LOS ANGELES – An appeals court upheld a verdict finding Robert Blake liable for his wife's 2001 death but cut the $30 million jury award in half.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the actor's argument of juror misconduct, including complaints that they discussed the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson acquittal cases while considering the amount of damages. The court said the argument intruded on the jurors' method of reaching a verdict.
The jury's "references to O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson as celebrities who purportedly had gotten away with murder or molestation, supporting the need to 'send a message' ... reflected the jurors' mental processes in that regard," the panel said.
A criminal court jury acquitted Blake of murder in 2005. Bonny Lee Bakley's family pursued a wrongful-death lawsuit and Blake was found liable for his wife's death in November 2005.
Bakley was sitting in Blake's car in May 2001 when she was shot outside a restaurant where the two had just dined. The "Baretta" actor told police he left her alone to return to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he carried for protection and accidentally left behind.
Blake attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said that while some believe celebrities are treated differently in the courts, the ruling shows that sometimes they are treated more harshly.
"There are a lot of folks who can't accept that he was acquitted of murder," Schwartzbach said. "They think he got away with murder and they want to exact a price in civil court."
Although the court filed its ruling as an unpublished opinion, meaning it cannot be cited as legal precedent, Schwartzbach said he would consider an appeal to the California Supreme Court.
Eric Dubin, the attorney for the Bakley family, said he was pleased with the ruling and believes the $15 million award, with interest, will come to about $24 million. He said he thinks he can collect, although Blake has declared bankruptcy.
"I see every reason to accept it and be happy about it," Dubin said. "We are going to start collecting."
Schwartzbach said he knows of no Blake assets that would satisfy such a judgment.
"I don't believe Mr. Dubin in good faith can believe what he's saying," Schwartzbach said. "If Robert had money he would be paying me."