Attorneys for a professional tennis referee who was accused — then cleared — of beating her husband to death with a coffee mug told a civil jury Thursday that she deserved $10 million for pain and suffering caused by a Los Angeles County coroner’s office doctor’s still-standing determination that the death was intentional.
Lois Goodman, 76, alleges that in her federal civil rights lawsuit that Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Yulai Wang intentionally or recklessly “falsified” her husband’s death certificate to classify it as a homicide instead of accidental death, without explanation.
“Let me be abundantly clear — Mrs. Goodman didn’t kill anybody,” plaintiff’s attorney Robert M. Sheahen told the seven-woman, one-man jury. “The charge is preposterous.”
Wang’s attorney, Rickey Ivie, countered in his closing argument that his client simply followed the evidence to determine the manner of death.
“His (Wang’s) job is to state an opinion and that’s what he did in this case,” Ivie said, adding that other doctors who examined the autopsy results supported the classification of homicide rather than accidental.
According to her suit, Goodman has suffered ongoing “public humiliation” and loss of reputation since being wrongly accused of murdering her 80-year-old husband, Alan, six years ago. Goodman was arrested in New York in August 2012, on the eve of a U.S. Open tournament, while wearing her referee uniform. Police initially claimed she clubbed her husband to death with a coffee mug in their Woodland Hills home, and then stabbed him with the broken pieces.
Murder charges were dropped in December 2012 after Goodman passed a lie detector test and experts retained by prosecutors reviewed the autopsy report and concluded the death was an accident.
Goodman is seeking to have the coroner change the cause of death on the death certificate to accidental. She is also asking for $10 million in damages, including more than $100,000 in legal expenses from the arrest, which she said she covered by liquidating her accounts, borrowing money from friends and family members, and selling her car and jewelry.
She initially sued the Los Angeles Police Department and the lead detectives on the case, along with the office of the medical examiner and Wang. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the allegations against Wang.
The jury — which will begin deliberating Tuesday morning — must determine if Wang intentionally or recklessly falsified the manner of death and, if so, whether the doctor’s conclusion was a “substantial” factor in causing Goodman harm.
Sheahen contends that during the 3 1/2 months before Wang issued his report, police were pressuring the doctor to classify the death as homicide rather than undetermined or accidental.
Ivie told the jury that his client’s conclusion was based on his interpretation of Alan Goodman’s injuries, described as “multiple sharp-force injuries.”
The defense attorney said there was nothing “malicious” about the report.
“He just did his job and made a neutral decision about the manner of death,” Ivie said. “That’s all he was supposed to do. Dr. Wang has nothing to gain by seeing Mrs. Goodman prosecuted.”