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The California Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected attempts by a San Joaquin County judge to save his job, upheld limits on the state’s utilities watchdog and gave The Walt Disney Co. a blustery rebuff over Winnie the Pooh. But not everyone was sent packing by the high court. In a busy day of determining which cases it will review, justices said they will decide whether the state’s private attorney general law should allow attorneys fees to be awarded in almost all consumer actions — even if those actions don’t benefit the public. And the court agreed to review a case to decide whether a man can be convicted of murdering an unborn fetus if he didn’t know the mother was pregnant. The court’s decision to deny review in Platt v. Commission on Judicial Performance, S111125, ends the bench career of San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Michael Platt. The CJP removed Platt in August after he was found to have committed misconduct on four counts of ticket fixing and three counts of attempting to influence other judges. The case was unusual in that one of the commissioners issued a public statement afterward saying she felt public censure was a sufficiently harsh penalty. The high court justices obviously disagreed, with none voting for review. According to the CJP’s Web site, Platt is only the 17th judge to be removed by the Supreme Court since 1973. Albert Ellis, the partner at Stockton’s Hakeem, Ellis & Marengo who represented Platt, could not be reached for comment. But Victoria Henley, the CJP’s director and chief counsel, said the court’s upholding of the CJP’s findings could send a message to judges inclined to fix tickets. “The commission’s decision and its rationale both explain the view of the commission,” she said, “that these are not trivial matters.” Ticket-fixing allegations have been in the news in recent weeks. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge William Danser is facing scrutiny over his handling of a drunken driving case and parking tickets his son accumulated. The court also took a crack at the powers of the Public Utilities Commission, upholding a ruling by San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal that said the PUC could not review claims under the Business & Professions Code’s unfair competition and false advertising provisions. In November, the appeal court ruled in The Greenlining Institute v. Public Utilities Commission of the State of California, S111931, that those remedies were only available through the courts. “The statutory language is clear,” the First District held. “Actions seeking any relief under Section 17200 . . . ‘shall,’ i.e., must, be brought in court.” Greenlining’s lawyers had argued that the court’s ruling produced an illogical result. “It would force litigants to file their unfair business practices and false advertising claims in court,” Bingham McCutchen partner Terry Houlihan wrote in court papers, “when, as in this case, the predicate law violations giving rise to liability under the Business & Professions Code’s prohibition of ‘unlawful’ business conduct will be tried and determined in a PUC complaint proceeding between the exact same parties.” In the underlying case, the PUC had assessed Pacific Bell Telephone Co. more than $25 million in daily penalties for deceptive advertising, but had refused to consider the plaintiffs’ unfair competition and false advertising claims. The court had better news Wednesday for DaimlerChrysler Corp. The automaker will motor forward with a dispute over private attorney general fees. In Graham v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., S112862, the high court agreed to review a ruling by Los Angeles’ Second District Court of Appeal that held DaimlerChrysler responsible for $762,830 in attorneys fees to three plaintiffs who had sued as private attorneys general under the state’s codes of civil procedure. The plaintiffs had sued the carmaker for incorrectly advertising its 1999 Dakota R/T truck’s towing capacity, and although the trial court dismissed the case on the basis that DaimlerChrysler had already started offering buy-backs or replacements, it held that the plaintiffs were the catalyst for change, and, therefore, entitled to lawyer fees. DaimlerChrysler’s lawyers argued the Second District went entirely against Buckhannon Board & Care Home Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abolished the “catalyst theory” under federal law. The theory permits fee awards without a judgment in favor of the litigant. The automaker might have been helped by a January Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling — Tipton-Whittingham v. City of Los Angeles, 03 C.D.O.S. 610 — that asked for the California Supreme Court’s help in deciding whether the catalyst theory of damages still applies under California law despite Buckhannon. The petition for review was granted unanimously on Wednesday, which greatly pleased one DaimlerChrysler lawyer, Theodore “Ted” Boutrous Jr., a partner at L.A.’s Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “We believe that this case presents very important issues concerning the award of attorney fees in consumer and other cases,” he said, “and are pleased that the court has decided to review.” In court papers, the DaimlerChrysler legal team said the Second District’s “novel application of the private attorney general statute . . . that resulted in no certified class, no judgment in plaintiffs’ favor and created no legal precedent or otherwise shaped public policy is proof positive that the lower courts need guidance in the scope” of the private attorney general statute. The high court’s unanimous decision to hear People v. Taylor, S112443, will determine whether a defendant can be convicted of the implied malice murder of a fetus if he wasn’t aware that the mother was pregnant. The case involved Harold Taylor who was convicted of the 1999 shooting death of former girlfriend Patty Fansler in Mendocino County. Taylor, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was eventually convicted of the second-degree murder of Fansler and the implied malice murder of her 11- to 13-week-old fetus. The First District affirmed Fansler’s killing, but reversed the fetus’s murder. The Supreme Court granted review unanimously. In another case Wednesday, the high court gave Mickey Mouse heartburn. The court voted 5-2 against reviewing Stephen Slesinger Inc. v. The Walt Disney Co., S112570. In that case, the Second District nailed Disney with monetary and non-monetary sanctions that could hurt it in a fight to retain the marketing rights for Winnie the Pooh. The Second District hit Disney with $90,000 in monetary sanctions for allegedly destroying evidence that could have helped the family and heirs of Stephen Slesinger establish that they had been promised extensive marketing rights, including video rights, to any of Disney’s work with Pooh. Slesinger bought the U.S. and Canadian marketing rights for Pooh from English creator A.A. Milne. Worse for Disney, the high court refused to review non-monetary sanctions that let jurors be instructed that a deceased Disney executive, Vincent Jefferds, promised certain concessions to Slesinger’s wife and daughter in the 1980s. “Those sanctions,” Disney lawyers wrote in their petition for review, “are not corrective, but, rather, punitive, cutting at the heart of Disney’s ability to defend against SSI’s meritless claims, and conferring upon SSI an enormous windfall.” The suit against Disney has been under way since 1991, with no signs of ending soon. At stake for Disney is a reported $1 billion to $6 billion a year in Pooh-related merchandising sales worldwide. Stephen Slesinger acquired the American and Canadian rights to Pooh merchandizing in 1930. His widow, Shirley, negotiated a deal with Disney in 1963, but as Pooh’s popularity increased with movie and video sales, the heirs worked out a revision in 1983. Even after the 1983 agreement, the two sides continued to clash and eventually wound up in court in 1991. The L.A. trial court issued sanctions when Disney inadvertently destroyed documents kept by the then-deceased Jefferds long after litigation had begun.

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