“Varsity Blues” Judge and Larson Team Appalled by Prosecutor’s Behavior

Water Polo Team

As Jovan Vavic’s trial continues, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani and partner Stephen G. Larson exhibit increasing frustration with the prosecutor’s behavior in court, Law360 reported.

Following a nearly weeklong hiatus, the trial of Larson’s client, the former University of Southern California (USC) water polo coach, returned on March 29 in full swing. Law360 reported that Judge Talwani “repeatedly sparred with” and “admonished” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen E. Frank during the first day back at court, and “agreed with [Stephen Larson’s] assessment that the prosecutor was ‘bullying’ the court into allowing a certain testimony” against Mr. Vavic.

“Out of earshot of the jury . . . the government sought to bolster its charges that [Mr.] Vavic passed off the children of wealthy donors as recruited USC athletes,” Law360 explained. “[Mr.] Frank drew the judge’s ire during his questioning of a government witness, USC assistant admissions dean Becky Chassin, by seeking to link [Mr.] Vavic to a potential recruit’s application even though the government knows the water polo coach was not directly involved in the process. The prosecutor insisted his questioning was proper because [Mr.] Vavic knew the potential recruit was a client of scheme ringleader William ‘Rick’ Singer, even if it was another university official who was guiding the application through the athletic ‘side door.’

Law360‘s play-by-play of the exchange said that “as [Mr.] Frank persisted,” Stephen told Judge Talwani, “I object to this bullying of the court. This has got to stop.”

“It turns out it does happen,” Judge Talwani responded to Stephen. “I don’t think Mr. Frank would speak this way when he was speaking to [U.S. District Judge Douglas] Woodlock or [U.S. District Judge Mark] Wolf. But so be it, here we are.”

“If you find my conducting of this trial offensive, you can raise it however you want,” Judge Talwani then added to Mr. Frank. She did so “without elaborating on the reference to her more senior, male colleagues in the courthouse,” Law360 noted.

Judge Talwani, “who raised her voice when speaking with [Mr.] Frank, explained that she is seeking to hold the government to evidentiary rules,” Law360 reported. Mr. Frank “complained that the judge had ‘chastised’ [Ms.] Chassin for not answering [Stephen’s] questions and was wrong to sustain objections to his questions.”

“I understand, Mr. Frank, that you don’t appreciate that I am not giving you free rein to present the case exactly how you want,” Judge Talwani stated during what Law360 called “heated arguments.”

This is not the first time Mr. Frank has provoked a quarrel with Judge Talwani and Stephen during the trial, which is now in its fourth week. In an article reporting on a recorded phone call between Mr. Vavic and Mr. Singer played to the jury on March 16, Law360 described a sidebar between the three over calling Mr. Singer as a witness.

“The two sides sparred over whether certain statements made by [Mr.] Singer can be admitted, given his causal relationship with the truth and false claims heard by the jury Wednesday through emails introduced into evidence in which he said that he had relationships with NBA star LeBron James and U2 frontman Bono,” Law360 reported. “Judge Talwani said she is ‘very uncomfortable’ having the government prove its case ‘through anything the man says.'”

“What you’re saying is ‘he should be believed when it helps your case and should not be believed when it doesn’t help your case,” Judge Talwani told Mr. Frank. “If you’re relying on [Mr.] Singer . . . this whole thing is going to come tumbling down.”

“We are not trying to make the case rise or fall with Rick Singer,” Mr. Frank replied. “The mere fact is that certain things he said will prove to be true and certain things that will prove to be untrue.”

“What is troubling to me is, I don’t think I have ever had an attorney stand in front of me and say ‘I want to put evidence in front of a jury I know is false, but don’t worry, I will clear it up later,” Judge Talwani responded, and Law360 added that she was “suggesting that the government should, as ‘officers of the court,’ point out knowingly false statements.”

“As the back and forth grew increasingly testy,” Law360 elaborated, Stephen said that “the government wants to put [Mr.] Singer falsities into evidence and let them ‘hang here like a stench and at some point in time get around to correcting it.’

Stephen and partner Kori Bell are representing Mr. Vavic at trial in Boston, going head-to-head with the prosecution until early April.

Read the full article by Brian Dowling of Law360 covering March 29 in court here and the full article by Chris Villani of Law360 covering March 16 in court here (subscription required).


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