Wednesday, December 30, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has upheld a summary judgment which the Los Angeles Superior Court granted in favor of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Justice Brian M. Hoffstadt of Div. Two wrote the opinion, which was filed Thursday and not certified for publication. It affirms a judgment by then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth R. Feffer, now mediator/arbitrator.
The plaintiff, Hovhannes Markosyan, claimed that the court terminated his probationary employment as a judicial assistant, unlawfully, in retaliation for his writing a letter to a judge urging sentencing leniency for his brother, Gevorg Markosyan, who had pled guilty to robbery, and for certain whistleblowing activity.
Markosyan said in a letter to then-Superior Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld (now a member of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California):
“My name is Hovhaness Markosyan and I am a Judicial Assistant at the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. I am assigned to the central district and spend most of my time working with the Judges at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles.
“The purpose of this letter is to shed some light on this case as well as the recent plea. Gevorg Markosyan recently plead no contest to a charge of Penal Code section 211. His sentencing is set for August 22, 2016. However, it is my belief and conviction that he did not do so freely and voluntarily, but rather due to heavy emotional and psychological burden. A similar plea offer was made to him before he had his baby daughter. He had rejected the offer then and was intent on taking the case to trial under the advice of many private attorneys.”
He went on to say:
“The purpose of this letter is not to discredit the plea or the work of the officers and the district attorney, but to stop an act of injustice from happening. My goal is not to have the case against him dropped or for him not to serve any jail time, but for the full facts to be considered before permanently altering Gevorg’s life.”
The firing was pegged to the letter in which Hovhannes Markosyan made references to his employment by the Los Angeles Superior Court and his accessing the court’s docketing system in connection with his brother’s case.
In his complaint alleging retaliation in violation of Labor Code §1102.5 and for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff asserted:
“DEFENDANT intentionally retaliated against PLAINTIFF due to his protected activity.”
The letter to the judge was not protected activity, Hoffstadt declared, and there were no facts indicating that Hovhannes Markosyan’s whistleblowing activity contributed to the decision to fire him.
“Plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action for reporting short breaks, unpaid overtime, or criminal defendants’ time in custody,” Hoffstadt said.
Addressing the letter to Blumenfeld, Hoffstadt wrote:
“First, plaintiff did not engage in protected activity because the letter itself did not disclose a subjective belief in a violation of the law. Although plaintiff now claims that he was blowing the whistle on his brother’s coerced plea, his letter disclaimed any subjective belief that the plea was invalid….
“Second, even if we construe the letter’s assertions that plaintiff’s brother’s plea was not ‘freely and voluntarily given’ because it was the product of the ‘heavy emotional and psychological burden’ of possibly losing custody of his daughter, the letter does not reasonably disclose a violation of the law. Instead, the law expressly provides that the personal pressures a criminal defendant faces when deciding to enter a plea—including, as is the case here, the possible loss of custody of one’s child—do not render that plea involuntary or otherwise unlawful.”
The jurist added:
“Thus, it was not objectively reasonable for plaintiff to believe (if he did) that his brother’s plea violated the law ….This is true, even if, as plaintiff later asserted in his deposition, his brother’s prosecutor or defense counsel were the ones who may have pointed out the consequences of the plea when advising him.”
The case is Markosyan v. Superior Court, B303211.
Nate J. Kowalski, Jorge J. Luna and Jennifer D. Cantrell of the Cerritos firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo represented the Superior Court. Markosyan was in pro per.
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