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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grand Jury Wanted Further Probe of Defense Lawyer in Witness Intimidation Case

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 4:32 PM

In today's print issue of SF Weekly, we report on suggestions in previously unreleased court documents that San Francisco police officers lost track of an important attempted-murder witness while trying to scrounge up dirt on a private investigator. But the cops' use of questionable spy games against local P.I. Steve Vender -- who is now under indictment on a felony count of witness dissuasion -- wasn't the only news in the transcripts of the grand jury proceeding that led to Vender's indictment.

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Those transcripts, reviewed by SF Weekly, also reveal that grand jurors thought the SFPD and district attorney's office should broaden the scope of their witness-intimidation probe to include Eric Safire, a criminal-defense attorney with whom Vender works. In a concluding statement read with the indictment, the presiding juror said, "The grand jury believes that there are potential additional charges of intimidation which should be investigated. The grand jury would like an investigation targeted at Eric Safire."

Reached for comment today, Safire said he has not been contacted for further questioning by the SFPD, and that to his knowledge he was not the target of further criminal investigation. "I've always maintained that I've done nothing wrong, and I continue to maintain that I did nothing wrong, and any further investigation will prove that," he said.

Vender's indictment was based on an October voicemail message he left for Ladarius Greer, who was shot by alleged Western Addition gangster Phil Pitney last April. In the voicemail, Vender told Greer, a witness in Pitney's upcoming attempted-murder trial, "It's a good time to visit the Fresno Riviera and stay well." Prosecutors now assert that the message was a criminal attempt to dissuade Greer from testifying.

No formal charges have been leveled against Safire, who was working as Pitney's defense attorney at the time. It is unclear what information led the grand jury to suggest further investigation of the defense attorney, other than the fact that he employed Vender. D.A. office spokesman Brian Buckelew said he could not comment on whether the investigation of Safire recommended by the grand jury is in fact proceeding.

Around the same time as the October phone call from Vender, Safire came under scrutiny for another incident in which he directed a group of men to stand up in court when a witness tried to finger his client as the shooter in a murder trial. Prosecutors alleged that the move was an attempt to intimidate the witness, though no charges against Safire were filed. Safire claimed it was an attempt to compensate for an unfair identification process that put his client, the defendant, at a disadvantage.

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Peter Jamison

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