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Negligent Public Defender Defense Against Dirty Los Angeles Cops Nets Falsely Convicted Man $6.5 Million; Court Vacates Verdict Million; Court Vacates Verdict

Negligent Public Defender Defense Against Dirty Los Angeles Cops Nets Falsely Convicted Man $6.5 Million; Court Vacates Verdict

by John E. Dannenberg

A Los Angeles jury awarded $6.5 million in damages to a man falsely
imprisoned for 2 ½ years because of the public defender's shoddy defense
during the trial on framed charges set up by dirty Los Angeles (LAPD) city

Javier Ovando was convicted in 1996 of allegedly attacking then-LAPD
officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden, and was sentenced to 23 years. The
conviction was overturned when it turned out that Perez and Durden were
part of the legendary LAPD "Rampart" corrupt police gang.

Perez and Durden had set up Ovando, a 19-year-old gang member, after they
both shot the unarmed youth as he walked into an apartment being used as a
police observation post to monitor gang activity. Ovando was framed by
Perez and Durden, who falsely claimed Ovando had ambushed them. But the
truth was that after shooting Ovando, they went to their car where they
retrieved a TEC-22 semi-automatic gun taken from an informant, shaved off
the serial numbers, and planted it inches from the hands of their hapless
shooting-paralyzed victim, hastily (and improperly) handcuffed in the
front. Perez was eventually convicted of violating Ovando's civil rights
and sentenced to two years in prison. This term was on top of the three
years he received for stealing cocaine from LAPD evidence lockers. Durden
pled guilty and was sentenced to five years. Ovando had previously won $15
million in damages from the City of Los Angeles for the actions of Perez
and Durden.

In this final chapter, Ovando sued L.A. County for the negligence of its
deputy public defender, Tamar Toister, for failing to effectively defend
Ovando at trial. Ovando's civil attorney, Gregory Moreno, argued that
Toister failed to listen to Ovando when he told her the weapon was
planted. Toister also failed to check the personnel files of Perez and
Durden, failed to interview witnesses who would have contradicted their
stories, and failed to explore inconsistencies in their statements. Perez,
since released from prison, testified at the civil trial on the details of
the shooting and frame-up. Moreno, noting the widespread Ramparts
infection of the LAPD, told the jury that the reason so many people could
be victimized by dirty cops was that the legal protections in the system
that are supposed to catch such lies had failed. In fact, this "failure"
had resulted in over 100 L.A. County convictions being overturned, more
than a dozen dirty cops being fired, and more than $70 million in
settlements being paid by the City of Los Angeles. Moreno opined that had
Ovando's case been handled properly, "it would have blown out Ramparts
three years before."

Ovando's $6.5 million jury verdict against the County of Los Angeles for
its negligent public defender advocacy may inspire more such claims. But
his substantial monetary awards will never lift Ovando from the wheelchair
he is bound to for the rest of his life as a result of Perez and Durden's
bullets in his spine.

In August 2005, trial judge Tricia Bigelow tossed out the verdict on the
basis of juror misconduct. During voir dire, juror Jennifer Salinas denied
having any knowledge of either Ovando or the Rampart scandal. After trial
it was learned she had appeared in Gang Warz," a 2004 movie about the
scandal. The judge further found substantial evidence that the jury had
disregarded instructions, factored attorneys fees into their damage award
and considered evidence that had not been presented at trial. The
dismissal of the verdict has been appealed. See: Ovando v. City of Los
Angeles, Lost Angeles Superior Court, Case No. BC-237276.

Additional Sources: Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Daily Journal.

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Related legal case

Ovando v. City of Los Angeles