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County Appeals on Behalf of Antonovich : Court: Jury levied $1.2-million judgment against supervisor in 1993 over phone call made to judge in 1988.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In their appeal on behalf of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, lawyers representing Los Angeles County told the state Court of Appeal on Wednesday that a civil award against Antonovich should be reversed because there is no evidence that he attempted to influence a judge in favor of a political backer.

A Superior Court jury levied a $1.2-million judgment against Antonovich in October, 1993, after concluding that the supervisor had improperly telephoned a judge on behalf of Krikor Suri, a campaign contributor, back in 1988.

“In the civil trial, the jury got swayed by emotion,” said Pamela Dunn, a Los Angeles attorney representing Suri. “They had this vision of a politician smoking cigars in the back room with a judge. . . . [But] there’s no evidence.”

Suri was the subject of a lawsuit that his business partner, Avedis Kasparian, had filed against him. The two were at loggerheads over how much Suri would pay Kasparian to buy him out of their Downtown jewelry business.

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The jury found that Antonovich’s phone call to Superior Court Judge Eric Younger ruined the business deal--and therefore hurt Kasparian financially. No criminal charges have ever been filed in the matter.

The county of Los Angeles is liable if the 2nd Appellate Court upholds the $1.2 million in damages because Antonovich has claimed he was acting in his role as county supervisor when he called the judge.

On Wednesday, Antonovich--who attended the hearing but did not address the court--said he was confident the civil ruling would be reversed.

The phone call to Younger “was a 30-second character reference call. . . . I’m confident that the appellate process will correct the error” of the jury, Antonovich said.

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Though the four-member appellate court is unlikely to issue a decision before November, many of the members’ comments during the two-hour hearing appeared to be sympathetic to Antonovich’s position that making the phone call was a mistake, but not a violation of the law.

One of the primary topics during the hearing was whether Antonovich had participated in a conspiracy on behalf of Suri.

“Here we’ve got a defendant who comes to Mr. Antonovich, who wants him to talk to a judge, but in no way does it seem that [Antonovich] intended to keep anyone from talking to Mr. Kasparian,” said Appellate Judge H. Walter Croskey. “It seems we’re trying to put the right shoe on the left foot.”

Antonovich could not have participated in a conspiracy “because he did not know the existence of the buyout negotiations,” said Kenneth Klein, an attorney representing Antonovich and the county.

The judges also asked Bruce Altschuld, who is representing Kasparian, how Antonovich could be held liable for harming Kasparian’s financial status when no contract existed and each party was free to walk away at any time.

After Wednesday’s hearing, as Antonovich smiled broadly on one side of the courtroom, a downcast Altschuld on the other side acknowledged that “it doesn’t look so good right now.”


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