Metropolitan News-Enterprise

 

Friday, October 19, 2001

 

Page 5

 

C.A. Orders Lawyer Who Claimed Arbitrator Was Biased to Pay Costs

 

By a MetNews Staff Writer

 

A Century City attorney who argued on appeal that an arbitrator whom he helped select was biased against his client has been held personally liable for the opposing partyís costs on appeal.

Div. Three of this districtís Court of Appeal took the unusual action Wednesday in an unpublished opinion rejecting Donald Barnettís contention that retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Rothman had a conflict of interest in hearing a dispute between Barnettís client and Firemanís Fund Insurance Company.†

The client, Isaac Raz, sued the insurer over a claim emanating from the Northridge earthquake. When the case was called for trial in November 1998, the parties agreed to take the case to binding arbitration before Rothman, former West District supervising judge and the author of the California Judicial Conduct Handbook.

After a six-day hearing, Rothman rejected Razís bad-faith claim and awarded him $2,213 for property damage.

Barnett moved, on Razís behalf, to vacate the arbitration award. He claimed that Rothman was biased and had not fully disclosed his contacts with Firemanís Fund and with Hager & Dowling, which represented the insurer.

Rothman responded that his only contacts with that law firm were in 1997, when he served as mediator in two matters where it represented parties, and in 1999, when he arbitrated a case in which the firm represented the defendants, against whom he gave an award of $270,000.

Rothman also disclosed that he was arbitrating a Firemanís Fund case in which the insurer was represented by another law firm, a case which had been heard but not yet decided.

Firemanís Fund noted in its opposition that Raz and Barnett had requested Rothmanís appointment, that the arbitration in Razís case was substantially completed before Rothman agreed to serve as arbitrator in the unresolved 1999 Firemanís Fund case, and that Hager & Dowling was not aware of that case until Rothman disclosed it.

It was also noted that the Hager & Dowling attorney who handled the arbitration had never previously met Rothman.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman ruled there was no impropriety on Rothmanís part. Justice Richard Aldrich, writing for the Court of Appeal agreed.

Aldrich explained:

ďIt could be expected that as an arbitrator, Judge Rothman would be involved in many insurance matters, from many different companies.† A reasonable person would not form a belief that Judge Rothman was biased for or against Firemanís Fund simply because he agreed to arbitrate one other matter involving Firemanís FundÖThere is nothing to suggest that Judge Rothmanís judgment would be colored because he was to arbitrate one other dispute involving Firemanís Fund.Ē

Donna D. Geck of Hager & Dowling represented Firemanís Fund on appeal.

Barnett, who represented Raz throughout the proceedings, is no stranger to controversy.

He ran for the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1992, challenging incumbent Joyce Karlin. He spent over $100,000 of his own money, much of it on television ads, but finished last in a field of four, drawing less than 10 percent of the vote.

He was rated ďnot qualifiedĒ by the Los Angeles County Bar Association after it was disclosed that he had been reproved 15 years earlier for paying nonlawyers for referrals and for not returning clientsí phone calls, and had been a defendant in three lawsuits questioning his ethics and competency.

At the time Razís opening brief was filed last November, Aldrich pointed out in a footnote, Barnett was under suspension from the State Bar and the attorney who signed the brief on his behalf was unlicensed in California. The brief was stricken, but Barnett was permitted to refile it after he was reinstated, the justice explained.

The case is Raz v. Firemanís Fund Insurance Co.,† B139782.

 

Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company