Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Judge Not Required to Disclose Nonparty Insurance Investments, C.A. Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge with substantial investments in insurance-related companies was not required to disclose those holdings to litigants in a case that did not involve any of those firms, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. One upheld a jury verdict in favor of American Bicycle Group, LLC, a maker of bicycle components. The plaintiff, Shelley Brown, unsuccessfully contended that the company was at fault in connection with a collision between Brown’s bicycle and that of her riding partner.
Brown claimed she was unable to avoid the collision after the front fork of her partner’s bicycle failed, causing him to fall. American Bicycle, the manufacturer of the fork, denied that the part was defective and offered evidence that the bike had been negligently maintained, that there had been no similar incidents involving that type of fork, and that the fork might have been struck by a foreign object.
Following the trial, the plaintiff moved for a new trial. She contended that San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert P. Dahlquist had “a clear pro-insurance bias,” based on ownership of at least $130,000 in stock in four companies with insurance holdings, as disclosed in his statement of economic interests. Dahlquist denied the motion.
Justice Cynthia Aaron, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the motion was properly denied for several reasons, including the plaintiff’s failure to move for disqualification in the trial court or to seek disqualification in the Court of Appeal by means of a writ petition.
Turning to the substance, Aaron noted the plaintiff’s argument that had she been aware of Dahlquist’s insurance holdings, she would have brought a peremptory challenge under Code of Civil Procedure §170.6. But there is no authority that a judge must disclose information relevant to a possible peremptory challenge, the justice said.
The only disclosures that must be made, Aaron said, are those that would support a challenge for cause under §170.1. And there is no authority for a challenge for cause based on economic interests that are irrelevant to the case.
“[S]ince Brown does not allege that any of the companies in which the trial judge held an ownership interest was a party to this case or a carrier of ABG’s, we conclude that the trial judge had no duty to disclose these interests, and that the trial court was not disqualified to preside over this case in light of such interests,” Aaron wrote. No reasonable person, she suggested, would doubt a judge’s impartiality solely because he owned interests in an insurance company that was not involved in a case before him.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, the justice said the plaintiff failed to preserve certain evidentiary objections for appeal. Aaron noted that Dahlquist had expressly stated that the rulings in question were not final, and that the plaintiff’s counsel did not contend on appeal that any objections were made at trial to the evidence in question.
The justice further noted that the only portion of the trial transcript designated for appeal was the testimony of an engineering consultant. That left the court without the ability to examine the entire record to determine whether any error was prejudicial, Aaron said.
The case is Brown v. American Bicycle Group, LLC, D063268
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