Thursday, December 2, 2010
S.C. Denies Review of Lawyer’s Murder Conviction in Dog Attack
By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously denied review of a former San Francisco lawyer’s murder conviction and 15-year-to-life sentence resulting from the mauling of a neighbor by the defendant’s 140-pound dog.
Justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, denied Marjorie Knoller’s request that the high court review the First District Court of Appeal’s Aug. 20 ruling affirming the conviction and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard’s denial of Knoller’s motion for new trial.
Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, also a lawyer, were tried before a Los Angeles jury—the trial was moved because of extensive pretrial publicity in San Francisco—in 2002. Knoller was convicted of second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, while Noel—who, unlike his wife, was not present when Diana Whipple, a college lacrosse coach, was killed by the Presa Canario in the hallway of the apartment building where the victim and defendants lived—was convicted only of manslaughter.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren, who presided over the trial, granted Knoller’s motion for a new trial on the murder charge. The judge, while expressing incredulity at Knoller’s claim that she did not know the dog was capable of killing, found that she did not subjectively know “that her conduct was such that a human being was likely to die.”
It was the only thing she said during her entire testimony—in which she claimed that she tried to protect Whipple and that the victim startled the dog by striking Knoller as she attempted to do so—that the judge believed, he said in granting the motion.
Prison and Parole
He sentenced both defendants to four years in prison for manslaughter, and each was subsequently paroled—Knoller to Florida and Noel to Solano County. Knoller resigned from the State Bar rather than contest disciplinary charges, while Noel was disbarred for failing to certify that he had complied with rules designed to protect clients of suspended attorneys.
The prosecution appealed the order granting a new trial, and both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court said Warren used the wrong standard.
In People v. Knoller (2007) 41 Cal.4th 139, the Supreme Court held unanimously that a defendant may be convicted on an implied-malice theory of murder if aware “of engaging in conduct that endangers the life of another.”
By the time the case was returned to the trial court, Warren had retired and was working as a private judge for JAMS. Over the objections of Knoller’s attorney, who argued that Warren should hear the case as an assigned judge, the presiding judge assigned the motion to Woolard.
In doing so, he noted that Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who has the sole constitutional authority to assign retired judges, has a policy of not giving those assignments to those who engage in private judging absent unusual circumstances.
On appeal, the First District’s Div. Two affirmed. Justice James Lambden reasoned that, even assuming that the circumstances were so exceptional that the chief justice would have assigned Warren to hear the motion, the result would have been the same because the evidence clearly showed implied malice under the high court’s standard.
Knoller, he wrote, “deliberately engaged in behavior that was a danger to human life, knew that her conduct was dangerous to human life, and acted with a conscious disregard for human life.” He cited testimony by a veterinarian who had warned Knoller that the dogs were “huge” and “have had no training or discipline of any sort.”
In other conference action, the justices denied review of a Court of Appeal ruling affirming an order enjoining Beverly Hills sole practitioner Martin B. Reiner from harassing Los Angeles attorney Susan Kaplan, who was his opposing counsel on a workers’ compensation matter last year.
Div. Three in August rejected as “specious” Reiner’s claim that his conduct was constitutionally protected and chastised the attorney for engaging in behavior that “far exceeded the scope of civility,” including rushing into Kaplan’s office to serve her with a subpoena after gaining access to the private interior office area by pushing past a secretary as she exited a secured back door.
The case is Kaplan v. Reiner, B220426.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company