Allegations of witness tampering. A “deceitful” ploy. Accusations of public officials having difficulty getting to the Turpin adults to help them — and of their lawyer not getting proper access to them.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office tried to get the court-appointed attorney for the seven adult children of David and Louise Turpin, Jack Osborn, removed from the case.
His firm countered that the DA’s Office was sending employees to talk with the Turpins without him getting notified.
And, finally, an exasperated judge wondered whether the relationships among the parties were beyond repair.
Previously sealed transcripts obtained by Southern California News Group show that in June 2018, five months after the 13 Turpin children were rescued from a lifetime of torture and neglect in their Perris home, agencies tasked with protecting and providing services to the adults spent hours upon hours and reams of paper fighting each other in closed hearings in Riverside County Probate Court.
The criminal case concluded in April 2019 with the Turpins’ parents being sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison without the children testifying. Now only two of the initial seven adults remain represented by Brown White & Osborn.
“There were issues that arose, which interfered with our ability to access the Turpin victims,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a written statement on Friday, July 1. “This caused us to be concerned about our ability to obtain all relevant evidence in the case. … When these concerns arose, we took immediate legal action to ensure our legal and ethical obligations to both the victims and the accused were met.”
Any such roadblocks, Hestrin said, have not prevented his office from meeting the Turpins’ needs.
Robert Youssef, a spokesman for the Public Guardian, declined to say whether the conflict interfered with his agency providing services, citing the investigation by retired federal Judge Stephen Larson that was announced by the county after Jennifer, Jordan and Joshua Turpin told ABC News’ “20/20” in a nationally televised broadcast in November that they had difficulting getting money from a trust fund, adequate food and housing and life-skills services from that agency.
Osborn didn’t return messages for comment.
The conflict raged on several fronts, according to transcripts:
• Osborn said he believed his firm had the right to advise the adult Turpins on the criminal case in addition to its duties representing their other interests.
The DA’s Office disagreed, saying they didn’t need a criminal lawyer because they had been granted immunity; at least one investigator believed some of the older Turpins carried out their parents’ punishments when the parents were not home.
• Osborn insisted on being present when his clients met with Public Guardian and District Attorney’s Office employees.
But those agencies argued that Osborn was trying to prevent his clients from meeting with those parties at all. Osborn, in turn, accused the Public Guardian of attempting to prevent him from talking privately with the Turpins.
At a June 2018 hearing, Deputy County Counsel Maria Bryant, representing the Public Guardian, said, “We have our client informing us that the conservatees (Turpins) still wish to meet with their DA advocates, but we have not allowed them to do so at the request of Mr. Osborn. So our client is basically stuck in this battle between who gets access to these conservatees.”
• Some Turpins apparently believed that Osborn and his associates wanted the Turpins to withhold positive information about their parents if they testified, prompting Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelli Catlett to suggest opening a witness-tampering investigation into Osborn.
“The good stuff, he acted like it was not important,” a DA’s investigator said in a declaration, quoting Jennifer Turpin. “The way I see it, I don’t care if y’all need to know it or not. I want the whole story known.”
There is no record of Osborn being charged with witness tampering.
• Some Turpins said Osborn lied to them about several issues, such as Osborn’s role in the criminal case and whether they would have to testify, and wanted a new attorney. Osborn said he never lied and that the Turpins often misunderstood him.
“All of us who are involved in representing them have had to explain very, very basic concepts to them, not just in a legal realm,” he said in one closed hearing. “I’ve had to explain to them FM radio.”
• In a cease-and-desist letter to the DA’s Office on June 15, 2018, Brown White & Osborn partner Kenneth White said it was actually the DA’s Office that was responsible for the Turpins questioning the law firm’s truthfulness.
The DA had been sending victim-witness advocates to meet with the Turpins without the law firm’s knowledge, a practice that White described as “deceitful.”
Judge offers his thoughts on the tension
In a June 27, 2018, hearing, the judge weighed in.
“It’s hard to read some of what I have read here in terms of accusations of lies going back and forth,” Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Cahraman said. “People (ought) to have a little sensitivity as to how the other person might feel.
“Although once everybody is calling the other person a liar, maybe we’re beyond diplomacy, and that may well be,” the judge said.
Cahraman, who has since retired, ruled two days later that Osborn could advise the Turpins on the criminal case and be present during interrogations. The DA’s Office challenged that ruling in an appellate court and lost.