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Angeles County | Official Business / COURTS AND GOVERNMENT

Court Delays Trial on LAPD's SIS Unit

April 30, 1998

In a victory for Los Angeles, a federal appeals court on Wednesday delayed a trial in a wide-ranging case against the LAPD's elite Special Investigations Section.

At issue was a decision last fall by U.S. District Judge J. Spencer Letts' that he would consider LAPD practices and city policies as part of the case against the Los Angeles Police Department squad.

The lawsuit involves a consolidation of several SIS cases: two from a June 1995 holdup in Newbury Park and five others from a February 1997 Northridge bar robbery and car chase that left three of four occupants in the getaway car dead and one bystander injured. The judge had indicated that he would review the practices of the department and the council, particularly in regard to whether Los Angeles has an unlawful practice of paying punitive damages awarded against police officers.

But Skip Miller, a Century City attorney representing city officials, appealed that decision, arguing that department practices should not be part of the case against the Police Department, particularly without the presence and testimony of top city officials.

The case, brought by civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman, was scheduled to begin trial June 1. Yagman could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Miller said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision was crucial for the city.

"We argued that it's unfair to put city policies on trial without having the policymakers present," Miller said. "It's fundamentally unfair and the 9th Circuit agreed. Needless to say, we are very pleased."

But the court of appeal denied a request by Miller seeking a different judge in the case.

In an unusual order, Letts had previously asked that Mayor Richard Riordan, the City Council, the Police Commission and other city officials appear before him to discuss the civil rights lawsuits against the department. But Letts reversed himself and withdrew that order last fall.

The City Council was briefed on the case in a closed session on Wednesday but lawmakers declined to speak publicly about the discussion. No public votes were taken on the case.

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