Remember exactly what you did on any particular July night in 1986?
I can’t. I know I lived in Orlando, probably went to Disney World with visiting friends a couple of times, and partied into the night at times. But as far as recounting exact details of any night that summer?
So is it a stretch to believe that former Deputy Attorney General Ronald Bass might not remember what took place in Eureka’s Waterfront Bar and Restaurant 23 years ago?
Two defense lawyers accuse him of trying to bribe a juror to convict the man he was prosecuting for murder at the time. Unless there was a lot of drinking involved — which some say there was — that seems like an awfully big thing to forget.
According to a court transcript obtained by Legal Pad late last week, Bass — who was prosecuting Curtis Price for murder in the summer of '86 — recalls virtually nothing about the night he and a fellow attorney went for drinks after a round of racquetball. That presents a formidable hurdle for defense lawyers trying to get Price off death row. And they can’t ask the juror — who was a cook at the Waterfront — because she died 20 years ago.
Bass took the stand in Humboldt County Superior Court on April 7 and, according to the transcript, had little to offer. He couldn’t remember ever going to a place called the Waterfront, whether he slept in his car that night or got home some other way and, most importantly, whether he tipped the bartender $10 or $20 and told him to split it with the juror.
"I don’t remember saying anything to anybody regarding money,” Bass testified. “I don’t know how much the bill was. I don’t know how much I tipped, if I tipped. I’m sure I tipped if I paid the bill. I don’t even know who paid the bill.”
He also said that to send some of that money to the cook “would be unusual.”
Under cross-examination by a current prosecutor, Bass testified that he was being honest.
“You’re not faking that you don’t remember to try and avoid something?” Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores Jr. asked.
“I have a serious memory problem,” Bass responded. “It didn’t come on with old age. It’s always been there.”
For the record, Bass’ drinking partner, attorney Geraldine Johnson, has testified that Bass put money on the bar and asked the bartender, “in a mock conspiratorial tone,” to tell the juror to vote guilty — but only in jest.
Bass admitted on the witness stand that he’s a jokester. “I joke about everything,” he said. “There’s very few things that are not capable of being funny or, you know, made fun of or to, you know, make it more interesting.”
— Mike McKee