Deputy Who Lost Legal Battle Fights Order to Pay Foe's Fees

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 attorney fees.

The battle is the latest in a long feud that has pitted Ventura County's top prosecutor against Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block and 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 came out of his bedroom waving a handgun.

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 legal battle and was ordered to pay Bradbury's legal expenses.

Since then there have been on-going 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 garnish Spencer's wages, but doing so would take the assistance of the Los Angeles 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.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Spencer says he cannot pay the fees and has offered instead to pay a fraction of the amount he owes, or about $10,000, officials 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 was 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, Bradbury had maintained that Spencer had "lost his moral compass."

And the 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 Block and led to a review of the case by Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. Lungren concluded that Bradbury's report contained "unsupported and provocative language."

The court decision against Spencer was upheld in April after the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

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