Robert Blake, the actor acquitted of his wife's murder, should not have to pay her survivors a $30-million civil court award because he did not get a fair trial, his lawyers told appellate judges Tuesday.
"All we asked for was a fair trial, and it wasn't," M. Gerald Schwartzbach argued to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. "Celebrities have the same rights as anybody else. . . . Mr. Blake was denied that."
Attorney Eric J. Dubin, who won the wrongful death civil suit against Blake, told judges that the decision was fair and should not be altered. He said jurors were not biased against the actor.
The money was awarded to Bonny Lee Bakley's four children, including a 6-year-old daughter she had with Blake. Blake has filed for bankruptcy, and the children have received nothing.
Blake was acquitted in 2005 of the murder of Bakley, 44, who was fatally shot outside a Studio City restaurant four years earlier. The 73-year-old former "Baretta" star was found responsible for Bakley's death in the separate civil action later in 2005.
The saga was similar to the legal outcome involving O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted a decade ago of the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman and then ordered to pay their families a multimillion-dollar civil award.
According to court papers filed in support of Blake's appeal, one juror in the civil case allegedly said the actor should be found liable to send a message to rich celebrities that they could not escape justice.
Schwartzbach also accused four other jurors of misconduct, including one who failed to disclose that her daughter was serving time in prison for the slaying of a teenage classmate.
He alleged that another juror acknowledged disobeying the judge's order not to discuss testimony during the trial. Other jurors, the attorney alleged, improperly argued that the Bible supported a judgment against Blake.
Last year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter, who presided over the two-month-long civil trial at which 50 witnesses testified, denied all motions to overturn the verdict.
On Tuesday, Schwartzbach called the verdict "profoundly excessive" and said it "shocks the conscience."
Justice H. Walter Croskey, one of three judges hearing the appeal, cautioned Schwartzbach against "character assassination" of Bakley but later suggested that the allegation of misconduct against the juror who concealed her daughter's prison sentence might amount to prejudicial misconduct.
"Whether that leads to prejudice or bias or a different outcome, I don't know," Croskey said.
"I don't see any way to throw out this two-month trial of 50 witnesses or any way to overcome the trial court's decision," said Dubin, the children's attorney.
Schwartzbach said he was not authorized to speak about Blake's whereabouts or his state of mind.
"I hope that Mr. Blake has a chance to get his life back and to get his reputation back," Schwartzbach said.