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COURTHOUSE KILLING SUIT THROWN OUT.

Byline: Janet Gilmore Daily News Staff Writer

Relatives of a Woodland Hills woman who was fatally shot in the Los Angeles County civil courthouse in 1995 lost in their bid Wednesday to hold the county responsible for her death.

Eileen Zelig's estate sued the county, claiming that the lack of courthouse security contributed to her death.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Commissioner Emilie Elias threw out the wrongful-death claim. Elias agreed with county attorneys, whose arguments included that the state law protects the county from such lawsuits.

Eileen Zelig was in the downtown courthouse for a divorce-related hearing when her former husband, Dr. Harry Zelig, killed her in the hallway as their 6-year-old daughter watched.

Harry Zelig was convicted of first-degree murder last month and faces 25 years to life in prison. The ruling Wednesday does not end the estate's claim against him.

Melissa Widdifield, the attorney representing Eileen Zelig's estate, contends that the county was significantly responsible for Zelig's death for a number of reasons including its failure to install metal detectors or take other safety precautions.

The North Hill Street courthouse has signs warning that firearms are banned from the building. But no metal detectors or other devices are used to screen courthouse visitors and 17 entrances and exits allow people to enter and exit the building without scrutiny.

Widdifield said she plans to appeal the ruling.

``We feel very strongly that the county is responsible here,'' she said.

County attorney Dennis Gonzales could not be reached for comment. But in court papers, he said the county had no special legal duty to protect Eileen Zelig while she was in the courthouse - especially because she expressed no fears for her safety the day she was killed.

A judge may have been aware of Harry Zelig's previous threatening letters or phone calls to his former wife, Gonzales conceded. But, he wrote, ``A couple of phone calls over a period of three years does not make the county the grand protector of hundreds of thousands of individuals who come into family court and express that they fear their spouse one year and say nothing the next.''

Further, Gonzales argued that that Eileen Zelig was in jeopardy regardless of whether she was in the courthouse or on the street.

``The county had no knowledge of any danger and did not create the domestic problems which had already existed between Zelig and Eileen.''
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 13, 1997
Words:400
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