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March 19, 2024
“Motion granted, Bimbo!”

You can’t change your name to something offensive, but the Court of Appeal publishes its opinion in Wood v. S.F. Cnty. Superior Court (D1d2 Mar. 14, 2024 No. A168463) [cert. for pub.] to announce that, as a matter of law, “Bimbo” is not offensive. The full name the appellant sought was “Candi Bimbo Doll.” This...

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March 16, 2024
“Tackling Court Reporter Scarcity in California,” Presented to Santa Cruz Bar Association (Feb. 22, 2024)

Last month, I presented to the Santa Cruz Bar Association about the dwindling reserves of court reporters in California. The presentation includes a brief history why California law mostly prohibits electronic recording, why we have a critical shortage of court reporters, and what it means for your practice. You can download a PDF of the...

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February 20, 2024
Sleep Well, Crush Your Enemies, with Leslie Porter

You thought health and wellness was just for hippies, losers and weirdos. But you were wrong. Leslie Porter explains that if you are waiting for your health issues to become acute enough for a prescription, you are not at your best. Not only are you laying the groundwork for possible big problems down the road,...

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October 31, 2023
Reversals on Technicalities: 4 Recent Examples

Appellate courts are in the affirming business. But be ready to take advantage of easy reversals, like in these examples: 😎 If the court refuses to hold an evidentiary hearing in a contested probate matter, that is (probably) structural error and reversible. 😎 If the court refuses to provide a statement of decision on key...

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April 10, 2023
“We are not bound by Viking River,” Cal. appellate court holds

Commentators have predicted that California appellate courts would thumb their nose at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 holding in Viking River. Viking River was the case that abrogated the California rule of Iskanian, and held instead that employers could enforce waivers of representative PAGA claims. And thumb its nose is just what the Second District...

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September 28, 2022
No, Zoom Trials Are Not a Substitute for Real Trials

Lawyers and judges have, by now in late 2022, gotten quite comfortable using remote trial to conduct legal proceedings. Depositions, mediations, arbitrations, even whole trials may be conducted via Zoom. But Zoom trials are not the new normal. Not until the Legislature says otherwise, anyway. That’s what the Court of Appeal held in Rycz v....

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May 12, 2021
"Are We the Baddies?" 

As attorneys, it is important to have an internal dialogue asking: Is the judge in our case going to wonder, are we the baddies? "Hans.. I have just noticed something. ... Have you looked at our caps recently?" "Our caps?" "Yeah, the badges on our caps, have you looked at them?" "What? No, a bit..?"...

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May 4, 2021
Another Court Hits Amazon with Strict Liability for Another Incendiary Electronic Device

In September 2020, we reported that the Fourth District held Amazon liable in strict liability for an exploding battery sold on its online store, because Amazon inserted itself into the chain of distribution when it charged for the purchase, and stored, packaged, and delivered the product. Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger). Seven months later, the Second District...

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April 21, 2021
Order Denying New Trial Motion Not Appealable, Unless It Only Partially Denies It

Here is an easy way to get tripped up. A new trial motion is a common postjudgment motion that must be raised to preserve certain issues for appeal (most commonly excessive damages). If the court denies your new trial motion, the denial is not an appealable order. But if the court only partially denies the new trial...

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November 11, 2020
CA Supreme Court to Review Whether In Person Civil Trial May Commence

Wells Fargo's attorneys moved the trial court, unsuccessfully, to continue a San Diego trial at the outset of the pandemic, and petitioned the Court of Appeal, again unsuccessfully, for a writ. Now the Supreme Court has granted review on the question: "During the current pandemic, may a trial court compel participation in a large in-person...

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November 11, 2020
Keep this handy, attorneys -- you may need it someday.

“Murphy's law applies to trial lawyers as well as pilots. Even an expert will occasionally blunder.” Unitherm Food v. Swifteckrich, 546 U.S. 394, 407 (2006) (Stevens, J., dissenting).

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November 4, 2020
Courtroom Do's and Don't's – from a Clerk's Perspective

Sean Thomas Lobb has Tips Learned While Clerking in Orange County in the November OC Lawyer magazine. Some takeaways: DO: Cite well-reasoned decisions from the same federal district court – even UN-published decisions! DON'T: Use legalese. It's like biting into the frozen center of a microwave burrito. DO: Make focused, targeted arguments to tentative rulings....

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April 24, 2020
ASSET-PROTECTION UPDATE: QPRTS MAY BE DEEMED REVOCABLE!

In a recently affirmed decision TVA obtained for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court held that a QPRT - generally irrevocable and commonly used in estate planning to hold personal residences - may nonetheless be revoked when the debtor retains a right to reacquire ownership of the residence. The View from Inside:QPRTs...

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April 24, 2020
WHEN BRIEFING APPELLATE ISSUES, LESS IS MORE

An attorney pursuing an appeal may be tempted to raise any and all arguments - however flimsy - before the appellate court, in an attempt to see what sticks. The Third Appellate District, however, urges attorneys to resist that temptation. In Leino v. Balkcom, Appellate Case No. C080950, a client and his attorney raised seventeen (!)...

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April 24, 2020
ATTENTION ESTATE PLANNERS: QPRTS MAY BE DEEMED REVOCABLE!

In a recent decision TVA obtained for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court held that a QPRT - generally irrevocable and commonly used in estate planning to hold personal residences - may nonetheless be revoked when the debtor retains an right to reacquire ownership of the residence. A former savings-and-loan banker, Robert...

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April 24, 2020
BLACK-AND-WHITE STATUTE OF LIMITATION FOR ATTORNEY-MALPRACTICE ACTIONS GETS A FRESH COAT OF GRAY

The one-year period to bring an action for malpractice typically begins after the lawyer last represented you, often easily identified as the date of formal withdrawal. But can it really be that easy? A recent California Court of Appeal decided it's not, holding instead the relationship ended when the attorney served the client with a...

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April 24, 2020
POKEMON MAKER SEEKS DISMISSAL OF NUISANCE & DISGORGEMENT SUIT

Pokemon Go-maker Niantec moved to dismiss the class action that alleges the wildly popular app causes droves of users to trespass on private property in order to find, buy, and play with in-game prizes. Niantec points the finger at its users, insisting the game maker is not responsible for what users do since it displays disclaimers telling...

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April 24, 2020
PATIO FURNITURE DOES NOT ESTABLISH AN EQUITABLE EASEMENT

In a recent property-dispute opinion, the Second District in Shoen v. Zacarias came to the perfectly sensible decision that equity is not aroused by a trespasser's inconvenience in relocating $275 in lawn furniture. As is so often interesting (and frustrating) about the law is that reasonable minds can disagree. In fact, the trial court had ruled otherwise,...

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April 24, 2020
OF GOOD FENCES, BAD NEIGHBORS, AND RECOVERING LEGAL COSTS

"It is often said that good fences make good neighbors. One might wonder whether there actually is such a correlation between good fences and good neighbors and, if so, whether causality runs in the opposite direction (i.e., maybe good neighbors build good fences). But it cannot be denied that a good fence accurately demarcating the...

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April 24, 2020
LITIGATION-FUNDING INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO GROW

With the recent publicity of Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media, and specifically the funding of the lawsuit by third-party Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, much attention has been drawn to the practice of "litigation funding." The term refers to the practice in which an outside party funds all or part of a plaintiff's litigation...

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April 24, 2020
IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS: NOT FOOLPROOF ASSET PROTECTION DEVICES

Irrevocable trusts are often used to protect assets from the reach of creditors, but courts have chipped away at their foundation. In U.S. v. Harris, No. 16-10152 (9th Cir. Apr. 20, 2017), the Ninth Circuit recently held that a beneficiary's right to receive discretionary distributions from an irrevocable trust constitutes "property" to which a government lien...

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April 24, 2020
IF A CHOICE-OF-LAW CLAUSE MATTERS, SO DOES THE FORUM

A recent opinion of the California Court of Appeal held a New York choice-of-law clause was ineffective to enforce a party's waiver of jury trial. In Rincon EV Realty LLC v. CP III Rincon Towers, Inc., New York-based parties negotiated a loan agreement with a New York choice-of-law clause, signed the agreement in New York, and...

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April 24, 2020
FINDING JUSTICE IN THE GRINDING GEARS OF LITIGATION

The right judgment is not always the just result - a judgment often fails to account for the time and expense invested to obtain it. But sometimes, the grinding gears of litigation can be used to achieve some justice. In Leeman v. Adams Extract & Spice Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - May 21, 2015), plaintiff settled a Prop. 65 (toxic chemicals...

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April 24, 2020
EMPLOYER UNDERPAYS DEPARTING EMPLOYEE $300, GETS STUCK WITH $30,000 FOR EMPLOYEE’S LEGAL FEES

Is an employee leaving? Pay up. Pay in full. There is no 'A' for effort. Pay it all. In last month's Court of Appeal opinion in Beck v. Stratton, employee leaves and employer asks his reputable payroll company, ADP, to cash him out. For reasons that "no one at trial court explain," ADP issued a check...

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April 24, 2020
COLLECTING AGAINST SPENDTHRIFTS IN BANKRUPTCY, JUDGMENT COLLECTION

In our February newsletter, we noted the California Supreme Court was reviewing whether the ambiguous spendthrift protections of Probate Code sections 15300-15309 meant to impose an absolute cap of 25% against creditors. The Court has answered: "no." In its recent decision, styled Carmack v. Reynolds, the Court "hold[s] that the Probate Code does not impose such...

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April 24, 2020
CAN A TRIAL COURT REDUCE ATTORNEYS’ FEES IN A SETTLEMENT?

Leeman v. Adams Extract & Spice Co. (Cal. Ct. App. May 21, 2015) says no. As they routinely do, a Prop-65 toxic-chemicals-warning case settles for a trifling amount of penalties but a heaping portion of attorneys' fees - over $72,000, based on rates up to $895 per hour. Doesn't sit right with the trial judge, who...

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April 24, 2020
CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT: PUBLIC RECORDS ACT COVERS PUBLIC OFFICIALS’ & EMPLOYEES’ PRIVATE DEVICES

In the high-profile case City of San Jose v. Superior Court, the California high court recently held: "when a city employee uses a personal account to communicate about the conduct of public business, the writings may be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act." The Court explains: "The whole purpose of CPRA is to...

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April 24, 2020
BROKERS: GET YOUR COMMISSION AGREEMENTS IN WRITING!

Last month's decision in Westside Estate Agency, Inc. v. Randall (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 1, 2016) began its opinion saying: "We are all familiar with the phrase, "caveat emptor": Buyer beware. This case deals with its less renowned cousin, "caveat sectorem": Broker beware." Section 1624 of the Civil Code says that a real estate broker can...

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April 24, 2020
BANK ORDERED TO PAY HOMEOWNERS’ ATTORNEY FEES FOR IMPROPER “DUAL-TRACKING”

Distressed homeowners subject to lender "dual-tracking" do not need to wait until the end of a lawsuit to recover attorneys' fees if they are successful in obtaining a preliminary injunction, ruled the Third District Court of Appeal today in Monterossa v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - June 12, 2014). Under a 2012 law, banks are prohibited...

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April 17, 2020
YOU MAY BE ABLE TO LIMIT “CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES" IN YOUR CONTRACTS

Despite best efforts to reduce expectations to a written contract, one can rarely estimate with much accuracy the creative ways a complaining party will claim he has been damaged by an alleged breach. The textbook case from the 19th century in Hadley v. Baxendale arose when a smith delivered a crankshaft too late, and the miller sued...

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"Counsel on the firing line in an actual trial must be prepared for surprises, including requests for amendments of pleading. They cannot ask that a judgment afterwards obtained be set aside merely because their equilibrium was slightly disturbed by an unexpected motion."

Posz v. Burchell (1962) 209 Cal.App.2d 324, 334

"Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws."

— Plato (427-347 B.C.)

"At common law, barratry was 'the offense of frequently exciting and stirring up suits and quarrels' (4 Blackstone, Commentaries 134) and was punished as a misdemeanor."

Rubin v. Green (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1187

"God made the angels to show Him splendor, … Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind."

— Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons

Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.

Leviticus

"Moot points have to be settled somehow, once they get thrust upon us. If an assertion cannot be proved, then it must be settled some other way, and nearly all of these ways are unfair to somebody."

—T.H. White, The Once and Future King

"Upon putting laws into writing, they became even harder to change than before, and a hundred legal fictions rose to reconcile them with reality."

— Will Durant

“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”

— James Madison, Federalist 62

"So far as the beginnings of law had theories, the first theory of liability was in terms of a duty to buy off the vengeance of him to whom an injury had been done whether by oneself or by something in one's power. The idea is put strikingly in the Anglo-Saxon legal proverb, 'Buy spear from side or bear it,' that is, buy off the feud or fight it out."

— Roscoe Pound, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law

"It may be that the court is thought to be excessively legalistic. I should be sorry to think that it is anything else."

— Hon. Sir Owen Dixon, Chief Justice of Australia

"A judge is a law student who grades his own papers."

— H.L. Mencken

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