A judge Monday awarded $35,000 in attorneys' fees to the county of Riverside for successfully arguing First Amendment grounds in opposing a camp ranger's efforts to obtain reward money stemming from former Los Angeles police Officer Christopher Dorner's revenge rampage.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White had previously dismissed the part of plaintiff Richard Heltebrake's case against the city of Riverside, saying she was not convinced that the municipality was contractually obligated to pay Heltebrake. She said the Riverside City Charter requires a written agreement approved by the mayor and City Council to substantiate such a claim.
Riverside police Officer Michael Crain, a Beaumont resident, was killed and one of his colleagues was injured while Dorner was a fugitive.
Dorner died Feb. 12, 2013, from a self-inflicted gunshot in a law enforcement standoff as a cabin burned down around him in the San Bernardino Mountains community of Angelus Oaks near Big Bear Lake.
Heltebrake maintains in a lawsuit filed last April 29 that he deserves the money because his 911 call helped alert authorities to Dorner's whereabouts.
In a related action Monday, White denied a motion by lawyers for the city of Irvine to dismiss Heltebrake's claims against that city. Lawyers for Irvine maintained the lawsuit infringed upon the exercise of free speech involving an issue of public interest, the same legal grounds through which attorneys for the city of Los Angeles and the county of Riverside successfully obtained dismissal of all claims against those entities. However, White said that in Irvine's case, the City Council's adoption of a resolution approving a contribution to the reward fund occurred a month after Dorner died. She said the issue was no longer a matter of public interest as was the case with the other claims.
"It's a question of timing," White said.
Heltebrake's attorney, Gordon Stuart, said he was pleased with today's ruling, which leaves the city of Irvine as the only government entity still in the case. However, Heltebrake is appealing the dismissal of the parts of the case against the cities of Los Angeles and Riverside, as well as Riverside County.
Dorner, who lived with his mother in La Palma, promised warfare on LAPD officers and their families for what he believed was his unjustified firing. The 33-year-old Navy reserve officer killed four people, including two law enforcement officers, during his nearly one-week run from authorities.
– City News Service.