Thursday, January 5, 2006
S.C. to Appoint New Masters in Hall Misconduct Case
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday formally removed the three special masters hearing a judicial misconduct case against a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge.
In a brief order, the high court unanimously acceded to the request made last month by the Commission on Judicial Performance and said it would appoint a new panel once the commission sets a tentative date for a new hearing in the case against Judge Diana R. Hall.
The court took the action at its weekly conference in San Francisco.
On Nov. 23, the commission took the apparently unprecedented action of halting proceedings after three days of testimony regarding the charges against Hall, a judge for nearly 15 years. The commission said the panel hearing the case had been compromised as a result of an allegation filed in an unrelated civil case that one of the masters told the declarant that the panel had already determined that the judge was culpable as to at least some of the charges.
The commission, however, rejected Hall’s claim that the alleged misconduct of the masters was so great a violation of her due process rights as to justify dismissing the case outright.
Hall is accused of drunk driving—for which she was convicted in criminal court and placed on probation—as well as filing campaign finance reports in which she allegedly lied about the source of a loan or contribution, and threatening a prosecutor who had her disqualified from a case.
The campaign reporting violation was also the subject of a criminal case, but the Attorney General’s Office, which was assigned to prosecute, agreed two months ago to suspend proceedings and to a dismissal of the charges if Hall has no new arrests.
The declaration that led to the replacement of the masters was filed in a civil rights suit against several Monterey Superior Court judges. The author of the declaration, former Monterey Superior Court courtroom clerk Crystal Powser, alleged that Judge Michael Fields—one of the removed special masters, but not a defendant in the lawsuit— discussed the Hall case with Fields during the hearing and that he told her that he and San Mateo Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum and Santa Clara Superior Court Judge George Abdallah had already formed conclusions about the case against Hall.
All three judges have declined to comment on the allegations. The commission, although it sought the removal of the masters, emphasized in its request that Powser’s allegations are unproven.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Agreed to decide whether the law of the state of incorporation, or of California, should be applied to determine whether a shareholder of a corporation involved in a merger has standing to bring a derivative suit on behalf of the merged corporation when the transaction leaves the plaintiff with no stock in the new entity. The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in Grossett v. Wenaas, D043684, that the law of the state of incorporation applies, and that under Delaware law, there is no standing.
•Left standing a First District Court of Appeal ruling that threw out a $340,000 judgment against an amateur baseball league resulting from injury to a Sonoma County teenager who was hit in the face by a line drive during practice.
The panel said the team manager who hit the ball may have been reckless in swinging at the ball before Scott Vogel had turned to face him. But the court invoked the primary assumption of risk doctrine, holding that injuries from carelessly thrown or batted balls are a normal part of baseball and that the manager had not increased the risks inherent in the sport.
The high court denied the defendant’s request for publication of the Court of Appeal opinion.
The case is Vogel v. American Amateur Baseball Congress, A105405
•Agreed to decide whether the Penal Code authorizes direct restitution to the surviving spouse of a deceased victim based upon the decedent’s projected future earnings. The Fourth District’s Div. Two answered the question in the affirmative, upholding a restitution order against a defendant convicted of drunk driving in People v. Giordano, E036325.
•Agreed to review a Fourth District, Div. One decision allowing a mobile home park resident to sue his landlord for injuries suffered as a result of being hit by a stray bullet fired during a gang fight in the park. The appeals court held in Castaneda v. Olsher, D043383, that the landlord had sufficient knowledge of gang activity in the portion of the premises where the shooting took place to be charged with a duty to undertake reasonable security measures.
•Agreed to decide whether the “sophisticated user” doctrine, which holds that a manufacturer cannot be liable to a sophisticated user of its product for failure to warn of a risk, if a sophisticated user should reasonably know of that risk, is part of California law.
This district’s Div. Five held in Johnson v. American Standard, Inc., B179206, that the doctrine bars a certified EPA certified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technician from suing for injuries resulting from exposure to a gas created during the ordinary maintenance and repair of commercial air conditioning systems.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company