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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Judge Denies Plea to Add Witnesses in Valli Trial

Courts: 'At some point, this case must end,' jurist tells lawyers. A mistrial looms in the misdemeanor battery case as a juror's vacation approaches.

April 14, 1999|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the misdemeanor battery case against the wife of '60s singing icon Frankie Valli continued in its second week, Judge Herbert Curtis refused to allow attorneys to add witnesses, grumbling that the trial already had gone too long.

"At some point, this case must end," Curtis said. "This is such a simple case that has become so complicated."

The trial, which began last week with attorneys estimating that the case would take three days, is now expected to stretch to the end of the week.

Proceedings have taken so long, in fact, that lawyers are in danger of forcing a mistrial because a juror will be going out of the country Saturday. Curtis told lawyers Tuesday that during jury selection he had promised the juror that the trial would not interfere with travel plans.

Because both alternates selected for the panel already have been used to replace ill jurors, the loss of a third juror would result in a mistrial.

"And we'll have to start over," Curtis told the attorneys while discussing the matter out of the jury's presence Tuesday.

Randy Valli, 39, was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly slapping restaurant owner Sandra "Alex" Sofsky during a dispute at the Secret Garden restaurant in Moorpark in October.

The Vallis were dining with singer Frankie Avalon and his wife, Kay, that night.

Prosecutors allege that the Vallis and the Avalons were rude to employees and that Frankie Avalon complained that the restaurant's prices were too high. Finally, authorities said, Randy Valli began arguing with Sofsky and slapped her.

The defense contends that it was Sofsky who went into a rage after learning about Frankie Avalon's complaint. The Vallis and Avalons contend that Sofsky violently shook Randy Valli out of her chair, causing the woman's bra strap to break, and ordered the diners out of the restaurant.

If convicted, Valli faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Attorneys hope the case will wrap up as early as today, with lawyers giving closing arguments today or Thursday.

But they first tried to introduce additional evidence into court.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John Longergran wanted to question Kay Avalon about an incident at a hair salon in which she was allegedly asked to leave after a verbal dispute.

And defense attorney Chuck Samonsky wanted to bring in witnesses to testify that Sofsky had once been banned from North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks after berating staff members.

"This lady essentially has a screw loose and essentially for no reason will verbally abuse people," said Samonsky, trying to explain why the country club testimony was relevant.

But Curtis refused to add to the witness list, telling attorneys that the case was wandering and that jurors' attention might be waning.

Among those taking the stand Tuesday was Frankie Valli. He echoed earlier testimony by Frankie Avalon, who characterized Sofsky as the attacker that evening.

"She seemed incredibly enraged," said the 1960s pop crooner of hit songs such as "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man."

Valli said Sofsky continued her tirade by picking up a purse at the table and throwing it at him. She then moved to Randy Valli's chair and shook it vigorously, he said. At some point, Sofsky's husband, Bob, rushed to the table and apologized for his wife's behavior, Valli said.

Valli said that after the incident he consulted his attorney, who urged him not to call authorities and to "just let it go."

But the Sofskys did call authorities, prompting coverage of the alleged slap in both the mainstream media and tabloids in the U.S. and Europe.

"It's been all over the place," the entertainer said. "And I've never been in a tabloid in an incident in my life."

The trial is scheduled to continue today with a reporter from the National Enquirer expected to testify about his article about the incident. Randy Valli may also testify today, attorneys said.

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