Wednesday, January 30, 2002
C.A. Overturns Order Forcing Judge’s Husband Out of Hospital Suits
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
An order disqualifying an attorney from representing the defendants in a suit brought by a hospital because his wife—Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ana Maria Luna—served on the hospital’s board has been overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
“We concede that marriages between lawyers create a variety of novel issues concerning a lawyer’s duty of confidentiality as well as whether lawyer-client conflicts arise,” Justice William Rylaarsdam wrote Monday for Div. Three. “At the same time, we reject the suggestion that such issues should be resolved solely by reference to the marriage relationship.”
The court’s order allows Randy Kramer to continue representing Verner Waite, one of a number of Downey civic activists who are defendants in a long-running suit claiming they defamed the operators of Downey Community Hospital.
Orange Superior Court Judge Tully Seymour had ruled that Kramer had an apparent conflict because Luna had served on the Downey Community Hospital Foundation board until shortly before their 1998 marriage.
The hospital has been a subject of controversy since it was transferred from public ownership to the control of a private holding company and became affiliated with a for-profit health maintenance organization and an insurance company.
The operators and various persons and entities affiliated with the hospital have filed a number of lawsuits, claiming that a group called Concerned Citizens of Downey with engaging in a “vicious and concerted scheme to ruin [plaintiffs’] reputations by publishing false and malicious writings about them in the Downey community.”
Monday’s ruling is the second one in which the panel has reversed Seymour in the case. The court held in Rancho Publications v. Superior Court (1999) 68 Cal.App.4th 1538 that the plaintiffs could not force the Downey Eagle newspaper to disclose who had purchased ads attacking them.
Lack of Standing
Rylaarsdam Monday said the motion should have been denied, both for lack of standing and on the merits.
He noted that the foundation, although a plaintiff in the case, had not joined in the motion to disqualify Kramer, which was pressed by three of its co-plaintiffs. Nor, he said, had the moving parties claimed that they had a confidential relationship with Luna or Kramer.
The trial judge was wrong as a matter of law, Rylaarsdam went on to say, in concluding that Kramer and Luna’s marriage created an appearance of impropriety justifying disqualification.
Lawyers, unlike judges, cannot be disqualified based solely on appearances, the justice said. Nor can factual knowledge which would justify disqualification be imputed to a lawyer-spouse solely on the basis of marriage, he concluded, noting that there was no evidence Luna conveyed confidential information to Kramer.
The justice wrote:
“These issues should not be decided mechanically on the basis of the precise relationship between the lawyers. Rather, the court should start with the presumption that, unless proven otherwise, lawyers will behave in an ethical manner. Society has entrusted lawyers with confidences, and we should not assume that lawyers will violate these confidences when involved in particular relationships.”
The case is DCH Health Services Corporation v. Waite, 02 S.O.S. 495.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company