Departures, arrivals and advertisements?

A local billboard company lost a court ruling this month in a case in which it claims that palm trees and lighted pylons placed by the city of Los Angeles obstructed its billboards along Century Boulevard.

In a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Regency Outdoor Advertising Inc. claimed that the city violated a section of the state constitution when it planted palm trees on the north side of the street and in the median, thus blocking the visibility of six of its billboards leading into Los Angeles International Airport.

As a result, the billboard company claims to have lost $6.1 million in potential revenue.

Under the state constitution, the owner of private property that has been "taken or damaged for public use" must be compensated, the ruling says. The state constitution defines "taken or damaged" to mean physically damaging or intruding on the property.

The West Hollywood-based company also claims that the city violated California's Outdoor Advertising Act, which protects advertising displays from being removed by public entities without permission.

In November 2001, the city of L.A. had offered to pay Regency $1,000 and remove one of the trees to settle the case. Regency did not accept the offer.

On Feb. 17, a 2nd Appellate panel agreed with the earlier ruling of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that the billboard company may not receive compensation for lost visibility.

"The statute addresses removal, or interference with use or maintenance, not impairment of visibility," the panel wrote in the ruling. "Since the city did not require removal of the signs, or limit their use or maintenance, it had no statutory obligation to compensation Regency."

Calls to the City Attorney's Office were not returned.

Regency's attorney, Michael Berger, a partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, said he plans to petition the California Supreme Court.

"By planting these fully matured trees smack in front of the billboards, the city took away Regency's right to have its property seen from the street," he said.
Regency was also denied its claims for $104,145 in legal costs, including $83,295 in expert witness fees.

Sour Apple

A local attorney and a law firm were disqualified from a potential consumer class action case against Apple Computer Inc. because the named plaintiff was represented by his own law firm and another lawyer "closely associated" with him.

Lawrence Cagney, an attorney at Westrup Klick & Associates in Long Beach, had filed a lawsuit in January 2004 on behalf of himself and a potential class of consumers who purchased Apple printers with a $99 rebate in 2003. In the suit, he argues that he and other consumers should not have paid the $8 sales tax on the rebate.

He sought a refund under the state's unfair business practices statute, plus attorneys' fees.

Apple sought to disqualify Cagney's law firm and another attorney representing him, Allan Sigel, on grounds that they stood to benefit more from legal fees than they would from any potential recovery and so would have a conflict.

Apple cited 10 class action cases from 2003 to 2004 in which a Westrup Klick attorney or a relative of one of the attorneys was one of the named plaintiffs.

"We thought that not only these lawyers but other lawyers are abusing the class process by not having a true client," said Apple's attorney, Rich Ruben, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop LLP. "They go next door to their lawyer or their law firm or their wife, and that's the plaintiff. The court agreed with us."

On Feb. 17, a 2nd Appellate panel concluded in a published opinion that an "insurmountable conflict of interest exists" in the case. Sigel said his client would petition the California Supreme Court.

"Mr. Cagney has announced he will find other counsel, and this case will continue," he said.

Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at .

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