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COURT SHUFFLES BENCH TO HANDLE MISDEMEANORS Retired judges sitting by assignment on the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench will be eased out of felony trial slots and into misdemeanors, said the court’s presiding judge. PJ Thomas Hansen said three of the seven retired judges now serving by assignment will handle misdemeanors in June. The move comes after an outcry from more junior judges, who complained that retired judges are receiving the plum assignments. “I am going to gradually ask people if they are willing to handle a misdemeanor calendar,” Hansen said. But Hansen said he hasn’t decided if the move will be permanent or if more retired judges will be removed from felony trial assignments. Santa Clara’s court spent $1 million on assigned judges in 2002-03, and Hansen said the Administrative Office of the Courts has allocated the court $800,000 for next year. At least one retiree — Judge Leon Fox Jr. — is now handling misdemeanor trials. Retired Judges Robert Ahern and Thomas Hastings will take over misdemeanor trial assignments in June while new judges attend training. Ahern and Hastings now work out of the three-courtroom facility in the city of Santa Clara. The court is shuttering the facility to save money in 2003-04. Judges Paul Teilh and Marilyn Zecher will keep felony trial assignments for the time being, Hansen said. Retired Judge Lawrence Terry will continue in drug court, and Judge Edgar Taylor will handle settlement conferences. – Shannon Lafferty FAMILY TIES Brent Lindrum was furious that his estranged wife, Estella, sued his mother for wrongful death in the 1999 accidental drowning of their 2-year-old daughter. So he filed for divorce. But when the civil suit settled for $210,000, payable out of his mom’s homeowner’s insurance, Lindrum decided he wanted half the take. So he sued his wife’s lawyer, Howard Hall of Paramount. On May 12, Los Angeles’ Second District Court of Appeal granted summary judgment for Hall, saying he owed no legal duty to Lindrum. It was a bizarre case that Justice Earl Johnson Jr., author of the opinion, noted arose out of a “tragic event” while raising a “significant issue” as to the duties attorneys owe nonclients. The Lindrums’ toddler died two days after being found at the bottom of her grandmother’s pool on May 12, 1999. The Lindrums separated the following February, and Hall filed a suit on behalf of Estella Lindrum on April 6. Brent Lindrum objected, according to the court’s opinion, and called the suit an “evil thing.” He said he would have nothing to do with “dirty” money. After the settlement, however, Lindrum sued Hall, claiming that the lawyer owed him a duty either to advise him of his rights in connection with the suit or name him as a nominal defendant. He argued that he wouldn’t have objected to the suit if informed it “could be pursued without any practical damage to the interests and emotional state of his mother or her ability to retain ownership of her home of more than 35 years.” Hall filed a motion for summary judgment, but L.A. County Superior Court Judge Alan Buckner denied it, saying there were triable issues of fact concerning the lawyer’s state of mind. The appeal court disagreed. Justice Johnson wrote that the court was wary about extending an attorney’s duty to a third person who had not sought legal advice and whom the lawyer had never met. “We recognize the awkward position Hall would have found himself in if he were required to seek out Brent and suggest he sue his mother,” Johnson held. “Beyond that, in this instance we seriously question whether Hall could have engaged in such a discussion with Brent without breaching his duty of loyalty to his existing client, Estella.” Justices Dennis Perluss and Fred Woods concurred. — Mike McKee IMMUNITY QUESTIONS Eleventh Amendment immunity was at stake again last week in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and though the panel sided with the plaintiffs, it didn’t seem too happy about it. The case, involving 10 institutionalized mental illness patients who sued the Oregon Department of Human Services for inadequate treatment, has at its core a question that has come up before — do states have an 11th Amendment immunity defense to suits brought under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act? With one judge writing separately to spell out how reluctant his decision was, the panel issued an unsigned decision allowing the suit to proceed under a Ninth Circuit precedent that got oh-so-close to U.S. Supreme Court review, and quite a bit of attention — Hason v. Medical Board of California , 279 F.3d 1167. That case asked the same question. The state of California lost at the Ninth Circuit and appealed to the Supreme Court. The court granted certiorari , but at the 11th hour the state backed out, worried about the impact a win might have on disability rights. In Miranda B. v. Kitzhaber , 03 C.D.O.S. 4018, Oregon lawyers asked the court to reconsider the conclusion in Hason , saying the court in that case and cases that followed do not give adequate weight to a Supreme Court case allowing the 11th Amendment defense in cases under Title I of the ADA. “We fail to ascribe such a dim view to our previous cases,” replied the panel, which consisted of Senior Judge Ferdinand Fernandez and Judges Diarmuid O’Scannlain and Raymond Fisher. But O’Scannlain wrote separately, agreeing with the conclusion but not liking it much. “I had hoped that the Supreme Court would grant us a reprieve from one of our blunders when it granted certiorari last year and scheduled oral argument in Hason,”O’Scannlain wrote. “Unfortunately, the state of California decided that it no longer wished to present its arguments to the Supreme Court, and petitioned the court to dismiss its case, which it did.” “I am convinced that the Supreme Court will correct our errors, which we have steadfastly refused to tackle in the first instance; the only question is when.” – Jason Hoppin SWEET CIVIC DUTY Potential jurors in Sacramento County had reason to feel special last week. As part of the Judicial Council’s Juror Appreciation Week, people called to Sacramento’s main courthouse on Ninth Street were greeted each day by banners and balloons lauding what many consider the most burdensome civic duty. Inside the juror assembly room, they got a welcome from a judicial officer or the jury commissioner and were treated to free coffee. And on Wednesday, a local tort reform group showed up to add to the love. Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse set up a table right outside court and handed out 12 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. According to CALA Executive Director Diann Rogers, tort reform is related to jury service because unnecessary suits bog down the system, making service more painful for those who do get called. CALA is a nonprofit that subsists on donations and grants. Rogers said the group has nothing against legitimate suits but wants to make people aware of the cost of lawsuit abuse, especially cases filed for “greed or publicity.” Earlier in the month, CALA held a demonstration at the Capitol to launch its new Web site, www.sickoflawsuits.org. Although that event was held the same day 150 members of Consumer Attorneys of California were in town for that group’s “lobby day,” no fistfights erupted. Rogers said Wednesday’s doughnut giveaway wasn’t intended to sell jurors on CALA’s political position, but she did give information to the curious. Considering her treats reached less than 10 percent of the 1,500 to 2,000 potential jurors called into Sacramento court each week, Rogers would have a long way to go anyway. But the lack of proselytizing didn’t bother her. “I mostly was just there to thank them for their service,” Rogers said. – Jeff Chorney

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