Award of Attorney Fees by Judge Hammock Was Not Invalid, Opinion Says, Although Then-Judge Weintraub Had Previously Presided in Case and Was Available
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district held on Friday that when it remands a case to the Superior Court, the parties have no entitlement to have the case be reassigned to the original trial judge where that judge is available.
Justice Dorothy Kim of Div. Five wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication. It affirms an attorney-fee award by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randolph M. Hammock, rejecting the plaintiff’s contention that the matter should have been decided by another member of the court, then-Judge Debre K. Weintraub, who retired June 29.
The case had been assigned to Weintraub, for all purposes, in 2013. Sitting in Department 47, on Feb. 1, 2016, she determined that the prevailing party in a dispute over the leasing of parking spaces—defendant Liberal Arts 677 Benevolent Foundation, Inc.—was not entitled to an award of attorney fees under a contractual provision.
On May 23, 2018, Div. Five reversed in an opinion by then-Orange Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning, now retired, who was sitting on assignment.
Shifted to Hammock
The case was routed, on remand, to Weintraub, then sitting in Department One, who lobbed the case to Hammock, who had moved to Department 47. Efforts by the plaintiff, AAWestwood, LLC, to have the case put back in Weintraub’s hands failed, and Hammock on Feb. 21, 2019, awarded the defendant $225,000 in attorney fees as the prevailing party in the trial court, and $55,000 based on the lawyers’ work on the appeal.
AAWestwood, LLC appealed, arguing:
“The Rule of returning remanded cases to the available initial trial court is the rule, to which there should [be] no exception.”
“Plaintiff cites no relevant authority in support of its claim and none of the statutes or cases cited in plaintiff’s briefs supports application of such a broad rule.”
Supreme Court Decision
The jurist cited the California Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in People v. Osslo. There, Justice B. Rey Schauer said:
“An individual judge (as distinguished from a court) is not empowered to retain jurisdiction of a cause. The cause is before the court, not the individual judge of that court, and the jurisdiction which the judge exercises is the jurisdiction of the court, not of the judge.”
Contradicting the proposition that the court, not a judge, possesses jurisdiction, Kim said, in declaring that Hammock properly presided over the matter:
“Thus, Judge Hammock had jurisdiction to hear the attorney fees motions on remand.”
The plaintiff had prevailed on a legal cause of action and obtained a judgment for $3,809.52, while the defendant obtained equitable relief.
“On this record,” Kim said, “the court did not abuse its discretion by finding defendant recovered greater relief on the contract and was thus entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees.”
The case is AAWestwood v. Liberal Arts 677, B296066.
Lottie Cohen of Westwood Lawyers and Brian Boydston of the Westwood firm of Pick & Boydston represented AAWestwood. West Los Angeles attorney Lawrence M. Lebowsky acted for Liberal Arts 677.
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