Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Court of Appeal Pulls Case From Judge, Says Trial Was Taking Too Long
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has ordered a mistrial in a suit against a well-known local realtor and ordered the case reassigned because the trial judge has been trying it in “drips and drabs” over nearly a year.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter “has failed to fulfill” the statutory mandate “to eliminate delay in the progress and ultimate resolution of litigation,” Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer and Justices Ruben Ortega and Robert Mallano wrote.
The unpublished per curiam opinion was filed last Tuesday, and a copy was obtained yesterday by the MetNews.
The panel chided Schacter for prolonging the trial of Bradley Waisbren’s suit against the Jon Douglas Company. The trial began last July, and Schacter subsequently heard testimony in 23 sessions of about an hour each, the justices said.
Schacter denied a motion for mistrial filed by Waisbren’s attorney, Pasadena sole practitioner Enid G. Ballantyne. The attorney said she would not have advised her client to waive jury trial if she knew it was the judge’s policy to try his non-jury cases in sessions of about an hour each, as much as a month apart.
The effect, she said, is not only to delay resolution, but to inhibit the court’s ability to remember and evaluate testimony.
Schacter attributed the delays to Ballantyne’s inability to accept certain dates that were offered, but the attorney complained that the dates were made available on short notice and she had other cases to handle. Ballantyne noted that she has completed five criminal jury trials and two civil bench trials since the Waisbren trial started.
Waisbren, Ballantyne explained yesterday, is suing Jon Douglas Company for loss of personal property after his home in the San Fernando Valley was foreclosed upon. The realtor took control of the property on behalf of the lender, the attorney explained, locked Waisbren out, and hired a “trash-out” company which took the property without giving legally required notice.
The owner of the trash-out company pled no contest to a theft charge, but Waisbren still hasn’t been compensated for his losses, Ballantyne said.
Schacter could not be reached yesterday for comment. But Ballantyne said she expects the judge to adopt a new policy with regard to bench trials.
Even though the opinion was unpublished, the judge “would look pretty silly to continue this practice” after “having his hand slapped” by the Court of Appeal, she said.
Many judges conduct their civil bench trials in multiple sessions, the attorney said, but they usually last a full day and are spaced about a week apart. In one instance, she said, Schacter charged a 15-minute lateness on behalf of opposing counsel against the trial time, over her objection, so they only had 45 minutes of trial that day.
The trial would probably have taken another year if the Court of Appeal hadn’t granted a writ, she said.
An attorney for Jon Douglas Company, Charles G. Brackins of Sherwood and Hargrove, didn’t return a phone call.
The case is Waisbren v. Superior Court, Jon Douglas Company RPI, B150184.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company