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$1.1-Million Award Voided in Cobb Case : Jurisprudence: Ruling by judge seen as victory for USC over former assistant athletic director.

August 11, 1994|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge voided a $1.1-million jury award to former USC Assistant Athletic Director Marvin Cobb on Wednesday, possibly clearing the way for a new trial.

Cobb, who is black, sued USC in 1990, claiming that he was denied a promotion because of racial bias. He won his case last June, and a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded him $2.1 million, a sum reduced last month to $1.1 million.

But Judge William Drake voided the award entirely, agreeing with USC counsel Johnnie Cochran on two key points:

--At least one juror acted improperly during deliberations.

--There was "insufficient evidence" to support the jury's June verdict.

"It was a double win for us, and we're quite happy about it," USC general counsel Bob Lane said. "If Judge Drake's ruling is overturned on appeal, then we start over with a new trial. If things stay as they are, we've won our case."

Cobb, who in the 1970s played football for USC and the Cincinnati Bengals, also claimed in his suit that he was unfairly penalized for complaining that USC's black athletes weren't getting the education promised them.

He had criticized USC in a 1990 Sports Illustrated article, detailing problems he said USC athletes had encountered in getting academic counseling.

USC contended throughout the case that Cobb, hired by USC in 1986, was not promoted because his job performance did not warrant it and that he hadn't kept regular office hours.

In 1991, Cobb was transferred out of the athletic department and into the university's medical school, where he was given an administrative post.

The jury deadlocked on the racial bias element in Cobb's suit. He was originally awarded $1 million in emotional damages and $1.1 million in economic damages.

During the trial, some jurors later said, one female juror claiming to have a law degree raised points of law unrelated to the case.

And Drake said Wednesday he was disturbed to read that the juror had referred to a previous jury experience as when she "helped apply the law as per the judge's instructions."

Only a "sense of chivalry," Drake said, prevented him from issuing a contempt citation to the juror.

Cobb could not be reached for comment.

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