A 1987 Los Angeles Times story described the “crusty” judge who presided over Joe Hunt’s trial as one who “has been known to rule before hearing the evidence,” with an “unorthodox judicial style.”

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Laurence J. Rittenband, 81, Shows an Unorthodox Style: Crusty Judge Rules His Court With Iron Hand

April 13, 1987

Lois Timnick
Times Staff Writer

He has been known to rule before hearing the evidence and to show his disdain for a written motion by tossing it in the wastebasket.

He makes–and sustains–his own objections. He grills witnesses when he thinks they have not been thoroughly questioned.

He sometimes tells lawyers appearing before him to “shut up” or “get on with it.” He frequently evicts a defense attorney he dislikes from his Santa Monica courtroom. And he once berated jurors who voted to acquit a defendant, saying that the verdict was “the most horrible miscarriage of justice” he had ever witnessed.

Unorthodox Judicial Style

Now a crusty 81, Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband is believed to be the oldest full-time judge on the bench in California. While presiding over the murder trial of Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt–which is scheduled to go to the jury this week after 2 1/2 months of testimony–he has astonished courtroom observers with an unorthodox judicial style that some call “refreshing” and others “reprehensible.”

The short, stocky judge leaves no doubt as to what he thinks of the participants–a tendency which occasionally results in the prosecutor’s siding with the defense against him.

“I am gravely concerned with the course that the court is taking,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Frederick Nathan Wapner told Rittenband during an in-chambers discussion about his refusal to permit Hunt’s second defense attorney to question witnesses.

“I will take my chances,” the judge snapped back, according to a transcript. “I know that you have an obsession about any kind of error. . . . I am running this trial, not you nor they.”

Read the rest at LATimes.com

California considering end to felony murder rule

ABA JOURNAL

The Marshall Project reported last week that the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee had recommended the approval of a bill to limit murder prosecutions to people who intended to kill, actually killed or behaved with reckless indifference to human life. The bill has already been passed by the California State Senate.

Read more at ABA Journal

2008 Daily Journal story notes that “Even the prosecutor fretted that Hunt’s rights were at risk” during trial

“Billionaire Boys Club” Revisited

DAILY JOURNAL

Lawyer says backroom deal led to celebrated murder conviction for client 21 years ago

Nov. 21, 2008

By John Roemer
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Tales of the felonious preppies who ran the “Billionaire Boys Club” riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and involved murder conspiracies, trials and convictions, two books and a TV movie.

The saga’s latest installment features the club’s imprisoned leader, Joe Hunt, who has a conspiracy theory of his own. An illicit backroom deal between a Los Angeles trial judge and a lawyer for Hunt should erase Hunt’s 1987 murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence and spring him from state prison, Hunt’s new lawyer contends.

A federal habeas corpus appeal ongoing in the Central District of California argues that the late Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband drove a lawyer he disliked off Hunt’s defense team, depriving him of the right to counsel and fatally flawing his trial. Hunt v. Kernen, 98-5280.

State prosecutors defending Hunt’s conviction countered that a California appeal court has already authoritatively dismissed Hunt’s claims. Hunt’s attorney retorted that the state court’s reasoning is irreconcilable with the Constitution.

More…

Free Joe Hunt

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