Civil Jury Verdicts: June 2014

Now that’s more like it: Attorneys are actually reporting jury verdicts to me. Although I must confess, I did chase down a couple of them myself.

As we discussed some time ago, our courts have been severely impacted by the state budget problems. Locally it means trials are taking place in half days and not every day of the week. I spoke with a friend recently who reported a 32-day jury trial, which normally would have been a 10-day trial. Goodness!

Wald v. Petrossian, Case No. MSC 12-01549 was tried before the Hon. George Spanos. Scott Sumner represented Plaintiff and David Sidran represented Defendant.

The case involved a rear-end accident with admitted liability, but hotly contested medical causation (isn’t that always the case nowadays?). Plaintiff was driving a 1922 Model T and stopped behind traffic. The Model T was hit by a cargo van. Plaintiff had undocumented earnings loss from restoration of classic cars. Plaintiff claimed back injury.

Defendant (by State Farm) offered CCP 998 of $25,000.01. Plaintiff demanded policy limits of $250,000, and prior to trial, offered to accept $200,000.

The jury returned a 9-3 verdict of $100,000 in past non-economic damages and $225,000 in future non-economic damages. Sounds like a gross verdict of $325,000 to me. That $200,000 pretrial offer to settle must look pretty good now.

At any rate, the reported trial schedule was from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day; reportedly a real hardship in trying a case, but folks, get used to it, as that is our new reality.

Minter v. Galios (San Pablo Police Department) USDC Case No. C12-02905 was tried in Federal Court in San Francisco before Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley. It appears the Plaintiffs were the children of the decedent and they appeared In Pro Per. Noah G. Belchman of the McNamara firm represented the police department, and Edi M. O. Faal and Renee L. Campbell represented Defendant Officer Mark Galios.

The case involved claims of excessive force, as Officer Galios shot and killed the decedent during a violent struggle.

The jury returned a defense verdict. On the verdict form, the jury found that the decedent pointed a gun at Officer Galios, and that Officer Galios did not violate the decedent’s 14th Amendment rights.

Arnold v. Padrah, Case No. C12-02895, was tried before the Hon. Steven Austin. Clyde Long represented Plaintiffs. Defendants appeared In Pro Per. Dewey Wheeler appeared in defense of the cross-complaint filed by Defendants against Plaintiffs.

Because of the limited time allocated to actual trial time (the case was tried in half days and not every day of the week), the trial took an agonizingly slow 32 days just to get to the liability verdict. The punitive damages portion was still going at press time. The jury found in Plaintiffs’ favor and confirmed a prescriptive easement for ingress and egress and for recreational purposes. Plaintiffs presented a 12-minute edited video clip from security cameras showing Defendants destroying improvements in the easement area. The jury found liability for trespass, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and awarded $68,000 for those claims. The jury also found malice warranting an award of punitive damages against both Defendants. A total defense verdict on the cross-complaint.

We will keep you posted on the punitive damages aspects of the case. Sounds like appearing at trial with punitive damages allegations is not for the faint hearted, nor more importantly for Pro Per Defendants. Anyone disagree?

I can always count on my friend Will Kronenberg to report his many jury verdicts. Take note, folks. It’s not that difficult to report those verdicts and settlements to me by email. Will just reported two verdicts to me.

Haynes v. Pak was tried before the Hon. Joseph Di Loreto in Los Angeles Superior Court. Plaintiff was represented by Michael Piazza of Los Angeles. Will Kronenberg of Oakland represented Defendant U.S. Metro Group, Inc.

The case stemmed from a car versus motorcycle collision in which Plaintiff suffered severe diffuse axonal shear injuries (traumatic brain injury), resulting in, among other things, an inability to walk, feed himself, or talk.

Plaintiff asked the jury to award $100 million in damages against the four Defendants. The liability of U.S. Metro, on an agency theory was the centerpiece of the jury deliberations, and after several notes from the jury, the judge took the unusual step of giving further instructions and allowing second closing arguments on the fourth day of deliberations.

The jury returned a defense verdict for U.S. Metro and awarded $16,715,647 to Plaintiff from the other three Defendants.

King v. LAJ Trucking was tried before the Hon. John G. Evans in Palm Springs (Riverside Superior Court). Plaintiffs’ counsel was Michael Alder and Steve McElroy of LA and Ciro Sapetto of Indio. Defense counsel was none other than Will Kronenberg of Oakland (I bet Will has a lot of frequent flyer miles).

The case involved the death of an individual in a truck versus motorcycle accident. The Plaintiffs asked for a jury verdict in the aggregate of $30,000,000. The jury awarded $750,000, reduced to $525,000 for the comparative fault of decedent.

Please keep those civil verdict/settlement emails coming to me at

Civil Jury Verdicts: June 2014

I am feeling a little better now that many members are contacting me to ask, “When are Jury Verdict and Bar Soap articles coming out?” I now have enough information to prepare both a Civil Jury Verdicts article, and a Bar Soap article. Having said that, I do still need information from all of you in order to write such articles.

People on the Move

Our practice continues to evolve in ways not imaginable just a few years ago. Big firms are going under in unprecedented numbers. Many lawyers are going out on their own. Some are just giving up. My take on it is that there are just too many lawyers, the economy has NOT picked up in the general legal market and overhead is killing many firms. We do know that law school applications are down and many licensed lawyers cannot find work as lawyers. Our firm’s recent ad for an experienced litigation paralegal produced scores of resumes from licensed lawyers. That appears to be the bad news. The good news is that attorneys are moving around, starting new practice areas, going to trial, practicing law and letting me know all that and more.

I’m giving our first plug to Stuart C. Gilliam because he reported his new move before anyone else. Stuart has opened his own practice in Pleasant Hill. He reports that he has left the insurance defense world to focus his solo practice on special education law. So all you insurance defense lawyers lamenting the change in that business, there is hope for you. Just ask Stuart.

Now more than just a rumor is that Gordon, Watrous, Ryan, Langley, Bruno & Paltenghi is dissolving. I do know Bruce Paltenghi has joined Bowles & Verna; I saw him since the move and he is enjoying his new firm. I have heard that Peter Langley is going out on his own. Let me know if you hear where the other firm attorneys are headed. Of course “the” Gordon is long gone and Tom Watrous long ago retired. I do see Tom on Wednesdays at bocce in Martinez, and he and I share the Coroner’s Inquest Hearing Officer duties here in Contra Costa County.

I’m always happy to see when one of our law clerks passes the bar exam and lands on her feet. The latest is Stacy Zhao, who attended Santa Clara Law and Santa Clara MBA simultaneously. She was admitted this past December and is currently practicing in Sacramento at the State Board of Equalization.

Dick Frankel is now celebrating 22 years at Frankel, Goldware & Ferber, LLP.

I hope you all saw the profile article of Elise Sanguinetti in the Plaintiff magazine. If not, take at look at the March 2014 issue (page 36). It is a wonderful profile on a wonderful person and a very good lawyer who got her start in Walnut Creek.

Thought I should mention a recent retirement at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. Hal Jewett started about the same time as me, and he just recently quietly retired. A brilliant trial lawyer, he rose to Chief Deputy and left with no fanfare. We hear about a lot of our colleagues in civil practice, but rarely of those who quietly and capably toil on our behalf in the public and government law sectors.

I have always argued that there is really no need for firms to have multiple offices in California, as the web provides instantaneous access to clients and courts. So our firm just opened offices in Willows, San Francisco and San Ramon, to go along with Concord and Davis (and we will be moving back to Walnut Creek from Concord by next year).

So what gives? Well, believe it or not, we are cutting our overhead in half and putting each of our lawyers where they spend most of their time. Erika Portillo works at our main office in Concord and in San Francisco. So, we have an actual (not a virtual) San Francisco office. Chris Teng has a large business client base in South County, as well as Walnut Creek. Will Portello lives in Davis and spends most of his time in Yolo, Glen, Colusa and Contra Costa counties. I get to spend time in all five.

Sad Losses

Of course all of you have heard of the untimely passing of Mark Ericsson. He gave so much of himself. Every Bar committee I was ever on had Mark on it as well. He and I had a tradition of breakfast together about once a month in Lafayette. And he was a rich source of information for Bar Soap. I would call him when I heard rumors of people on the move and he always had the inside scoop.

We also recently lost another local character. I say “character,” because William (Bill) Everett Glass was truly a character. I first met him when I was a baby DA and he was a prominent criminal defense lawyer. We opposed each other on many big cases and always remained friends. He was the “Copo” on our bocce team going back to 1985 when I joined what was then “The Courthouse Gang,” now “The Balls of Justice.”

Five years ago, we knew something was up with his health, but it was not until his memorial service that we learned he was given just months to live back then. He survived another five years and never mentioned a word of it to his teammates. Of course, you should all know his true love was Cal sports. For years, he was the Memorial Stadium voice of the California Golden Bears football team and the Harmon Gym voice of the California Golden Bears basketball team.

So, speaking of people on the move (or not), Judge Judy Craddick has been on the DL; I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning it. I suspect it is a result of the back-breaking job the Contra Costa Civil Judges have been forced into as a result of state court budget problems. Judge Steve Austin also hit a bump in the road recently during a busy court day. I heard he was on the DL for a week or so. I was in his courtroom for a CMC the day he fell ill. I too almost became ill listening to lawyers on Court Call. Don’t they realize that everyone can hear what they are saying? Whatever happened to “Quit talking while you are ahead”?

Grammar Lesson

Okay, now that I am on a roll, I have enough trouble keeping my kids and their friends from using “like” in their conversations, but as I sat in a hearing the other day, a lawyer used it at least five times in arguing a motion. “And he was, like, not letting me talk, and I was, like, pretty upset.” So was he actually not letting him talk, and was the lawyer pretty upset? “Like” has become a four-letter word in our household, and should be so in court as well. Anyone disagree?

Another thing, “myself” is the reflexive. It is not “Please hand the document to myself.” It is “Please hand the document to me.” It is not “The judge asked the other lawyer and myself to take it outside.” It is “The judge asked the other lawyer and me…”

Mock Trial

The recent 33rd Annual Contra Costa County Mock Trial Competition was a splendid event. Each year, eager and smart young people from our area high schools compete in the competition. I sat as a judge for two nights and I was very impressed. Many of our own Superior Court judges volunteered their time to act as mock trial judges, as did many members of the local Bar Association, but it was the students who really make it the great success that it is each year.

Speaking of students, make sure to accept if you are invited to a Career Day at your former middle or high school. I just spent an afternoon at Career Day at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda. Yes, that was my high school. Students are very interested in the legal field, and it was satisfying discussing our profession with young people who have positive attitudes about the law.

Super Lawyers

I know I keep sounding like a broken record each year when “Super Lawyers” comes out with its list of local attorneys. Funny, at one time it was being AV-rated in a certain publication that was the mark of a top-notch lawyer. Among many civil lawyers it still is ABODA, but the public just loves having a lawyer who is a Super Lawyer. If you have been named a Super Lawyer, please let me know and I will mention it in a future Bar Soap article.


Congratulations to Stephen Steinberg as our new Bar Association Board President. Also congratulations to new board members Michelle Ferber and Katherine Wenger. We all complain of the work we must put in to practice law in this day and age. Now add in many board meetings and a regular life and you get some idea of the hard work and sacrifice our local Bar board members have signed onto in order to serve us. Thank you Stephen, Michelle, Katherine and all the other members of the board.

Please keep those cards and letters coming. Better yet, contact me by email with all your reports and rumors at

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