Blake appeals $30 million civil verdict

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Jurors deliberating in Robert Blake's civil trial discussed the cases of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, ignored the lack of evidence that Blake killed his wife and decided to "send a message that celebrities and rich people cannot get away with murder," the actor's attorney said in an appeal filed Wednesday.

Blake's lawyer argued that the award of $30 million to the family of Bonny Lee Bakley in a wrongful-death lawsuit was the result of prejudice and jury misconduct and should be reversed.

The actor was found liable for her death in the civil trial after being acquitted of murder in a criminal trial.

In the 55-page document filed with the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach cited detailed post-trial affidavits from three jurors who also said that one juror cited the Bible as the basis for a finding of liability and another concealed that her daughter was under life sentence in a murder case.

The appeal claimed that a juror who had a hearing impairment and said he missed most of the testimony was prodded into voting for the verdict by other jurors who warned he would force a mistrial if he didn't agree with them.

"In a case featuring no forensic evidence or confession linking appellant Robert Blake to the murder of decedent Bonny Lee Bakley, nor any testimony by an eyewitness to the killing, a jury found him liable for her death and imposed a gargantuan award of $30 million for compensatory damages," the appeal said.

Actually, the jurors' intent was to punish Blake, something they were prohibited from doing in a case which did not address punitive damages, Schwartzbach wrote.

Blake's wife was shot to death in the actor's car in May 2001 outside a restaurant where the two had dined. He told police he had left her alone briefly while he retrieved a gun he carried for protection and had accidentally left behind in the restaurant.

On March 16, 2005, Blake was acquitted of murdering his wife. But Bakley's survivors had already filed a wrongful-death lawsuit and that proceeded to trial with a different legal team. Schwartzbach, who filed Tuesday's appeal, represented Blake only in the criminal trial.

In November 2005, a jury found Blake liable and, in a verdict that mimicked the O.J. Simpson civil verdict before it, awarded the family $30 million.

"Jurors discussed setting the damage figure high enough to 'send a message' that celebrities and rich people cannot get away with murder ... (and) the fact that O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson had escaped punishment," the appeal said. Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges in June 2005.

It also noted that jurors' expressed dislike for Blake from the start and wanted to set the award so high that it would force Blake to relinquish custody of his and Bakley's daughter, Rosie, to the Bakley family.That did not happen. Rosie was adopted by Blake's adult daughter and her husband.

The appeal also said that Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter allowed inadmissible hearsay evidence including conversations Bakley secretly recorded with Blake.

The appeal noted that Bakley was a convicted felon who used her children as assistants in her illegal schemes to acquire money from lonely old men. Her daughter, Holly Gawron, also testified she was involved in Bakley's plan to become pregnant by Blake.

"The decedent was a convicted felon, provided little positive guidance to her children and was heavily imbued in illegal scams and fraud," said the appeal, adding, "There simply was no basis for finding that her heirs were entitled to the astounding award so generously conferred on them by the jury."

It said that with interest, the award would eventually come to $485.6 million.

Blake has filed for bankruptcy and is unlikely to pay the award. Schwartzbach has said he wants the verdict reversed to preserve Blake's reputation as the actor who starred in "In Cold Blood" and the "Baretta" TV series.

When Schwartzbach first raised issues of jury misconduct in a motion for new trial, plaintiffs' lawyer Eric Dubin obtained affidavits from five jurors and two alternates who claimed the trial was fair and jurors were not prejudiced against Blake. Schwartzbach said those jurors merely offered conclusions and personal feelings which are legally "worthless."

Schacter denied the motion for new trial without comment last April.

A telephone message seeking comment from Dubin on Blake's appeal was not immediately returned.

Recently it was disclosed that the Police Department's internal affairs division is investigating a complaint alleging misconduct by the lead investigator in the Blake murder case. The complaint against Detective Ron Ito was filed a year ago and has yet to be resolved. It contends that Blake's celebrity status led police to assume he was guilty and close the case after his acquittal without pursuing any other suspects.
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