An actress who said she lost most of her belongings in a 2009 fire at a West Hollywood apartment building owned by billionaire Donald Sterling told a jury Friday that she had to wait eight years to get her security deposit back.
Testifying in her lawsuit against the former Los Angeles Clippers owner, Robyn Cohen said she was denied her deposit after the Sept. 28, 2009, blaze. She said a check wasn’t sent to her lawyer’s office until this year.
“I think it was gross,” Cohen said. “I think it was mocking.”
This is the second Los Angeles Superior Court trial of Cohen’s case against Sterling. The first ended in December 2012 with a $17.3 million judgment in favor of Cohen, but Judge William MacLaughlin ordered a new trial on all issues in 2013.
The fire occurred in a 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 system was not operating properly at the time of the fire, caused by an electrical problem in a heater fan in another unit.
Kim Webster, a cast member of “The West Wing,” also lived in the building. She and several other tenants also sued Sterling in January 2010, but settled with him before the first trial.
According to Cohen, she lost her furniture and nearly everything else in the blaze, yet was offered no relocation assistance from management. She said that during a post-fire visit to her unit to try and salvage what she could, the on-site manager, Lauricia Bustamante, demanded she pay rent for the month after the fire — even though the city had declared her unit uninhabitable — or she could face eviction.
“I was horrified that Sterling was trying to extract money from me,” she said.
Cohen — who had a role in the Wes Anderson film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” starring Bill Murray and Owen Wilson — said Bustamante also told her she had to move into another unit in the building.
“I did not accept another unit,” Cohen said. “I had just been in a horrific fire in that building where no fire alarms went off. I didn’t want to set foot back in that building.”
Cohen said she moved to the East Coast for a role in the Starz comedy “Gravity.” She said she also spent whatever time she could in Massachusetts with her terminally ill brother, a teacher and writer who died of a brain tumor in January 2010.
Cohen said she later returned to Los Angeles with her mother, who was separated at the time from the actress’ father.
“I felt like I was trying to start life from scratch,” Cohen said. “It was very challenging to rebuild a life from nothing.”
Cohen said she and her mother looked at more than 100 apartments and found many of the properties also were owned by Sterling.
“I would never live in a building owned by him again,” Cohen said.
She said she finally settled on a unit in Studio City where she lives to this day and currently pays about $2,000 a month rent.
Cohen said she was working in Cleveland in 2015 when she was diagnosed with clinically isolated syndrome, which can be a prelude to multiple sclerosis. She said doctors prescribed an immunosuppressive drug and that her symptoms are under control.