By a MetNews Staff Writer
J.B. Casas Jr., who sat as a judge of a municipal court in Los Angeles County in the 1980s but was bounced from his post by voters when he came up for election, has now incurred rejection in the Court of Appeal, which found meritless the contention that his agreement to pay $250,000 in settlement of a malpractice action against him is unenforceable because his wife would not go along with it.
“Plaintiffs sued Casas, not his wife,” Acting Presiding Justice Thomas L. Willhite Jr. of this district’s Div. Four said in an unpublished opinion, filed Wednesday. “Only Casas’s signature was necessary to create a binding agreement.”
Casas, 78, whose office is in Montebello, was sued in connection with his allegedly shoddy estate planning and probate services. A settlement was reached at a mediation session before retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg.
The ex-judge agreed to make installment payments on a $250,000 obligation and, if he failed to do so, that judgment would be entered against him for $433,275. A further term was that he and his wife, Elizabeth P. Casas, would jointly execute, as security, a promissory note and deed of trust on real property they owned.
Casas soon disavowed the settlement agreement, insisting that it was invalidated by virtue of his wife’s refusal to sign a promissory note and deed of trust.
Although the plaintiffs quickly waived that provision, Casas still maintained that it was a prerequisite to enforceability of the agreement and that, in any event, the agreement was ineffective because his wife had not signed it.
A motion to enforce the settlement agreement was brought by the plaintiffs under Code of Civil Procedure §664.6, which provides:
“If parties to pending litigation stipulate, in a writing signed by the parties outside the presence of the court or orally before the court, for settlement of the case, or part thereof, the court, upon motion, may enter judgment pursuant to the terms of the settlement.”
The motion was granted on Aug. 3, 2018, by then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rita Miller, now a private judge. Judgment was entered for $433,275.
Casas appealed and, while the appeal was pending, his motion to vacate the judgment was denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Lia Martin on March 6, 2019.
Appeals Court Opinion
“Casas contends the trial court erred in granting plaintiffs’ motion for entry of judgment because his wife—a necessary party to the settlement agreement—did not sign that agreement. Casas misreads the statute. That Casas’s wife never signed the settlement agreement is of no consequence. She was not a party to this action. Plaintiffs’ motion for entry of judgment did not seek to enforce the settlement against Mrs. Casas, and her signature was not required.”
He pointed out that §664.6 only requires that the settlement agreement was signed by “the parties seeking to enforce the agreement under section 664.6 and against whom the agreement is sought to be enforced,” noting:
“Here, only Casas and plaintiffs were parties to the pending litigation and the Stipulated Settlement, signed by each party to the pending litigation, met the requirements for entry of judgment under section 664.6.”
The refusal of Elizabeth Casas to execute the promissory note and deed of trust did not affect the obligation of her husband, Willhite said, declaring that her “signature on final settlement documents anticipated by the Stipulated Settlement was not necessary to bind Casas to that agreement.” He said that the “additional security” that was provided for “benefitted only plaintiffs” and that they were “free to waive” it.
The jurist went on to say:
“Casas argues that the statute of frauds prevented him from encumbering community property without his wife's written consent. True. However, this did not serve to eliminate Casas's obligation to pay the agreed upon settlement. The security provided for an obligation [that] is independent of the obligation itself. Plaintiffs’ decision to abandon the security did not absolve Casas of his obligation to pay the $250,000.”
A footnote advises:
“Casas has never argued the stipulated judgment constitutes an unlawful liquidated damages award. Indeed, he concedes it is enforceable in the event of his default. Casas made no attempt to contradict [the plaintiffs’] assertion that the amount of the Stipulated Judgment represented the actual damages plaintiffs suffered due to Casas’s malpractice.”
Martin’s decision not to vacate Miller’s judgment was also upheld. Willhite said that once a judgment is appealed, the Superior Court may not dump it unless it is void on its face—which the judgment wasn’t.
The case is Thompson v. Casas, B293066.
Chatsworth lawyer James V. Mellein put forth arguments on appeal for Casas. Jay J. Elliott of the Brentwood firm of Thomas & Elliott joined with Judith E. Posner and Kian Tamaddoni of the Woodland Hills firm of Benedon & Serlin, in representing the judgment creditors.
Casas was appointed to the Rio Hondo Municipal Court in 1983 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Pulling only 47.93 percent of the vote in the 1986 primary election, he was defeated by attorney Richard Van Dusen, who ran primarily on the issues that the incumbent resided in Montebello, outside the judicial district, and was soft on crime.
In 1996, Casas ran for election to the East Los Angeles Municipal Court against incumbent Ruth Kwan, now a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
It was believed at the time that Brown had named Kwan to a post in that judicial district, inhabited primarily by Hispanic Americans, mistaking it for one in the San Gabriel Valley largely populated by Asian Americans.
Casas paid for a candidate statement, to be published in the sample ballot, in which he referred to himself as “Judge Casas.”
In response to Kwan’s challenge in a writ proceeding, then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien (now retired) ordered the Los Angeles County’s Registrar-Recorder’s Office to eliminate references to Casas as “Judge” because it implied incumbency, and enjoined the candidate from referring to himself as a judge in “any other election-related materials.”
Kwan bagged 59 percent of the vote.
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