Thursday, July 14, 2016
S.C. Closes Case of Ventura ‘Snoring Dog’ Judge Ayers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday formally dismissed the case of Ventura Superior Court Judge Nancy Ayers, who challenged the “stinger” letter that the Commission on Judicial Performance issued to her for keeping a service dog she was training in her courtroom.
The docket sheet on the court’s website says the court was informed last week by Ayers’ attorney, Edith Matthai, that the commission had withdrawn the letter. The high court, without dissent, had previously ordered the commission to either withdraw the letter or explain why it should not be ordered to do so.
The commission said it acted in response to complaints by criminal defendants that proceedings had been disrupted by snores or other sounds from the dog, whom the judge kept at her feet. The judge denied the claim that the occasional sounds were disrupted, and presiding judges who allowed her to have the dog in court and attorneys who appeared before her have defended her.
The commission argued in its opposition to the judge’s writ petition that by having a dog in the courtroom, Ayers failed to “to ensure that her judicial duties take precedence over all other activities.” While her work with guide dogs is “laudable,” and it is appropriate that the dogs be trained in public facilities, the need for the judge to give undivided attention to proceedings renders it improper for Ayers to have the dog in court, the commission insisted.
In other action taken at yesterday’s conference in San Francisco, the justices left standing a ruling by Div. Eight of this district’s Court of Appeal that a computer animator who says he gave writer/director/ producer James Cameron story ideas that became part of the 2009 science fiction epic “Avatar” failed to establish a prima facie case.
No justice voted to grant review in Ryder v. Lightstorm Entertainment, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal. App. 4th 1064.
Eric Ryder said the defendants misappropriated a story he wrote in the 1990s, “KRZ 2068.” But Justice Madeline Flier said there was no substantial evidence that the story was similar to Cameron’s project or that Cameron or Lightstorm made any misrepresentations to him as to their intent to use his ideas.
Avatar, reportedly the top-grossing film of all time, is about a futuristic moon called Pandora, occupied by an indigenous species of humanoids called Na’vi, as well as by humans involved in mining a valuable mineral called “unobtanium” for use on earth. Human scientists use genetically engineered “avatars” resembling Na’vi, whom they control via a mental link, to interact with the Na’vi.
Ryder’s story, Flier explained in her opinion, is based on Heart of Darkness, a classic story written by Joseph Conrad at the end of the 19th Century. Ryder’s telling takes place on an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, to which a female corporate assassin travels with a robot in order to investigate the death of the human base commander for her employer, a “super-corporation” involved in harvesting organisms from beneath the icy surface.
Flier explained that because it was undisputed that Cameron wrote his narrative, or “scriptment,” before Ryder created KRZ, Ryder had to prove that elements added to Avatar beyond the scriptment were substantially similar to elements in his story. “To confer rights on Ryder over the elements already created in the Avatar scriptment under these circumstances would turn idea submission law on its head,” the justice wrote.
No rational juror, she concluded after reviewing the 12 elements that Ryder claimed were added to the scriptment, would find that those elements were taken from KRZ, because the differences between the stories were vast and the similarities “insubstantial.”
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