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Cooley Denies Coercing Inmate to Lie in 1995

Courts: D.A. is seeking dismissal of a civil suit filed by a lawyer tried in bribery and perjury case.

June 04, 2002|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A lawyer for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley denied accusations in federal district court Monday that Los Angeles County's top prosecutor coerced an inmate during a taped prison interview to give false testimony in a 1995 bribery and perjury trial against a defense attorney.

"There is nothing in the tapes to show any coercion," Los Angeles lawyer Steven D. Blades said in a hearing on a civil suit brought by the lawyer, Leonard R. Milstein, formerly of Woodland Hills.

Blades said Cooley, who was a deputy district attorney in 1995, also denies allegations that he maliciously prosecuted Milstein at the time on charges of bribing the same inmate to lie six years earlier in a death-penalty murder trial.

Blades was making the argument in support of a motion by Cooley and Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz to dismiss the suit filed by Milstein. U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson is expected to issue a ruling in a week to 10 days.

The suit accuses the two prosecutors of fabricating evidence, making false statements to the media and filing a false crime report.

Milstein's lawyers, Steve Yagman and Wiley Ramey, argued Monday that Cooley and Foltz launched the prosecution in retaliation for Milstein's successful defense of a man accused of a drug-related, execution-style murder of two men, for which he could have received the death penalty.

The jury acquitted Milstein's client of one murder charge and deadlocked on the second. The defendant received an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to a reduced manslaughter charge.

During the murder trial, Milstein directed suspicion away from his client and toward a key prosecution witness by calling a County Jail inmate to testify against the prosecution witness.

The inmate, Albert Gutierrez, testified that, while working on the prosecution witness' car, he found ammunition in the trunk that was similar to the ammunition used in the killings. Gutierrez also presented invoices allegedly proving that he had worked on the witness' car.

After the murder trial, Cooley visited Gutierrez in prison. Cooley later said the inmate admitted fabricating the invoices and lying about the ammunition, both at Milstein's request.

Cooley said Gutierrez also told him that in exchange for the 1989 testimony, Milstein had agreed to represent him in court on an unrelated criminal charge.

Milstein was convicted in May 1995 of bribery, perjury and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to three years in prison.

After the conviction, Cooley and Foltz made false statements about Milstein to the media, the suit says.

A state appellate court later threw out Milstein's conviction, declaring that it was based on insufficient evidence.

In court Monday, Milstein's lawyers argued that Cooley and Foltz never should have launched the prosecution of Milstein, because an inmate's word can't be trusted without supporting evidence or testimony, neither of which they said the prosecution had.

"A lawyer beat two prosecutors, and they got angry and they decided to jack up the lawyer who beat them," Yagman argued.

"They put up Gutierrez [in Milstein's trial], and they shouldn't have believed him," he said.

Cooley's lawyer countered that a witness' credibility is a determination for the jury to make, not the prosecutor or a judge.

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