Tuesday, September 2, 2008
District Judge George Schiavelli to Step Down
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
U.S. District Judge George Schiavelli of the Central District of California confirmed Friday that he plans to leave the bench.
The judge, whose imminent departure has been the subject of rumors in recent days, said he will step down at the end of this month. A published report suggested he was going to become a private judge with JAMS, but he told the MetNews he could not comment about future plans “as some discussions remain ongoing.”
Schiavelli, 59, is currently appealing a Los Angeles Superior Court judgment for the defendants in a suit stemming from a serious mishap on an escalator three years ago.
A jury in Van Nuys this past February 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 alleged 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 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. His trial attorney, Browne Greene, argued that Schiavelli was entitled to $21 million in damages, while lead defense counsel Russell S. Wollman contended that the escalator functioned normally and that Schiavelli took a tumble through no fault of the mall.
The judge emphasized Friday that “while health issues remain, I have been working full time since returning from my successful knee replacement surgery.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, who learned of Schiavelli’s plans, on Friday said he was “extremely sad” at the turn of events. Noting that this is Schiavelli’s second departure from the bench—he was a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from 1994 to 2000—he said it was “like losing a close relative two times in a row.”
He praised his former colleague as “a fabulous judge” who “gives wise counsel whenever he’s asked.”
Schiavelli was appointed to the federal bench four years ago by President Bush on the recommendation of the bipartisan committee that reviews potential district judges throughout the state. He was confirmed by the Senate without controversy.
When he left the Superior Court, he was in his second year as presiding judge of the Appellate Division, to which he was assigned in 1997 by Chief Justice Ronald M. George. He left the state bench, he explained later, to help his mother, who was seriously ill and is now deceased.
Schiavelli was born in Florida but his family moved to the Los Angeles area when he was about five years old. He attended Grant High School in Valley Glen, earned his undergraduate degree at Stanford University and received his law degree in 1974 from UCLA.
He played football at Stanford, where he was a teammate of Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett, graduating in 1970. In law school, he gave up a seat on the law review to participate in the moot court honors program.
Much of his legal career was devoted to appellate work. After a stint at O’Melveny & Myers, he became a partner at Ervin, Cohen & Jessup and later at Horvitz & Levy, where he was working at the time then-Gov. Pete Wilson tapped him for the bench.
When he returned to the private sector, it was as of counsel to the appellate group of Crosby Heafy Roach & May, which later merged into Reed Smith. He also worked as a private judge.
Person of the Year
He is a past president of the Italian American Lawyers Association and served from 1980 to 1982 on the Board of Governors of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers. He also shared MetNews Person of the Year honors last year.
The swirling rumors of his leaving office led to an unusual filing by attorney Rex J. Beaber, who represents a defendant in a criminal case scheduled to be tried by Schiavelli in November. The attorney asked the judge to disclose whether he intended to still be on the bench then, but Schiavelli, at a hearing last Wednesday, in effect told the lawyer that the judge’s future plans were none of Beaber’s business.
Schiavelli’s departure will create a second vacancy on the court, which is unlikely to be filled this year due to the pendency of federal elections. The president’s nominee for the current vacancy, Orange Superior Court Judge James Rogan, has not received a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company