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Judge Dismisses Libel Suit but Political Squabble Still Rages


MONTEBELLO — A Superior Court judge's dismissal of a libel suit has failed to end a two-year legal battle over the contents of a political campaign mailer.

Both sides of the legal controversy indicate that they may file suits over allegations made during the 1987 City Council election campaign.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Abby Soben ruled last month that there was no proof that Montebello financial consultant Michael Minasian acted in reckless disregard for the truth when he blanketed the town with mailers questioning Councilman William Molinari's campaign financing.

Molinari said he believes the judge's ruling is wrong, and said that he has a strong case for appeal. He would not discuss specifically what he found wrong with the judge's decision, but said that she failed to address the main issue of the suit.

"The real question was where do you draw the line in campaigns," he said. "Do you just give carte blanche to people to say what they want about you? That's what we were trying to establish. It wasn't about personalities or about money, but about where you draw the line."

Minasian dismissed Molinari's complaints, and said that the judge's ruling proves what he had been saying all along: Molinari's libel suit had no basis in fact and was politically motivated. He said he is considering filing a malicious prosecution suit against Molinari.

"I didn't manufacture anything," Minasian said. "I just asked legitimate questions. But he is the kind of guy that creates controversy out of nothing. He forces confrontation. He is just a disruptive force in this community."

Minasian said he had once worked for Molinari and had supported his election to the council in 1982. But, he said, in 1983, Molinari arranged a demonstration against the Operating Industries Inc. landfill just beyond Montebello's northern border in Monterey Park. The demonstration was held in front of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Cross Church on the day the Armenian pope was to give the new building his blessing. Gov. George Deukmejian also attended the ceremony.

There is no relationship between the church and the landfill, but demonstrators, seeking the governor's help, saw the event as a good opportunity. Minasian said that Molinari refused to disperse the group, causing the Armenian community a great deal of embarrassment. Molinari has denied arranging the demonstration.

"He drew the first blood," Minasian said. "After I helped him, he came to our church and started a demonstration that I think was illegal and immoral."

In late 1987, two weeks before the City Council election, Minasian, as organizer of Citizens for Honesty in Government, asked the district attorney's office to investigate Molinari's campaign finances. The request became the backbone of a series of last-minute mailers from Minasian's campaign staff reporting that "even the district attorney's office has been asked to investigate Councilman Molinari."

Molinari lost his bid for reelection. Three months later, the Fair Political Practices Commission, which had received the complaint from the district attorney's office, announced that it had found no basis to investigate Minasian's claims. Molinari won the race for City Council in 1989.

In October, 1988, Molinari filed a libel suit against Minasian and two of the major contributors to his Concerned Citizens for Honesty in Government: David Perrin, owner of the Quiet Cannon restaurant in Montebello, and Phillip Pace, a former Montebello city treasurer.

Earlier this year, Perrin and Pace reached a settlement with Molinari. Perrin refused comment, and Pace could not be reached for comment.

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