A Superior Court jury on Friday found in favor of a businessman who contends that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich conspired to influence a judge on behalf of a constituent whose business later contributed $3,000 to his campaign.
The suit names the constituent, Krikor Suri, several of Suri's business partners and the county as defendants. The county is named because Antonovich is said to have acted within his official duties.
The plaintiff, Avedis Kasparian, alleges in the suit that the defendants entered into a "wrongful conspiracy to accomplish the unlawful purpose of influencing a Superior Court judge in the performance of his duties in deciding a lawsuit."
The jury is scheduled to return Tuesday to decide on a damage award. Kasparian is seeking $1.2 million.
Antonovich has acknowledged contacting Superior Court Judge Eric Younger, an old friend, but denied any impropriety. He said he called the judge to offer himself as a character witness for Suri, whose jewelry business was being sued by Kasparian.
According to campaign reports, Suri and his companies contributed about $19,000 to Antonovich's campaigns from 1985 until 1989. A $3,000 contribution came less than a month after Antonovich's call to the judge, the reports show.
In a prepared statement Friday, Antonovich said he was extremely disappointed by the decision.
"It goes contrary to Eric Younger's testimony, and I am hopeful that when the jury decides liability, they will rely on Judge Younger's sworn statements," Antonovich said.
Attorneys for Suri, his former partner and the county could not be reached for comment.
Kasparian's attorney, Bruce Altschuld, said his client felt vindicated. "This was a simple issue of a right versus wrong," he said. "People should not be able to get contributions (and) then call judges."
The lawsuit against Antonovich and the others grew out of breach-of-contract suit filed in March, 1988, by Kasparian against his former partners Suri and Jak Sukyas. Kasparian alleged in the earlier suit that he was owed money from the operation of the Western Jewelry Mart in Downtown Los Angeles.
The matter was set for trial in November, 1988, before Judge Younger. In a deposition filed early in the case, Antonovich said he called Younger a few days before the trial after attending a luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel with Suri, Sukyas and several other partners in the business. He said he could not recall whether either of the men asked him to call Younger or whether he did so on his own.
"I thought nothing of making a character reference because you write letters all the time for people," he said.
Younger, in a deposition, confirmed Antonovich's account, saying that the supervisor told him: " 'I hope this is not improper' or words to that effect . . . , to which I kiddingly responded, 'Well, if you say something improper I'll hang up on you.' "
But in January, 1988, Younger excused himself from the case. "I was uncomfortable about the call either having an impact or the appearance of an impact," the judge said in his deposition.
Younger said he later visited Antonovich, a fellow alumnus of John Marshall High School, in his office at the county Hall of Administration to say he was disqualifying himself. Kasparian had contended that Antonovich's actions had prolonged the jewelry mart case and may have cost him a $3-million settlement.