By Hal Collier
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following story is true. In my first chapter I described how inconvenient it was going to court. I don’t ever remember enjoying a case I had in court. I guess that 95% of the time I spent in court was on my own time. You don’t just show up, you have to prepare. Nothing more embarrassing than making a fool of yourself on the witness stand.
In fact, I’ve heard of judges writing a letter to a captain describing how an officer was not prepared. It didn’t happen to me, but I was close once. Before arriving at court, you had better make a copy of the arrest report and review it.
I used to play good lawyer, bad lawyer. What’s the prosecuting attorney (good lawyer) going to ask me and what’s the defense attorney (bad lawyer) going to ask? What are the weak spots and what might be their defense? In felony prelims, Department policy said the investigating detective brings the evidence and attended the court hearing. In reality, some detectives never went to court. In narcotics cases, the arresting officer brought the evidence.
In some of my past Ramblings, I described Hollywood Characters. The court house is full of them. Some of the more colorful ones are judges. Yep, that’s right—the pillars of the judicial system. Two of the most infamous judges I’ll talk about were removed from the bench by the Commission of Judicial Performance. You have to be a real old timer to know these judges. Then later I’ll tell a few stories about trials I testified in that were amusing. One was even bizarre.
Judge Leland Geiler was rumored to be a former LAPD motor cop. I only testified in his court once but it was interesting. Sometimes when you had a case in another court room and were told to wait, you would wander into Geiler’s court to watch the circus. He was gruff, rude and his speech was laced with profanity. He ran his court room with an iron hand, but then most judges think of themselves as a notch below a god.
Lawyers who angered a judge could be found sharing a cell with their client. No kidding. I was in court more than once when a judge held a lawyer in contempt of court and ordered the bailiff to take custody of the offender. A few times I saw a judge order a lawyer to get out his check book and pay a fine for contempt. I shudder to think what might happen if the check bounced.
I was testifying in a felony prelim and glanced over at Judge Geiler, he was reading a Playboy Magazine. Ok, he was really looking at the pictures. As I describe a location in Hollywood, the defense attorney objected. Geiler told the attorney to sit down because he knew Hollywood like the back of his hand. Judge Geiler actually lived in Hollywood, on Los Feliz Boulevard. It was rumored that Geiler arrested a public defender in his court room for possession of a controlled drug and being under the influence. I would have loved to see that. Judge Geiler was removed from the bench in 1973 for judicial misconduct.
Noel Cannon, there’s a name that struck fear in the hearts of everyone and I mean everyone, cops, lawyers, defendants. If an officer had court in Cannon’s courtroom, you had better not be late or unprepared.
Officers had to be in court at 8:30 A.M. The officers would talk to the DA (District Attorney) and review their case. Most judges took the bench at about 9:30/10:00 to see what cases were ready for a hearing. I once saw an officer get on the witness stand and admit that he hadn’t read his arrest report before court. Judge Cannon ordered him to read his report on the witness stand, while the whole court room waited.
Noel Cannon would take the bench at a little after 8:00 A.M. She would sit on the bench in a pink judge’s robe, sometimes with her small dog on her lap and she was rumored to carry a handgun. She would order the attorneys to get cases ready, “forthwith.” (That means “right now”) I had a case that was heard fourth in her court one morning. I got out before 8:40 A.M. Cool, I got my three hours in ten minutes.
I walked into her court room one morning at 8:15. The court room was silent, I got two steps inside and she demanded to know what case I was on. I replied and she ordered the DA to get my case ready, “forthwith.” I slid into a seat next to my partner, who advised that Judge Cannon was on a rampage.
Judge Cannon, the day before, had ordered a deputy sheriff back in her courtroom at 8:15. A.M. When he hadn’t arrived at 8:25 she issued a bench warrant for his arrest, bail set at $50,000 dollars. I didn’t need to check my wallet, I knew I didn’t have that much lunch money. I testified and almost ran out of her court to the smell of freedom.
I had another case where I testified, the DA finished questioning me and now it’s the PD (Public Defenders) turn to cross examine. Judge Cannon tells the PD to sit down, “There’s no defense for this case. Defendant is held to answer. Next case.” Actually Judge Cannon held just about every defendant over for trial. The U.S. Constitution didn’t exist in Noel Cannon’s court.
Last Noel Cannon court story. I have court on December 24, 1972or 73. That’s right, Christmas Eve. My partner, Jim Tomer and I have worked all night. When were done with this court case, we can go home and share Christmas Eve with our family. It’s a simple case, one officer testifying, ten minutes maximum and we’re out of there. We arrested a drag queen on Hollywood Boulevard for possession of drugs. The defendant is in custody. He needs his case heard today [this is mandated by case law relating to speedy trial] or bail out and he’s not likely to have bail money.
We’re not assigned to Noel’s court, but we’re next door. The courts break for lunch at noon. Damn, we come back at 1:30 and the DA tells us that the judges have all gone home for Christmas. All but one, Noel Cannon. She’s going to take everyone’s held over cases. Last year she held court until 10 P.M. Does anyone else see the irony—Noel—Christmas!!!
I look at Jim and he smiles. I’m thinking he’s suffering from sleep deprivation. He asks our DA, “If I get the defendant to promise to show up for his next court appearance will you release him?” The DA agrees. He wants to go home too. Jim walks back into the lock up and returns ten minutes later. Jim tells the DA, he’ll show up for court. The DA’s happy, Jim and I are happy and the drag queen is happy. The DA, Jim and I are going home for Christmas, the drag queen is going where ever they go for the holidays. If we had ended up in Cannon’s court, no one would have gone home before dark.
A month later we go to court on the same defendant. I’m hoping he shows up. Guess what—he appears and pleads guilty to the drug charge. He thanks us for letting him out for Christmas. Yea, we had his interests in mind.
Noel Cannon was removed from the bench in 1975 for judicial misconduct. Another Character.
One day I have court after working all night. It’s my third day in court and I’m guessing that I have had a total of eight hours sleep in three days. I’m sitting in the officers’ waiting room when they break for lunch. I seldom tried to sleep at the court house because when I was suddenly awakened, I was a poster model for dementia patients.
So on this day I’m so tired I lie down just for an hour. I am suddenly jolted awake by a ringing telephone. I sit upright and I’m in this strange room with some other man. He looks over at me and asks, “What case are you on?” I reply ah, ah, ok that’s right I’m at court. My mind is racing what case am I on? After a few seconds the man says, “Well then what’s your name?” I reply, “ah, ah,” crap I can’t even remember my name. I hope I’m wearing the underwear with my name in them. The fog clears just enough for me to blurt out “Collier.” He tells me my case has been disposed of, I can go home.
I walk out of the court building and discover that it’s past four o’clock. I walk four blocks up the hill to the Music Center where my truck is parked. I enter the parking structure and stop dead in my tracks. Oh double crap. What level did I park on this morning? Lucky I drove my truck. I only had to walk down a ramp and look left and right. If I didn’t see the roof of “Old Blue” I walked down another ramp. I find my truck. Now I only have to remember where I live. I never went to sleep at court again.
My next segment, I’ll talk about the more bizarre court cases and characters.