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Suit Accusing Cooley of Malicious Prosecution Is Dismissed

Court: Judge says the plaintiff, who was tried in a bribery case in 1995, did not prove his case.

June 13, 2002|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge Wednesday dismissed a suit accusing Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and a fellow prosecutor of malicious prosecution in a 1995 bribery and perjury trial against a defense attorney.

U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, granting a motion by Cooley to dismiss the suit, said Leonard R. Milstein of San Luis Obispo failed to prove his allegation that the prosecutors "engaged in any coercive or abusive techniques" in their investigation.

Milstein, formerly of Woodland Hills, had charged that Cooley, who was a deputy district attorney in 1995, coerced an inmate to give false testimony in the bribery trial. Milstein's suit said Cooley launched the investigation against him although he knew or should have known that he was innocent.

Cooley on Wednesday called Milstein's lawsuit frivolous.

"Despite the harassment of frivolous lawsuits such as these, I have always felt strongly that a public prosecutor's job is to pursue cases of alleged corruption of the justice system and within government," he said. "That was the case then [in the Milstein probe]. That is the case now."

Wiley Ramey, Milstein's lawyer, said he will appeal the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "I am very disappointed in the judge," he said.

Milstein's suit charged that Cooley and Robert Foltz launched the bribery and perjury investigation against him in retaliation for his successful defense in 1989 of a man accused of the drug-related murders of two men

During the capital 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 jury acquitted Milstein's client of one murder charge and deadlocked on the second. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and received an eight-year sentence.

In 1990, Cooley visited the inmate behind bars. Cooley later said the inmate admitted fabricating evidence and lying during his testimony in the murder trial at Milstein's request.

Cooley then launched the prosecution against Milstein and won a conviction in May 1995. Milstein was sentenced to three years in prison, but a state appellate court threw out the conviction, declaring that it was based on insufficient evidence.

In his ruling, Pregerson rejected claims that Cooley should not have investigated Milstein because he should have known the lawyer was innocent. The judge said the prosecutors started the probe because three inmates reported that Milstein tried to persuade them to give false testimony at the murder trial.

"The record of the investigation shows that there was evidence that perjury and obstruction of justice may have occurred during the

Noting Milstein's 1995 conviction, Pregerson said that the later reversal "does not prove innocence." Nor does it show that Cooley should have known when he authorized the probe that Milstein was innocent, the judge said.

He said there was no evidence Cooley or Foltz applied any "undue influence" on investigators.

"The court finds that [Milstein] has not pointed to evidence that supports the proposition that [Cooley and Foltz] used investigative techniques that were so coercive and abusive that they knew or should have known that those techniques would yield false information."

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