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April 25th, 2012

EXTRA! EXTRA! L.A. Judge’s Order of New Trial Can Only Encourage Lawyers to Con Courts

Ciaran McEvoy of the Los Angeles Daily Journal is now reporting that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson has — incredibly enough — just ordered a new trial in Hernandez v. Schaefer Ambulance Service, the details of which are available in this earlier Judicial Hellholes post.

In short, after finding that a jury would have come back with a damages award far more generous than the settlement he’d just entered into with defense counsel, C. Michael Alder, president of Los Angeles’s personal injury lawyer association, reneged on that settlement, preposterously claiming that he hadn’t actually had his client’s consent to accept the settlement offer, even though said client was reportedly present during the negotiations and otherwise had allegedly suffered ”severe, permanent brain injury.”  (Not to be impertinent or politically incorrect, but how and when exactly does one get consent from a brain-damaged client who previously had been crazy enough to jump on to a freeway from a moving ambulance?)

Of course, no reasonable person necessarily expects too much integrity from personal injury lawyers in pursuit of other people’s money.  So the target of criticism in this case must now become Judge Johnson.  For, according to the Daily Journal’s McEvoy, “Johnson today denied a defense motion to dismiss the lawsuit and [instead] scheduled a new trial for January 2013.  Johnson took time to say in open court on the record that ‘Mr. Alder engaged in misconduct by misleading the court.’”  Johnson added, however, that ”Alder’s misconduct was ‘serious,’ but not sufficiently ‘egregious’ or ‘shocking’ to merit a dismissal of his client’s lawsuit.”

Astoundingly permissive judges like Judge Johnson are, in part, why California continues, year after year, to rank among the nation’s least fair civil court jurisdictions.  Because, as a member of the defense team accurately pointed out, by allowing Alder “to get away with such gamesmanship in this case, there is nothing to prevent any plaintiff’s counsel [in the future] from testing the waters with one jury, settling the case without authority from the client, interviewing the jurors to see which way they actually were leaning, and then repudiating the settlement and seeking a retrial.”

Therefore, Judge Johnson should be ashamed of himself, even if Mr. Alder is likely beyond feeling that particular emotion.

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