Legal shuffle in Rodney King Case
Sally Ann Stewart;Jonathan T. Lovitt
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
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
``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
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