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A LANDLORD’S SHOCK : Doctor-Owner Spends Few Hours Behind Bars Over Blighted Apartments

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Milton Avol, the neurosurgeon-landlord from Beverly Hills who was sentenced this week to jail time and house arrest for failing to fix up his blighted downtown apartment buildings, was led off to County Jail on Thursday morning.

But by day’s end, Avol’s lawyer had succeeded in winning an appellate court ruling to free the physician pending an appeal.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harold E. Shabo granted attorney Scott S. Furstman’s request for a writ of habeas corpus, agreeing that Avol, 61, was entitled to immediate release because he already had posted $50,000 cash bail pending an appeal.

The shocked Avol, who had fully expected to remain free while appealing the case, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies at 9:45 a.m., after a hearing before Los Angeles Municipal Judge Veronica Simmons McBeth. The doctor remained in jail until about 6:30 p.m. while paper work for his release was processed.

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McBeth, who sentenced Avol on Monday to the unusual sentence of 30 days in jail and 30 days under house arrest in one of his own aging apartment buildings, had set bail on Wednesday. But at the Thursday hearing she surprisingly announced that she was sending the doctor to jail anyway--unless and until he was granted a stay of sentence by an appellate court.

McBeth said she could have issued the stay herself, but she refused to do so.

Furstman, reacting vehemently to the judge’s ruling, said his client "(was) being illegally held” because he had already posted bail. The lawyer, who spoke briefly to Avol after he was placed in a holding cell near the courtroom, said the doctor “was shocked and dismayed, as I was,” by McBeth’s ruling.

Deputy City Atty. Stephanie Sautner also said she was “a little surprised” by the ruling.

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Before the morning hearing, Sautner said she expected Avol to remain free for as long as six months pending his appeal--a time estimate Furstman agreed with.

Unlike Furstman, however, Sautner expressed confidence that once Avol’s appeal is heard, the doctor will be forced to serve his entire jail and house arrest sentences.

Avol was sentenced by McBeth for failing to properly remedy city safety, fire and health code violations at two properties he owns at 1821 and 1839 S. Main St.

In April, McBeth had given Avol 45 days to bring the buildings into compliance or be sent to jail. Despite Avol’s protestations, she ruled Monday that his efforts to fix the buildings were “too little, too late.”

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The judge gave Avol the option of serving half of his sentence under house arrest in his apartment building at 461 S. Bixel St., west of the Harbor Freeway. After hesitating for a moment, Avol chose house arrest.

Site of Recent Murder

The blighted Bixel Street building, Los Angeles police disclosed Thursday, was recently the site of a murder. Detective Jim Bright said tenant Manuel Marin, 24, was shot to death in the building’s basement on May 6 after a dispute with a non-resident over a broken beer bottle. Bright said the incident began when several men were drinking on the front steps of the apartment house.

“I would call it a slum building,” Bright said. “The doctor will do well to just stay in his room and keep his door shut.”

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Under the terms of his sentence, Avol will be allowed to bring clean sheets, reading material, a television and a private security guard to the building.

McBeth said she handed down the unusual sentence “because Avol is recalcitrant and arrogant and because I think it just might convince him to make the repairs.”

Avol, who has had a longtime medical practice in Hawthorne, owns five apartment buildings in Los Angeles. All of them have been cited for violations.


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