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Before John Russo could even file papers opposing a defense subpoena he received in the “Riders” police misconduct trial, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado ruled Monday that the Oakland city attorney does not have to take the stand. Dorado denied the defense motion, saying “the testimony of the city attorney is not relevant,” and later added that the probitive value of such testimony is “far outweighed” by the amount of time it would consume. The lead defense attorney in the trial of the former cops who called themselves the “Riders” said he wanted Russo to tell jurors why the city paid more than $10 million in a civil settlement to people who said they were victimized by the police. The criminal trial, which is now in the defense phase, has been going on since September of last year. Michael Rains, a name partner at Pleasant Hill’s Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson, said he also wanted to ask Russo about printed statements in a press release he sent out after the civil settlement was announced, which seemed to indicate that the scandal and the settlement chiefly stemmed from four officers who were criminally charged. The agreement was an important milestone in the civil portion of the Riders scandal, in which former officers are accused of brutalizing suspects, planting evidence and falsifying police reports. The criminal trial is ongoing against Jude Siapno, Matthew Hornung and Clarence Mabanag. A fourth ex-officer, Francisco Vazquez, is missing and considered a fugitive. Russo’s subpoena was part of the defense strategy to prove that the officers weren’t bad apples, but instead were simply acting on orders from higher-ups to crack down on street crime. It is also somewhat of a departure from Rains’ earlier strategy; after the civil settlement was announced he said he would not try to admit the settlement into evidence. “The problem is you can read it different ways,” he said then. On Monday, prosecutor David Hollister vehemently objected to the defense’s efforts, telling Judge Dorado the court proceedings would be “held hostage” if Russo was forced to testify about statements made in his press release, because issues could then be raised — such as insurance coverage of the Riders payout and actions of other defendants — that would take up a lot of time. William Rapoport, who represents Siapno, said the city’s $10.9 million settlement was the “elephant in the room,” because at least one juror said she heard something associating that number with the case and therefore the issue should be explored in court. Last month, the city attorney’s office announced it would pay $10.9 million and implement sweeping reforms to settle federal civil rights suits filed by 119 plaintiffs. Rains added that it had become clear politics may have entered into the proceedings early on. He said Sgt. Jonathan Madarang, a 25-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department and former internal affairs investigator, testified earlier that one week into the initial probe into allegations against the Riders, he was told by city leaders to limit his investigation to what the whistle-blower said, and not probe wider police department issues. The allegations of misconduct were first brought to the attention of police officials when rookie Keith Batt quit after just two weeks on the force, citing the behavior of his colleagues. Russo’s testimony about the monetary settlement and agreed-upon reforms could have helped strengthen the defense’s assertion that the police problems extended beyond the Riders band of officers. As part of that strategy, Rains said, the defense has already lined up Police Chief Richard Word to testify sometime next week. But during an interview before the hearing, Russo said the defense already unsuccessfully tried to get Mayor Jerry Brown and City Manager Robert Bobb to testify. “If their testimony was not deemed helpful by a trier of fact, then I don’t know how mine would be,” he said. Russo said he didn’t “see the relevancy” of his testimony, and pointed out that attorney-client privilege and work product rules would bar him from saying much anyway. If the defense merely wants to have the court acknowledge the settlement, the city attorney argued, it could request that Judge Dorado take judicial notice of newspaper accounts about it. The defense lawyers already have an upper hand because the prosecutor has a high, “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof, Russo said. “Why, with that on your side,” he asked, “would you go down this path?”

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