Dog-Mauling Trial Defense Attorney

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 19, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:   Tonight the defense attorney at the dog-mauling trial goes on the record.  She's no stranger to controversy, and today she got in more hot water before the case even went to the jury.  Also ahead: Is an arrest imminent in the murder of Robert Blake's wife?  Our guest has been talking to the LAPD.  And later, an update on the war with former secretary of state Alexander Haig.  We're also going to go live to Afghanistan.  And are al Qaeda fighters regrouping in Pakistan by the hundreds?

But first, we're going to go to the dog-mauling trial in California.  It's up to the jury, the fate of the San Francisco couple whose dogs mauled a neighbor to death.  Joining us now from Los Angeles is their attorney, Nedra Ruiz.

Welcome back, Nedra.


VAN SUSTEREN:  Nedra, so what -- what was the mood of your client after the jury began deliberating?

RUIZ:  Very hopeful.  She's anxious that this long ordeal and nightmare come to an end.  She's been in jail since the grand jury returned the indictment.  That's, I think, around March 10.  So she's actually been in jail for over a year.

VAN SUSTEREN:  What -- what kind of bail -- what kind of bail does she have?  What's the bond on her head?

RUIZ:  One million dollars.  Originally, bail was set in the matter at $2 million.  And it was obviously a product of the voracious publicity that was generated by the case.  I entered the case and filed a bail motion.  I told the judge that she's only ever wanted to cooperate with these proceedings.  She volunteered to testify at the grand jury, testify without immunity.  Throughout, she appraised the district attorney of her whereabouts.  But the judge was unwilling to reduce it by more than $1 million.  So she has $1 million bail, and she's languished in jail all these months.  It's a great hardship on her.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Nedra, you got yourself in a little hot water, as defense lawyers sometimes do.  What happened today?  You give the judge a little hard time?

RUIZ:  All I did was make an objection during the district attorney's final summation.  The district attorney had objected during my summation, but when I objected during the district attorney's, the judge threatened to jail me.  And I hadn't objected before.  And -- he immediately threatened me with incarceration, even though my client has a right to have her attorney object to misstatements of the law or misstatements of the facts.

When the judge warned me so severely that I was going to be -- he actually said he was going to jail me if I made another objection.  I had to turn to my client and reassure her because -- well, she's an attorney.  She's never seen another attorney threatened with jail for making an objection.  It was a very -- it was strange.  It was weird.  It was -- I've never encountered anything like it in my years of practicing criminal law in San Francisco.

When I -- when I -- when the prosecution -- prosecutor went on to misstate the evidence again, I objected again.  And I was again threatened with jail.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And of course, you did not get it.  At least, you're here tonight to join us, so at least you didn't get jailed tonight, Nedra, but there's always tomorrow, with -- I say very facetiously, with a jury note, if you get one.

Let me ask you about -- a question that's caused at least some stir.  This is how you were quoted in the Associated Press in saying in closing argument, "Maybe he" -- and I assume by "he" you mean the prosecutor -- "wants to curry favor with the homosexual and gay folks who are picketing and demanding justice for Diane Whipple."

Is that what you said?  And what did you mean by that?

RUIZ:  Well, I think that -- immediately after this tragic event, there was no arrest because the prosecution -- the San Francisco Police Department investigated the matter for a few days, saw that there were no formal complaints filed against the dogs, talked to the chief medical examiner, Boyd Stephens, and investigator -- I believe it was Becker concluded that at that time, there was -- it was a tragic accident, and no charges were preferred against Marjorie or Robert.

There followed a feeling in the gay community that perhaps Diane Whipple's death was being slighted by the prosecution in San Francisco.  And certainly, gay victims have not always received their full measure of justice in the courts.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Would you feel better if -- would you feel better on this count -- I mean, in this matter, rather, if your client hadn't been charged with murder in the second degree but simply manslaughter?

RUIZ:  Well...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Is he overcharging?

RUIZ:  The bail was excessive, and such excessive bail worked a hardship on her ability to defend herself.  And a bail that is so excessive is -- for someone who has no criminal record at all and was appraising the district attorney of...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Do you think it's because...

RUIZ:  ... her whereabouts...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Do you think, Nedra...

RUIZ:  I think it had to be a product of political pressure.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Nedra, I mean, I've read an awful lot about the case.  And with all due respect to your client, she had an unusual lifestyle -- at least, I thought -- adopting an adult from prison.

RUIZ:  But it didn't make -- it didn't make her a flight risk.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Oh, and I didn't say that, but what I'm asking is, is sort of -- at least, how I would characterize her lifestyle as unusual or weird.  Do you think that perhaps that had a bearing on the prosecutor's decision, which maybe it should not have, but nonetheless?  Is that what it is?

RUIZ:  No, because almost immediately, those facts concerning her adoption of this inmate and her involvement with these dogs was fully disclosed to the district attorney's office in San Francisco because this...

VAN SUSTEREN:  But it was weird.  But you know...

RUIZ:  This matter...

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... it's weird to adopt -- but it's weird to adopt a prisoner who's doing almost life in prison on an armed robbery.  I mean, you got to -- you got to agree that's -- that's pretty strange.

RUIZ:  Well, she took -- she and her husband took pity on this man, and...

VAN SUSTEREN:  That's dangerous, Nedra, because the victims are probably rolling their eyes at that, tonight, pity on someone who's in jail for violent crimes.

RUIZ:  He's -- they -- they saw him as human.  I know in California, we have some 300,000 people in jail or on parole, and we have about 98 prisons.  So it's -- it's -- it can be hard, for people who live in a society where prisoners are typically just thrown away, to understand why two people might look at a prisoner and see a human being.  But that's -- that's the mistake they made, and it isn't a criminal mistake.

They -- they loved these dogs, but it -- you know, and maybe they made a mistake about the true nature of the dogs because they had only ever seen the dogs act like decent pets, docile pets.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And of course...

RUIZ:  But it wasn't -- it wasn't -- their mistake wasn't malicious.  It wasn't criminal.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And of course, we'll learn tomorrow or perhaps the next day, you know, what the jury, you know, ultimately decides in the case.  And I hope, Nedra, you will come back because it's -- you know, it's a terrible tragedy, but it's a -- you know, it certainly is an interesting review of our justice system.  Nedra Ruiz, thank you very much for joining us.

RUIZ:  Thank you.

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