Wednesday, October 3, 2001
Appeals Court Rejects Rodney King’s Malpractice Suit Against Lerman
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Rodney King waited too long to file a malpractice suit against the first of 27 lawyers who represented him in connection with the infamous beating he suffered from Los Angeles police in 1991, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The ruling by Div. Two affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Kough’s grant of summary judgment to Steven Lerman. King earlier this year dismissed his appeal of Kough’s ruling in favor of two other lawyers sued in the case, Federico Sayre and John Burris.
King’s appellate defeat came the same day he entered a plea of not guilty in a Pomona courtroom to a charge of being under the influence of PCP, the latest in a long series of legal problems.
Lerman represented King from shortly after the beating until October 1992, when King discharged him and hired Santa Ana lawyer Milton Grimes. Grimes, who brought Sayre and Burris into the case, was terminated by King in August 1994, when Lerman was brought back in to help resolve claims against King’s $5.4 million recovery from the city.
That recovery was a result of a federal district court suit filed on King’s behalf by Lerman. Grimes, Sayre, Burris and others took the case to trial before U.S. District Judge John G. Davies and won a jury award of nearly $3.8 million in April 1994.
Davies, who has since retired, awarded another $1.6 million under the Civil Rights Attorney Fee Awards Act of 1976, codified at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.
King—by then represented by Stanley Steinberg—sued Lerman, Sayre and Burris in August 1996. All three were accused of conspiring to defraud King out of his rightful share of the recovery, and Lerman was additionally accused of malpractice, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.
The malpractice allegations against Lerman were that he negligently advised King to settle with Sayre and Burris on their claims for fees, and that he negligently failed to settle with the Los Angeles Unified School District, which was a defendant in the underlying lawsuit.
Two LAUSD officers were present during the beating, although neither was found to have participated. King’s lawyers rejected opportunities to settle with the district, which eventually won a summary judgment motion and was awarded more than $237,000 in fees by Davies in August 1994.
The fees were awarded on the basis of a finding that King’s claims against the district were frivolous. King claimed he wasn’t advised of the settlement offers.
Statute of Limitations
Kough ruled that King’s claims against the lawyers were barred by the one-year statute of limitations. All three defendants, she ruled, had ceased representing King by June 1995, triggering the one-year period.
Justice Michael Nott, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
Citing King’s deposition testimony, Nott noted that by June 1995:
•Lerman was “long gone” as counsel, in King’s words:
•King had told Sayre that Lerman was no longer representing him, and that he had retained Steinberg to sue Grimes (who won a $1.35 million arbitration award against King in 1997);
•King had told Lerman he no longer trusted him and was going to use another attorney to “get my monies back”; and
•The LAUSD litigation, in which Lerman played no role after being replaced by Grimes in October 1992, was over.
Based on those facts, Nott said, there was no real issue that Lerman’s representation of King had ceased.
The justice rejected the contention that King suffered no actual injury resulting from the distribution of fees until he lost the arbitration to Grimes. King claimed that until that occurred, he believed that the fees paid to Lerman, Sayre, and Burris could be recouped from Grimes.
“We conclude that actual injury occurred in June 1995 when the section 1988 fees were distributed,” Nott wrote. King, he said, knew that Lerman, Sayre and Burris were being paid out of those funds and testified that he “felt something was wrong when the fees had not been reimbursed within one or two weeks.”
Renee L. Campbell and Alvin L. Pittman represented King on the appeal. Keith A. Fink and Rhea G. Mariano represented Lerman.
The case is King v. Lerman, B139783.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company