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Lawyer's '09 killing is still a mystery

December 29, 2012|Jeff Gottlieb
  • Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies outside the home of lawyer Jeffrey Tidus after his slaying in December 2009.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies outside the home of lawyer… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

Jeffrey and Sheryl Tidus had just arrived home from a charity fundraiser at Sheryl's toy store just a few miles away. They had driven in separate cars.

Once inside, Sheryl called their daughter, Ilana, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She handed the phone to her husband and began laying out food for their five dogs.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 01, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Local Desk 1 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Jeffrey Tidus: An article in the Dec. 29 LATExtra section about the unsolved slaying of lawyer Jeffrey Tidus said that he had represented a woman named Irene Guy Opdyke for free in a lawsuit in which a settlement was reached giving her back the rights to her story about saving the lives of at least 12 Jews during World War II. Her name was Irene Gut Opdyke.

After he finished talking to their daughter, Jeffrey Tidus went back outside to retrieve a laptop from his Prius. It was about 8:30 p.m.

Sheryl heard a pop, then the motor of a car slowly driving off. When she walked outside, her husband was on the ground. Sheryl figured he had tripped or had had a heart attack. What else could it be? They lived in Rolling Hills Estates, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, one of the wealthiest communities in Southern California, where one is more likely to encounter a horse than a burglar.

A day later, Dec. 8, 2009, Jeffrey Tidus, 53, -- a prominent attorney -- was dead of a single gunshot wound.

Three years later, the slaying, the only one anyone can recall in Rolling Hills Estates, remains unsolved.

"It was an execution," said Det. Bob Kenney, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy working on the case.

Family and friends have offered a $90,000 reward, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has kicked in $10,000 more.

"I'm convinced we'll have an answer," Sheryl Tidus said, "because I can't live any other way."

Detectives have pored over Tidus' computers for clues, and looked at his legal cases. Sheryl Tidus is quick to point out that her husband was a civil litigator, not a criminal or family law attorney involved in cases where emotions are pushed to the limit.

He worked with a number of well-known clients, including New Century Financial, Isuzu Motors, California Federal Savings and Tokai Bank. In the last year of his life, Tidus had won a number of large settlements, Sheryl Tidus said.

Neither she nor her husband had been worried about their safety. "Never in a million years," she said.

Kenney said there are "people of interest" in the case. One, the detective said, is former Los Angeles tax attorney Christopher Gruys, from whom a Tidus client won an $11.2-million judgment in 2007. Gruys' name surfaced in connection with the case shortly after Tidus' death.

During a deposition two years earlier, Gruys pulled out a camera and photographed Tidus and made what Tidus interpreted as a threat. The lawyer called Los Angeles police and obtained a restraining order against Gruys.

The State Bar of California placed Gruys on interim suspension in April 2007 after he was convicted of possession of an assault weapon. He gave up his license to practice law in California later that year.

Tidus had told his wife about the threat but told her not to worry. The family had so little concern about their safety that Sheryl Tidus would leave the laundry room door open so their dogs could come in from the rain. Not any longer.

Gruys' attorney, Tom Brown, said investigators have not interviewed his client. "It's not unusual for someone who was an adversary to be looked at," Brown said.

Tidus had served as president of the young lawyer section of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and was on the State Bar's Board of Governors, as well as the bar's Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct.

He was one of the biggest donors to the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, and was known to represent some clients for free. One pro bono client was a Polish woman who had saved the lives of at least 12 Jews during World War II. She alleged that a film producer had manipulated her into giving him the rights to her story. As the jury was about to read its verdict, the two sides reached a confidential settlement, giving Irene Guy Opdyke back the rights to her story.

When he was killed, Tidus, a dedicated runner, was training for the L.A. Marathon to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Sheryl Tidus and Tidus' sister, Amy Zeidler, walked the marathon in his place, although they didn't complete it. "We did our best," Sheryl Tidus said. "I felt a need to be there." They raised $50,000, Zeidler said.

Sheryl Tidus, 54, walked part of the course in 2012, wearing a button that said, "I walk for Jeff."

Sheryl Tidus still wears her wedding ring, along with her husband's. Their daughter wears the watch her father received from his grandfather on his bar mitzvah.

Sheryl Tidus is angry that the legal community has not agitated harder to help find her husband's killer.

"Someone was gunned down for doing his job," she said. "There has been no help from any legal association or the bar. That's sad and disappointing. He gave so much time to his own profession, yet they're amazingly silent. That's shameful."

--

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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