Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who owns a portfolio of Los Angeles apartment buildings, may end up paying more than $5 million in attorney fees to a non-profit organization that sued him for discriminating against blacks and Hispanics.


The Housing Rights Center, which filed suit in 2003, also claims that Sterling evicted several non-Korean tenants of two apartment buildings he owns in Koreatown.


While no judge or jury ever decided whether those claims were true, Sterling has had to pay out several times. In December, he was ordered to pay more than $30,000 $9,500 to the court and $22,450 to the attorneys of the Housing Rights Center for refusing to disclose his net worth in the case. In April, Sterling agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle most of the suit, leaving the attorney fees in question, according to court documents.


Now the Housing Rights Center is seeking more than $5 million in attorney fees, according to Liam Garland, a lawyer for the Housing Rights Center. He refused to comment further on the case.


Sterling's lawyer, Bob Platt, a partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, declined to comment on the case, but pointed out a separate case in which a Los Angeles jury verdict relieved Sterling of sexual harassment claims made by one of his former employees. The employee, a property supervisor who oversaw his apartments, had claimed she was fired for resisting his sexual advances.


"The jury said there was no merit to any of the plaintiff's allegations," Platt said. "This case was a big case."


Bad Seats
A federal judge is set to approve a settlement later this month that would force the owner of the Kodak Theatre to retrofit the wheelchair seating, ramps and height of bar counters to accommodate the disabled.


In 2002, the Western Law Center for Disability Rights sued on behalf of Elizabeth Bancroft, who had attended a Melissa Etheridge concert at the venue. Paralyzed from the waist down, Bancroft alleged that she paid full price for a wheelchair-accessible seat and ended up with one that was cramped, sloped and obstructed by other concert-goers.


"They made serious inexcusable mistakes," said Eve Hill, a lawyer for the Western Law Center who sued the theater owner for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


She said the theater lacks 25 wheelchair-accessible seats that should have been available, given its size. The Kodak Theatre now has 12 such seats.


At the time the suit was filed, TrizecHahn Corp. owned the theater in the Hollywood & Highland complex. In 2004, CIM Group Inc. purchased Hollywood & Highland from TrizecHahn and agreed to settle the ongoing litigation two months ago. As part of the settlement, CIM is expected to pay between $500,000 and $1 million to install different seating, adjust the bar counters and change the ramps, according to sources familiar with the settlement.


CIM has also sued the theater's subcontractors in a case that is still pending. Susan Germaise, a lawyer at Van Etten Susumoto & Becket LLP who represents CIM, did not return calls.


The original architect of the theater and one of the defendants sued by the CIM Group claims it followed ADA requirements when designing and constructing the building.


"But the ADA is a very complicated area," said Mehrdad Farivar, a partner with Morris Polich & Purdy LLP, who represents Los Angeles-based Altoon & Porter Architects LLP. "There are gray areas, some of which may have developed after this theater was built, that caused a dispute in the interpretation of the ADA. That is what has led to this lawsuit."


Shutting Down
A judge has ordered a Los Angeles-based Web site that helps consumers find free copyrighted music to stop advertising that its downloadable software is not illegal.


Last month, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against mp3downloadcity.com, alleging that it sells $24.95 software as a licensed service to access digital music, movies and computer games. The Web site assures consumers in its advertising that the software is legal.


The FTC alleges that the software actually allows consumers to access free file-sharing sites such as Kazaa and Blubster.


Comings & Goings
Foley & Lardner LLP has hired a new vice-chairwoman of its intellectual property litigation practice group in Los Angeles. Carole Handler, who also will be a partner in the entertainment and media industry group, comes from Thelen Reid & Priest LLP... Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP has added a former Ernst & Young partner to its tax and trusts and estate planning group in Los Angeles. Joseph Doloboff, once head of the West Coast tax practice of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, advised middle-market companies on mergers and acquisitions while at the accounting firm.


*Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .

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