former sheriff lee baca
Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca walks out of federal court after a hearing in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

In the wake of a controversial pardon for convicted ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, will President Trump also pardon disgraced ex-Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca?

Baca’s attorney Monday refused to comment when asked if there’s any possibility of a presidential pardon for his client.

Baca is fighting to stay out of custody while he appeals his conviction for conspiring to derail an FBI probe into corruption in the jail system.

“I can’t comment one way or the other,” Baca attorney Nathan Hochman told City News Service.

Hochman was asked if Baca or anyone on his legal team had approached the White House about a possible pardon, or if there had been any contact with presidential officials.

“I understand” the question, Hochman said, but he declined to respond further.

Baca, 75, was sentenced to three years in prison in May for his conviction on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

In a nine-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson found in July that Baca had “failed to raise a substantial question likely to result in reversal or new trial.”

Hochman said he plans to present evidence to show that a reversal is warranted based on judicial error and Baca should remain free while those issues are explored.

After Trump publicly speculated about a pardon for Arpaio, the president announced Friday that he had granted the pardon.

Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. He was found guilty in federal court of criminal contempt. He ignored an order to stop his deputies from detaining people just because the law enforcement officers thought individuals looked like illegal immigrants.

Trump said Arpaio has “done a great job for the people of Arizona, he’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration, he is loved in Arizona.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him.”

Without any comment from Baca’s attorney, it’s difficult to know what Trump thinks of Baca.

During Baca’s two trials, prosecutors described the ex-lawman as being the top figure in the multi-part conspiracy, which also involved his former right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

Prosecutors had asked for a two-year prison term, noting that they would ordinarily seek about four years, but took into account Baca’s age and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. During the sentencing hearing, however, the judge excoriated Baca, telling him that if it hadn’t been for the ex- lawman’s health, Baca would have received the same five-year term given to Tanaka, the former undersheriff.

The judge told Baca his Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not a “get-out-of-jail card.”

Baca — who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years — was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

The charges stemmed from events six years ago when a cell phone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.

At that point, sheriff’s officials closed ranks and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing the inmate-turned- informant from federal prosecutors, who had issued a summons for his grand jury appearance.

The charges against the various sheriff’s officials involved a host of illegal acts, including a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent in the driveway leading to her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denied having advance knowledge of the illicit attempt to intimidate the federal agent.

Prior to the first trial, Baca had pleaded guilty to the lying count, but subsequently backed out of the plea deal — which called for him to serve no more than six months in prison — after the judge rejected the agreement as too lenient. If Baca had not withdrawn from the plea, he could have been handed a sentence of five years behind bars. He was then indicted on the three felony counts for which he was subsequently convicted.

Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.

Hochman said the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in the training of jail guards to de-escalate problems and successfully deal with violent and/or mentally ill inmates. Baca was not charged with any instances of jail brutality.

In addition to the 10 people convicted in connection with the Baca conspiracy case, 11 other now-former sheriff’s department members were also convicted of various crimes uncovered during the FBI investigation.

— Staff and wire reports

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