Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Schiavelli to Seek New Trial, Attorney Claims Jury Was Biased
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The lead attorney for U.S. District Judge George Schiavelli in his suit against the owner of a shopping mall where the jurist was injured while riding an escalator said yesterday that he will seek a new trial following a jury verdict for the defense.
“The jury ignored the evidence and ruled against my client because of his position as a federal court judge,” Browne Greene said in a release. “The jury’s bias against him was palpable. Just like everyone else, Judge Schiavelli is entitled to have his day in court, and we will be filing a motion for a new trial so that justice will be served once and for all.”
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury in Van Nuys last Friday ruled in favor of Peppy LLC Management & Leasing Company, which manages Encino Place Shopping Center, following more than two weeks of trial before Judge Leon Kaplan.
Schiavelli, now 59, alleges that the escalator stopped suddenly and without warning, causing him to fall down the escalator and sustain serious injuries to his knees, back, neck and hips. The accident occurred in August 2005.
The judge has undergone surgery to replace one knee, and said he faces additional surgeries to replace his other knee and to repair other bodily damage.
“In closing arguments, we asked for $21 million which was to cover Judge Schiavelli’s medical expenses and future economic losses, as well as to compensate him for the pain and suffering he has endured because of the accident,” Greene said. “We presented compelling evidence from four eyewitnesses to the accident, as well as an employee from Peppy Management Company who told the jury that the company had destroyed records related to the accident after we filed this lawsuit.”
Greene, of the Santa Monica law firm of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, tried the case with Robert D. Jarchi of the same firm.
Peppy Management’s attorney, Russell S. Wollman with the Los Angeles office of Murchison & Cumming, LLP, called Greene’s comments “unfair to these [jurors] who gave the case their time and attention.”
Wollman said he had no desire to have Schiavelli’s occupation become an issue in the case, proposing that the evidence be excluded entirely or that the issues of liability and damages be bifurcated so that jurors would not have to know in the liability phase how the plaintiff earned his living. It was Greene who objected to those requests, he said.
Nonetheless, Wollman said, the jury stuck to the evidence and accepted the defense theory that the elevator functioned normally and that Schiavelli, who was indisputably injured, took a tumble through no fault of the mall.
The jury “didn’t give any more weight or any less weight to what [Schiavelli] did for a living,” he said.
Wollman also disputed Greene’s claim that there were eyewitnesses to the accident. The witnesses Greene was referring to, Wollman said, were “friends of the plaintiff’s who testified that something similar had happened to them in the past” at the same mall.
None of those alleged occurrences were ever reported to the mall management, Wollman said, adding that the escalator was inspected by the city after the accident and was found to have been operating normally.
Schiavelli, a 1974 UCLA law school graduate, practiced at O’Melveny & Myers; Ervin, Cohen & Jessup; and Horvitz & Levy before then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the Superior Court in 1994.
After serving as presiding judge of the Appellate Division, he returned to private practice in 2000, doing alternate dispute resolution and serving as of counsel to the appellate group of Crosby Heafy Roach & May, which later merged into Reed Smith. He was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Bush in 2004.
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