Tuesday, November 29, 2016
C.A. Affirms $25,000 in Sanctions Against Serial Litigator
Copy Shop Rebuffed in Its Sixth Appeal Stemming From an Unsuccessful 2008 Lawsuit;
Appellant Is Represented by a Vexatious Litigant Facing State Bar Disciplinary Charges
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed a trial court’s award of $25,000 in attorney fees and costs in connection with two earlier appeals, with the latest appeal being the sixth in a series brought by a Northridge copy shop in connection with an ill-fated case it filed in 2008—its cause being championed by a lawyer who has been declared a vexatious litigant and is facing State Bar discipline.
At issue in the latest appeal is an award by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Pfahler of $10,000 in attorney fees and costs connection with one previous unsuccessful appeal by ASAP Copy and Print, and a $15,000 award by Pfahler against ASAP stemming from another of its challenges to a trial court order.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren of Div. Two wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication.
Boren said various contentions by ASAP had previously been put forth and rejected by the appeals court, and declared that Pfahler did not abuse his discretion in setting the amounts of the awards.
ASAP’s attorney, Nina Ringgold, contended in the present appeal that Pfahler should have disqualified himself and that Div. Two should likewise be recused.
Allegations of Pfahler’s supposed bias cannot be considered, Boren said, because Pfahler struck ASAP’s statement of disqualification, and the “appropriate means for challenging an order concerning the disqualification of a trial judge is by way of a petition for writ of mandate filed within 10 days of the order.”
“ASAP also invites this court to recuse itself from hearing this appeal because ASAP is suing a member of this court and a member of the court staff in federal court. ASAP has previously, and unsuccessfully, employed federal court litigation as a tactic to recuse this court from hearing its appeals. It is well-settled that a litigant cannot ‘judge shop’ by filing a lawsuit against an appellate panel in an effort to obtain the panel’s disqualification.”
The case arose from ASAP’s dispute with Canon Solutions America over the leasing to ASAP of a photocopier.
In a June 4, 2012 opinion, Div. Two affirmed the dismissal by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Marie Scheper of ASAP’s action against Canon. Acting Justice Douglas W. Sortino, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sitting on assignment, commented in the opinion:
“This simple dispute generated a trial record in excess of 9,000 pages. Although ASAP’s claims were ultimately dismissed or stricken by the trial court after demurrers or motions to strike, it took nearly two years to reach this resolution. The current appeal consists of three appellants’ briefs (two opening and one reply) and six respondents’ briefs, totaling over 365 pages. The consumption of resources by this unremarkable lawsuit is largely attributable to the inefficient and ultimately unsuccessful way in which ASAP’s counsel chose to litigate it, at both the trial and appellate levels.”
In a March 4, 2014 opinion, Boren found the appeal by ASAP and Ringgold of sanction orders to be frivolous and imposed an $8,000 sanction against the attorney.
On June 23, 2014, Boren wrote an opinion rebuffing contentions by ASAP, but this time denied a request for sanctions saying that Canon “can be adequately compensated by filing appropriate motions in the trial court for attorney fees as the prevailing parties in this appeal.”
“However tempting the request of CFS may be, we are simply unwilling to expend the additional court resources that would be required in order to find the present appeal frivolous.”
It was in connection with those two 2014 appeals that Pfahler on Feb. 11, 2015, made the awards that were affirmed yesterday.
Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal on Feb. 18, 2009, found Ringgold to be a vexatious litigant, stemming from prolonged litigation over a family trust. Div. Two, on July 21, 2009, filed its own order declaring her to have that status.
On Aug. 4, 2014, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relieved Ringgold and her son of vexatious litigant status in the federal courts, saying less severe measures should have been considered by District Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California.
The State Bar on March 23, 2015, filed disciplinary charges against Ringgold. They included counts based on conduct in ASAP’s litigation against Canon: four counts of maintaining an unjust action, five counts of failure to report sanctions to the State Bar, and four counts of failing to obey a court order.
There are 22 counts, in all, including habitual misuse of the judicial system, to the point of constituting moral turpitude. In a response, she has denied all allegations.
The California Supreme Court on Sept. 23, 2015, declined to grant review to Ringgold, who is contesting the State Bar’s jurisdiction.
Ringgold, a graduate of Columbia Law School, was admitted to practice in California in 1988.
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