Judge declares mistrial in LA corruption trial of Raymond Chan

Medical absence of defense attorney Harland Braun leaves “no alternative”

Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan and attorney attorney Harland Braun with 350 West 1st Street in Los Angeles
Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan and attorney attorney Harland Braun with 350 West 1st Street in Los Angeles (Getty, Google Maps)

A federal judge has declared a mistrial in the corruption case against former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, citing the health of his 80-year-old attorney.

U.S. District Judge John Walter declared the mistrial Thursday morning in Chan’s racketeering case, nearly six weeks after trial was last in session, veteran legal journalist Meghann Cuniff reported.

“It is my view that the court has no alternative but to grant the defendant’s motion for mistrial,” Walter told the court. “Defense counsel’s unanticipated and serious medical condition has resulted in a serious delay in the midst of the trial.”

Prosecutors had only two witnesses left when Harland Braun, Chan’s lead attorney, was admitted to a hospital on March 2 for an undisclosed illness. Jurors were to return March 27, but Braun’s son and law partner, Adam Braun, told the judge at a status conference his father was unable to return to court. Chan’s defense had called for a mistrial, but the judge postponed the request while asking for details on Braun’s medical 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 real estate-related pay-to-play scheme 

Prosecutors say he soaked developers for millions of dollars in exchange for getting their building projects approved at City Hall.

On Thursday, Walter ordered Chan to hire a new lawyer by April 24. He declined Chan’s request for another month, but said he might consider giving him more time if he hasn’t found someone by then. A status conference is scheduled for April 28.

“Mr. Chan, you’re to be involved in interviewing attorneys,” Walter said. “I urge you to complete this process so we can get this trial back on track.”

Walter extended the jury’s return date to April 24, but he said that a sealed declaration from Braun and a letter from his doctor indicate he won’t be able to return to trial until at least August or September. Even then, Braun may not be capable of full-time work.

The information finally persuaded Walter that declaring a mistrial was his only option. Prosecutors didn’t oppose the request. 

“If the court were to delay the proceedings until Mr. Braun is fully recovered, it will likely be more than five months since the jury last heard testimony,” Walter said. 

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Chan, who retired in 2017, faces decades in prison if convicted on 12 felony charges tied to a years-long organized bribery scheme prosecutors say he helped former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar orchestrate with real estate developers.

The mistrial is a huge disruption for others charged in the City Hall conspiracy case.

No one has been sentenced yet, and anyone who is a cooperating witness in Chan’s trial will have their sentencing delayed until after Chan’s case is resolved, according to Cuniff.

That doesn’t include Huizar, whose sentencing has been put off to Sept. 25. But it does include Huizar’s former assistant George Esparza, whose sentencing already has been moved from June 5 to Oct. 27. 

The mistrial may be a coda to Braun’s storied career as one of L.A.’s most celebrated criminal defense attorneys, with clients including Roman Polanski, Roseanne Barr, John Landis, Gary Busey and Chris Farley.

— Dana Bartholomew



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