Robert Blake’s attorney on Wednesday appealed a $30 million wrongful death verdict against the actor, saying jurors discussed O.J. Simpson, 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 award to the family of Bonny Lee Bakley was the result of prejudice and jury misconduct and should be reversed, attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach wrote in the 55-page appeal.
Bakley was shot to death as she sat in Blake’s car outside a restaurant where the two had just dined in May 2001. Blake told police he had left her alone briefly while he retrieved a gun that he carried for protection and had accidentally left behind in the restaurant.
The actor was acquitted of his wife’s shooting death at his criminal trial in 2005 but found liable in the civil trial a few months later.
In the document filed Wednesday with the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Schwartzbach cited detailed post-trial affidavits from three jurors who also said that one panelist 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 claims 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 panelists, 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 says.
Schwartzbach argues in the filing that the jurors’ intent was to punish Blake, something they were prohibited from doing in a case that did not address punitive damages.
“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; Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 but was later found liable in a civil trial.
The filing 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.
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.
In a phone interview, plaintiffs’ lawyer Eric Dubin said Blake’s appeal was an attempt to delay paying the judgment.
“These identical issues were looked at by the trial judge and denied in their entirety,” said Dubin, who promised to file his response quickly, adding that he believes the family will eventually collect at least a portion of the $30 million.
When Schwartzbach first raised issues of jury misconduct in a motion for new a trial, Dubin obtained affidavits from five jurors and two alternates who claimed that the trial was fair and that jurors were not prejudiced against Blake. Schwartzbach said those jurors merely offered conclusions and personal feelings which are legally “worthless.” The motion for a new trial was denied.
Recently it was disclosed that the Police Department’s internal affairs division is investigating a complaint alleging misconduct by the lead investigator. 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.