A man who filed a civil suit alleging that his daughter was murdered by three Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies has been dead for 14 months, it was revealed Monday by the attorneys involved. They disagreed over whether the death would delay the scheduled beginning of the trial this month.
Edward Postma filed the suit in U. S. District Court in April, 1988, three months after the beaten and strangled body of his daughter--Catherine Braley of Van Nuys--was found in a Van Nuys parking lot. Postma, who lived in Iowa, died four months later, attorneys on both sides of the case said.
Stephen Yagman, Postma's attorney, said he had no reason to contact Postma while the case was pending and so was unaware of the death until last month.
Anthony P. Serritella, attorney for the three accused deputies, said Monday he was shocked to learn that Postma had been dead for more than a year, maintaining that the case was now in legal limbo.
"This is the first time in my legal career that the death of a party has not been made known," Serritella said. "Mr. Yagman has been representing a dead party for 14 months and has failed to inform either opposing council or the court of the matter."
Yagman said even if he had known that Postma was dead, he knew of no rule requiring him to notify the court.
The slaying of Braley, investigated by Los Angles police, remains unsolved and investigators say the sheriff's deputies are not suspects.
But Postma's lawsuit alleges that Deputies Robert Mallon, Robert Waters and Mike Turner were responsible for her death after a night of drinking, violating her civil rights. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages. The deputies have denied the allegations of the lawsuit.
The trial of Postma's lawsuit was scheduled to begin Nov. 28, but the discovery of his death raised the possibility that it will be delayed while Yagman seeks to substitute his client's widow as plaintiff, Serritella said.
At a hearing Monday, U. S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer refused to accept Postma's widow, Linda--who was not Braley's mother--as a replacement plaintiff. She ordered Yagman first to file papers documenting that Linda Postma is the dead man's legal heir.
Yagman said he is certain the widow will be accepted. He said the death probably would have no effect on the timing of the trial, which he expects to be delayed in any case because of the judge's workload.
"It's no big deal. It is not in limbo. It is on hold until I supply the court with evidence" that Linda Postma is Postma's legal heir, he said.
Yagman said he had not known of Postma's death because there had been no developments in the case requiring him to contact his client since shortly after the case was initially filed.
"We don't get in touch with our clients unless we have something to tell them," Yagman said. "Nothing came up in that time that we needed to discuss with him."
A similar lawsuit filed by Mary Postma of Van Nuys--Braley's mother and Edward Postma's ex-wife--is also pending. But Pfaelzer previously indicated it may be dismissed and referred to a state court for lack of evidence of police abuse of federal civil rights laws. Edward Postma's lawsuit is a federal court case because the rival parties are from different states.