Judge refuses to disqualify district attorney's office in Winona Ryder case

Monday, July 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ A judge on Monday refused to disqualify the Los Angeles County district attorney's office from prosecuting actress Winona Ryder on shoplifting charges, rejecting her lawyer's claim that prosecutors have been trying to humiliate her.

Attorney Mark Geragos specifically accused a prosecution spokeswoman of making inaccurate statements to the news media.

But Superior Court Judge Elden Fox said he'd be more concerned if attorneys had made the statements, rather than their spokeswoman.

The 30-year-old star of ``Girl, Interrupted'' and the new Adam Sandler comedy ``Mr. Deeds,'' who did not appear in court, was arrested in December at a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills. She allegedly was carrying painkillers without a prescription and stole nearly $6,000 worth of designer merchandise.

Charged with second-degree burglary, grand theft, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance, Ryder could face more than three years in prison if convicted.

Geragos said district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons inaccurately described a Saks security videotape early in the case, alleging that Ryder was seen snipping off anti-theft tags from merchandise. He said there's no such scene on the videotape.

Gibbons was not in her office on Monday and could not be reached.

``You keep referring to a spokesperson. What are you ascribing to the attorneys in the office?'' the judge asked Geragos.

``I'm ascribing to them efforts to humiliate my client and stop her from having the right to a fair trial,'' Geragos replied. He added, ``Most people believe the press spokesperson is speaking for the district attorney himself.''

Assistant Attorney General Sharlene Honnaka, who responded to Geragos' effort to switch the case to her office, said she believed there was inadequate reason to disqualify the district attorney's office.

``This is nothing more than speculation,'' Honnaka said. ``Speculation is not enough to justify disqualifying an entire district attorney's office.''

Outside court, Geragos said he didn't know whether he would appeal the judge's ruling. Fox scheduled another hearing for Aug. 13, where a trial date will be set.