The city attorney's office asked a federal judge Wednesday for permission to appeal his unprecedented ruling allowing the Los Angeles Police Department to be sued under an anti-racketeering law.
A lawyer for the city told U.S. District Judge William J. Rea that his ruling "is without legal support and is contrary to the controlling authority" of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and other federal courts.
Acting in a Rampart-related lawsuit, Rea ruled Monday that the LAPD could be sued under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, originally enacted to prosecute mobsters and drug dealers.
If applied to the many other pending Rampart cases, the RICO ruling could dramatically boost the city's liability, since the act provides for triple damages.
Before the RICO issue arose, city officials estimated that payouts in Rampart civil suits could exceed $100 million.
Under court rules, Rea's order cannot be appealed without his consent.
In a document delivered to his chambers late Wednesday, Deputy City Atty. Paul N. Paquette asked the judge to allow the city to challenge his ruling before the 9th Circuit Court, saying fundamental legal issues are at stake.
Even if Rea gives his approval, the appeals court could refuse to hear the matter.
Told of the city attorney's action, attorney Brian C. Lysaght, who represents the plaintiff in the case, said: "We think this is a frivolous exercise on their part. We doubt that Judge Rea will certify an appeal or that the 9th Circuit will be interested in reviewing it in the pretrial stage."
Rea's controversial ruling came in a case filed on behalf of Louie Guerrero, 36, who said he was arrested by Rampart officers in 1997 on fabricated charges. After serving his time and being released from prison, he sued for alleged civil rights and racketeering violations.
The judge rejected the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit Monday. Furthermore, he ruled that Guerrero has a right to use the RICO law against the police because he claims that he lost his job as a result of his incarceration.
But Paquette contended Wednesday that under the RICO law, Guerrero must allege that the police arrested him for the specific purpose of causing him economic losses.
"There are no authorities, including those relied on by the court, which have allowed a RICO claim to proceed based on such tangential allegations of injury to business or property," Paquette wrote.
The city's lawyer charged also that Rea cited an inappropriate 9th Circuit precedent when he ruled that Guerrero could seek a sweeping injunction to bar Rampart officers from committing a variety of illegal acts.
Paquette said the judge should have relied instead on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case growing out of the LAPD's use of chokeholds.
That case, he said, addressed the same allegations raised by Guerrero in precisely the same context, and the high court found them insufficient to warrant an injunction.
The city attorney also argued that Rea misinterpreted a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision when he ruled that Guerrero was entitled to file a civil rights action, even though his conviction has not been overturned in state court.
So far, about 100 convictions have been overturned as a result of the Rampart scandal, in which police officers are accused of evidence planting and courtroom perjury.
Stephen Yagman, co-counsel to Guerrero, said Rea's ruling on this point would greatly expand the number of people who can become plaintiffs in legal actions against the police.
Yagman and Lysaght want Rea to certify the Guerrero lawsuit as a class action, covering everyone who claims their rights were violated by members of the Rampart Division's now-disbanded anti-gang unit.
Paquette said that after receiving his request, Rea sent back word that he wanted a written response from Guerrero's lawyers before he takes any action.