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Just the Bill, Please, in Spago Partners Dispute

In most places, Puck is a piece of rubber you whack around an ice rink, and Emmy is your great-aunt. Not here in Los Angeles, where many of America’s household names live, work and litigate--adding grist to the local legal mill. Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing recent civil court conflicts, L.A.-style.

SPAGO TO GO: An arbitrator has paved the way for peaceful coexistence between the two L.A.-area Spagos--the famed original trattoria on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, and the more sophisticated Spago Beverly Hills on Canon Drive.

To resolve a legal dispute that surfaced among Spago’s original partners last year, Wolfgang Puck and Donald Salk were ordered to pay partner Michael Elias $71,621 for use of the Spago name. Elias maintains his financial share in the original Spago, but is not involved in the Beverly Hills eatery or others being spawned in Chicago, Las Vegas, London and Tokyo.

Elias had sought an injunction against the Beverly Hills Spago, saying it created unfair competition. A second Spago would undermine his investment, Elias contended, and violate the terms of a 1981 partnership agreement in effect until 2015.

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Everyone returns to court next month, when Elias’ lawyer, Peter M. Appleton, will be asked to show why the case shouldn’t be dismissed. In other words, it seems you can stick a fork in this flap; it’s done.

THE DONALD DISSES AND TELLS: Donald Trump was a no-show at the recent trial over his land squabble with the Los Angeles Unified School District and development of the downtown Ambassador Hotel site. But he had plenty to say in a deposition, which fell into our hands while we await a ruling in Trump’s $100-million suit against the district.

First, a little background: New York real estate high-roller Trump paid $64 million for the property back in 1989 and had billion-dollar dreams for his first West Coast project. Maybe even the tallest building in the world. Enter the school district, which condemned the site to build a school. By the time the district abandoned its plans, Trump says in the deposition, his property values had tanked. The experience made this project his “first and last” in Los Angeles, Trump said.

The extensive Q&A; session in a New York law office spared no detail. Even Trump’s autobiography and the tie he wore on its cover were fair game for school district lawyer Edward J. Sczepkowski.

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Trump groused that the land was grabbed from him “as viciously as in Nazi Germany” and called school board members “fools.” Adding further insult, Trump opined: “I assumed that the people essentially teaching the kids were not stupid. They turned out to be very stupid.”

LARRY FLYNT VS. THE PEOPLE AT VAN CLEEF & ARPELS: It’s no secret that Larry Flynt likes his baubles. But he probably wishes he had never seen the $230,000 ruby and platinum bracelet at the center of a dispute with the Beverly Hills jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. The case was headed for trial last week in Santa Monica when a judge ordered the Hustler publisher and his jeweler into arbitration. If the case doesn’t settle, look for an Aug. 4 trial, says Flynt’s lawyer, Robert S. Friemuth. Flynt alleges that in 1993 the store sold him a defective bracelet that keeps dropping its rubies. Stephen R. Kahn, a lawyer for the jeweler, asserts that there’s “nothing defective” about the bracelet and contends that Flynt “abused the bracelet.” How? “He wore it every day, all day.” Apparently, such wear and tear is not recommended for an accessory Kahn describes as “a very delicate, very fine handmade piece of exquisite art.” The store has offered Flynt credit toward other purchases, but the prince of printed prurience is seeking $290,000 in damages.

I’D LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY: The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has turned to the courts to protect its 9,000 celebrity members from stalkers, crank callers, paparazzi and junk mail.

The TV academy on Thursday will ask Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien for a permanent injunction blocking distribution of its membership list, which includes names, addresses and phone numbers of many small-screen stars. Meanwhile, the academy is pursuing a lawsuit against Premier Mail Service Inc. and its president, who are accused of buying the list from a former academy employee who also is named in the suit.

The academy, which hands out the annual Emmy awards, keeps the list under tight wraps at its North Hollywood headquarters, attorney Calvin E. Davis said. It is used to ship videotapes of nominated shows to members who vote on the Emmys.

Thomas W. Cupp, president of Premier Mail Service, had no comment, and the former employee could not be reached.

DODGER BLUES: A picture of late baseball great Carl Furillo might be worth a thousand words, but it has been worth millions of bucks to the Dodgers, according to Furillo’s widow and son, who are suing for a piece of the action. Fern and Carl Furillo Jr. accuse the Dodgers and major league baseball of cheating them out of profits from pictures and T-shirts of one of the boys of summer.

Furillo, an outfielder for the Dodgers teams that won seven National League pennants in Brooklyn and L.A. between 1947 and 1959, was described in the lawsuit as “one of the key players on perhaps the most storied team in baseball history.” Like all his contemporaries, he signed away rights to his name and likeness under baseball’s owner-dominated contract system of the 1940s and ‘50s.

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In a licensing agreement struck earlier this year, the suit notes, the Dodgers and major league baseball now make payments to a foundation and the widow of Furillo’s former teammate, Jackie Robinson.

Dodger lawyer Santiago Fernandez said he could not comment because he hasn’t seen the lawsuit.

MADAM HEIDI, ESQ., FOR THE DEFENSE: Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss is brushing up on the tricks of the legal trade. Fleiss, it seems, will be representing herself in a slander suit filed against her by two police officers involved in her 1993 arrest. Officers Patricia Corso and Samuel Lee II claim that Fleiss defamed them in February 1996 by calling them sexual deviants on the radio program “Love Lines.” Superior Court Judge Arnold Gold gave Fleiss, currently a resident of the federal prison in Dublin, Calif., until July 9 to come up with a witness list and jury instructions or face sanctions. Lee is a Beverly Hills cop. Corso works for the Los Angeles Police Department. Fleiss began serving a 37-month sentence in January for tax evasion and money laundering.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Due in court this week are cases involving: Aaron and Candy Spelling, John Travolta and Dustin Hoffman. As always, whether or not the hearings actually take place depends on the whims of the parties, the lawyers and the court.


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