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A Los Angeles judge ordered a medical malpractice trial to begin after the defense counsel left for another trial. The result: a $12 million plaintiff’s verdict. Los Angeles County had hired George E. Peterson, managing partner of Los Angeles’ Bonne, Bridges, Mueller, O’Keefe & Nichols, one of the top medical malpractice firms in the state, to represent a county hospital in Oliveros v. County of Los Angeles, No. TC-013770 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). The trial was originally scheduled for January. Superior Court Judge Josh M. Fredricks granted several continuances, the last until July 15. On that day, Peterson was under another court’s order to try a case older than Oliveros, in the same courthouse. He appeared before Fredricks with Principal Deputy County Counsel Gary Miller and the county’s appellate attorney, Martin Stein. Peterson asked to be allowed to “trail” the case, so that once he finished with the one upstairs, he would come down each day for Oliveros. The judge denied the request and told him to have someone else from the 84-lawyer firm try the case. Then he called in the jury. Peterson asked to be excused, and all three defense lawyers left. Chris Marshall, Peterson’s colleague at Bonne Bridges, said that the firm could not substitute another attorney because only Peterson was authorized by the county to try the case. Plaintiffs’ counsel Rolando Hidalgo of the Law Offices of Manuel Hidalgo in Los Angeles presented testimony on behalf of Veronica Oliveros, 30, who in 1999 underwent heart surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. She awoke and pulled out a ventilator tube that was irritating her throat, causing a loss of oxygen and permanent brain damage. Hidalgo argued that the hospital was negligent because a nurse had removed her arm restraints. The judge granted Hidalgo’s motion for a directed verdict. The bulk of it, about $11 million, is for future medical costs. “We were very straightforward,” Hidalgo said. County Counsel Lloyd Pellman said he’ll recommend an appeal and that “99.9 percent of the courtrooms take into consideration the availability or unavailability of counsel. I’ve never heard of this.”

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