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Appeals Court Won't Reconsider Decision Favoring Antonovich : Lawsuit: A businessman claimed the supervisor inappropriately intervened on behalf of adversaries, but his $1.3-million jury award was overturned.

October 17, 1995|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state appeals court has refused to reconsider a civil suit involving Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, disappointing the plaintiff and a retired judge who say they will take the matter to the California Supreme Court.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal recently handed a victory to Antonovich, voiding a $1.3-million jury award to a Glendale businessman who claimed the supervisor inappropriately intervened in a lawsuit. Antonovich telephoned a Superior Court judge on behalf of the businessman's adversaries, who had recently contributed to the supervisor's reelection campaign.

But even though the appeals court reversed the jury's verdict, it strongly chastised Antonovich for his "reprehensible" and "unacceptable behavior." The court said its ruling "should not be seen as an exoneration of the county defendants."

Those comments encouraged plaintiff Avedis Kasparian to make an unusually strong plea for the panel of three judges to reconsider its decision.

Early Monday, in a summary judgment without explanation, the appeals court refused.

Attorney Bruce Altschuld, who represents Kasparian in his case against Antonovich, Los Angeles County and two former business partners of Kasparian, took the latest ruling in stride. Such requests are "always long shots," Altschuld said, adding that Kasparian would now petition the state Supreme Court for review.

Antonovich, defending his actions and maintaining that the whole situation had been "blown out of proportion," said he was confident the Court of Appeal's decision would be upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Antonovich said Monday that the court's comments--which he called a "political insertion"--came only at the end of a 40-page decision, 39 pages of which "said I did no action that caused damage to the plaintiff."

"There was no attempt to violate anybody's rights," Antonovich said of his phone call to Superior Court Judge Eric E. Younger, which he described as only a "character reference" for two old acquaintances. "The unanimous decision of this Court of Appeal reconfirms that."

Younger, a childhood friend of Antonovich who recently retired from the bench, said Monday he was still stung by court criticism of him. He said he too was considering asking the Supreme Court to study the appellate ruling, which he said unfairly criticizes him in a "gratuitous" footnote.

"The conduct of Judge Younger is likewise subject to criticism" Associate Justice H. Walter Crosky wrote in the Court of Appeal's Sept. 14 ruling. "Without doubt, he should not have permitted the telephone conversation with Antonovich to continue after he learned that it related to a case then pending before him."

Younger, who recused himself from the case after Antonovich's call, unsuccessfully asked the appeals court to remove its reference to him, arguing in a passionate Sept. 28 letter that he was being unfairly stigmatized even though he had done the right thing.

He was unsure Monday of exactly how to address the Supreme Court on the unique situation.

"You have to understand how unusual this is for a judge," Younger said. "They're not commenting on any legal decision I made--I wasn't the judge in the case. I was a witness."

Determined to clear his name, Younger said he was consulting trusted advisers and colleagues about how to proceed, adding: "I do not plan to just forget it."

In a written statement Monday, Younger said: "The court's refusal to remove the footnote sends a difficult message to trial judges who seek to deal with potentially inappropriate interferences with the independence of the judiciary.

"Many people have asked if I would take action again, if I had it to do over," Younger continued. "I would, and I guess no one ever said being a judge was supposed to be easy."

The extraordinary case stems from a business dispute between Kasparian and two former partners in the Downtown Jewelry Mart--Kirkor Suri and Jak Sukyas--who wound up in litigation before Younger.

At one point, the three began negotiating for Suri and Sukyas to buy Kasparian's interest in the mart in exchange for Kasparian's dropping his $100,000 lawsuit against the two men that was pending before Younger.

Then in November, 1988, Antonovich made the telephone call to Younger, who maintains that he abruptly changed the subject and ended the conversation as quickly as possible once the supervisor broached the Kasparian case before him. It was later disclosed that Suri and Sukyas contributed $13,000 in loans and donations to Antonovich's reelection campaign in the days immediately before and after the phone call.

After Younger removed himself from the case in January, 1989--and disclosed Antonovich's call--Kasparian sued the supervisor, as well as the county, Suri and Sukyas, claiming Antonovich's interference quashed his adversaries' motivation to negotiate and cost him $2.5 million.

Kasparian sued under a state law that prohibits interference with prospective economic gain, and in October, 1993, a Superior Court jury found in his favor, awarding him $1.3 million. But Antonovich successfully appealed, with the reviewing court finding that Kasparian could not recover damages based on the particular law he invoked.

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