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Welcome to my Substack newsletter. As I expand my legal affairs reporting and trial coverage, I will be sharing a roundup of my work every week through this newsletter.
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Here’s what’s going on:
1. Tory Lanez gets new lawyers
I’m continuing to track all developments in the criminal case of rapper Tory Lanez, after a jury convicted him last month of shooting Megan Thee Stallion in 2020. Lanez is now represented by David Kenner, whose storied history in the hip-hop world includes getting Snoop Dogg acquitted of murder in 1996 in the case that inspired the song “Murder Was the Case.”
This week’s coverage began with a Sunday Twitter thread previewing Lanez’s Tuesday court appearance. It went on to include a summary of my unexpected phone call from Kenner on Monday and on-the-ground reporting from the courthouse on Tuesday. A short article about Kenner’s appearance published Wednesday.
As it turns out, Kenner’s status as the attorney for now-imprisoned Death Row Records founder Suge Knight is a messy topic. It’s also more complicated than my Twitter thread conveyed.
In the end, Kenner DID represent Knight in the case over the 2015 fatal hit-and-run in the parking lot of Tam’s Burgers in Compton, California, while on set for Straight Outta Compton.
A licensed attorney in California since 1968, Kenner was photographed appearing in court with Knight at his Feb. 3, 2015, arraignment. He didn’t stay on the case long, and the attorney who did help Knight broker his 28-year plea deal, Matthew Fletcher, ended up in prison. But Kenner did represent Knight at one point in the case, and he also served as Knight’s lawyer during in the civil trial over a lawsuit victim Terry Carter’s family filed against Knight.
That trial ended in a mistrial in June 2022 after the jury deadlocked 7-5 in favor of Carter’s family, and Kenner told Rolling Stone, “He finally got to tell his side of the story. He had a viable defense. This case had two sides to it. Of all the history of Suge Knight and Death Row, this was not the case that should have been utilized to shut him down.”
Still, Kenner made it clear to me on the phone Monday that he does not appreciate being associated with his former client’s prison sentence, and he’s obviously miffed that some hip-hop blogs ignored his status as the lawyer who got the Doggfather acquitted of murder in favor of falsely blaming him for Suge currently being in prison. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t Suge Knight’s lawyer, and it doesn’t mean anyone who said he was is wrong.
Kenner isn’t representing Lanez alone. He’s got attorney Matthew Barhoma by his side, with the public relations firm Newsroom Public Relations announcing Barhoma’s appearance in a press release I read while sitting a few feet from Barhoma outside Judge David Herriford’s 15th floor courtroom on Tuesday.
It describes Barhoma in glistening terms, deeming him as being “known for his successes in vacating convictions for numerous defendants who faced wrongful and overzealous prosecutions and unjust charges.”
The release didn’t provide specifics, and someone emailed me taking issue with the description, writing, “I appreciate your work but I was disappointed you promoted this dirt bag atty Barhoma. He’s seriously a joke and only known for his post conviction work in his mind.”
Barhoma has only been a licensed attorney in California since December 2017, so he hasn’t had much time to overturn many convictions. But his website credits him with securing vacated convictions under California’s new felony murder law, revised in 2018 to say that only people believed to have intended to kill can be charged.
Implemented under Senate Bill 1437, the changes are retroactive, which means thousands of people are eligible to get their convictions overturned and their prison sentences reduced. I can’t find a record of any 1437 cases for Barhoma in superior court records (they are heard in superior court and those records are limited), and a search of the state appellate court websites revealed Barhoma as an attorney in only a few cases. In one, a panel with the California Court of Appeal’s 4th District, Division Two, affirmed his client’s murder conviction.
Issued on Jan. 7, 2022, the justices’ 44-page opinion rejected Barhoma’s arguments about alleged errors the trial judge made when admitting evidence of prior misconduct and excluding evidence of third-party culpability, concluding: ‘We find no merit in defendant’s arguments and affirm the judgment.”
Barhoma also is representing state prisoner Jeremy Don Fennell in his appeal of his 2021 murder conviction out of Stanislaus County in Central California’s San Joaquin Valley. The case is fully briefed as of Nov. 16 but no oral argument has been heard and the court has not yet issued its decision.
Barhoma also represented convicted attempted murderer Luis Miguel Salinas in a habeas petition filed with the 2nd District that was denied on Dec. 9. He does not appear to have other cases pending in the California Court of Appeals. I emailed Barhoma’s publicist at Newsroom Public Relations asking for more details about the convictions he’s gotten overturned and received this reply, “I will ask Matthew and send you any updates.” I also sent him the emailed comment I quoted above. I haven’t heard back yet, but I will let you know if I do.
You can find all my previous Law & Crime News coverage of Tory Lanez’s trial here. I also posted free downloadable PDFs of my Twitter trial threads here.
2. Danny Masterson will be tried again for rape
A lawyer for Danny Masterson asked a judge to dismiss the three rape charges against the actor and Scientologist in a 16-page filing he deemed not a motion but an “invitation” to dismiss. It was filed ahead of a Tuesday hearing where prosecutors were due to announce whether they would pursue a second trial for Masterson after the first jury hung on his three rape charges 10-2, 8-4 and 7-5.
I wrote an article Monday that explains what’s stake and includes a link to the full filing. I wrote another article Tuesday on prosecutors’ decision to retry Masterson that includes a link to their reply in which they say they plan to introduce new expert testimony during the second trial.
Masterson is due in court again for a status conference on Feb. 16, with jury selection to begin March 29. I covered the trial extensively for Law & Crime News; you can find my articles in the archives.
3. Trial begins in 2013 fatal prison yard beating
U.S. District Court doesn’t see a lot of murder cases, but the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, California, is hosting its second murder trial in nine months as three Sureño gangsters are on trial in Judge Cormac Carney’s courtroom for the fatal beating of a fellow inmate at the federal prison in Victorville.
The trial is littered with gangster monikers such as Sleepy, Knockout, Wicked and Monster. The defendants are Augie, Sneaky and Torch, a.k.a. Aurelio Patino, Christopher Ruiz and Jose Villegas, so-called Sureño “foot soldiers” accused of beating and kicking fellow foot soldier Javier Sandez to death on Oct. 1, 2013.
I’ve been occasionally updating a Twitter thread as I keep one eye and one ear on testimony while working on my laptop, which Judge Carney allows journalists to do in his courtroom. I’d long been used to it after watching many trials in his courtroom - I profiled him in 2018 for the Los Angeles Daily Journal - but my recent experience with electronics restrictions in Los Angeles County Superior Court sparked a fiery new appreciation in me for Judge Carney and other charges who share his approach to electronics in court.
The case involves two of the same prosecutors who did the maritime murder case I reported on for Los Angeles Times Community News about the fatal shooting on a boat in the Pacific Ocean of the Dana Point Harbor in south Orange County. I expect a verdict next week, and I’ll be capturing the entire trial in an article for Los Angeles Magazine.
4. Coming soon: Rapper T.I. and his wife, Tiny, at the Orange County federal courthouse
Next week will be busy: Two top trial lawyers will be in Santa Ana for trial in a lawsuit between toymaker MGA Entertainment and rapper T.I. and his wife, Tameka Tiny” Harris. T.I. and Tiny are seeking damages from MGA over its OMG Dolls, which they say infringe on the former girls rap group OMG Girlz. (Tiny’s daughter was a member of OMG Girlz.)
The case is before Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna (the same judge who did Michael Avenatti’s case), and it involves some of the top trial lawyers around: Jennifer Keller and David Scheper. I previewed the case in a Twitter thread. I’ll have much more in a preview article next week for Los Angeles Magazine.
Thank you for reading the inaugural edition of my newsletter. This is a work in progress, and I hope you’ll share what you’ve found with your friends. I’ll be back next week, probably on Friday, but I may adjust the distribution day as things get going. Feel free to share your input with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I followed your honest reporting on Tory trial and I can’t wait to also see what you’ll report on T.I and his wife - drama seems to follow them and you’ll notice more tweets from black twitter. So much tea when it comes to social media that the court room is barely prepared for
I worry knowing that Scientology (fake religion) is not to be messed with. Will he get off free due to connections to the church? I really feel for Lisa Pressley and didn’t even see her speaking up at this trial - that was a surprise to hear. It’s just so many dirty birds involved at the top and I have a feeling he’s gonna get a super light sentence or parole.