By Allison Ramsey and Hector Perla
An attempted murder trial is underway in Dept. 13. This case however, has a unique twist. The complaining witnesses are not complaining at all. In fact, they are the defendant’s mother and father and had to be subpoenaed by ADA Maia Maszara to testify against their son. The state seems to have taken it upon itself to turn a tragic family trauma into a courtroom spectacle, pitting parents against child.
Due to the extreme and personal nature of this case, Judge Victor Hwang appointed defense attorneys not just for the son who is on trial, but also for both his mother and father. Judge Hwang explained to the jury that he appointed the additional counsel because the court has a duty to provide counsel during times where issues of marital privilege could arise. He continued by explaining that this appointment was more of a safeguard for the judge and parties involved, to ensure no spousal privilege was violated.
The defendant’s mother, who was subpoenaed by ADA Maszara, was the first to testify. During cross-examination, the defendant’s mother answered questions regarding an incident with her son. When Deputy Public Defender Eric Quandt asked questions about her husband, the mother’s attorney objected. When Mr. Quandt asked questions about the mother’s statements to her son’s doctor, ADA Maszara objected. Mr. Quandt could barely get his questions out without an objection being hurled at him. Despite the barrage of objections, Mr. Quandt maintained his calm composure, reassessed his questions and carried on his cross-examination in a conversational style with the visibly nervous witness. The mother continued by testifying that her son was unresponsive on the day of the
incident and his comments made no sense.
On re-direct, ADA Maszara positioned herself in an intimidating position, leaning over the prosecution table and appearing ready to pounce on her own witness. ADA Maszara wasted no time, accusing the mother of only answering the defense’s questions and only remembering the things the defense wanted her to remember. ADA Maszara continued by accusing the witness of having a close relationship with the defense counsel and of not wanting to testify against her son.
After badgering the witness about the incident, Ms. Maszara’s questioning took an odd turn. Ms. Maszara began asking questions which violated the motions in limine for the case. Motions in limine occur prior to a trial and set parameters for what evidence is allowed to be introduced at trial. Despite defense counsel’s repeated objections and warnings from Judge Hwang, ADA Maszara continued to cross the line with her questions.
After the judge’s warnings and the failure by Ms. Maszara to comply, Mr. Quandt stated, “Your honor, the ADA’s continued line of questioning is sufficient for a mistrial in this case.” At which point, Judge Hwang finally said, “Enough!” and asked all of the attorneys to meet him in his chambers. After five minutes, the judge and the attorneys returned. ADA Maszara asked just three more questions before ceding questioning over to the defense.
After a few more questions from Mr. Quandt, Judge Hwang opened questioning up to the jury. During this process, used by many judges in San Francisco courts, jury members are allowed to write down questions for a particular witness. The judge and attorneys meet and decide which questions are appropriate for that particular witness. The judge then presents the questions to the witness to answer. One question from the jury asked the defendant’s mother why she had called 911. She answered that she wanted them to send help so that her son could be readmitted to the hospital because he had been released too early and she wanted him to get help for his mental illness.
This was the first day of trial for this poor family, and by all appearances the government seems ready and willing to destroy all in a misguided search for justice. Today it was the mother, forced to take the stand against her son. Tomorrow, the father will be forced to get on the stand and do the same.
From an observer’s perspective, this case appears to be one where the state should strive to bring a family together after a traumatic event resulting from mental illness. Instead, the state is further traumatizing this family by forcing parents to testify against their son.