Friday, April 7, 2000
Byrne Points to May Trial for Suit
Against Superior Court Judge Murphy
The judge presiding over a fraud and money laundering suit against Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick B. Murphy said yesterday he would like to try the case next month, but stopped short of setting a date.
That may come Monday, after Senior U.S. District Judge Wm. Matthew Byrne Jr. and Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Donovan convene a joint hearing to determine whether the case before Byrne and a related suit before Donovan should be joined for trial.
Byrne told lawyers at yesterday's pretrial conference that he believes the action can be tried in a week, after lawyers were able to stipulate to the broad outline of the case brought by the Smith Barney and Prudential Securities investment firms against Murphy and seven other defendants.
Byrne also said he would rule Monday on a request by Murphy's lawyer, Richard A. Moss, to be relieved as counsel if the case is to be tried before July. Moss, who came into the case last month, has argued in court papers that he needs 90 days to get ready for the trial, which was originally scheduled to begin this Tuesday.
Moss told the judge he's been working hard to get up to speed on the case, saying he'd been "assimilating an extraordinary amount of material." Byrne, after guiding the parties through three hours of stipulating facts and narrowing issues, smiled and told Moss he has "done amazingly well this far."
The attorney, however, said after court that while yesterday's proceedings may have shortened the trial, they didn't appreciably lessen his preparation needs. There are still many boxes of material generated in the litigation that he hasn't had a chance to go through, he commented.
Moss, who practices in Pasadena, became Murphy's lawyer after Thomas Dovidio was allowed to withdraw because of strategic conflicts and non-payment of fees. Dovidio, a Diamond Bar sole practitioner, had represented Murphy since the suit was filed early last year.
Prudential and Smith Barney claim that Murphy helped a close friend, Dr. George Taus, conceal from the doctor's ex-wife, Susan Taus, a portion of the funds to which she was entitled as a result of a marital settlement agreement.
The firms are suing Taus, Murphy, and six other defendants who apparently received portions of the money because a National Association of Securities Dealers arbitration panel held them responsible for paying the funds over to the doctor and required them to reimburse Susan Taus.
In the action before Donovan, the trustee of George Taus' bankruptcy estate has sued the same defendants and others for the return of nearly $1.9 million that the trustee claims was wrongfully taken from the estate.
The parties were able to agree yesterday that Taus cashed out the accounts; that the funds were then transferred from a Bank of America account here to one in Nevada under the control of a friend of his, Arnold Secord, and invested in a startup company run by Secord called Copex.
It was also agreed that the funds were then transferred to attorney Paul Ottosi, and disbursed by him to Irwindale paralegal Maryanne Baumgarten under the guise of a settlement of a sexual harassment claim by Baumgarten against Secord and Copex. It was further stipulated that funds were transferred by Baumgarten to various other persons, including attorney Stephen Alexander; and Baumgarten's sister, Winnie Eisen.
It was also agreed that Murphy and Baumgarten traveled to Las Vegas with Colby Cota, a nurse who is a longtime friend of Murphy, and that Baumgarten tried to cash checks representing a portion of the funds at the casino cages.
Secord, Ottosi, Baumgarten, Alexander, Eisen and Cota are all defendants in the suit.
Among the issues remaining in dispute among the parties are claims by Baumgarten and Ottosi that they were at all times acting at the direction of Murphy in their handling of the funds. The judge has emphatically denied any involvement in any fraud, and has said that he explicitly told Ottosi that the money belonged to Taus and should be returned to him.
The tension between the defendants was obvious yesterday as the lawyers discussed how to characterize the relationships among the various parties for the jury that will eventually try the case. Moss, for example, said Baumgarten who once worked for Murphy when he was in private practice "was a longtime friend" of the judge, putting the emphasis on the word "was."
"And underline it," Baumgarten chimed in.
Copyright 2000, Metropolitan News Company