Class-Action Suit Seeks Judicial Back Pay

California judges are owed back pay and pension increases because their salaries did not keep pace with state worker compensation as required by law, according to a class action lawsuit filed by a recently retired judge. Robert Mallano, a former presiding judge of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in January, according to the PublicCEO website.
At a meeting of state officials this month where the lawsuit was discussed, Alan Milligan, California’s chief actuary, said there is no formal estimate of the cost if the suit prevails. He said “most or all” of a $97 million liability gain, mainly due to lower salaries, likely would be lost. “How it plays out over time in the contribution rate, that’s a bit more difficult,” Milligan said. “I would have to do a bit of work to calculate that.”

You can read the report here.

N.C. Essay Notes CA Juvenile Justice

A Charlotte, NC, newspaper essay is citing a pair of California cases – one famous and historical, the other less famous and current – as examples why and how young African-American men have “skeptical” feelings about the justice system. Corey Arvin, writing in the Black Voice News and carried by The Charlotte Post, asserts that “today’s young African-Americans are not more skeptical of their value” in the justice system, they are just the latest to be aware of that disparity.
Arvin cites recent high-profile national cases like Trayvon Martin and the Michael Dunn “loud music” case, quoting University of California Professor Brenda Stevenson saying “… these aren’t just the opening of new wounds, it’s a combination of fresh and old wounds for African Americans.”
Stevenson is the author of a book about the killing of Latasha Harlins, a; 1991 case from South Los Angeles. She says such cases just continue the generational culture, noting that the Harlins case is among those recalled during events like the Martin trial.
In a state where the judicial system is choosing to close important community courthouses including facilities vital to juvenile justice, the essay should make your weekend reading list. Click here to read the essay. 

Civil Dept. Supervisor Seeks Asst. Presiding Post

The supervisor of the L.A. Superior Court civil department is a candidate for assistant presiding judge, becoming the first judge to declare for the fall election. After two years, that position would typically lead to an unopposed advancement to presiding judge. The candidacy is being reported in The Metropolitan News-Enterprise.
The MetNews website also published part of Daniel J. Buckley’s letter to other judges: “As the Supervising Judge of Civil during the consolidation of the past year, I have worked closely with…[Presiding Judge] Dave Wesley and [Assistant Presiding Judge] Carolyn Kuhl and have spent the great majority of my time in planning and implementing the changes we have undergone. There is still much to do as our court moves forward.”
According to the report, Buckley was appointed to the court in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis and, at the time of his appointment, was managing partner in the law firm then known as Breidenbach, Buckley, Huchting & Hamblet, where he represented defendants in tort and environmental litigation. Read the MetNews coverage here.


‘Alternative’ Judge’s Group Gaining Momentum?

A judicial group that has been critical of the current court management seems to be gaining some momentum after successfully supporting a legislative audit of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), drawing a crowd to its second annual conference in Los Angeles, partnering with a major university for that conference and gaining strong coverage in The Courthouse News.
The CN reported last week that “… the 500-member Alliance of California Judges conference was enlivened with at-times feverish energy, bolstered by a legislative committee’s recent approval of a financial audit examining the Administrative Office of the Courts and how it spends public money. Alliance members had lobbied for the audit, a campaign born out of the AOC’s ability to insulate a large staff and give the staff raises while trial courts were making draconian budget cuts, laying off workers and closing courtrooms.”
The CN quoted judges who called the event a “milestone” and it also reported that some out-of-state speakers were surprised to find out how difficult the courts situation has become in California. The conference included participation from George Mason University, and you can check out the CN coverage here

Juvenile Advocates Highlight Flaws In System



The advocacy website Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has posted a significant report detailing problems with how Los Angeles County provides legal representation for juveniles who cannot afford their own lawyer. 
The report notes that “… the problem is particularly serious in Los Angeles County, one of the world’s largest juvenile justice systems, where a controversial low-bid, flat fee compensation system for attorneys representing certain indigent youth raises systemic due process concerns. Under that system, contract attorneys — such as the one who represented Antonio, are paid an astonishingly low fee of $300 to $350 per case, regardless of whether the case involves shoplifting or murder. This is in a city where private lawyers are costly. Criminal defense attorney fees in Los Angeles can easily exceed $500 an hour.”
One suggestion is that the juvenile system work more like the adult system in Los Angeles where defendants are represented by attorneys from an alternate public defender’s office or by private attorneys paid an hourly rate based on the complexity of the case and seriousness of the offense – not the flat fee.
You can see the report here.

Top Ten Takeaways from Perrin Conference in L.A.

Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten immediate take-aways from the “Cutting-Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation Conference” organized by the Perrin Conferences company. The Perrin conferences are different from most legal-issues gatherings because they include several points of view, being attended by plaintiff attorneys, civil defense attorneys and even issue-specific judges.
The two-day conference was held March 17 and 18 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California and drew more than 100 attorneys from across the country.
See the list:
10. Lung cancer is a growth area for asbestos litigation. Panelists explained that we should expect from 6,000 to 7,000 new asbestos-related lung cancer cases per year. New York Judge Sherry Klein Heitler, a panelist in the “emerging trends” discussion, said that “… the reality is that we just do not have the money” to deal with the new cases.
9. These lung cases will include smokers, even those with extensive tobacco use histories. One panelist predicted that the expanding case volume and reduced court capacity will likely lead to more consolidation, where multiple cases are handled together.

Civil Rights Becoming Key Budget Argument

Stepping up her intensity from previous references, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is pushing civil rights as a key argument for court funding increases, echoing comments from labor activists and others – and she’s including civil courts access along with the more high-profile (and obvious) criminal court problems.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

The chief justice, in an address to state lawmakers, even put the number of California residents “deprived” of access to justice at 2 million and said the state was on the verge of what she called  civil rights crisis. Another talking point quote: “It’s tragic that 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, California faces a different type of civil rights crisis. It is not about the law. It is about access to it.”

The chief justice’s comments are getting broad play around the state, and even the Los Angeles Times, which has not exactly been a leader in the court crisis coverage, took note. You can see the Times story here

Cutting-Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation Conference

The Perrin Conference at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel ended yesterday (Tuesday, March 18). California asbestos judges from both Los Angeles and San Francisco participated. The CCM staff attended the conference and we will post an original summary of the conversations on later this week.  


Bankruptcy, Court Capacity Headline Asbestos Conference

An ongoing North Carolina bankruptcy case cast a 2,413-mile-long shadow across the big Perrin Conference on “cutting-edge asbestos issues” being held in Los Angeles this week, with one panelist calling a recent order in the case “the most significant change” in asbestos litigation in a decade, while another said everybody needs to “slow down, take a deep breath and wait for the outcome.”
Court capacity was another hot issue, with conference panelists connecting dots from bankrupt companies to increased caseloads to nearly bankrupt courts. A New York City judge who handles asbestos there warned that there are not enough resources to handle the expected increase, and another panelist pointed out that the average asbestos case take more time than typical civil cases: twice as much time for a judge and four times more time for court staff.
The bankruptcy case being talked about in the hallways and across panels is called “Garlock” and involves a North Carolina company. and the long shadow comes from a scathing judge’s order that noted issues involving bankruptcy trusts. Such court-approved trusts are set up to pay ongoing claims, and the judge found that some firms are apparently withholding evidence during litigation but still filing against the trust. Such evidence of other asbestos exposures can be vital to a defendant trying to prove they were either not at fault or at lesser fault.
The Perrin Conference continues today (Tuesday, March 18) at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with California asbestos judges from both Los Angeles and San Francisco scheduled to participate. (Programming note: The CCM is staffing the conference will post an original summary of the conversations later this week. Publisher Sara Warner has also published her take on the Garlock issue in the Huffington Post.)

Fighting Over Those Three Little Words

In the non-campaign yawn-fest that is the usual Los Angeles Superior Court judicial election, the most vital strategy doesn’t involve talking points or focus groups. Instead, the big deal is how candidates are identified on the ballot. It seems “prosecutor” is a coveted title. 

Or even a “Deputy City Prosecutor.” The MetNews is reporting that B. Otis Felder, who is running for the judgeship being vacated by Michael Nash, is arguing that he can use that delegation because he was a full-time prosecutor in the “Volunteer Attorney Training Program” run by the L.A. City Attorney’s office. Responding to critics, he said that volunteer work is prosecutor enough. Critics say there may be a formal complaint to change the designation.

Another interesting candidate is Pamala F. Matsumoto, who is self-identified as an “Administrative Law Judge,” and is one of the former Superior Court referees dismissed during the 2012 budget cuts.

Here’s the MetNews report.

Here’s the new Los Angeles Times election coverage page, which offers a broad election story and mentions the Superior Court election only once, and then to dismiss it.