Legal shuffle in Rodney King Case

  Sally Ann Stewart;Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 02A

  (Copyright 1992)


  LOS ANGELES - Rodney King's new lawyer says he was hired for his

  experience as a courtroom battler, but he may never get that far.


  The reason: ``It's always better to settle,'' says Orange County lawyer Milton



  King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by four white police

  officers shocked the world, this week fired Steve Lerman, his lawyer of 19



  In Lerman's place comes Grimes, best-known for last year's successful

  temporary-insanity defense of a mother who killed her baby because of

  postpartum depression.


  Grimes' new challenge is to close the books on King's lawsuit against Los

  Angeles. King charges he was the victim of longstanding discriminatory attitudes

  and lax procedures in the city's police department. King had demanded $83

  million; Lerman had offered to settle for $5.9 million.


  Grimes says he didn't steal Lerman's client, that King asked him to take the case:

  ``Mr. King felt the case was going to be tried, and he appreciated my trial skills.''


  King's sudden lawyer switch comes just weeks after Lerman turned down the

  city's offer of $250,000 cash and yearly payments of $75,000 for life.


  ``We'll start from the beginning,'' Grimes says. ``As a citizen, I think the ...

  annuity was not reasonable.''


  But City Council members - who must approve any lawsuit settlement - could

  balk because Los Angeles is facing a third year of fiscal crisis.


  ``The City Council's position has been to find a settlement that's fair to both Mr.

  King and the taxpayers,'' says City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie.


  And noted civil rights lawyer Johnnie Cochran - who consulted with city leaders

  and lawyers on the case - says council members are resistant because they still

  don't know whether King's beating-related injuries are permanent.


  King hasn't submitted to questioning. ``It's hard to put a value on it unless you

  know what his permanent disabilities are,'' Cochran says.


  Lerman - who says he's spent $125,000 of his own money on King's case and

  estimates his bill so far at $1 million - was widely perceived as being less willing

  to compromise.


  ``A change in counsel ... may very well be a signal that King would like to

  proceed with negotiations in a less confrontational manner,'' says lawyer Cynthia



  Cochran says a judgment should be somewhere between the city's offer and

  King's demand. ``Several million,'' McClain-Hill says.


  ``It worries me,'' says Los Angeles resident and film editor Marc Claven, 30.

  ``You know, people could be lining up for a beating if the pay's this good. As far

  as the money from my taxes, my taxes paid for the baton and the bullies, why

  not King?''


  EAR CUTLINE:KING: Fires lawyer of 19 months CUTLINE:FIRED

  LAWYER: Rodney King has replaced Steve Lerman, left

  EAR PHOTO;color, USA TODAY ;PHOTO;b/w,Robert Sullivan,Agence

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