Wednesday, May 2, 2012
JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No. 38:
Judge Draws Challenge From Real Estate Broker/Lawyer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynn D. Olson has drawn an election challenge from real estate broker/attorney Douglas W. Weitzman.
This is Weitzman’s fourth race for judicial office in eight years. In prior years, the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. found him “not qualified.”
Yesterday, Olson was profiled. Today: a look at Weitzman.
DOUGLAS W. WEITZMAN
Candidate Ups Estimate of Cases He Handled as Pro Tem Judge; Now, He’s Barred From Program
In 2010, running for a third time as a judicial candidate, Douglas W. Weitzman made this representation on the League of Woman Voters’ website:
“I HAVE PROBABLY HEARD CLOSE TO 50,000 OR SO CASES AS A JUDGE PRO TEM, MEDIATOR OR ARBITRATOR FOR THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY COURTS.”
This year, Weitzman is running again, despite three election losses, and three findings by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. that he is “not qualified” to be a judge. He is slated to appear before the full committee tonight to appeal his latest tentative rating, which he will not divulge.
Now he represents on the League’s website:
“I HAVE PROBABLY HEARD CLOSE TO 75,000 OR SO CASES AS A JUDGE PRO TEM, MEDIATOR OR ARBITRATOR FOR THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY COURTS.”
The apparent increase by 25,000 in the number of cases he has “heard” since 2010 cannot have been in the capacity of a volunteer pro tem judge.
“He was removed from the approved, certified list” of lawyers eligible to sit as pro tem judges “long ago,” according to Stuart Rice, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge who chairs the pro tem committee.
Any claim that he has presided over any cases in the past two years is “obviously not so,” Rice says.
Through the years, the judge relates, Weitzman “has applied to be, in essence, recertified.” But each time, he says, the committee has decided to “honor the decision” of the judges who ousted him from the program.
As to the reasons for the removal, Rice advises:
“I think there were many.”
He recounts that Weitzman “had problems in various courthouses where he served,” and the supervising judges relayed to the committee the complaints they had received. Going back to pre-unification days, the committee was then one of the Los Angeles Municipal Court.
Aside from Weitzman not having “heard” cases as a pro tem in the past two years, he has not acted as mediator in the court’s alternate dispute resolution program. According to court records, “Douglas W. Weitzman is not now and ha[s] never been a member of the Court ADR Department panel,” a spokesperson advises.
Weitzman responds in an e-mail as to why the number of cases he claimed in 2010 to have handled has been increased by 50 percent. His-mail contains a copyright notice and this admonition:
“NOTICE: THIS RESPONSE IS PROTECTED UNDER THE COPYRIGHT LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES AND OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. YOU MAY ONLY USE THIS IF YOU USE IT IN ITS ENTIRETY. YOU MAY NOT USE ANY EXCERPTS. ANY OTHER USE IS PROHIBITED.”
(Copyrights do not protect facts or contentions, merely “the expression of the idea.” The “fair use doctrine” permits limited quotations from protected works.)
He provides a breakdown of the types of matters he handled as a pro tem, the numbers of such matters heard each court day, and the average number of days he served each year, arriving at a fresh estimate of the number of cases he handled. The total comes to 115,500. Weitzman comments:
“So when you really add it up, it is more than 100,000. I had never really added it up, and I had made educated guesses, but this is probably more accurate.”
One Los Angeles Superior Court judge familiar with the pro tem program says that Weitzman appears to have overstated the number of matters heard in the course of an entire court day—and that in any event, a pro tem would handle either a morning or an afternoon session, not a full day.
Weitzman—who earned a law degree from Southwestern in 1980 and a master’s degree in business from USC the following year—says he was admitted to the State Bar in 1980 and began sitting as a pro tem in 1987.
He recounts that Los Angeles Municipal Court Presiding Judge Alban I. Niles in 1994 barred him from sitting as a pro tem at the Robertson Branch (since closed); he wrote a letter to Niles asking why; Niles then suspended him from the pro tem program for a year; after a year, he was not recertified.
“I tried for many years to be reinstated, but was denied,” the candidate writes.
From 1994 until abolishment of the municipal courts in Los Angeles County (in 2000), he sat pro tem in other judicial districts in the county, Weitzman says, specifically mentioning Culver City and Santa Monica.
With unification, the office that had administered the Los Angeles Municipal Court pro tem program was now part of the Superior Court. He says that office gave him some assignments “until someone remembered that I hadn’t been reinstated,” and he has not sat as a pro tem judge since.
Niles, contacted in Florida where he resides part of the year, says he remembers Weitzman.
“We kicked him off the temporary judge program,” he recounts.
Niles, who later became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge and retired in 2002, says the “main reason” for the ouster is that Weitzman “went on TV, claiming he was a judge.”
The show, he says, was “one of those dating kind of match-ups.”
It was The Love Connection.
In 1995-97, the chair of the committee that oversaw the pro tem program was then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Robert L. Hess, now a Superior Court judge. He says the committee denied Weitzman recertification “I think on two occasions.”
He recalls that on the show, Weitzman “had referred to himself not as an attorney—I think he used ‘part-time judge.’ ”
The emcee (Chuck Woolery), he says, made a comment along the lines of, “Oh, we’ve never had a judge on the program before.”
Weitzman “did not correct the impression that he was a sitting judge,” Hess recites.
He notes that the Code of Judicial Ethics prohibits a judicial officer from using his or her title for personal advantage.
Canon 2B, as it read in 1994, provided: “A judge should not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private or personal interests of the judge….” Under Canon 6C (now 6D), that stricture applied to pro tems.
In an uncopyrighted e-mail, Weitzman declares:
“During the taping they used the word ‘judge,’ and during the taping I told them that I was not a judge, but had served as a judge pro tem, an attorney appointed by the court to hear certain matters. At the time of the taping I had been a judge pro tem for more than 7 years. I understood my obligations not hold myself out as a judge, ever! They promised me that they would edit that part out, not put me out as a judge, and put ‘attorney’ as my job. Again, they promised me. I spoke to the executive producer and the producers and directors. I wrote a letter threatening them that I would sue them if they didn’t fix this.”
He says that, with almost 20 years having passed, he no longer has a copy of the letter.
Weitzman goes on to say:
“When [the show] aired, I was shocked that they didn’t change the job position, and that they didn’t edit out the part where the host said I was a judge. They did keep the part in where I explained that I was a judge pro tem, but not the part where I said I was an attorney appointed by the court to hear certain cases.
“I called the show and threatened them again with a lawsuit, and they pulled the program after the first showing. I contacted the court and told them how sorry I was.”
“The rules of the temporary judge program have a rehabilitation system that is supposed to allow temporary judges that make mistakes to be retrained. I was very remorseful and did everything I could to remedy the situation.”
“They never gave me another chance.”
Extent of Practice
Weitzman, who is a real estate broker, is listed on the ballot as “Consumer Rights Attorney.” The extent of his law practice is uncertain this year, as it has been in previous elections.
The address for the “Law Offices of Douglas W. Weitzman,” as listed on the State Bar website, is that of a residence near the Santa Monica Airport.
A check of the “searchable civil register” on the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. website shows no actions filed by Weitzman in the Los Angeles Superior Court from Jan. 1, 1997, to the present.
Weitzman’s opponent, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynn Olson, says she considered challenging the ballot designation but decided it would not be worth the expense.
‘I have a very active legal practice, and I have done so for 31 years.
“I represent a broad section of consumers exercising their rights against businesses. other people and helping them in their real estate, business and other fields.
“I am a real estate broker, but I devote most of my time as an attorney.”
“I am practicing law and have done so consistently for over 31 years. Judge Olson cannot say that.”
She was admitted to practice in December, 1989, but was on inactive status from Jan. 1, 1999 to Dec. 29, 2005. Weitzman was admitted on Dec. 16, 1980, and has been on active status since then.
Allegations of Fraud
In 2003, the Court of Appeal for this district, in an opinion by Presiding Justice Paul Arthur Turner of Div. Five, reinstated a dismissed qui tam action Allstate Insurance Co. brought against Weitzman, the lead defendant, and others for operating an insurance fraud ring.
Turner notes that Allstate commenced an investigation in October 1996, and according to information contained in an uncontradicted declaration by Richard Wong, a senior investigator for the plaintiff, Allstate soon “obtained 78 taped confessions concerning 47 staged collisions.” The jurist notes that “[t]he confessors implicated Mr. Weitzman” and others.
The opinion goes on to say that by the time Allstate filed its complaint on Oct. 14, 1997, “[t]he fraudulent claims involved at least 99 collisions occurring between January 1992 and April 1996, and at least 326 separate claimants.”
Following remand, the case was settled out of court.
A 2001 unpublished decision reflects a settlement of a similar action brought by Financial Indemnity Company against Weitzman and others. The opinion, by Justice Earl Johnson Jr. (since retired) notes:
“The complaint alleged defendants worked with illegal ‘cappers’ to stage automobile accidents, create a ‘paper trail’ for medical care that was never rendered, and prepare insurance claims and lawsuits based on these false premises.”
Weitzman Proclaims Innocence
Weitzman has been unwilling to discuss the Allstate case in the past. This year, he opened up, insisting that he was “totally innocent,” and he says his innocence “was proven later on.”
Here’s his side of it:
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I was with a group of other attorneys that shared an office and there were a few suspicious cases that they were working on. When I found out that any of them seemed suspicious, I quit the practice and sent a letter to everyone, including clients that I was closing my practice and find another lawyer. That letter was written many months before the case that started all of this was investigated and found out to be suspicious. To this day, I never knew if that case was suspicious or not.”
The candidate adds:
“I read the affidavits and asked to speak to these people, but could never find any of them. The main witness died, so I thought that was the end of it. But I was dragged into this situation for years. Eventually the case settled. I didn’t pay any money to anyone and there was no admission of liability. A confidentiality clause was signed. That was the end of it.”
“I guess I will always have the stigma of this case.”
He is endorsed by the West Los Angeles Democratic Club.
—Roger M. Grace
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company