C.A. Declares Disbarred Attorney to Be Vexatious Litigant Based on Appeals
First District Panel Acts on Its Own Motion
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Three of the First District Court of Appeal, acting on its own motion, has taken the rare step of declaring a serial appellant, who repeatedly loses, to be a vexatious litigant, requiring the woman—a disbarred attorney—to gain permission of the presiding judge of a superior court to file a lawsuit or consent of a presiding justice of a court of appeal to file an appeal, when acting in pro per.
Code of Civil Procedure §391(b)(1) defines a “vexatious litigant” as a person who “[i]n the immediately preceding seven-year period has commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations other than in a small claims court that have been (i) finally determined adversely to the person….”
Justice Victor Rodríguez said in Wednesday’s opinion:
“Since July 2016, disbarred California attorney Elizabeth M. Barnson Karnazes has, while self-represented, ‘commenced, prosecuted, or maintained’ nine appeals in this court that have been ‘finally determined adversely’ to her—that is, matters not subject to further appellate review….During the pendency of these appeals, she engaged in a pattern of delay that has burdened this court and the litigants she has sued. On our own motion, we conclude Karnazes is a vexatious litigant, and we impose a prefiling order prohibiting her from filing new litigation in the courts of this state without first obtaining permission from the presiding judge or justice where the litigation is proposed to be filed.”
Going back beyond seven years, he noted that Karnazes had filed 31 appeals in the First District, acting in pro per in 30 of them, losing 23 times, and gaining partial success twice. Six of the appeals are pending, including the appeal in the case in which the vexatious-litigant order was made: Karnazes v. The Lauriedale Homeowners Association, A167888.
Karnazes’s Arguments Addressed
Addressing arguments Karnazes put forth in response to an order to show cause why she should not be declared a vexatious litigant, Rodríguez wrote:
“First, she observes it is unusual for a court to issue an OSC rather than wait for an opposing party to move to declare a person vexatious. Even if true, the circumstances of this matter demonstrate the need for the issuance of an OSC. Where a litigant like Karnazes has initiated and maintained litigation in numerous jurisdictions—including state and federal courts—and against different parties, vexatious conduct may go unaddressed absent a court’s action in the first instance. Second, she seems to contend an appellate court cannot declare her vexatious. Not so. Appellate courts have the power to declare litigants vexatious and to impose prefixing orders—and they have done so on several occasions.”
He added that the nine appeals in issue “cumulatively were pending for more than 28 years,” remarking:
“In addition to the uncertainty that length of time has caused opposing parties—to say nothing of counsel and parties in other pending matters waiting for this court’s attention—her conduct has imposed substantial costs on court staff in the form of responding to innumerable communications and addressing her repeated violations of the California Rules of Court.”
The present appeal is from a Feb. 28 order by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo dismissing the action for failure to comply with Code of Civil Procedure §583.310 which provides that “[a]n action shall be brought to trial within five years after the action is commenced against the defendant.”
Her complaint, filed April 5, 2017, alleges that Lauriedale is liable for the injuries she sustained on or about March 31, 2015, when she “suddenly and without warning tripped on the defective sidewalk” outside the defendant’s premises.
Among her various causes of action is one for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a representative of Lauriedale declining to drive her to the hospital.
The State Bar Court Review Department on Jan. 2, 2014, issued an opinion recommending that the California Supreme Court disbar Karnazes, saying:
“This case involves serious overreaching of the attorney-client relationship under the guise of parental concern. Respondent Elizabeth M. Barnson Karnazes used the legal system to further her desire to control her adult son, who was also her client. In doing so, she lost sight of her ethical obligations and committed serious misconduct, including misappropriating over $57,000 of his settlement funds through conversion, commingling over $100,000 of her personal fluids with his, and filing a lawsuit directly adverse to him. After her son filed a complaint with the State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel (State Bar), Karnazes compounded her misconduct by conditioning the release of his funds on his agreement not to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation. In the end, Karnazes withheld her son’s settlement funds for more than three years and released them only four days before her disciplinary trial.”
Disbarment came on June 13, 2014.
She had incurred prior discipline: a January 2010 public reproval based on her misdemeanor conviction, pursuant to a no-contest plea, for trespassing.
Copyright 2023, Metropolitan News Company