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Ourweekly top news stories of 2012


Forum went under new ownership
A $50 million renovation is planned
City News Service

The owners of Madison Square Garden have developed an ambitious plan to turn the faded Forum into an entertainment juggernaut that would challenge the region’s big arenas, including Staples Center and its owner, the politically connected AEG.

MSG, as the company is known, paid $23.5 million for the Forum and started work this year on a $50-million renovation, the Los Angeles Times reported. Details were to be released in the fall, but the makeover is intended to turn the Forum into a top-flight concert hall and will take at least a year, MSG President Hank Ratner said in remarks reported by the newspaper.

The Forum once was Southern California’s preeminent entertainment venue. But the famous round building fell on hard times after the Lakers and Kings moved downtown, and venues in up-and-coming neighborhoods nabbed the concert business. In the end, the Forum was bought by the Faithful Central Bible Church for $22 million in 2000.

A revitalized Forum would provide an economic lift to Inglewood but faced competition from other entertainment venues amid a challenging climate in the concert business. The owners of Staples Center said they didn’t fear a rivalry with the East Coast impresarios. They were quick to raise questions about the security of the neighborhood surrounding the Forum and dismissed it as a ‘class B’ venue, The Times reported.

Man, 37, found innocent after 19 years in prison

John Edward Smith exonerated in 1993 murder

City News Service
A Los Angeles judge threw out the conviction and prison sentence of a man who spent 19 years behind bars for a 1993 gang-related killing, after the key witness against him admitted lying.

John Edward Smith, now 37, was convicted of murder and attempted murder for the drive-by shooting and, in 1994, was sentenced to life in prison.

The Torrance-based public interest law firm, Innocence Matters, took the case in 2010 and contacted witness Landu Mvuemba, who immediately recanted his testimony, saying his identification of Smith in a photo lineup was the result of police pressure, defense attorney Deirdre O’Connor said. Cheers and applause rang out in a crowded downtown courtroom as Superior Court Judge Patricia M. Schnegg granted Smith’s petition for release.

“Congratulations,” the judge told the defendant and his family, adding that the district attorney’s office “did the right thing” by showing no opposition. The evidence in support of Smith’s release is “reliable,” and the petition “must be granted,” Schnegg said.

Outside court, the defense attorney, surrounded by Smith’s family members, said the release was “a long time coming.” O’Connor said Smith maintained his innocence throughout the years in prison, and always claimed he was at his grandmother’s home at the time of the shooting. She said both Smith and Mvuemba underwent repeated polygraph tests confirming Smith’s claim of innocence.

“The more I dug in, the more troubled I became,” the attorney said. As for the original lawyers who handled Smith’s defense, as well as the initial prosecution which won the conviction, O’Connor said she “doesn’t have much good to say about anyone who handled the case early on.”

Agreement reached to sell Dodgers to Magic Johnson group for $2 billion

McCourt chooses Guggenheim Baseball Management
The Los Angeles Dodgers announced they have reached an agreement to be acquired by a group led by Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson for $2 billion, the highest price for a professional sports team.

Outgoing owner Frank McCourt and certain affiliates of the purchasers would also be forming a joint venture which would acquire the land surrounding Dodger Stadium for an additional $150 million.

“This transaction underscores the debtors’ objective to maximize the value of their estate and to emerge from Chapter 11 under a successful plan of reorganization, under which all creditors are paid in full,” according to a statement from the Dodgers.

In an auction under the auspices of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, McCourt chose the group officially known as Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC over St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and a partnership of hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen and biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.

“I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles,” said Johnson, who helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships during his Hall of Fame career.

Johnson was expected to be involved in all aspects of the Dodger franchise, said a source close to the action. He would also have an office at Dodger Stadium.

The bulk of the funding to buy the Dodgers came from Guggenheim Partners, a global financial services firm, the Times reported.

Mark R. Walter, the chief executive officer of Guggenheim Partners, is the controlling partner of Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC. However, he was not expected to play a significant role in the day-to-day operation of the team, the Times reported.

In addition to Johnson, the group also includes former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten; Peter Guber, chairman and chief executive officer of the Mandalay Entertainment Group, which produces movies and owns a portion of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors; Bobby Patton and Todd Boehly.

The Dodgers would be run by Kasten, according to the Times.