The Beverly Hills Police Department has asked for a different judge to preside over a documentary filmmaker’s lawsuit seeking all police records in the slaying of publicist Ronni Chasen, saying that the Honorable Robert H. O’Brien, to whom the case is assigned, is “prejudiced against Defendant City and Defendant City’s interests.”
The peremptory challenge to the lawsuit does not describe what that prejudice may be, simply stating that “Defendant City cannot have a fair and impartial trial before the Honorable Robert H. O’Brien.” Messages left with the lawyer who filed the action, T. Peter Pierce, were not immediately returned Monday night.
Ryan Katzenbach, who is working on a film about the veteran publicist and awards season consultant’s murder, sued investigators for access to Chasen’s case on Nov. 13. Last week, he dismissed two defendants – the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office and its deputy chief Ed Winter – after they made her autopsy report public late Thursday.
That document revealed that first responders found Chasen barely breathing and emergency surgeons’ desperate attempt to save her life — but provided scant insight into her killing.
Chasen’s death ruled a homicide at the hands of transient felon Harold Smith. Katzenbach told TheWrap last week that he saw nothing unusual in the autopsy, and had no idea Monday what issue the city may have with O’Brien as judge.
Defendants remaining in Katzenbach’s records-violation case include the BHPD; its chief, David Snowden; Lt. Lincoln Hoshino; and city clerk Melissa Crowder. Katzenbach believes there may be more telling details in ballistics reports, crime-scene photos, witness accounts and other police records that have been sealed since the investigation was closed.
A formal answer to the lawsuit was due Monday but had not yet appeared in court filings. However, the peremptory action to switch judges posted late in the day suggests that the BHPD is gaming for a fight — unlike the coroner, which gave up the autopsy records after keeping them under seal for three years.
Smith, a 43-year-old drifter and ex convict, was identified as a suspect in the case but committed suicide when police confronted him at a Hollywood flophouse. The gun Smith used to kill himself was determined to be a ballistics match with the murder weapon, and the case was soon closed.
Police say Smith, riding a bicycle late at night, tried to rob Chasen. A theory persists that Smith was hired to kill Chasen and make it look like a robbery, which Beverly Hills investigators have repeatedly debunked.
But Katzenbach — like many others — believes there is more to the story. He says he’s not comfortable with the BHPD’s vagueness and investigators’ continuing secrecy surrounding the case. Katzenbach’s lawsuit argues that since a former BHPD investigator was given full access to the files for a book, the public should have equal access.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this story.