Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Disqualification

CEB has my article, “Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel”

CEB has published my article, “Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel,” available at https://bit.ly/3WjAZ4m .

The article summarizes a recent case, Shapell Socal Rental Properties, LLC v. Chico’s Fas, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 17, 2022 no. G060411) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___, where the plaintiff’s attorney “calculated to keep [the defendant] in the dark” about a lawsuit in order to obtain a default judgment.

Attorneys have an ethical and a statutory duty to warn opposing counsel before requesting default. The Court of Appeal said the trial court’s failure to grant the motion to set aside the default was “inexplicable,” and on remand, disqualified the trial judge from hearing the case further.

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Order Granting Withdrawal of Attorney Is Not Appealable

No wonder the attorney in Elias v. Jensen (D4d3 Mar. 3, 2022 no. G060098) 2022 WL 620013 (nonpub. opn.) moved to withdraw: her client had “demoted [her] to co-counsel,” the client was filing documents under his own name, and the client had filed a State Bar complaint against her. So it is no wonder the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s order allowing the attorney to withdraw. After all, “if Elias’s allegations against [the attorney] are true...Elias should not be represented by a conflicted attorney with whom he has a present disagreement.”

But why, then, did the Court of Appeal dismiss the appeal on nonappealability grounds, rather than just affirm on the merits?

While there are some good arguments that orders are not appealable, there are also some very good arguments that they are. Specifically, an order granting withdrawal (which is held nonappealable) is not different in kind from an order granting disqualification (which is appealable).

So how can the courts maintain, with any logical consistency, that orders granting disqualification are appealable, but orders granting withdrawal are not?

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Supreme Court Directs Appellate Court to Show Cause After Summarily Denying Writ Petition

You might know that petitions for writs of mandate filed in the California Courts of Appeal are rarely granted. And that petitions for review in the Supreme Court are granted even more rarely. But a recent case gives an idea what it looks like when they are granted.

Promptly after the assignment of a judge who was potentially biased against him, the petitioner in Ionescu v. Superior Court (Contra Costa) (D1d3 Aug. 26, 2021) 2021 WL 3782724 (nonpub. opn.) made a challenge for cause under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1. The judge rejected the petitioner's challenge out of hand as untimely, but on grounds that were pretty clearly faulty.

A writ petition in the Court of Appeal was summarily denied. But the Supreme Court granted a petition for review, and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal with directions to vacate its summary denial and to issue an order to show cause why relief should not be granted. The Court of Appeal ultimately issued the writ in favor of the petitioner.

Writ petitions are processed very quickly, which can increase the chances the Court of Appeal could get it wrong. If you have a righteous writ petition, be prepared to seek review in the Supreme Court immediately. As this case illustrates, these things can get turned around.

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Angelina Jolie's Writ Petition Granted to Disqualify Judge for Appearance of Bias

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt went the route of hiring a pro tem judge for their family law case. After years of litigating child custody issues (one child is now 18), Jolie discovered their pro tem judge was working on more cases with Pitt's attorneys than previously disclosed. Getting the feeling she was the third wheel in the courtroom, Jolie filed a statement of disqualification.

Although the Superior Court rejected Jolie's objection, in a published opinion in Jolie v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (D2d7 Jul. 23, 2021) no. B308958, the Court of Appeal granted Jolie's writ petition. The pro tem judge had failed to disclose all of his appointments on Pitt's lawyers' cases, and the judge's work on those cases, in context with his failure to timely disclose it, created the appearance of impropriety requiring disqualification.

Justice Segal wrote a concurring opinion forcefully calling the Judicial Council to end the practice of allowing pro tem judges to accept private payment, noting that, until 30 years ago, it was not only disallowed, it was criminal: "But just because it is no longer criminal for a temporary judge to receive compensation from private parties doesn't mean it's a good idea."

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Christopher Melcher has a nice video explainer on the case here: https://lnkd.in/gbFQz2j.

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Lawsuit Against Judge in Disney Estate Case, Dismissed by District Court, Held Moot by 9th Circuit Because Judge Reassigned Himself

In the ongoing probate litigation over the Disney estate in Lund v. Cowan, No. 20-55764 (9th Cir. 2021), the 9th Circuit recently called probate court "the Unhappiest Place on Earth" in response to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan's actions against Walt Disney's grandson, Bradford Lund. Lund had already waited 15 years for his inheritance and won a court declaration of his mental competence. He entered into a settlement agreement to pay his trustees $14.5 million to step down.

But Judge Cowan refused to approve the settlement. Judge Cowan stated: "Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively, to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

The court did state it found Judge Cowan's comment "troubling." "But judicial immunity shields even incorrect or inappropriate statements if they were made during the performance of a judge's official duties." This includes even actions made with “malice or corruption of motive.” Forrester, 484 U.S. at 227.

In the article, I offer some of my thoughts on the strange American impulse to expand the privileges of the sovereign, and the sad state of our probate court system.

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No Safe Spaces: Arbitrator Not Disqualified Due to Claimed Political Bias; Appellant Sanctioned $56,000 for Frivolous Appeal

Appellant and attorney sanctioned a blistering $56,000 for their frivolous appeal. (Malek Media Group LLC v. AXGC Corp. (D2d3 Dec. 16, 2020) No. B299743.) After a business dispute was decided against […]

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Cal Appellate News for Lawyers (Oct. 5, 2020): Juror Peremptory Challenges, Appealability of SLAPP Orders, Appeal Bonds, 170.6 Challenges After Appeal, and More

TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal publishes this weekly update of legal news for trial attorneys. In this edition: more on the coming changes to juror peremptory challenges, appellate pitfalls on reconsideration motions, appeal bonds, 170.6 challenges after appeal, are Subway sandwiches "confectionary" products? and more.

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