validity of any law or ruling of the Court to defy either the law or the Court--is not a precedent that this Court may tolerate lightly."

Defendant's trial went forward on June 27, 1991, and the jury found him not guilty of all charges. Ms. Pavon testified at the trial on June 27, 1991, on behalf of the defense. Nothing in the record indicates that the defense complied with the court's discovery order.

On July 2, 1991, Mr. Chapman asked the court to reconsider its contempt finding in view of the revelation that defense witness Ms. Pavon had been at the scene of defendant's arrest and the police could have, but did not, obtain her address at that time. The court declined to withdraw its contempt order because the above "does not, in the Court's mind, excuse the conduct of contempt by the defense who refused to abide by a lawful Court order."

The written contempt order was signed on June 24, 1991, but was not filed until July 2, 1991. On or about July 3, 1991, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the superior court. The municipal court and the prosecution filed responses. The superior court denied the petition on August 29, 1991. This court summarily denied the petition by an unpublished opinion filed February 20, 1992. On April 23, 1992, the Supreme Court granted petitioner's petition for review, transferred the matter to this court, and ordered us to vacate our summary denial and issue an order "returnable before [this] court when the matter is ordered on calendar, directing the [municipal court]" to show cause why the relief prayed for should not be granted. We issued such an order on June 10, 1992, and heard oral argument on July 7, 1992.


Several of the issues raised by petitioner have been resolved adversely to him since the contempt order was filed. These include petitioner's constitutional challenges to the reciprocal discovery provisions of Proposition 115, upheld in Izazaga v. Superior Court (1991) 54 Cal.3d 356, 285 Cal.Rptr. 231, 815 P.2d 304, and the contention that these reciprocal discovery provisions do not apply in misdemeanor cases. (Hobbs v. Superior Court (1991) 233 Cal.App.3d 670, 284 Cal.Rptr. 655.)

Petitioner raises a number of objections to the contempt order itself, none of which we find to be persuasive. Petitioner contends that the order was invalid because it was not filed until 12 days after the contempt hearing. Certainly, there may be due process implications where, for example, the court does not expeditiously file its order and the contemner is immediately remanded (In re Jones (1975) 47 Cal.App.3d 879, 120 Cal.Rptr. 914 [contemner was remanded immediately for a 20-day jail sentence; written contempt order did not issue until 8 days later] ), or where the court's failure to enter...

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  • Littlefield, In re, S025426
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • November 19, 1992
    ...In re Wilbur F. LITTLEFIELD on Habeas Corpus. No. S025426. Supreme Court of California, In Bank. Nov. 19, 1992. Prior report: Cal.App., 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 703. Petition for review MOSK, PANELLI, KENNARD, ARABIAN, BAXTER and GEORGE, JJ., concur. ...

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