Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, December 23, 2010


Page 1


Justices Assigned to Suit Over State Buildings Sale


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


The California Supreme Court yesterday issued an order assigning seven Court of Appeal justices to hear the lawsuit over the state’s plan to sell 11 properties, including the Los Angeles building housing this district’s Court of Appeal and the San Francisco facility where the high court and First District Court of Appeal sit.

The high court named Justice Patricia Benke of the Fourth District’s Div. One as acting chief justice. She will be joined by her Div. Three colleagues Richard Aronson, William Bedsworth and Richard Fybel, Third District Court of Appeal Justice M. Kathleen Butz, and Fifth District Justices Dennis Cornell and Betty Dawson.

All seven members of the California Supreme Court recused themselves from hearing the case on Tuesday. The appellate court justices were assigned according to the Supreme Court’s internal operating procedures, the court said.

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.

The assignments will continue until the justices have completed and disposed of all related causes and matters submitted to them, and all petitions for rehearing arising out of those causes and matters. The immediate matter before them is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request for mandamus relief allowing the state to go ahead with the proposed sale.

Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers who approved the sale earlier this year claim that the $2.3 billion deal would produce $1.2 billion towards the closing of a $19 billion budget gap. The governor’s attorneys have warned that unless the state can close escrow before the end of the year, “the sale may well disappear forever.”  

The Sixth District stayed the closing after the Supreme Court ordered an emergency appeal of a San Francisco Superior Court judge’s ruling allowing the sale to proceed and transferred the matter away from the First District.

Plaintiffs Jerry Epstein and Redmond Doms filed suit challenging the sale in November. They claimed the governor removed them from the Los Angeles State Building Authority governing board because they opposed the sale proposal as “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Epstein and Doms contend the state will 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 the sale, and that the deal constitutes an unlawful gift of public funds.

Attorneys for the Administrative Office of the Courts—the administrative arm of the Judicial Council, whose members include Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Marvin R. Baxter—filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs, asserting that the council was the “de facto owner” of the Ronald Reagan State Building and the San Francisco Civic Center Complex.

Both the First District and the Supreme Court are housed within the Civic Center Complex, which the governor on Tuesday ordered renamed in honor of George, who is stepping down from the bench Jan. 3.

Department of General Services spokesman Eric Lamoureux said the new owners of the properties would be required to keep the name of the buildings if the sale is allowed to go through.

The case is Schwarzenegger v. Court of Appeal, S189114.


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