Availability issues caused a judge today to declare a mistrial in actress Robyn Cohen's negligence case against Donald Sterling, stemming from a 2009 fire that destroyed her apartment as well as those of other tenants who lived in a West Hollywood building owned by the Clippers owner.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin granted a motion by Sterling's attorney, Guy Gruppie, to call an end to the trial just as opening statements were about to begin.
Gruppie said Sterling would be unable to be present for several days because his wife, Rochelle, hurt a knee while the team was recently in China during the exhibition season and the couple was still in that country while she recuperates.
Melissa Yoon, one of Cohen's attorneys, told the judge her client reluctantly agreed not to oppose the mistrial motion because she feared there could be a similar motion later if the case went forward and Sterling maintained his rights were impacted.
However, Yoon said Cohen is "highly suspicious" about Rochelle Sterling's knee sprain because the defense has produced no medical reports.
Yoon also said the delay could cause problems with Cohen's audition schedule. Cohen is best known for her role in Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."
MacLaughlin ordered the attorneys back Oct. 25 for a trial-setting conference and said he hopes to start the trial in mid or late November. He said he expects Sterling to be available during that time period.
"I would not look favorably on delaying or rescheduling this trial for convenience," the judge said.
After sitting outside nearly two hours waiting to hear opening statements, MacLaughlin called jurors into the courtroom and told them the mistrial was called because arrangements could not be made to get Sterling to court for the trial. After he thanked them for their services, they walked past a smiling Cohen and as they left the courtroom.
The fire occurred Sept. 28, 2009, in the 54-unit apartment building owned by Sterling at 888 W. Knoll Drive. Cohen alleges Sterling failed to keep the building in a habitable condition and that the alarm did not sound at the time of the fire, which was caused by an electrical problem.
Along with negligence, Cohen's claims include breach of the warranty of habitability, intentional infliction of emotional distress and recovery of her property damage.
Several other tenants who were victims of the fire also sued Sterling, but settled. They included actress Kim Webster, who played the secretary Ginger for several seasons on "The West Wing."