A judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the federal criminal trial of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan after doctors said Chan’s lead defense attorney would require months to recover from a sudden illness.
U.S. District Judge John Walter ordered Chan to retain a new attorney by April 24 and set a status/trial setting hearing for April 28.
During Thursday’s hearing, Chan asked for more time to retain a new attorney to replace Harland Braun, whose hospitalization last month caused a recess in proceedings two weeks after the trial began. However, Walter denied the request, saying the defendant would have to file a request for more time if he is not able to meet the deadline, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Walter’s decision came after receiving a sealed declaration from Braun and medical information on the attorney’s condition.
Chan, 66, of Monterey Park, is facing a dozen criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and lying to federal agents for his alleged role in a complex pay-to-play scheme — linked to former Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar — that prosecutors say soaked developers for millions of dollars in exchange for getting their building projects approved at City Hall.
Two weeks after the trial’s opening statements on Feb. 21, the judge called a three-week recess to give Braun time to recover from the sudden illness that required hospitalization.
The defense immediately argued that a mistrial was necessary based upon Chan’s constitutional right to his chosen counsel and because Braun was rendered “physically unable to participate in the defense for at least several months.”
Braun had been representing Chan for about four years and was the only attorney capable of leading the defense, Chan insisted in papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Federal prosecutors urged Walter to deny a mistrial. Allowing Braun to resume the trial upon his recovery “best protects defendant’s right to chosen counsel,” according to the government.
The details of Braun’s medical condition have not been disclosed to the public. The 80-year-old Braun is one of the city’s best known criminal defense attorneys. His clients have included Roman Polanski, Roseanne Barr, John Landis and many others.
When the trial was halted, the government had completed about 75% of its case-in-chief, with five witnesses remaining, prosecutors said.
In a filing, Chan’s other attorneys stated that Braun faces an “indeterminate but significant” period of treatment and recovery, and his eventual return to his practice will be gradual or perhaps limited.
Chan is accused of being a key member of what prosecutors dubbed the Council District 14 enterprise, a conspiracy in which Huizar — assisted by others — unlawfully used his office to give favorable treatment to real estate developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit benefits.
Huizar pleaded guilty in January in Los Angeles federal court to felony charges for using his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates, and for cheating on his taxes. He faces multiple years behind bars at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Sept. 25.
A deputy mayor who oversaw economic development for ex-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, Chan is accused of arranging indirect bribe payments to city officials by lining up employment contracts for the officials’ relatives.
During his opening statement, Braun said his client was an innocent public servant who got swept up in the case by overly ambitious federal prosecutors. He promised that Chan would take the stand to refute all allegations.
Chan worked for the city for almost three dozen years, serving at one point as the top executive overseeing the Department of Building and Safety, which reviews building plans and inspects construction projects.
Before Huizar signed his plea deal, he and Chan were scheduled to go on trial together.