A Smart Move

Bay Area Affairs: Moving the controversial trial of Johannes Mehserle was the correct decision, given the intense media coverage.

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The trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle has taken yet another turn, and will now ultimately be held outside of Alameda County. Last week, Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled in favor of a change-of-venue motion, correctly determining that Mehserle would be unable to get a fair trial in Alameda County for the killing of Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1, 2009.

The change-of-venue motion has elicited strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Controversial statements by Mehserle's defense attorney Michael Rains, including the charge that black potential jurors should be screened in private, detracted from his already legitimate case. We disagree with the racial aspect of Rains' argument, but it's definitely clear that widespread media coverage of the case has saturated the potential juror pool in Alameda County.

Multiple protests and publicized comments by government officials have further increased recognition of the case on the part of county residents, especially in Oakland, as demonstrated by a survey conducted by the defense team. In the survey, 98 percent of the almost 400 called had heard of the case.

Mehserle deserves a fair trial. But the change of venue ought not be an excuse to simply move the trial to a racially-homogeneous county. In determining the next location, it's essential that one is not simply chosen for lack of knowledge about the case.The state Administrative Office of Courts should also weigh the racial make-up of the new venue, ensuring that it closely resembles that of Alameda County.

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