Friday, October 2, 2020
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge who spurned a plaintiff’s request for $164,768 in attorney fees and costs, awarding only $1,000, without telling why, has some explaining to do, Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has declared.
The opinion, which was not certified for publication, was filed Wednesday. It reverses an order by Orange Superior Court Judge Derek W. Hunt.
Plaintiff Alejandro Ramirez sought the award based on a term of a settlement agreement with CL Education, Inc. and others under which he was to receive $25,001, plus attorney fees and costs to be set by the court. He sought $161,947.50 in attorney fees—based on 196.3 hours at $550 per hour, with multiplier of 1.5 based on the contingency nature of the fees—and $2,820.70 in costs.
Justice David A. Thompson wrote:
“Here, while it is mathematically possible to derive the $1,000 awarded by the trial court from some form of lodestar calculation (e.g., two hours at $500 per hour, four hours at $250 per hour, etc.), the record shows the trial court did not use this approach. The $1,000 awarded is a round figure, bearing no relationship with Ramirez’s counsel’s claimed hourly rate ($550 per hour), or the hours claimed by Ramirez’s counsel (196.3), or even the reductions suggested by defendants in their opposition.”
“And without some explanation as to the thinking of the trial court in arriving at this figure, we cannot identify any reasonable basis for selecting $1,000 as the amount of the award, as opposed to any other round number. Moreover, the reduction from claimed fees of $161,947.50 to awarded fees of $1,000 was so substantial that at least some explanation or justification was warranted.”
Thompson said in a footnote:
“[T]he transcript of the hearing on the motion, were we inclined to consider it, also fails to provide any reasonable basis for the $1,000 award. Instead, it tends to support Ramirez’s contention the award was arbitrary, because it demonstrates the trial court evidently either had not reviewed or did not have access to Ramirez’s full moving papers prior to the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and the trial court issued its decision at 11:38 a.m. that same morning.”
The case is Ramirez v. CL Education, G057375.
A published opinion from Div. Three reflecting Hunt’s failure to provide an explanation for an action was filed July 29. Hunt granted a motion to dismiss—apparently before receiving the opposition—and then, when the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, he denied it in chambers, without providing reasons.
The parties’ attorneys were in Hunt’s court on July 10, 2018, on other motions; Hunt advanced the motion to dismiss, scheduled to be heard two weeks later, to that date, and when the plaintiff’s attorney said he wanted to file opposition, Hunt told him:
“The way it works is, file when you can. I’m not going to turn it down. I start reading. And when I get bored. I stop reading….Put the good stuff up front.”
The minute order indicates that he granted the motion in court on July 10, before the electronic filing of opposition at 5:37 p.m., although Justice Raymond Ikola said in his opinion in the case, Steciw v. Petra Geosciences, Inc., that this was not entirely clear. In a footnote, he observed:
“The fundamental requirements of procedural due process are notice and an opportunity to be heard….Here, the court advanced the hearing on the motion to dismiss without notice to anyone, apparently because a clerk had told the judge that the hearing was advanced. When the attorneys told him that was not the case, the judge simply refused to budge. Plaintiffs’ counsel was clearly unprepared to argue the motion at the hearing, and when plaintiffs asked to submit an opposition, the court allowed it but implied it would not be taken seriously. The record is ambiguous as to whether the court considered plaintiffs’ hastily prepared opposition to the motion to dismiss. But because we reverse and remand on the merits, we need not decide whether plaintiffs were denied due process and if so, whether the deprivation was prejudicial.”
‘Ordered by Me’
Div. Three on Aug. 31 reversed an order by Hunt denying confirmation of an arbitration award. The parties had—while the case was pending before Hunt and after he had ordered nonbinding judicial arbitration—contractually agreed to binding arbitration.
The published opinion by Justice William W. Bedsworth recites that Hunt declared that “there’s no basis for regarding this as a binding arbitration” because the arbitration “was ordered by me, the judge. Not by the parties.”
That didn’t change, Hunt insisted, just because the parties dumped the initial arbitrator, Laguna Hills attorney Lawrence A. Strid, and signed up with ADR Services, Inc. for arbitration by retired Orange Superior Court Judge Dennis S. Choate (son of the late Raymond Choate, who had been a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court).
“Essentially, the trial court believed that the arbitration before Judge Choate was a mandatory, nonbinding judicial arbitration. But it could not have been. The court was without authority to order mandatory judicial arbitration since…unlawful detainer cases are exempt from the procedure. In any event, litigants are always free to voluntarily submit their dispute to arbitration on their own terms. They may turn to contractual arbitration after a dispute has arisen.”
That case is Rivera v. Shivers.
Robing Room Comments
Several comments on Hunt posted on the Robing Room website say he is rude to counsel. One government lawyer termed him “[o]ne of the rudest and most biased judges I’ve ever been in front of,” remarking that he “refuses to give his reasoning behind his rulings, and yells at lawyers for doing things like getting a pen out of their pockets or looking at the clock.”
A civil litigator said:
“Opposing Counsel’s wife diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. He and his wife have a six-year-old and a six-month-old.
“Judge Hunt denied stipulated Ex Parte to continue trial and questioned Counsel on whether he was a daily care giver for his wife.
“This behavior lacks simple human decency let alone a modicum of judicial temperament.”
Another civil litigator had this to say:
“He may be the worst judge I have encountered in decades of practice and five thousand court appearances, and in my matter with him my client was successful on all counts yet I am compelled to warn against him. He is arrogant and abusive and enamored with his pseudo brilliance which is apparent only to himself. He will take over the case, develop or create immaterial facts, spin them to create a version of the case separate from reality, and then fashion an insipid ruling to apply to his faulty understanding. The lawyers will have little or no involvement as the case is hijacked and efforts to correct his substantial errors will not be well received. A tragedy is that his methodology takes much longer to develop than had he read the pleadings, which in my matter he clearly had not.”
Alluding to peremptory challenges of judges under Code of Civil Procedure §170.6, a civil practitioner advised:
“Run, do not walk to 170.6 him. There is a reason his courtroom looks like a ghost town. He is a vile and horrible human and an even worse judge.”
Hunt was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Pete Wilson on July 14, 1997. He has no record of public discipline by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
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