Wednesday, December 22, 2010
S.C. Justices Recuse Themselves in Suit Over State Buildings Sale
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
All seven justices of the California Supreme Court have been disqualified from hearing a dispute regarding the state’s plan to sell a number of buildings, including Los Angeles and San Francisco facilities used by the court, under an order issued yesterday.
Acting Chief Justice Marvin Baxter issued the order with the concurrence of Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn M. Werdegar; Ming W. Chin, Carol A. Corrigan, and Carlos R. Moreno. The order provides that the justices be replaced by seven members of the Court of Appeal, as set forth in the court’s internal operating procedures.
Under those procedures, whenever a high court justice is disqualified, he or she is replaced by the next Court of Appeal justice in order, according to an alphabetical listing. Only justices who have served at least one year on the Court of Appeal are eligible.
Emergency Relief Sought
The recusal order was issued shortly after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the high court for emergency relief so that the state can go ahead with the proposed sale. The Sixth District Court of Appeal had previously delayed it pending an emergency appeal of a San Francisco Superior Court judge’s ruling allowing the sale to proceed.
Plaintiffs Jerry Epstein and Redmond Doms say they were removed from the Los Angeles State Building Authority governing board because they opposed the sale proposal as “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
They claim the state would wind up paying more in rents to lease the buildings back from the new owner—a private partnership called California First—than it would gain from unloading the facilities on the market.
Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers who approved the sale earlier this year claim that the $2.3 billion sale—the state would then lease the buildings back—is necessary because it would produce $1.2 billion towards the closing of a $19 billion budget gap.
Attorneys for the Administrative Office of the Courts—the administrative arm of the Judicial Council, whose members include Baxter and Chief Justice Ronald M. George—filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs, arguing that the sale of the Ronald Reagan State Building and the San Francisco Civic Center Complex must be considered first by the council as “the de facto owner” of the buildings.
The case was transferred from the First District Court of Appeal to the Sixth District earlier by the Supreme Court. Both the First District and the Supreme Court sit at the San Francisco complex, which the governor yesterday ordered renamed in honor of George, whose tenure as chief justice ends Jan. 3.
In the recusal order, the court cited Mosk v. Superior Court (1979) 25 Cal.3d 474, in which seven Court of Appeal justices replaced the members of the high court. That case involved a challenge by Justice Stanley Mosk—now deceased—to a Commission on Judicial Performance subpoena in connection with the so-called “Tannergate” scandal involving claims that a controversial decision was delayed until after an election in which several justices were candidates for retention.
The case is Schwarzenegger v. Court of Appeal, S189114.
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