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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Jury Finds Wife of Frankie Valli Guilty of Battery

April 17, 1999|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The wife of '60s singing icon Frankie Valli burst into tears Friday after learning she had been convicted of misdemeanor battery for slapping a Moorpark restaurant owner during a dispute over an expensive meal.

After deliberating one day, a Ventura County jury rejected 39-year-old Randy Valli's testimony that she accidentally pushed the owner during a scuffle.

The verdict outraged Valli's attorney, who asked the judge to strike the decision on the grounds that it was not supported by the evidence. His request was denied.

Outside the courtroom, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lonergan praised the jury for sorting through conflicting testimony offered by more than a dozen witnesses at the two-week trial.

"The jury was able to hear all the evidence and they came to the right decision," he said. "[The defense's] version didn't work."

As Lonergan spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, defense attorney Louis "Chuck" Samonsky called his client to tell her that she had been found guilty. Valli, who lives in Calabasas, was not present when the verdict was announced in Ventura County Superior Court.

"She started to cry," Samonsky said. "She wasn't able to talk."

Valli, a mother of three, faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A sentencing hearing is set for May 28, at which time Samonsky intends to ask for a new trial, he said.

He contends that the judge erred by not allowing him to present evidence of other fights involving restaurant owner Sandra "Alex" Sofsky, including a tussle at a country club golf shop.

"I've been in this business for 25 years, nine as a prosecutor, and this is the most outrageous verdict I have ever seen," he said Friday. "I don't think the evidence supports it. I don't think Randy Valli did anything wrong."

According to some accounts, Randy Valli struck Sofsky after being asked to leave the upscale Secret Garden restaurant because Valli and her dinner companions were being loud, rude and critical of the menu prices.

The Vallis were dining with singer Frankie Avalon and his wife, Kay. All four testified that it was Sofsky who was being rude and loud.

Avalon said Sofsky twice tried to push Randy Valli from her chair and at one point picked up Valli's purse to try to strike Frankie Valli. Frightened by Sofsky's actions, Avalon said, the group ran from the restaurant without paying the bill. Avalon later sent $200 and a letter apologizing for not paying.

On the witness stand, Randy Valli echoed that account, describing Sofsky as a "crazy woman" who angrily confronted them after learning that Avalon had remarked on the menu prices.

Valli told jurors she never slapped Sofsky but pushed her accidentally while trying to catch her balance after the owner allegedly grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to boot her from the building.

But Lonergan told jurors in his closing argument this week that the Vallis and the Avalons had lied. He called them "obnoxious celebrities" who considered themselves beyond reproach.

He cited testimony offered by eight other witnesses, mostly employees and people who were at the restaurant that evening, who described the celebrities and their wives as foulmouthed and condescending.

One witness said the group questioned why Sofsky was charging "Westside prices in a hick town." Another said the foursome smirked while walking out of the restaurant after the altercation.

"The bottom line is they are not living in the world we live in," Lonergan argued. "You cannot go into a business and be verbally abusive and slap someone."

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