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Mayor Lobbies Against Deadline Extension for Rampart Suits

Police: The Legislature appears likely to kill a bill by Sen. Hayden that would add one year to the statute of limitations. Riordan argued that city taxpayers would suffer.

August 29, 2000|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan is quietly lobbying to kill state legislation that would extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits by individuals who allege that they have been injured by officers implicated in the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart scandal.

Earlier this month, Riordan wrote to Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), warning that extending the deadline by an additional year would prove extremely costly and further rock Los Angeles' rattled judicial system.

"The mayor was primarily concerned that the legislation as written had serious economic consequences for the city. It had some very serious problems," said Riordan spokesman Peter Hidalgo. "There were concerns about the precedent of extending statutes of limitations. The concern for the mayor was also that Angelenos would be the ones who would have to foot the [lawsuit] bills."

The pitch, which came on the heels of strident police opposition to the measure, appears to have worked. The bill by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) has been shipped from the Assembly floor to the Appropriations Committee, where it is expected to quietly die. The Legislature's two-year session ends Thursday, and the committee is not scheduled to hear Hayden's bill.

"You can only guess about the motives, but not the impact," an angry Hayden said. "It means a lot of immigrants and at-risk youth who have been victims of Rampart will not be able to seek legal assistance because they are not even aware there is a statute of limitations."

Los Angeles leaders are bracing for an onslaught of costly civil lawsuits resulting from the allegations of misconduct by officers at the LAPD's Rampart Division. Many legal analysts believe the city may be forced to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages before the scandal is over.

California cities now are able under state law to win dismissal of such civil suits if they are filed more than a year after the alleged act--the shortest statute of limitations in the country. In New York, by contrast, citizens have three years to file such actions.

Hayden's measure, SB 1261, would extend the one-year statute of limitations by an extra year for all cases as far back as 1995. It would apply only to civil suits stemming from allegations against officers who had been formally charged with specific acts of misconduct such as planting evidence and making false criminal charges.

It does not address the filing of civil rights suits, which are governed by federal law and have a two-year statute of limitations.

Riordan is hardly alone in his opposition to the measure. A wide spectrum of police groups opposes it on grounds that it violates the state Constitution and would lead to a flood of lawsuits.

In response, Hayden made changes that watered down his bill. But he still failed to quell critics in law enforcement, who have lobbied aggressively against it.

"It is a really stupid, asinine, moronic bill," said Ted Hunt of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 10,000 LAPD officers. "What they want to do is create a law that focuses on a minority group of people, the officers of Rampart Division. Our history as a country was not to pass laws that focused on specific groups, whether they are blacks, Latinos or purple people eaters."

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