Thursday, July 2, 2009
Chaney, Johnson Confirmed as Newest Court of Appeal Justices
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey W. Johnson of the Central District of California were confirmed yesterday as justices of Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal.
Each was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments—comprised of state Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Attorney General Jerry Brown and Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of Div. Three—by a unanimous vote following a brief hearing.
Both nominations proved uncontroversial, as Chaney and Johnson were both found “well qualified” by the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. The commission reported that it received no letters of opposition to either nominee.
Chaney was sworn in immediately following the commission vote. Johnson, who has matters to finish in federal court, is to take the oath at a later date.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy and attorneys Edith Matthai, Paul Kiesel and Tom Girardi all spoke for Chaney. McCoy described her as “a great judge” who had fulfilled “every role you can imagine” on the trial court, including a pioneering role in the development of the complex litigation court.
Chaney, McCoy said, is “truly compassionate,” “very, very wise,” and an extremely hard worker. It is not unusual to see her car in the courthouse parking lot at 7 a.m. and again at 10 p.m., as she will try one case in the day and try to settle another in the night hours, McCoy said.
Girardi echoed those comments, citing comments from a friend who told him that Chaney had worked past midnight to settle a huge construction defect case. Chaney, he said, “works like a dog” and is someone whom lawyers in mass tort and other difficult cases want as their judge, whether representing plaintiffs or defendants.
He added that “if you’re going to cite a case to her, you’d better have read the case, because man, she has.”
Matthai commented similarly that “no judge is better prepared than Judge Chaney on any matter that comes before her.”
The chief justice commented prior to swearing her in that Chaney’s work on the complex litigation court had been a model for the nation, and that she had handled the assignment “with grace and good humor.”
Municipal Court Service
Chaney, 63, had served on the Superior Court since 1994 and was a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge from 1990 to 1994.
She began her legal career in 1976 at Dryden Harrington & Schwartz handling tort litigation, insurance coverage disputes, and some business litigation. She was a Los Angeles deputy city attorney, prosecuting misdemeanors, from 1979 to 1980 before moving to the civil side.
She was a civil litigation associate at Veatch, Carlson, Grogan & Nelson in 1982 and 1983, then returned to the city as an assistant city attorney in the Civil Liability Section.
She was named to the now-defunct municipal court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1990, and her assignments included criminal trial and master calendar courts as well as felony preliminary hearings and arraignments.
She was supervising judge in the Metropolitan Branch in 1993, then moved to a direct civil calendar court.
Following elevation to the Superior Court, she sat in a civil and criminal trial court in Santa Monica before moving to a criminal slot in Compton, followed by an assignment hearing long cause civil and criminal trials. She spent 1998 and 1999 in a fast-track civil court downtown, before moving to the complex litigation court at Central Civil West, where she served as assistant managing judge for five years.
Her duties there have included the trial of the coordinated West Coast cases against the maker of Vioxx and lawsuits brought by farm workers in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica over alleged exposure to pesticides.
She made headlines recently when she dismissed several cases brought by purported Nicaraguan banana workers, finding that Los Angeles attorney Juan Dominguez and a Nicaraguan attorney working with him fraudulently recruited plaintiffs who were not exposed to pesticides, coached them to lie about their supposed exposure and sterility, and intimidated witnesses in an effort to conceal the fraud.
Chaney earned her law degree from Loyola Law School in 1977 and was admitted to the State Bar in 1978. She is an alumna of Mount Saint Mary’s College, where she graduated with a nursing degree in 1967, and also holds a post-graduate degree in biology from USC.
Before pursuing a law career, the judge worked as a registered nurse from 1967 to 1972, first at Cedars-Sinai and then at County-USC Medical Center. She fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Justice Robert M. Mallano to presiding justice.
Chaney is a Republican.
Johnson, 48, was praised by Senior U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter, elementary school teacher Genoveva Cortes, and attorney John T. Thornton.
Cortes, who has taught in inner city schools for the past several years, said she had struck up a friendship with Johnson after he visited her third-grade class in South Central Los Angeles several years ago. She later learned that he visited classrooms regularly, bringing a message of hope, delivering clothes and food to needy students, and helping schools obtain needed equipment, such as computers.
He has gone out of his way, she explained, to help students with particular needs, in one instance arranging for a pupil of hers with a difficult family life to attend summer camp.
Johnson, she said, serves as “a strong, positive male role model” for fatherless youngsters.
Hatter, the former chief judge for the Central District of California, said Johnson was “the best settler in our court,” as well as an outstanding family man and trial judge with a strong commitment to treating everyone who appears before him fairly and courteously.
“If there is anyone who should have ‘Justice’ in front of his name, it’s this young man,” Hatter said, because Johnson believes in “justice for all, fairness for everyone.”
In his own remarks following the confirmation, Johnson thanked his friends and family, and especially Hatter, for the roles they had played in his life. He described Hatter as a surrogate father to him since his own father died more than 20 years ago, and the two embraced after Johnson sat down.
Johnson has been a magistrate judge since 1999. He previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California from 1989 to 1999.
He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University. He fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Miriam A. Vogel.
Johnson is a Democrat.
The appointments of Chaney and Johnson leave seven Court of Appeal vacancies around the state—a presiding justice opening in this district’s Div. Eight, three associate justice vacancies in the First District, two associate justice vacancies in the Third District, and an associate justice slot in the Fifth District.
Hearings are scheduled July 30 in San Francisco for Alameda Superior Court Judge Kathleen M. Banke and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert L. Dondero, both nominated to the First District’s Div. One, and Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Terence L. Bruiniers, nominated in Div. Five.
Those nominations were made, along with those of Chaney and Johnson, last month but plans to hold the hearings at around the same time were scrapped due to scheduling conflicts, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts said.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company