D.A. Presses L.A. Deputy to Pay Up in Libel Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Gary Spencer sued Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury for libel and he lost.

Now Bradbury and his attorney are seeking to collect the $50,000 Spencer has been ordered to pay in attorneys' fees.

The battle is the latest in a long feud that has pitted this county's top prosecutor against Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block after his department's decision to raid a 200-acre ranch on the border of Ventura County north of Malibu.

During a botched 1992 drug raid at the ranch, Spencer shot and killed millionaire Donald P. Scott when he exited his bedroom waving a handgun.

Subsequently, Spencer sued Bradbury and four of his top prosecutors in March 1994, accusing them of defamation, libel, slander and violation of his civil rights. Bradbury had issued a report and made statements to the press criticizing Spencer and his department's handling of the raid.

But Spencer lost the two-year-long battle and was ordered to pay Bradbury's legal expenses.

Since then there have been ongoing negotiations between Spencer's attorneys and the county on how to pay the bill, said Bradbury's attorney, Glen M. Reiser.

Steps were taken to garnishee Spencer's wages, but actually doing so would have had to be handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Reiser said.

"That would mean that the L.A. County sheriff would have to serve the L.A. County sheriff," he said. "I have no indication that any action has been taken."

Spencer is appealing to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to settle for a lesser amount.

Spencer says he is on the verge of bankruptcy and cannot pay the fees, officials said. He has offered instead to pay a fraction of the amount he owes or about $10,000, they said.

Reiser said he believes Spencer could pay the fees.

"His wages and earning as a deputy, including overtime, are not insignificant," Reiser said. "But Deputy Spencer and his emissaries have approached the board of supervisors and asked for a huge discount."

Reiser said if it were required, the county could collect the fees in a number of ways.

"Deputy Spencer does have real property and his wife has earnings," he said.

The long legal feud began when Bradbury issued a report on the raid, exonerating the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy of any criminal wrongdoing. But Bradbury's report was highly critical of Spencer and the Sheriff's Department on other accounts.

In comments to reporters at the time, Bradbury maintained that Spencer had "lost his moral compass."

And his report accused the deputy of lying to obtain a search warrant. It also said the Sheriff's Department's decision to raid the ranch was in part motivated by a desire to seize the $5-million ranch under federal drug forfeiture laws.

Bradbury's findings angered Sheriff Block and prompted a five-month internal investigation. Block's 1993 report concluded that Bradbury made "willful distortions of fact."

"The Bradbury report is so riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations that any thorough analysis raises disturbing questions regarding the investigation's integrity and intent," Block's report stated. "Did the Ventura district attorney knowingly construct an investigation . . . in a manner that falsely attacked the integrity of veteran law enforcement officers? [This department] believes Mr. Bradbury did just that."

But the court decision against Spencer was upheld in April after the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, which Spencer had appealed.

Tuesday, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in closed session to consider Spencer's proposal to pay a fraction of the amount owed or about $10,000, officials said. Bradbury's attorney had originally asked for more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees and itemized expenses.

County officials decided to consider the offer after Spencer's commanding officer, Capt. Bill McSweeney, approached Supervisor Frank Schillo during a meeting in September.

"I really didn't know anything about the case except what I had heard in the papers, but I heard him out and sent it along to the appropriate people," said Schillo, who was elected in 1994. "Really what he was saying is that Deputy Spencer was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy and this would be a way we could collect a portion of the money he owed."

Contacted Friday, Spencer said he did not want to comment on the matter until the Board of Supervisors has a chance to discuss his proposal.

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