Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Page 8



No, Weingart, All Minors Need Not Be Identified by Initials, Only


By Roger M. Grace


On Aug. 2, 2019, Levon Sahakyan, then age 13, stepped into a marked crosswalk on Verdugo Road in Glendale and was struck by a vehicle navigated by a drunk driver.

Levon had looked left and right before crossing, pedestrian lights were flashing as he proceeded, and the youth was, by all accounts, faultless. He incurred severe injuries.

His brother, Arsen Sahakyan, then 16, also in the crosswalk, was unscathed.

Suit was brought in Los Angeles Superior Court on March 13, 2020 by Levon and Arsen, by and through their guardian ad litem, Aram Sahakyan (their father), against the driver, Christopher Carone—who settled—and against the City of Glendale. Liability on the part of the city was alleged on a theory of a dangerous condition of public property, to which governmental immunity does not attach.

Arsen sued based on an alleged bystander injury, asserting emotional harm.

Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Crowley on Dec. 3, 2021, granted summary judgment in favor of the city, holding that the lack of a traffic control device or warning signs cannot constitute a dangerous condition and that the city is immune. Div. One of the Court of Appeal for this district affirmed on Nov. 21 in an unpublished opinion by Justice Gregory J. Weingart.

If you were Levon Sahakyan, now 17, would you feel embarrassed to have any of this revealed?

Why in the world would you?

Yet, in Weingart’s opinion, Levon is identified as “L.S.” and his brother is denominated “A.S.”

This is reflective of the proliferating use of pseudonymous references to parties, often, as here, wholly without reason, reflecting bone-headed faithlessness to the firmly established precept that court proceedings are, by default, public, not confidential, matters.

Initials are often used in court opinions in place of the actual names of minors—that is, minors who are delinquents, are wards of the court, or are victims. This avoids what could be life-long stigmatization of them based on imprudent acts committed before they were fully developed and accountable, in delinquency cases, or predicated on circumstances forced on them, in other instances.

The Sahakyan brothers do not come under rule 8.401 of the California Rules of Court requiring “anonymity of juveniles involved in juvenile court proceedings.” The proceedings took place in a civil courtroom in the Mosk Courthouse.

Rule 8.90 of the California Rules of Court declares that it “provides guidance on the use of names in appellate court opinions.” All too often that rule is robotically applied as if it were comprised of a set of strictures rather than guidelines—factors which, the rule says, appellate courts should “consider” in deciding whether to accord anonymity. Even if it were mandatory, however, the rule is inapplicable.

Other than pointing to rule 8.401, it contains only one reference to minors. It alludes to “[c]hildren in all proceedings under the Family Code.” Levon and Arsen Sahakyan were not parties in a family law proceeding; they sued in tort.

Nor do they come under other provisions in the rule. As plaintiffs, they were not “[w]ards in guardianship proceedings” or “[v]ictims in criminal proceedings.”

And they don’t fall under the catchall provision: “Persons in other circumstances in which personal privacy interests support not using the person’s name.”

They have no privacy interest for Weingart to protect. Suit was brought in the names of Levon and Arsen Sahakyan. Their trial attorneys made no effort after that to have anonymity conferred on them, (putting aside the lack of any arguable basis for anonymity at the outset, let alone after their identities had became matters of public record).

Representing them on appeal was Santa Clarita attorney Delores “Dee” Yarnall, an experienced and well-known practitioner. She did not seek to have their identities concealed.

Nor did Crowley refer to them by their initials.

Yet, along comes Weingart, assuming the role of “Big Brother,” shielding them from the supposed ignominy of having it publicly bared that Levon Sahakyan stepped into a crosswalk and was hit by a car driven by a man with a blood-alcohol level of .30 percent and Arsen Sahakyan was also in that crosswalk.

Although Levon, at 17, is still a minor, he has had lawyers to protect his interests, a father to stand up for him and guide the lawyers, and an actual big brother who gained his majority in 2020, who is also a litigant, and is, it may be assumed, capable of providing input, indeed instructions. Levon does not need Weingart and his cohorts in Div. One—Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild and Justice Helen I. Bendix—to shield him from non-existent harms.

If the observation by Dickens’s character, Mr. Bumble, that “the law is a ass—a idiot” is currently applicable in this bailiwick, it is owing to the caliber of some of those who, mindlessly, judicially apply our laws.


Copyright 2023, Metropolitan News Company