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Supervisor Cleared of Influence Peddling : Courts: Appeals panel rules Antonovich call to judge was not improper, voiding $1.2-million judgment that might have cost taxpayers.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A state appeals court Thursday cleared Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich of a civil claim that he conspired to influence a judge on behalf of a campaign contributor, voiding a $1.2-million judgment that might have been billed to county taxpayers.

The case sprang from a call Antonovich made to Superior Court Judge Eric Younger in 1988 on behalf of campaign contributor Krikor Suri, who was enmeshed in a lawsuit over his Downtown jewelry business with partner Avedis Kasparian.

Kasparian sued Antonovich and Suri, maintaining that they conspired to disrupt his negotiations with his partner and deprive him of income. In October, 1993, a Superior Court jury agreed, awarding Kasparian $3.6 million, of which $1.2 million was to be paid by Antonovich or the county treasury.

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But Thursday’s 3-0 ruling, written by Appellate Judge H. Walter Croskey, found that Antonovich’s actions were not improper.

Croskey wrote that Antonovich could not have conspired against Suri because the supervisor was unaware that the two participants in the lawsuit still were negotiating. The court also found that the breakdown of negotiations was not because of Antonovich’s call and that in any case, Suri was entitled to end the negotiations.

“That’s a pretty complete decision,” said Ken Klein, Antonovich’s attorney. “If we had written it ourselves, we couldn’t have asked for more.”

Bruce Altschuld, Kasparian’s attorney, said he will appeal to the state Supreme Court. “The jury heard it and thought there was evidence,” Altschuld said. “I don’t know how an appellate panel sits there and says [Antonovich] didn’t [try to influence the case], when people who saw him testify live said he did.”

Official campaign finance statements show that Suri and his companies contributed $19,000 to Antonovich’s campaigns from 1985 to 1989, lent him $10,000 about a month before he called the judge, and made a $3,000 contribution four days before he called.

Younger later removed himself from the case, explaining that he felt “uncomfortable about the call either having an impact or appearing to have an impact.”

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Antonovich has said it was “a 30-second character-reference call.” The county might have been liable because Antonovich has said he was acting as a public official.

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