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Attorney Objects to Carson Story

February 25, 1988

If Carson City Councilman Michael Mitoma paid George Stein to write the campaign literature that appeared in the guise of "news" on February 14 ("Carson's Bitter War of Words," South Bay edition), he certainly got his money's worth. In the typically propagandist style that readers have come to expect from this would-be news writer, Stein distorted facts and left out every scrap of information that would have provided at least an appearance of honest and balanced reporting.

Contrary to Stein's representation, no judge has found that the defendants in a libel lawsuit arising out of a 1986 political brochure either made "defamatory" statements or may have done so with knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. What was determined on February 4 was that Mitoma, after two years of attempting to plead a legally sufficient complaint, finally managed to say enough magic words to compel the defendants to respond by way of formal answer to the allegations. There has been no determination whatsoever as to any substantive merits the action might have. As Judge Kurt Lewin noted in making his ruling on the sufficiency of the complaint, "pleading it is one thing; proving it is another."

Also inaccurately drawn is Stein's picture of "victim" Mitoma as demanding no less than individual apologies from the defendants for the brochure that ruffled his feathers. In fact, as Stein well knew when he wrote the piece, Mitoma has, on two occasions, offered to pay his political opponents for a portion of the expenses they have incurred as a result of having to defend against his hastily filed lawsuit. Unfortunately, the sums offered were inadequate to cover the considerable costs and fees incurred by the defendants, and thus Mitoma's offers to date have been rejected. The matter of an apology has never been a stumbling block: The defendants have no trouble stating that they never intended to imply or suggest that Mitoma was involved in criminal conduct of any description. To whatever extent the political brochure might have been understood in that sense, they have always been willing to say it was misunderstood. What the brochure perhaps inartfully intended to convey was the opinion that since, as Mitoma testified in "United States v. Arocha," he did not realize the size of cash transactions that were taking place right under his presidential nose in a tiny bank, and did not know the banking laws applicable to reporting of those transactions, he might not be qualified to take on the considerable responsibility of running a city the size of Carson. Had Mitoma gone to the involved parties at the outset and discussed the brochure with them, rather than taking the rash and ill-considered course of seeking immediate legal redress, he could have obtained the apology which he now says is all he ever wanted and thus avoided embroiling the city in a most unseemly and needlessly divisive and purely personal controversy. It is difficult enough for municipal representatives to see eye to eye on any given issue; that task is made virtually impossible when some council members are subjected to a one-sided trial by fire in the newspaper, fueled by a fellow council member who wants $62.5 million for his hurt feelings and fanned by a staff writer who scorns objectivity.

Stein's Valentine to Mitoma also fails to mention that among those sued are several Carson residents who have given their support to Councilwoman Sylvia Muise throughout the past, and who have been forced to pay dearly for their political persuasions. Had the most cursory investigation been done by Mitoma prior to filing his lawsuit, he would have discovered that at least five of the people he sued had nothing to do with the political brochure, directly or indirectly. Those Carson residents have been put through two years of personal suffering and expense, defending themselves against allegations which are, and always have been, utterly baseless. In spite of ascertaining the true facts in this regard during eight months of civil discovery, Mitoma has at no time offered to dismiss those five Carson residents--Leon Cornell, Connie Hathaway, Effie Clarke, Gilbert Smith and James Winston--from the lawsuit. One must ask whether a government representative has the interests of the community he serves at heart when he first initiates and then persists in litigation naming persons against whom he has not a shred of evidence as to potential liability for alleged defamation. One must also ask why it never occurred to Stein, after spending what must have been hours poring over deposition transcripts, to interview any of those defendants and seek their input in the interests of balanced reporting.

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