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The Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento brought the hammer down on what it viewed as a frivolous appeal Wednesday, ordering sanctions against a plaintiff and her attorney in a wrongful arrest suit. “Time and time again, public confidence in our legal system is tested when the general public wonders, and mutters, about why courts entertain ridiculous lawsuits,” wrote Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland in a decision joined by Justices Vance Raye and Fred Morrison. “This is such a case.” The panel ordered Sacramento attorney Roger Miller to pay $2,500 in sanctions to the court and directed that a copy of the opinion be sent to the State Bar. Miller also has agreed to pay $7,000 in sanctions to the defendants. Miller’s client, Polly Johnson, had lost on summary judgment in Sacramento County Superior Court on her suit claiming she was wrongfully arrested for traffic violations by Scott Lewis, an arson inspector with peace officer authority. But before argument, the justices issued an order to show cause why sanctions shouldn’t be granted for filing a frivolous appeal. In response, Miller offered to stipulate to pay $7,000 in sanctions to the defendants. The justices approved the stipulation — provided Miller and his client appeared to explain why they shouldn’t be forced to pay sanctions to the court as well. At the argument, the justices noted, Miller took “full responsibility” for Johnson’s appeal, asserting that any court sanctions be imposed against him rather than his client. The case started in 1999 when Lewis encountered Johnson driving 70-75 miles per hour on Highway 50. Lewis said Johnson had narrowly avoided hitting Lewis’ fire district van. Lewis, a peace officer with the statutory power to make arrests, used his cell phone to report a reckless driver to the sheriff’s communication center, but saw Johnson cross three lanes of traffic without signaling, forcing other drivers on the highway to brake suddenly to avoid a collision. At that point, he decided to arrest Johnson and put on his siren and lights. Instead of pulling over, she changed lanes and accelerated. Lewis finally caught up to Johnson after a high-speed chase, and with the help of a sheriff’s deputy, made an arrest for reckless driving. In her suit, Johnson said Lewis had lacked probable cause to arrest her. But Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster disagreed. The actual traffic citation had been dismissed after the fire marshal told a prosecutor that the citation had been issued “in error outside the scope of the employee’s job.” Despite that dismissal, “the plaintiff did not just go home and celebrate her good fortune,” wrote Scotland. “She filed a meritless lawsuit and then wasted this court’s time and resources by pursuing a frivolous appeal after the trial court entered judgment in the defendants’ favor. “The moral of this story is that there is a price to pay for plaintiff’s insolence,” Scotland concluded in his decision. An attorney for the arson investigator said Miller may have erred in pursuing a point already clarified by the lower court. “The plaintiff’s counsel was totally focused on whether or not our client did or did not have the authority to [make an arrest] as an arson investigator with the fire department,” said Michael Keddy, of Bolling, Walter & Gawthrop in Sacramento. “He let that, in my opinion, interfere with his analysis of the issue relative to the actual stop itself.” Miller declined to comment Thursday. The case is Johnson v. Lewis, 04 C.D.O.S. 6094

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