LOS ANGELES — Lois Goodman was walking out of a hotel on her way to judge a U.S. Open tennis match in New York in 2012 when police swept in to handcuff and arrest her in front of news cameras.
The charge was murder and the victim was her husband of a half-century, Alan Goodman, who had been found dead in their Los Angeles home four months earlier.
It would be another four months before Los Angeles prosecutors acknowledged that they didn’t have a case and dropped the charges. Six years later, Lois Goodman is still fighting to reclaim the reputation that was tarnished by the legal ordeal.
Goodman goes to federal court Wednesday for trial in her lawsuit claiming the Los Angeles coroner’s office deprived her civil rights by falsifying the autopsy report.
She says Deputy Medical Examiner Yulai Wang didn’t follow procedure when he changed the cause of death on Alan Goodman’s death certificate from an accident to a homicide without explanation.
Wang and the coroner’s office have denied the allegations. Wang still works for the county coroner, but spokesman Ed Winter declined to comment on the lawsuit. Attorneys in the case are under a court order not to comment until a jury is seated.
The change in cause of death led to a murder charge and the sensational arrest that included footage of Goodman being driven away in a New York City police squad car.
Police said Goodman bludgeoned her husband with a coffee mug. Her lawyers said the 80-year-old, who was legally blind, tripped and fell down stairs at home while she was officiating a college tennis match and getting a manicure on April 17, 2012.
She returned home that evening to find him dead in bed. A shattered coffee mug was found at the bottom of the stairs.
The charges were dropped in December 2012 after Goodman passed a lie detector test and two other experts retained by prosecutors reviewed the autopsy report and concluded the death was an accident.
Dr. Frank Sheridan, San Bernardino County chief medical examiner, said parts of Wang’s autopsy report were extremely "below standard," according to court records.
There were no blood spatters that would have been consistent with a beating, none of Lois Goodman’s DNA was on the mug and none of her husband’s blood was found on the clothing she wore that day.
Goodman wants to have the coroner change the cause of death on the death certificate to an accident. She also wants $100,000 that she spent on lawyers, bail and other expenses as well as unspecified damages for the emotional toll of the arrest.
Goodman, 76, originally sued the Los Angeles Police Department and the detectives who investigated the case, along with the coroner’s office and Wang. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case against the coroner’s office and Wang.
The appeals court ruled 2-1 to dismiss the case against the police because they relied on the conclusion of the coroner. A dissenting judge said the LAPD should have still faced the lawsuit.
Goodman, who knew she was being investigated by police, had offered to surrender if they planned to charge her. She alleged that detectives misled a judge who signed her arrest warrant so they could detain her in New York in front of news cameras.
Before a court order not to discuss the case, attorney Robert Sheahen said Goodman had been "railroaded."
In the lawsuit, Sheahen noted that Goodman suffers daily and has lost work because of the blow to her reputation.
"The public humiliation is unending," the lawsuit said. "There are whispers and pointed fingers wherever she goes — whether it be to a delicatessen, the Topanga Mall or a tennis match."