California Ruling Allows ‘Default’ Homeowners To Sue Over Foreclosure

Experts said it’s highly unlikely that former homeowners could unravel their foreclosures and win back their houses. Above, advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment holds a news conference in Carson in 2012. (Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Experts said it’s highly unlikely that former homeowners could unravel their foreclosures and win back their houses. Above, advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment holds a news conference in Carson in 2012. (Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In a landmark decision, the California Supreme Court has ruled that some former homeowners can sue for wrongful foreclosure even if they were in default on their loans. A Los Angeles Times story quotes Katherine Porter, a law professor at UC Irvine and a former monitor for a national settlement over foreclosure abuses: “They opened the courthouse doors.”

During the recent home foreclosure crisis, tales of “robo-signing” emerged when employees of mortgage firms signed off on foreclosure documents even though they had no authority to do so. Troubled borrowers were often bounced around to various employees who gave different answers. The court ruled, in effect, that homeowners facing the resulting chaos may have been wrongly evicted – previously, courts had ruled that those people had no standing because they were in default on their loans.

It remains unclear how many people will be effected, but experts told the Times that it might be tens of thousands. California now joins other states where such challenges are allowed, including Ohio, Massachusetts and Texas. Read the Times story here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foreclosure-ruling-20160302-story.html

California Leads Way On Allowing ‘Organic’ Label Lawsuits

More states are expected to allow mislabeling lawsuits involving products labeled “organic” in the wake of a California Supreme Court decision. The Golden State’s unanimous ruling, explains the Associated Press, “… overturned a lower court decision that barred such suits on the grounds that they were superseded by federal law.”

The report in Salon.com offered some background: Congress wanted only state and federal officials to police organic food violations in order to create a national standard for organic foods, a division of the 2nd District Court of Appeal decided in 2013. But the state Supreme Court said allowing consumer lawsuits would further congressional goals of curtailing fraud and ensuring consumers can rely on organic labels. Experts cited in the report say other states will be expected to follow.

Arbitration At Issue In Key California High Court Cases

The nation’s largest state is being watched closely as it tackles on of the largest class-action issues: arbitration. In recent years, large companies have been able to shield themselves from a variety of lawsuits by having customers and vendors agree to settle differences outside the courts, which are seen as being much more favorable to plaintiffs.
 
Now the Recorder offers an excellent overview of the issue nationally and notes that “… in California, plaintiffs lawyers find a measure of hope in the push and pull between the pro-arbitration U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court, which takes a more skeptical view. Earlier this month the state Supreme Court agreed to review in McGill v. Citibank whether consumers seeking injunctive relief under California law can be forced into arbitration. In May the justices will hear arguments in Sanchez v. Valencia Holding, and potentially lay out new grounds by which courts can reject unfair or one-sided arbitration agreements.”

Judges Renew Calls For Immigration Court Reform

After a period of relative quiet, the immigration judges facing hundreds of thousands of cases are speaking out, calling for help amid a crisis. A new NPR report explains that “… as Congress debates the fate of President Obama’s immigration policies, the nation’s immigration court system is bogged down in delays exacerbated by the flood of unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border last summer. The administration made it a priority for those cases to be heard immediately. As a result, hundreds of thousands of other cases have been delayed until as late as 2019.”
 
NPR adds that “even before this past summer’s surge of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, the immigration courts were already clogged, says Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. There were too many cases for too few judges, and adding in the cases of the unaccompanied minors only made matters worse. There are currently more than 429,000 cases pending in the courts with just 223 judges.
 
The “judges” are not part of the usual judicial system, but are actually employees of the Justice Department – that means, for example, that they could not hold government agents – really, their co-workers – in contempt of court during one of the hearings. Read more: Immigration Courts ‘Operating In Crisis Mode,’ Judges Say

Roberts Promises Supreme Court E-filing

U.S. Chief Justice Robert’s annual “state of the judiciary” report has brought the usual level of yawn, but his comments on court tech did catch some media. A good example is from The Washington Post, which noted that “… there is, in fact, a nugget of newsy news in Roberts’s“2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary”: The Supreme Court will bypass the federal judiciary’s somewhat troubled electronic case-filing system in favor of its own, expected to come in 2016. But the chief justice’s accounting is perhaps most useful for what, with a bit of between-the-lines reading, it reveals about why, he admits, ‘the courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity.'”
 
It’s not all that encouraging for anyone hoping the nation’s highest court would become more transparent, especially since issues like cameras in the courtroom seem far, far away.
 

AOC Name-Change Called ‘Superfluous’

As reported by MetNews.com, Steven Jahr is the California Administrator Director of the Courts.

As reported by MetNews.com, Steven Jahr is the California Administrator Director of the Courts.



Anyone thinking that the re-branding of the controversial “Administrative office of the Courts, or AOC” to the “Judicial Council staff” is window dressing might note comments by outgoing AOC Director Steven Jahr, who called the measure “superfluous,” according to the MetNews.
 
The MetNews notes that “… the name change announced Friday was seen by some judges as a harbinger of Jahr’s departure. At the Judicial Council meeting announcing the name change, Jahr was unusually freewheeling in his expression, saying, ‘Retiring the name AOC will produce a perceptual change, or perhaps a cultural change. Yet under the substantive law, it makes no change at all. The name is superfluous.'”

Jahr replaced William Vickrey, who, the MetNews story reminds us, “… left the AOC in September 2011 amid mounting controversy over the agency’s spending practices and a $500 million court technology project that judges and state legislators deemed a failure.”

Read the report here: Courts Director Jahr to Step Down After Two Years

California Chief Justice: Budget Doesn’t Even ‘Tread Water’

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who has said that justice system budget cuts have created a new civil rights issue by limiting court access, is taking a softer tone in the wake of this year’s state budget, judging by published reports. For example, over the weekend the L.A. Times reported she “…  said Friday the new state budget will mean “more disappointment, service reduction and delay for those who need our courts.”
 
But she also thanked the governor and lawmakers for their efforts. The Times noted that the budget “… contains less than half the money Cantil-Sakauye said would be needed for trial courts “just to tread water” after years of courthouse closures, layoffs and other cutbacks… court employees are still being furloughed, and services to the public have been slashed. Court users have reported waits of as many as eight hours at clerk windows, and closures have forced some residents to drive several hours to get to the nearest open courthouse.”
 
The chief justice also said, according to the Times, that “.. she was grateful that Brown and the Legislature had added funds for specific court programs and were helping to solve the long term effect of employee benefit costs.” Read the story here: New California budget fails to ease court woes, chief justice says

Gov. May ‘Remake’ State Supreme Court

 
You can add “new supreme court” to the issues for Gov. Jerry Brown’s re-election bid. The Los Angeles Times is taking notice that three of the high court’s seven justices are in their 70s and the governor is already making a second appointment to the bench. He is replacing Justice Joyce L. Kennard – considered a “moderate” by modern court standards.
Photo: gov.ca.gov.com

Photo: gov.ca.gov.co

 
The Times reports that “… he court, one of the nation’s most influential, has no Latino or African American, or anyone from Southern California. Brown faces political pressure to change that. Judges and lawyers are betting Brown will pick a Latino. Some analysts said they would not be surprised if he elevated San Francisco appeals court Justice James Humes, an openly gay lawyer who served Brown in the governor’s office and when he was attorney general.”
 
Of course, adds another longtime observer of both the court and the governor notes, Brown adds the wild card of “doing whatever he feels like doing.” It will be interesting if any of the potential candidates dare to make courts funding an issue in taking the job. Read the Times story here.

Former Majority Leader Makes Interesting Judicial Candidate

 
If you’re starting to read tea leaves for the upcoming Superior Court judicial elections, don’t forget to note that
Charles Calderon (photo from www.charlescalderon.com)

Charles Calderon (photo from www.charlescalderon.com)


Charles Calderon, the former majority leader of both the state House and Senate, is running. He naturally has lined up a solid list of political endorsements and will run a higher profile campaign than we’re perhaps accustomed to in picking judges.
 
But perhaps more interesting is his public support from a board member of the Alliance of California judges, an independent judicial group that has been very critical of how the state courts are run. In a story by John Hrabe at calnewsroom.com, Judge Susan Lopez Giss had good things to say.
 
The judge, who reportedly worked with Calderon in the city attorney’s office, said that ” [his] judgeship would afford the citizens of Los Angeles County with the wealth of his experience as an attorney and a legislator.” We will see if he brings any of that Alliance heat to the public square.
 
Check out the story here.

Push Is On For Latino On State High Court

 

Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard (Photo: www.courts.ca.gov)

Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard (Photo: www.courts.ca.gov)

News this week that Republican Joyce L. Kennard is retiring from the California Supreme Court has already launched a push for diversity on the state high court. The Los Angeles Times is one media outlet taking notice, reporting that “… some Latino groups reacted furiously in 2011 when Brown chose Justice Goodwin Liu, a former UC Berkeley law professor, over Latino candidates. The seven-member court has no Latino or African American member, and Liu, a liberal, is its only Democratic appointee.”

Judge Kennard herself proved controversial in her decades on the court, at least among California conservatives, as she consistently moved to the left of the Republican mainstream. Appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian, a true law-and-order conservative by California standards, she often voted in line with Justice Stanley Mosk, a mostly liberal member.

She leaves the bench in April. Let the speculation begin. Start with the L.A. Times here.