Criminal defense investigator Steve Vender has run afoul of the law, but the defense lawyer he was working with in the case that landed him in hot water is adamant that Vender did nothing wrong.
While working for San Francisco defense lawyer Eric Safire, Vender called the victim in the case and left a message the D.A.’s office said encouraged the man to leave town before testifying against Safire’s client.
Vender didn’t break any laws and the District Attorney’s office should have handed any case on him to another office, Safire said. He compared the prosecutors investigating the defense to a football game in which one team also acts as the referee.
“If I had the ability to prosecute them, would I?” Safire said. “I wouldn’t, because it would create a conflict of interest. It’s improper for an opponent to investigate another opponent. Think of the chilling effect it has on all our other cases.”
Chilling with Vender, after the jump.
Vender was arrested Thursday night and was to be arraigned this morning, but the arraignment was postponed so that he can retain a lawyer. He was indicted by a grand jury last week on a single count of dissuading a witness in the attempted murder trial of Philip Pitney, who was convicted by a jury at the end of October.
Vender had left the victim-witness in that case, Ladarius Greer, a voicemail message that the District Attorney’s office said scared him off from testifying. Vender has said he and Greer had developed a rapport, and that Greer had told Vender there was no way he was going to testify. Vender has also said he left the voicemail message as bait to get Greer to call him back, since he needed to take his statement. Here is an excerpt from the police transcript of the message:
“Ladarius this uh, Steve Vender uh, the Phil Pitney’s investigator working for his attorney Eric Safire. We went to court today and uh, the DA told the court that there is a no-bail warrant out for you out of Solano county so, uh, I thought I’d pass that along, uh, the last day that have to bring Pitney to trial is October 13th, but what they could, can do is take a first dismissal. They can dismiss and then re-file again and start the whole process all over but they can only do that one time. O.k., so uh, it’s October and it’s a good time to visit the Fresno Riviera uh, and stay well.”
Vender is scheduled to be back in court Dec. 7. Safire said defense attorneys are rallying around him.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of support in the defense community,” he said. “People are raising money.”
— Kate Moser