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LOS ANGELES

City to Pay $50,000 to Man Arrested in Theft of Oscars

Settlement: Plaintiff had alleged false arrest. He pleaded no contest to receiving stolen goods.

September 24, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City lawyers have agreed to pay $50,000 to settle three federal lawsuits brought by a man who pleaded no contest to a felony charge of receiving three stolen Oscar statuettes, it was disclosed Monday.

Deputy Los Angeles City Atty. Geoffrey R.M. Plowden described the settlement as a "fiscally sound decision" intended to spare the city from the possibility of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars more in legal fees.

The plaintiff, Anthony K. Hart, 42, of La Puente, sued former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, Deputy Chief David Kalish and three detectives, alleging false arrest and defamation, malicious prosecution and detaining him without a warrant.

One of three men arrested in connection with the Oscar thefts in 2000, Hart was placed on three years probation after pleading no contest in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Pleading no contest is the same as entering a guilty plea, except that it cannot be used against the defendant in any ensuing civil suit. That meant that the city could not use Hart's plea and admission of wrongdoing to defend itself against his lawsuits.

"It's a real technicality," Plowden said.

Plowden said that under federal civil rights law, the city might have been obligated to pay Hart's legal fees, regardless of the outcome.

He said that could have run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But he acknowledged that one of Hart's lawsuits might have resulted in a verdict against the city.

In that suit, LAPD detectives were accused of detaining Hart, so they could obtain his palm prints, before they had received a warrant.

Plowden said the warrant was being sought but had not been issued when Hart was detained.

Hart is represented by civil rights lawyer Stephen Yagman, who said in a statement that "absolutely everything we claimed Parks and the detectives did turned out to be true in spades: the $50,000 proves that."

Plowden said the settlement agreement, which was reached Friday, makes clear that the city admits no wrongdoing.

Hart was employed as a loading-dock worker at Roadway Express in Bell, which received a shipment of Oscars intended for winners of the 2000 Academy Awards.

Three weeks before the awards, the company discovered 55 Oscars were missing.

Yagman said Hart was arrested without probable cause, jailed for six days and portrayed as the mastermind behind the theft at a high-profile news conference called by Parks.

Yagman said Hart did not take part in the theft but did receive three Oscars from the man who actually stole them.

Hart is serving a federal prison sentence on an unrelated weapons conviction, Plowden said.

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