Over the protests of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, a judge Wednesday declined to impose any significant sanctions against the City Attorney’s Office after finding it had substantially complied with previous orders she issued in a retaliation lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles Police Department criminalist.
In a contentious hearing, attorneys for plaintiff Jennifer Francis said they had hoped Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie would follow through on her warnings to the city during a September hearing that she would impose limits on what defense can be presented by the city during trial.
“I don’t know what changed from September until now,” said attorney John Taylor on behalf of Francis.
Taylor and Francis’ other attorney, Courtney McNicholas, contend the City Attorney’s Office has ignored court orders Fujie made last month directing the office to turn over important documents and make individuals available for depositions.
Deputy City Attorney Shawn Thomas replied that the city has been cooperative and that the plaintiff is asking for a lot of considering she has only one cause of action.
Francis sued the city for whistleblower retaliation in October 2013, alleging Detective Cliff Sheppard of the Robbery-Homicide Division’s cold case unit ignored the results of DNA tests that she performed as a criminalist in the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division. Those results gained importance years later when another detective determined that then-LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus killed a romantic rival.
Francis alleges that Sheppard knew Lazarus had ties to the victim, but did not want to consider her a suspect. Francis also claims she was told by supervisors beginning in 2005 to ignore possible evidence implicating Lazarus in Sherri Rasmussen’s slaying.
Taylor and McNicholas told the judge that the city has yet to produce for depositions two important witnesses, including former Chief Charlie Beck. He was the LAPD’s chief of detectives at the time of Rasmussen’s death and made statements to the media about the case, Taylor said.
The City Attorney’s Office, however, alleges in a motion filed Friday that Beck knows nothing about the dispute and that his deposition testimony would be irrelevant. The defense has filed a motion to quash the plaintiff’s subpoena.
Fujie, who at one point asked Taylor if he was insinuating that she was biased in favor of the city, repeatedly told him and McNicholas to curtail their rhetoric.
“Calm down,” the judge said. “I understand things have been acrimonious.”
Fujie noted that the city had complied with her order to find an attorney to try the case by hiring outside counsel Reginald Reynolds. Fujie had previously criticized city for taking so long to determine who the lead attorney would be.
She scheduled a hearing for Oct. 24 on whether Beck will have to testify. She also said the case is five years old and will go to trial as scheduled on Jan. 14.
Rasmussen was found beaten and shot in February 1986 in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband, whom Lazarus had dated. Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison.
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