Thursday, January 17, 2013
Supreme Court Grants Review to Decide Pitchess Issue
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether an administrative hearing officer may order discovery of material in a peace officer’s personnel file.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously granted review in Riverside County Sheriff’s Department v. Stiglitz (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 888.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Two ruled in October that there are circumstances in which a hearing officer may grant a Pitchess motion. The panel overturned a Riverside Superior Court judge’s ruling directing hearing officer Jan Stiglitz to deny such a motion brought on behalf of Kristy Drinkwater, a fired correctional deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Drinkwater, who was terminated for falsifying time records, contends that the penalty was excessive because other employees were not fired for similar conduct. She sought to obtain information from the files of employees she claims were in that category, but the department objected.
After Stiglitz granted the motion, the department argued for the first time that only a judicial officer can grant discovery of peace officer personnel records under Penal Code Sec. 832.7, which sets forth the procedure for obtaining such records, which were held discoverable in Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher agreed with the department and ordered that discovery be denied. But Justice Art McKinster, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the Legislature never intended to limit the authority to grant Pitchess discovery to judicial officers.
“[T]he language of the statute unambiguously reflects the Legislature’s recognition that Pitchess discovery may be relevant in a variety of contexts and that it chose to apply Pitchess discovery generally, not solely in criminal proceedings,” the jurist wrote.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Unanimously denied petitions by both sides for review of a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal in the multimillion dollar lawsuit brought by actor Don Johnson over profits from his hit series “Nash Bridges.”
Johnson sued the series’ producers and financiers, Rysher Entertainment, 2929 Entertainment and Qualia Capital, claiming he had been shortchanged. Jurors awarded him $23.2 million in damages, and both sides filed post-trial motions.
Johnson claimed that prejudgment interest should have been added to the verdict. The defendants claimed there was juror misconduct, and filed declarations in which jurors said the verdict was intended to consist of $15 million in damages plus $8.2 million in prejudgment interest, even though there had been no jury instructions on interest.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Stern sided with the plaintiff and added nearly $6 million to the verdict, bringing the total to $29.15 million. But the Court of Appeal ruled that the prejudgment interest award by the jury constituted misconduct, and that the judge’s addition of interest violated Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 657, because it was in the nature of an order granting new trial based on “inadequate damages,” and was not accompanied by the statutorily required explanation of reasons.
The Court of Appeal cut the award to $15 million plus interest from the date of the verdict, which was delivered in July 2010.
The case is Don Johnson Productions, Inc. v. Rysher Entertainment (2012) 209 Cal.App 4th 919.
•Left standing a Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Three ruling that an Orange Superior Court judge did not abuse his discretion by ordering a father who divides time between two states to pay more in child support than was required by an Ohio order that he successfully challenged.
The court also held that Jeffrey Barth’s equal protection rights were not denied by making the new order retroactive, because Barth was not in the same position as someone who pays support under a temporary California order, the amount of which cannot be retroactively increased, and also because the Ohio order was void, as Barth had successfully argued in that state.
“If ever there was a case where the adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ applied, this is surely it,” Justice Eileen Moore wrote for the Court of Appeal in In re Marriage of Barth, G045142.
•Denied review of the Third District Court of Appeal’s Nov. 2 ruling, in International Brotherhood v. City of Redding (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 1114, that a city granted vested rights to retired employees by promising, in a union contract, to pay a specified portion of their health benefits. The panel also denied a request by the League of California Cities to depublish the opinion by Justice George Nicholson.
•Left standing the Oct. 30 ruling by this district’s Div. One that the “completed and accepted” doctrine excuses an architect from liability for defective design once the owner of the premises has signed off on the work. The court said in Neiman v. Leo A. Daly Company, 2012 WL 5333416, that the designer of the Main Stage Theatre building at Santa Monica Community College established an affirmative defense under the doctrine, barring Ellen Neiman’s suit as a matter of law.
•Declined to review the Nov. 1 ruling of this district’s Div. Five, in an unpublished opinion in The Western California Presbytery v. Holy Hill Community Church, B236877, that a church presbytery’s firing of the pastor and several other officials of an affiliated congregation was an ecclesiastical decision not subject to judicial review.
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