Rodney G. King's lawyers, held to a strict schedule by a clock-watching judge, nearly ran out of time to cross-examine witnesses in his lawsuit Wednesday and were allotted only 53 extra minutes.
The lawyers, who wanted two extra hours, already had prepared to ask the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene and were urged to do so by U.S. District Court Judge John G. Davies.
"You are being given an extra 53 minutes. That's it. Go file the writ. Run up to San Francisco and see if the court will give you the extra hour," Davies said, denying a stay of proceedings in the meantime.
The dispute came to a head when all but seven minutes of the 30 hours Davies had allotted to King's lawyers had expired. They asked for two more hours and Davies relented a bit, allowing one hour, including the remaining seven minutes.
"We object to the hour and think it's still insufficient," said John Burris, one of King's attorneys. "It does not take into consideration all the work that has to be done."
"You knew from the beginning the order was 30 hours," Davies said.
The judge also rejected one more attempt by King's attorney, Federico Sayre, who offered to not seek appellate review if two more hours were granted.
Attorneys for the six current and former police officers being sued for punitive damages in King's beating indicated they had eight more hours of testimony from witnesses and objected to giving the other side more time.
Davies estimated that the case would go to the jury on Monday.
The lawyers were down to 10 minutes of remaining time when the defense called to the stand one of its powerhouse witnesses, Los Angeles Police Department training officer Sgt. Charles L. Duke Jr. who testified that King's March 3, 1991, beating was justified under police policies.
Duke, in a second-by-second analysis of King's videotaped actions, contended the black motorist was a threat to the white officers who beat him even when he was lying on the ground. Every baton blow against him was justified, Duke said.
"This is a very important witness," Burris said. "We need the time to cross-examine him."
Davies, a former civil lawyer, has angrily castigated lawyers on both sides for wasting time and criticized cross-examinations and legal arguments as unfocused.
"I think both sides have tried to be diligent and effective," Burris said. "But the judge has his own notions of how the case should be tried. I am clearly nonplussed with this man at this time."
He noted that King's legal team challenged the judge on grounds of bias before the trial began but was unsuccessful. The lawyers maintained that Davies, who presided at the officers' federal civil rights trial, was biased against King.
"We had been warned by other lawyers that he is arbitrary, and we would not get a fair trial," Burris said. "Those predictions now have come to pass."
When the trial's punitive damage phase began April 21, Davies granted King's attorneys 30 hours and defense attorneys 32 hours to question witnesses. Burris asked him to even out the allotment by giving King's attorneys another two hours, but Davies refused.
The jury already has awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages from the city for his injuries.
The trial's second phase addresses the question of how much to assess against individual officers as punishment and to deter future beatings. Davies dismissed a flock of defendants earlier in the week, including former police Chief Daryl Gates, ruling that their liability was not established.
On Wednesday, the jury was cut from 10 members to nine when a woman juror fell ill and was told by her doctor to bow out. She said she was feeling faint and was diagnosed with anemia. In civil trials, as few as six jurors can return a verdict as long as it is unanimous.