L.A. Unlikely to Shake Off Brutality Award

     (CN) – Eight years after the death of Mauricio Cornejo sparked heated debates about police brutality and gang violence in a Los Angeles housing project, the Ninth Circuit seemed unlikely Wednesday to let procedural concerns topple the verdict.
     Cornejo was found unresponsive in his cell and pronounced dead on Feb. 3, 2007, shortly after he was arrested outside the Ramona Gardens housing project.
     The city’s appellate brief claims that police had pulled Cornejo over for a broken taillight and that the man happened to identify himself as a member of the Big Hazard street gang who “was a parolee at large, with an outstanding ‘no bail’ felony warrant for his arrest.”
     Cornejo’s family meanwhile claims that officers shattered the tail light as a pretext for making the arrest.
     It is undisputed that Cornejo fled, but the family claims that police beat the man to death with batons once they caught him and put him in handcuffs to “teach” him a “lesson.”
     A trial over the family’s consolidated lawsuits ended with a federal jury mostly blaming the officers’ use of unreasonable force for Cornejo’s death.
     Cornejo’s drug use played a role as well, the jury found, holding the deceased 42.5 percent responsible for his death on April 25, 2012.
     The city’s appeal of the $3.2 million verdict went before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Wednesday in Pasadena.
     Claiming that only the personal representative of Cornejo’s estate has the right to bring a survival claim under California law, the city’s attorney, Amy Field, focused her argument on whether Cornejo’s children have standing.
     The judges shredded this argument quickly, however, noting that no other party is attempting to claim the jury’s award.
     “The practical problem is you lost the case,” Judge Ferdinand Francisco Fernandez told Field.
     She countered: “The practical problem is we didn’t have a party that had standing to be before this court.”
     Downplaying the city’s “highly technical argument,” Judge Richard Clifton proposed resolving the issue by substituting Cornejo’s estate as the proper party.
     Bristling at the idea, Field said: “This is a court that’s supposed to be governed by rules.”
     “It shouldn’t be, ‘Whoops, I made a mistake, I should get a do-over,'” she added.
     While the judges aggressively questioned the city’s lawyer, the panel had few questions for the attorney for Cornejo’s survivors, who argued that standing should not be an issue.
     “These minors lost their father,” Paul Hoffman, of the Venice, Calif.-based firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman, said. “Their father was killed. That’s clearly injury-in-fact.”
     The panel reserved decision on the appeal.

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