Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Former Rampart Officer Hires Colleague’s Attorney for Beating Case
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The attorney representing disgraced LAPD Officer Nino Durden has been retained by another former Rampart officer to defend him against charges that he and four other officers beat an 18th Street gang member and then conspired to cover it up, it was announced yesterday.
Bill H. Seki, of the Sherman Oaks law firm Mounger, Gonda & Seki, was enlisted by former CRASH Officer Ethan Cohan after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to allow Pasadena criminal defense attorney Ira M. Salzman represent him.
Salzman, who has appeared in court on several occasions to represent Cohan, was conflicted out of the case because he represented “six or seven” 18th Street gang members in fighting a gang injunction that was signed by Cohan.
Prosecutors are charging Cohan with lying in a declaration to obtain that same injunction.
In addition to perjury, Cohan is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, filing a false police report, assault under the color of authority, and conspiracy. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of five years and two months in state prison.
Salzman had proposed that he and another lawyer, Robert Rico, serve as Cohan’s co-counsel, with Rico handling the perjury charge and Salzman handling the four other counts, but that idea was rejected.
Seki was officially made Cohan’s attorney of record by Judge Bob S. Bowers Jr.
Cohan’s original lawyer, Harland Braun, opted out of the case in April because of a self-proclaimed conflict of interest because he has represented other Rampart officers in the past.
Braun argued he could no longer represent Cohan because prosecutors were trying to get the former officer to talk about Rampart in general and Braun’s past clients could pose a conflict.
The decision had nothing to do with the fact Braun was hired by actor Robert Blake, who was arrested last month on murder and conspiracy charges in connection with the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, Braun said.
Seki, a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, helped negotiate a plea bargain for Durden, who was sentenced to three years in prison on June 11 for violating federal civil rights laws and possessing an illicit weapon that was used to frame an innocent man.
Durden, the ex-partner of Rafael Perez, was also ordered to pay $281,010 in restitution, mostly to cover the cost of prosecuting and imprisoning two people who were falsely convicted of false charges. Durden, who remains free on $50,000 bail, was given 60 days to surrender. He also is awaiting sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court on his guilty pleas to six Rampart-related charges.
Seki also represented former LAPD Officer Angela Shepard, who was convicted in the shooting death of USC basketball standout Audrey Gomez and sentenced to 15 years to life for the second-degree murder.
Braun earlier had estimated the Cohan case to go to trial sometime in July, but the failed attempt by Cohan to have Salzman, who is probably best known for representing ex-LAPD Sgt. Stacey C. Koon against federal charges in the Rodney King beating, as his attorney of record and the subsequent hiring of Seki has delayed the 15-month-old case even longer.
Seki said he has not received the more than 5,000 pages of discovery in the case which has been bounced from Braun to Salzman and was not sure how long it will take him to make his way through the documents.
During the preliminary hearing, 18th Street gang member Gabriel Aguirre testified he was kicked in the legs, back, elbow and groin between “20 and 30” times by five officers, with most of the blows being delivered by Cohan. Officers Rafael Perez, Shawn Gomez, Manuel Chavez and Camerino Mesina were also on the scene that night.
In March, Mayor James Hahn approved a $590,000 settlement for Aguirre’s suit against the city over the beating.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company