By Brian Rokos / Staff Writer
Published: Aug. 24, 2016
Updated: Aug. 25, 2016 6:24 a.m.

  • He failed to appear in court when subpoenaed by an attorney challenging a wiretap he approved. He says he believed the court date would be changed.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of former Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach after he did not show up in court Tuesday, Aug. 23, to testify about the approval of a wiretap that prompted authorities to charge a man with possessing illegal drugs.

Judge Michele Levine issued the warrant Tuesday as a means to compel Zellerbach to testify but held it back as long as Zellerbach shows up for the rescheduled hearing Sept. 30. That means police will not actively be looking for the former DA to arrest him.

The case again puts the spotlight on the hundreds of requests to eavesdrop on private telephone conversations that were approved by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and then by judges during Zellerbach’s tenure. And it could have implications for other defendants charged or convicted on the basis of evidence obtained through wiretaps.

Zellerbach said Wednesday that more than two weeks ago, he phoned the attorney who subpoenaed him to say he had a conflict and could not testify Tuesday. “Why else would I call him?” Zellerbach said.

The attorney, Jan Ronis, who is representing defendant Christian Agraz, said Wednesday that Zellerbach never indicated in that conversation that he could not be in Superior Court in Riverside on Tuesday.

“I absolutely need him,” Ronis said. “He’s an essential witness to my defense.”

Said Zellerbach: “I relied on his representation to me that he would get a new hearing date … and that I would appear at that date and time. I know the significance of a subpoena. I was the DA. I was a superior court judge for 11 years, for heaven’s sake.”

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