Judge finds potential conflict with lawyer representing Rebecca Grossman and prosecutor, but resolves issue with waiver

VAN NUYS, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Rebecca Grossman, second from left, with her husband, Dr. Peter Grossman, left, and daughter heads to Van Nuys Courthouse West Van Nuys, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rebecca Grossman, center, walks to court in February with husband Peter Grossman and daughter Alexis. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Months after Rebecca Grossman was convicted of murdering two boys in a Westlake Village crosswalk, a judge found there was a potential conflict of interest because she and the assistant district attorney who once oversaw the case shared the same criminal lawyer. The judge resolved it by having her waive the conflict.

To address the situation, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino said he was asking Grossman, out of an abundance of caution, to waive the conflict for ineffective legal counsel on this single issue.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to resolve the issue, which they feared could be grounds for an appeal.

Grossman, dressed in a beige jail shirt and pants, softly replied, "Yes, I do" and "Yes" during the proceeding. She sobbed, blew a kiss to her husband and daughter as she entered the court and said, "I love you" as she left.

The conflict debate came on the heels of a defense motion seeking a new trial for Grossman, who was convicted in February of second-degree murder in the 2020 deaths of Mark and Jacob Iskander. Grossman was convicted of hitting the boys with her speeding Mercedes as they crossed a quiet Westlake Village street.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian on Friday asked Brandolino to remove Grossman's new attorney, James Spertus, or have Grossman formally waive a conflict of interest.

Balian told the judge that Spertus also represents Assistant Dist. Atty. Diana Teran, who oversaw the chain of command for the Grossman prosecutors until she was charged with 11 felonies last month in connection with the illegal use of confidential sheriff's records.

"There is an actual conflict in this particular case," Balian said. "Ms. Teran was intimately familiar with all the facts of the case. She was intimately involved in the strategy."

Read more: Rebecca Grossman's lawyers file motion for new trial, seek to overturn murder conviction

Balian said that in April, after Spertus took over as Grossman's attorney, Teran decided not to question a witness in jail who was allegedly approached by Grossman and had a discussion about the jurors and "witness tampering."

When Teran left the case, Balian said, her replacement chose to investigate the information.

Balian emphasized that Teran made her decision while the attorney representing her was also Grossman's lawyer.

The judge interrupted and said it seemed more of an internal issue in the district attorney's office.

"There is nothing that leads me to believe she was passing information to Mr. Spertus," Brandolino said. "The two cases do not intersect."

The prosecutor noted that Spertus was hired not only for Grossman's sentencing — which has been delayed until at least June — but also to seek a new trial by potentially putting forth a case of prosecutorial misconduct.

Balian argued that if Spertus wanted to raise such claims, he would have to implicate Teran, as she was a decision-maker, and that would raise a conflict, considering she is his client in another legal matter.

And if Spertus doesn't pursue such claims, "Ms. Grossman can claim ineffective assistance of counsel in her appeal," the prosecutors wrote in a legal brief.

Read more: D.A. removes Rebecca Grossman's prosecutors, outraging parents of murdered boys

The judge, prosecutors acknowledged, has wide discretion in deciding whether a waiver is sufficient to cure the conflict. In this case, the judge agreed to seek the waiver from Grossman.

Spertus told the court that no conflict exists and that the prosecution gave a "fantastical narrative" filled with speculation.

"I represent two people in separate cases with no overlap," he said, complaining that the prosecution would impugn his integrity by merely suggesting a conflict.

Spertus said Teran was in charge of ethics in the district attorney's office and would never release secrets to advance Grossman's case.

He said that when he agreed to represent Grossman, it was before he represented Teran, who wasn't charged until late April.

Records show that Spertus' law firm represented Teran in a deposition involving a county lawsuit and then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva in December 2019 in which deputy files were discussed. Spertus' colleague Samuel Josephs was Teran's lawyer during the questioning. Josephs appeared in court for Grossman in March.

Spertus acknowledged in an email to The Times that he represented Teran in a civil case in 2019 and said the representation ended when the deposition concluded.

"I did not represent Ms. Teran again until April 2024," he said. That is when Teran was charged with improperly downloading confidential police records in 2018 — while she was the constitutional policing advisor to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department — and using that data when she joined the D.A.’s office in 2021.

But after public objections by Nancy and Karim Iskander, the parents of the 8- and 11-year-old brothers killed by Grossman, the D.A.'s office backtracked. While it replaced prosecuting supervisor Garrett Dameron — who reported to Teran — with Balian, it reinstated original prosecutors Ryan Gould and Jamie Castro but moved them into assistant roles.

According to an email Dameron wrote to his superiors Friday, the changes were made only after his team suggested that Spertus could end up questioning Teran's decisions in the case.

District Attorney George Gascon at a press conference
One of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón's top advisors, Diana Teran, right, has been charged with illegal use of confidential law enforcement records. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Iniguez on Monday said Gould and Castro will remain on the case. Iniguez said a change of command was needed to distance the prosecutorial team from Teran, whose charging led to unusual circumstances.

“There was a perceived internal conflict with these supervisors having reported to an attorney [Teran] represented by the same attorney as Ms. Grossman,” Iniguez said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.