Okay for Jury to Hear Anti-Japanese Remarks at Federal Fraud Trial?

A Newport Coast-tied businessman who alleged that a multi-million-dollar verdict against him was “irredeemably tainted” because a federal judge wrongly allowed jurors to know he’d called the plaintiff a “Jap” and a “dumb ass devil” with crazed World War II kamikaze pilot instincts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this month observed that a judge should exclude evidence “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice” but ruled against defendant Mark Whitehead.

“The disparaging remarks in this case were properly admitted because they were highly relevant to contested issues at the trial,” presidentially-appointed judges Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Carlos Bea and Thomas O. Rice wrote in their five-page opinion.

Specifically, the appellate panel determined, as did U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton, that the “racist comments” undermined the credibility of Whitehead’s trial testimony asserting he’d always acted in the best interests for Okada, his onetime, Huntington Beach-based real estate investment partner who sued in 2014 with allegations he’d been cheated.

According to court records, the two men formed Beverly Hillbillys LLC and Cheap as Chips LLC., which purchased property in Orange County, Beverly Hills plus a $10 million mansion called “Lions Gate” in the Dominic Republic.

Whitehead, who once lived in an ocean-view $4.5 million Newport Coast house purchased by the partnership, also objected to another of Staton’s rulings concerning a breach of contract issue, but the panel said that even he was right, jurors found “three other independent grounds” for finding against him.

According to the court, the defendant leased out the 10-bedroom and 12-bath Lions Gate for $400,000 in profit while ignoring a $950,000 debt to Okada, a debt Staton said Whitehead no intention of paying.

The decision leaves in place a 2017 jury verdict that requires Whitehead pay significant damages to Okada: $1.5 million in principle, $55,000 in interest, $83,000 in costs and $569,000 in attorney fees.

A year ago, Staton sent Whitehead to federal prison for committing criminal contempt of her orders after he refused to  surrender Lions Gate proceeds to Okada.

He’s now a resident of the federal detention center in Miami.

Prison records show the 67-year-old Whitehead is scheduled for release on July 25, 2019.

In Feb., a Ninth Circuit panel based in Pasadena will hear his appeal of the imprisonment.

Attorneys at Gaw/Poe LLP, the firm that represented Okada in the civil trial inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, have called the defendant “a criminal, plain and simple.”

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