The final defense witnesses are expected today in the trial of Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow, in which he's charged with racketeering, money laundering, murder, and dozens of other offenses related to the organized crime operation he's alleged to have been the leader of in San Francisco's Chinatown.* While the allegations against him are serious, particularly the two murders of other tong leaders in the neighborhood, the trial continues to be a colorful bit of local legal theater, with a cast of characters that includes a feisty, long-haired, 80-year-old defense attorney and former counterculture figure who's the brother of renowned American artist, and a cantankerous 74-year-old federal judge with whom he's often clashed who happened to be the brother of a sitting Supreme Court justice.
I'm talking about attorney Tony Serra, who's already received an adoring portrayal in the New York Times Magazine prior to the trial, and whose skill and flamboyance in the courtroom was immortalized in the 1989 film True Believer, in which he was played by James Woods and in which he was similarly defending someone in a Chinatown gangland murder. His brother is the large-scale steel sculptor Richard Serra, whose monumental piece Sequence will grace the new entry of the SFMOMA when it reopens next spring. And I'm talking about Judge Charles R. Breyer, brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has, historically, "crossed swords" with Serra in court as The Examiner's Paul Drexler reports. (He also gives a succinct recap of the trial so far.)
Observers in the court have apparently all bared witness to Breyer's impatience with Serra, and hostility to Chow, and as the Examiner further explains after Monday's testimony, Serra and his co-counsel Curtis Briggs have just filed a motion for a mistrial, alleging judicial misconduct and hostile treatment by Breyer. By way of example, they say in a press statement, "Upon receipt of the motion, the judge immediately slashed Shrimp Boy’s witness list down to eight people compared to the prosecution’s 46 witnesses. The motions claim that was in retaliation." Further, Briggs was disallowed by the judge to ask some questions of several prosecution witnesses that they say were critical to the defense's case.
During Chow's cross-examination last week, it was clear that the prosecution has been somewhat frustrated in their inability to trap Chow into admitting anything incriminating. The best they got, perhaps was his admitting that he liked to party with his friends, and he smoked pot and occasionally did cocaine. "Let me clear up something," Chow said. "Sometime I snort a couple bump. I don’t know if you consider that illegal but for me it’s very normal just for a party. It’s normal to me."
Chow's girlfriend Alicia Lo also testified for the defense, confirming that Chow had very little money and that she let him live with her.
It remains to be seen how Breyer will respond to the mistrial motion, or the separate filing that says he's "assum[ed] the role of prosecutor" and been hostile to the defendant. He did say in court Monday that he will rule on the defense's claim of selective prosecution something that came up months before the trial began as multiple San Francisco politicians and city staffers' names were involved in the feds' wiretapping snare, including the mayor's in the event that Chow is found guilty.
But in his testimony Chow was careful both to stymie the prosecution through slow and deliberate responses in broken English, and to hold firmly to his claim that he never directed or participated in any of the criminal activity he's been involved in. He said on the stand last week, "I don’t want to do crimes anymore. So when people start to talk about illegal activities I tell them ‘I don’t want to know,’ or I go in the other room."
All previous coverage of the Shrimp Boy case on SFist.
* This post has been corrected to show that extortion is not among the charges against Chow.