For much of the past decade, once-dominant West Coast gangsta rap label Death Row Records has been on life support. On Thursday, a Los Angeles judge may have finally pulled the plug.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian told label co-founder Marion "Suge" Knight that he is prepared to take control of all of Knight's assets, including Death Row, after determining that Knight had avoided paying a $107 million civil judgment won by a former business partner, according to a Reuters report.
Sohigian said Knight could avoid the order if he fully disclosed his assets in a debtor's exam scheduled for April 1. Otherwise, the judge would appoint a court officer to take over Knight's finances after he said the rap impresario failed to pay off the $107 million judgment awarded last March to Lydia Harris, who claimed Knight cheated her out of a 50 percent stake in the label (see "Suge Ordered To Pay $107 Million To Ex-Death Row Partner").
"Because he had a long history of deceiving the court and avoiding payment, I asked the court to appoint a receiver to take over," Harris' attorney, Rex Julian Beaber, said according to Reuters. "If Knight cooperates in providing the information, he can ask the court to remove the receiver. But I don't think there's a chance in hell Knight is going to cooperate."
Beaber claimed that Knight, 40, had spent the past year "playing games" in court to avoid paying the judgment. "There has been a very, very protracted history of difficulty in the case," Sohigian said. Death Row, once home to Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakur, has crumbled over the past decade due to the defection of its biggest talent, Shakur's 1996 murder and a pair of prison stints by Knight that effectively stalled the label's momentum.
Things haven't been easier since his release, as Knight was shot in the leg at a party thrown by Kanye West in Miami in August and less than 24 hours later, had his assets frozen when he was named an "interested party" in the Harris'
Michael Harris, a convicted drug dealer serving a 28-year term at San Quentin State Prison, claims he's entitled to half of his wife's $107 million judgment. According to The Associated Press, Michael Harris filed for divorce in June 2005 when he learned his wife was engaged in settlement negotiations with Suge.
Knight's lawyer, Dermot Givens, said Sohigian had not formally signed the order seizing Knight's assets and he expected it to be overturned by providing proof that Knight and Harris had reached a settlement in the case.
"In May of 2005, [Lydia Harris] received a million dollars and rights to various music, and she signed a settlement agreement," Givens told Reuters. He claimed Harris was trying to back out of that settlement under pressure from ex-husband Michael, who would be entitled to share in the original $107 million judgment.
Beaber and a lawyer for Michael Harris, Steven Goldberg, said there was no such agreement. Goldberg predicted Knight would end up losing control of his record label.
"I think it's a death knell for Death Row," Goldberg said.