Citing the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Los Angeles Rams have asked an Orange County Superior Court judge to disqualify himself from a trial involving the California Angels, the Rams, the City of Anaheim and a Boston-based developer, attorneys said Tuesday.
If Judge Frank D. Domenichini does not disqualify himself, attorneys for the Rams and the development company of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes will seek to disqualify him, attorney Alfred E. Augustini said.
In the case, the Angels have brought a $100-million lawsuit against the city and Anaheim Stadium Associates, arguing that the city violated its lease with the Angels when it offered the Rams part of the stadium parking lot for development as an incentive to relocate in Anaheim.
The Angels contend that the proposed development will take up too much surface parking in the stadium and hurt baseball attendance.
Autry Endorsed Clerk
Augustini said his clients “are never going to feel comfortable” with Domenichini because the clerk in the courtroom where the trial is being held was endorsed in his bid for county clerk by Angels owner Gene Autry in a campaign fund-raiser advertisement.
The clerk, Marshall Norris, distributed an invitation to a campaign fund-raiser that had a picture of him posing with Autry. Norris, who said he has done nothing wrong, was subsequently relieved of courtroom duties.
Augustini, saying he does not expect Domenichini to disqualify himself, indicated that he will seek a new judge. He cited a provision in the civil procedure code allowing disqualification if there are facts leading a person to “reasonably entertain” a doubt that the judge may be impartial.
However, William B. Campbell, an attorney for the Angels, said Anaheim Stadium Associates--a joint venture between heirs of the late Rams’ owner and Cabot, Cabot & Forbes--have “no basis for any kind of motion” to disqualify Domenichini.
Campbell pointed out that attorneys from all sides approved Autry’s endorsement before he granted it. As for the fund-raiser flyer featuring a photo of Autry and Norris, Campbell reiterated that Autry had no knowledge of the fund-raiser.
“Despite what appearances might be, neither Mr. Autry nor myself knew anything about the invitation,” Campbell said.
Gag Order Lifted
The officials’ comments followed the judge’s action Tuesday lifting his previous gag order in the trial.
A week ago, after Augustini indicated his clients were leaning toward asking for a mistrial, Domenichini ordered the attorneys into a closed-door session, sealed the day’s court records and issued an order forbidding the parties to discuss the case.
City spokeswoman Sheri Erlewine said Anaheim would not join the Rams and the developers in seeking a new trial because “it would cost taxpayers an additional million.”
To ask for a new judge and begin the trial anew would be both expensive and unnecessary, Campbell said. “You don’t throw away four months of trial and millions of dollars of preparation because of mere appearances.”
Domenichini could not be reached for comment.
In other developments relating to the legal battle, the city disclosed Tuesday that it has paid a private firm $3.1 million to date to defend the case. The figure, however, does not include payments for the city attorney or city staff’s time.