Grossman sentencing delayed, new trial sought

MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers
Rebecca Grossman with her husband, Dr. Peter Grossman, Feb. 16 at the Van Nuys Courthouse.

A post-conviction hearing brought yet another delay in the Rebecca Grossman case on March 22, with sentencing pushed back from April 10 to June 10. Judge Joseph Brandolino agreed to the latest continuance to give attorneys recently hired by Grossman enough time to file a motion for a new trial.

Brandolino also declined to revoke Grossman’s in-custody telephone and visitation privileges, which prosecutors had requested after accusing her of trying to influence witnesses and the judge himself from behind bars. In Brandolino’s view, the recorded phone conversations presented as evidence of wrongdoing mostly showed Grossman’s “naivete” and did not amount to criminal conduct.

The judge did order the defense team to destroy any record of personal juror identifying information in its possession. Prosecutors had alleged that Grossman’s lawyers illegally obtained such details from the list in court and used them to contact jurors through an investigator. No further such contact is allowed without a motion from the defense, Brandolino said.

Grossman, 60, was present in court, wearing shackles and a brown jumpsuit. On Feb. 23 she was found guilty in Van Nuys Superior Court of charges including second-degree murder for killing pedestrians Mark and Jacob Iskander, 11 and 8, while speeding in her Mercedes SUV in Westlake Village. She faces a possible maximum prison term of 34 years to life and is being held at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles pending sentencing.

On March 18, Deputy District Attorneys Ryan Gould and Jamie Castro alleged in a court filing that recorded jailhouse phone calls show Grossman engaging in “potential criminal conspiracies,” including requests to disclose sealed evidence and attempts to interfere with witnesses. She also asked her husband, Peter Grossman, to call someone named Tom who she thought could help persuade Judge Joseph Brandolino to grant her a new trial.

“I think I have a good idea who Brandolino is,” the judge said, referring to the transcript. “I don’t know, though, who Tom is. I have a strong suspicion who Tom is, but let me ask if the defense can confirm that.”

Attorney Sam Josephs, a new addition to Grossman’s defense team, told the judge he didn’t know, and that it wasn’t relevant anyway: “She’s asking for some impossible thing that’s obviously not going to happen.”

Brandolino said there is a lawyer named Tom Nolan whom he saw “occasionally” in the courtroom during the Grossman proceedings, and with whom he worked almost four decades ago.

“I hadn’t seen him in years,” he said. “That’s my inference.”

The judge went on to say that Nolan has had a distinguished legal career, and rejected out of hand the notion that such a lawyer would “go against his professional responsibility” by trying to influence the court—or that such an effort might work.

This was one example of Grossman’s “naivete,” according to Brandolino: “It shows the state of mind that she’s in post-verdict, but it’s not something that concerns the court.”

But prosecutors pushed back, with Gould arguing that Grossman was “directing improper conduct” by asking her 19-year-old daughter Alexis to contact a potential defense witness with whom she went to school, for instance. 

Castro noted that Grossman is a 60-year-old woman who has been involved in a criminal case for nearly four years, with counsel from 10 attorneys by now.

“Simply characterizing it as naivety at this point is not sufficient,” she said.

But Brandolino saw the calls simply as attempts by Grossman to direct people to try to get information as a basis for a new trial, which is not illegal.

“I don’t see it as witness tampering, I see it as someone who believes that she was railroaded. . . It’s not something that in my view (requires) sanctions at this point,” he said.

The judge took a similar view of the defendant’s desire to ask Scott Erickson, her former boyfriend and the driver blamed by her defense for hitting the Iskanders brothers first, to record a video confession.

“I get her frustration, I get her sadness based on what’s happened to her,” Brandolino said. “But I don’t think this is worthy of any action. They’re not telling Scott Erickson to do anything or say anything that they don’t believe is true, whether or not it is true.”

The judge was more displeased by Grossman directing her husband and daughter to share discovery material in violation of a court order, something he admonished her against doing early on the day she was convicted. He put her lawyers on notice that they too are now responsible for any future such violations, which will result in monetary sanctions and reporting to the state bar for the attorneys and restriction of the defendant’s privileges while in custody.