Judge denies Baca's request to remain free pending appeal; defense to appeal that, too

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U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson denied former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's request to remain out of prison while he appeals his conviction - and his defense attorney is vowing to appeal that decision, too. 

Baca, 75, is scheduled to surrender next week to begin serving his three-year prison sentence for his role in a conspiracy to block an FBI investigation into inmate abuse at an L.A. County jail.  A jury found Baca guilty of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and lying in March.

Baca is appealing the conviction. His attorney claims the judge erred in what evidence was excluded  at trial, such as testimony about Baca's past "good acts" and his Alzheimer's disease. In hearing earlier this year, he revealed that Baca is in the third stage of Alzheimer's.

In an order filed Wednesday, Anderson stated Baca "has failed to raise a substantial question likely to result in reversal or new trial," denying Baca's request to be let out on bond while he appeals.

In a written statement, Baca’s attorney Nathan Hochman responded “The court found that Sheriff Baca neither poses a danger to the community nor a flight risk but improperly ruled that we had not raised substantially debatable, non-frivolous issues for appeal.”
Hochman said he’ll take the latest decision to the appellate court as well. The higher court may allow Baca to remain home while it considers the appeal. It could delay the start of his prison term while his request to remain free is reviewed.

Baca served in law enforcement for five decades, including 15 years as sheriff. He was elected four times.

His conviction marked the last of 21 current or former Sheriff's officials federal prosecutors held to account on charges ranging from corruption to inmate abuse in an investigation that started with the treatment of inmates at the nation's largest jail system -- and wound up looking into who at the department was involved in hiding an informant from FBI agents.

Baca's conviction was complicated. He had agreed to a plea deal, but Anderson rejected it, saying the sentence was too light. When Baca chose to withdraw his plea and go to trial, the first jury hung. After finally garnering a guilty verdict, federal prosecutors had recommended Baca serve two years in prison based on his age and health.

Baca had requested a sentence of community service and home confinement. His lawyer argued his client shouldn’t be subjected to the “harsh cruelty of the prison system not designed to address his medical condition.”

Anderson said he considered those factors, but also that Baca was “using his office to further his own agenda.” If not for the former sheriff's health condition and "good acts," the judge said at a May sentencing hearing, he would have handed the former sheriff a five-year prison sentence. The maximum sentence he could have served was 20 years.

This story has been updated.

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