The girlfriend of the late Gilbert Lindsay took advantage of the aged Los Angeles councilman to gain control of his money and property, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury said Wednesday.
After 2 1/2 days of deliberation, the five-woman, seven-man panel found Juanda Chauncie, 40, used undue influence in obtaining money and property from Lindsay, and awarded $235,000 in damages to Lindsay's stepson and estate.
The verdict came after a 12-day trial stemming from a lawsuit brought by Herbert Howard, Lindsay's 65-year-old stepson, against Chauncie, who became close to the councilman during the last two years of his life. Lindsay died in December, 1990, at age 90.
The case involved money given to Chauncie and four pieces of property in South-Central Los Angeles that Lindsay once owned. Lindsay gave Chauncie two, and shared the proceeds from sales of the other two. By the time he died, Lindsay only owned the home where he lived.
A flicker of shock passed across Chauncie's face as the verdict was read, and she sat stiff-backed in her chair. Howard looked relieved.
Outside the courtroom, Howard said: "Justice was served. I wasn't interested in the money. This was something I had to do, win lose or draw."
Chauncie, a wardrobe consultant who operates a clothing boutique out of her home, had no comment. But her attorney, Geraldine Green, said she will make a motion Friday before Judge F. Ray Bennett, who presided over the trial, to set aside the verdict. "The evidence does not support that judgment," Green said, adding that if that action is not successful, "We will be going up on appeal. This is not over."
Green said she would also be filing a malicious-prosecution lawsuit against Howard on behalf of Chauncie's mother, Alberta Hysaw, and sister, Ann Stevens, who were originally named defendants in the case.
Near the close of the trial, Bennett dismissed fraud, conspiracy and undue-influence allegations against Hysaw and Stevens. He dismissed fraud and conspiracy allegations against Chauncie as well, leaving the jury to decide only whether she had used undue influence against Lindsay.
Jury Foreman Frederick Bussy, a 34-year-old highway maintenance worker from Inglewood, said the verdict had been difficult. "We thought the plaintiff's case wasn't that strong." To reach a verdict, nine of the 12 jurors had to agree, and the panel was unanimous only on the allegation that Chauncie had used undue influence to gain one of the four pieces of property, at 780 E. 52nd Place.
"There was no direct evidence, but we had a lot of circumstantial evidence," Bussy said, adding of Chauncie: "We didn't find her credible at all."
Often during her testimony, Chauncie said she could not remember details of Lindsay's paying bills on her behalf, giving her money or deeding her property. She also did not recall basic information about her business, such as how many garments she sold or how much they cost. Another juror, Ben Provo, a pipe fitter from West Los Angeles, said that was what turned the tide against Chauncie: "her not remembering."
Howard, son of Lindsay's late wife, Theresa, became conservator over Lindsay's estate just weeks before the councilman's death. That same month, he filed a suit against Chauncie on behalf of the estate, claiming that she had manipulated Lindsay's "failing health, old age and senility" to her financial benefit, gaining more than half of his estimated $400,000 estate.
Chauncie claimed she had never asked for anything. Lindsay voluntarily gave her land and showered her with gifts that included three fur coats and a three-carat diamond ring, she testified. She portrayed herself as a loving and inseparable companion during a relationship that involved no sexual intercourse. She did not even allow Lindsay to kiss her on the mouth, she testified, but "he snuck and did it anyway."
Others testified that she was not loving but often harsh and that after Lindsay became incontinent she would not let him ride next to her in his own car, making the councilman sit up front with his city driver. During the trial, Chauncie said she was engaged to Lindsay, but a 46-year-old exterminator testified that he was engaged to her too.
Juror Doris Callicotte, who disagreed with the majority, said she had been bothered by alleged discrepancies in the testimony. "You had people on one hand saying the man was capable and others saying he had good days and bad days," she said. "What in essence they (the plaintiffs) were saying was he had his bad days on Chauncie's days and good days on their days."
Still unsolved is the ownership of the house at 780 E. 52nd Place. Howard's lawsuit delayed an attempt by Chauncie to evict an elderly disabled couple from the house, which the councilman had given Chauncie. But in his will, Lindsay left the home to Howard. Judge Bennett will rule on who owns the house on Friday.