Attorneys for Rodney G. King on Wednesday appealed a federal judge’s refusal to grant them more than an additional 53 minutes to complete their case in the lawsuit to recover punitive damages from individual defendants.
U.S. District Judge John G. Davies had given King’s attorneys 30 hours to put on their case, and they had only seven minutes left when they asked the judge for at least two more hours.
Davies refused the request, accusing them of wasting time and urging them to appeal if they disagreed with his decision.
“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.
That is exactly what they did. King’s attorneys were in the process of preparing an emergency request for more time, which they filed late Wednesday with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. They asked that the appeals court rule by this morning. Attorney John Burris, one of King’s lawyers, said the plaintiffs have attempted to stay on schedule but need more time to effectively cross-examine a number of defense witnesses.
“We object to the hour and think it’s still insufficient,” Burris said, referring to the total time the judge allowed to finish the case, including the seven minutes remaining in the original allotment. “It does not take into consideration all the work that has to be done.”
There are no hard and fast rules about the length of trial presentations, but judges have increasingly tried to force lawyers to shorten their cases because of crowded calendars and a general feeling that the courts are overrun.
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.
King’s attorneys argued that the extra two hours they are seeking would equalize the allotments, but Davies would not budge.
Attorneys for the six current and former police officers being sued for punitive damages in King’s beating said they had carefully monitored their time and objected to any decision to increase the other side’s allotted time.
The controversy erupted while Los Angeles Police Department training officer Sgt. Charles L. Duke Jr. was on the stand. He testified that King’s March 3, 1991, beating was justified under police policies.
King’s attorneys spent 20 minutes cross-examining Duke. In order to save time, they opted not to ask any questions of the next two key witnesses, Stacey C. Koon and Laurence M. Powell.
These former officers detailed their finances as their lawyers sought to protect them from having to pay punitive damages to King for his beating.
Koon and Powell are serving 30-month sentences for federal convictions of violating King’s civil rights.
Koon said he has perhaps $20 to his name, adding that he cleans toilets and mops floors in prison. Powell said he works in prison for 12 cents an hour, which pays for stamps and toiletries.
They said they lost their police pensions, health insurance and other benefits when they were suspended without pay after the beating. The acquittal of them and two other officers, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind, on most state assault charges in state court touched off the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Briseno and Wind also are defendants in the suit.
King’s principal attorney, Milton Grimes, said outside court that the officers’ financial status was not the central issue.
“If they don’t have a dime to pay, that’s too bad,” he said. “But we would like the ruling to go against them anyway. The message has to be made that you can’t beat people into submission.”
The jury has awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages from the city for his injuries.
Earlier this week, Davies dismissed five defendants, including former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, ruling that their liability had not been 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.