After about nine months, I was assigned to federal court. Frank Candida had state court, where there was a lot of activity, but most of it was more routine crimes. Aside from the occasional serial killer trial, which I was glad I didn’t have to cover. One trial, where they played a tape of a victim being tortured and killed, reportedly caused more than one person to have PTSD.
Federal court was a great fit for my interests, as I got to cover organized crime, espionage, less bloody white-collar crimes and film industry lawsuits. My federal sources were often cautious about saying anything, but I would get a tip like, “Go look in file such and such at the search warrant affidavit” and buried in hundreds of sheets of paper would be a juicy tidbit that would make for a front-page story.
While Los Angeles is known for the film business, a second big industry is aerospace. Which was targeted by Soviet bloc spies. And there were other spy trials, like the capture of Christopher Boyce, made famous in The Falcon and The Snowman book and movie.
And my interest in organized crime, leftover from my time as a New York journalist, was also satisfied with the occasional big trial. Like Carlos “Little Man” Marcello, the Louisiana boss tried and convicted of trying to bribe a federal judge in Los Angeles.
One of the extra bits of writing I did was a Mafia map of Los Angeles for the Herald’s Sunday magazine. While not as much of an influence as in New York, the wiseguys definitely had a presence in Los Angeles. Aladena “Jimmy The Weasel” Fratianno was a great source of information. The boss was Dominic Brooklier, whose son Tony went on to be a top defense attorney. Tony Brooklier coincidentally was one of Eddie Nash’s lawyers. In my map, I also included locales from the old Jewish gangsters like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Mickey Cohen.
I wish I could include my stories as links here, but they don’t seem to be retrievable. The Herex “morgue” is housed at the LA County Library. I tried to access it but can’t seem to.
Of course, I did get pulled off the beat for big stories. I worked as the rewrite man with Dave Palermo on the MGM Grand Hotel fire story, where 85 people died in November 1980. I was sent to Las Vegas, to cover the hearing on Frank Sinatra applying for permission to be a Caesar’s Palace “employee” when the Las Vegas Hilton caught on fire. I bounced back and forth between the hearing, which included Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas and other notables as character witnesses, and the fire.
It was one of those times when I was sleep deprived but high on adrenalin, with two stories on the front page.
We worked hard at the Herald, running on caffeine and pride in beating the Los Angeles Times. They had more resources and paid better, but we scooped them on many stories. Particularly any involving celebrities. We were more of a scrappy tabloid and they were Los Angeles’s paper of record.
I obviously didn't know it at the time, but I was part of the end of an era. The novelty, the camaraderie, the energy of the Herex, even as it was going into its final decade. In 1989, the Herald Examiner would succumb to the pressures that have killed so many newspapers.
It saddens me that roughly one quarter of the nation's newspapers have gone out of business since 2004. Pundits and scholars have come up with all sorts of reasons, from people getting alleged news from social media, to the classified ads sales lost to Craigslist.
Whatever the reason, I know my years at the Herex had been a great time in my life. With friends from court and the newspaper that remain to this day.