Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Former Client Wins $1.25 Million Malpractice Award Against Onetime Rodney King Lawyer Milton Grimes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former client has won a $1.25 million jury verdict in a malpractice case against prominent Los Angeles African American lawyer Milton Grimes, who regularly appears on television commenting on legal issues and represented Rodney King.
The verdict in favor of Lorine Harris was returned by a Torrance jury Wednesday, Harris’ lawyer, Joseph L. Shalant, said Friday. Shalant explained the suit stemmed from a 1989 raid by Gardena police officers in which Harris’ son, Dexter Herbert, was killed.
Jurors found Grimes was negligent in allowing Harris’ negligence suit to be dismissed in November 1995, soon after he took it over from another lawyer, Shalant said. He added that Grimes failed to appear at a hearing and did not discover until more than a year later that the matter had been dismissed.
Harris switched lawyers after her prior attorney sought binding arbitration of her claim, Shalant explained. The hearing on an order to show cause why the case should not be dismissed was scheduled after the prior attorney indicated the dispute would be arbitrated and a trial date was vacated.
Harris originally sued in federal court under civil rights law. Though she lost that case, her state-law negligence claims were severed and litigation on them stayed while the federal action was pending.
Shalant noted that in addition to establishing Grimes’ negligence—Los Angeles attorney James Biesty of Biesty McCool & Garretty testified on that issue as an expert witness, he said—Harris was required at trial to prove that the shooting was negligent and that police had covered up the negligence in an internal investigation and at the federal trial. Grimes was placed in the position of having to present the case on behalf of the city and its officers that the attorneys opposing him would have presented had he taken the underlying matter to trial as Harris’ lawyer.
Shalant said Grimes sought at trial to shift blame to Harris’ previous attorney and to an associate, Bryant Calloway, who settled Harris’ malpractice claim against him for $2,500. He acted as one of his own attorneys, cross-examining police witnesses, Shalant explained.
Grimes’ office referred a call about the verdict to one of the other lawyers who participated in his defense, Pasadena attorney Vicki Sarmiento. Sarmiento did not return a call seeking comment.
A third lawyer on the Grimes defense team, Danilo Becerra of Moreno Becerra Guerrero & Casillas in Montebello, could not be reached for comment.
Shalant said Grimes rejected an offer to settle the case for $200,000, responding with a counteroffer of $10,000. The jury trial took about three weeks, the plaintiff’s lawyer said, with deliberations lasting two days.
He said he does not believe Grimes has malpractice insurance, but called the defendant a “man of means” and said he thinks his client will be able to collect her money if the jury verdict withstands post-trial motions and any appeal.
Grimes represented King in his federal civil rights suit against the City of Los Angeles, winning a $3.8 million jury verdict in 1994. He later sued King for legal fees.
He has twice been suspended from the practice of law, once for failure to pay bar dues and once for disciplinary reasons, and was publicly reproved last year.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company