Centennial Series: Long Beach & The Law
In honor of the Long Beach Bar Association’s Centennial, this is a series of historical notes on cases and courts in Long Beach through the decades.
October - Into the 21st Century
It is hard to believe the year 2000 is 17 years in the past. Back in the 60s, Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick made the year 2001, the epitome of the advanced and distant future. The hoopla surrounding the “Y2k Bug” (the fear that the world’s computer systems would collapse because programs had not been designed for dates beyond 1999) now seems as remote as pole-sitting and dance marathons. Here we are in 2017, and the future isn’t what it used to be.
In Long Beach, the courthouse turned 40 and was in bad shape. The escalators were never in complete operation (the company which had manufactured them was no longer in business and new parts had to be machined). The jury room on the sixth floor, an uncomfortable box with uncomfortable chairs, could not be reached by elevator. When one juror suffered a cardiac event, EMTs could not get up there in time for treatment and rescue, and the juror died. When it rained, it leaked into courtrooms throughout the building. In an earthquake, the top floors were like a ship’s deck in a heavy storm, and the East wing continued to separate from the original structure.
An elevator was installed which went from floor five to floor six, in order to become more ADA compliant. Earthquake retrofitting was performed. But these efforts were like lipstick on a pig.
Judge Brad Andrews was one of the primary movers for a new courthouse, but many Long Beach bench officers were involved, including Judge Otto and Judge Vicencia.
Long Beach wasn’t even on the list for new facilities, and financing appeared to be a remote hope.
At one point, a private
developer had offered to
build a new courthouse on
the site of the Magnolia
Street parking facility in
exchange for the property
at 415 West Ocean Blvd. A
decline in property values
and the demand for new
apartments resulted in a
loss of interest by the
developer. But the seed
had been planted for a
partnership to achieve construction of the new George Deukmejian courthouse. It opened in 2013. Through wonderful logistical planning, the entire court moved down the street in one weekend. Judge Vicencia had a jury empaneled for a trial which had commenced trial in the old courthouse and was completed in the new one. He enjoys relating the jurors’ reaction to the new environment – they marveled at the difference. If you haven’t been in there, the new jury room resembles a first class airport lounge with free wi-fi, comfortable seating, a balcony, big screen TVs, and an assembly room which can easily accommodate over one hundred jurors at a time.
The new courtrooms have advanced technology, greatly enhancing case presentation. The acoustics are wonderful. A new era began for the practice of law in Long Beach.
Unfortunately, draconian cuts in court funding resulted in some painful changes. The San Pedro facility closed its civil courtrooms, increasing the Long Beach caseload (but at least the court no longer needed jurors to volunteer to go to San Pedro).
The biggest impact for civil practitioners was the creation of the personal injury hubs in the Central District. All personal injury claims are now filed there, although many are transferred back to what would previously have been a proper venue if the hubs deem a case “complicated” (not complex, but complicated).
Six independent calendar courtrooms were consolidated into two. Former I/C judges became open trial courts, harkening back to master calendar days. The Mosk courthouse assigns trials from across the county to these departments.
Long Beach lost its small claims and limited jurisdiction calendars, but became a hub for unlawful detainer cases in the South, South Central, Southwest, and Southeast districts.
The pendulum is finally swinging the other direction as funding increases.
One interesting and unusual case decided in Long Beach concerned the constitutionality of Family Code section 2024.6. Passed as urgency legislation, the statute provided that “Upon request by a party to a petition for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, or legal separation, the court shall order a pleading that lists the parties' financial assets and liabilities and provides the location or identifying information about those assets and liabilities sealed. The request may be made by ex parte application.” In re Marriage of Burkle (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1045 was not a run-of-the-mill dissolution action. The marital estate at issue exceeded $3 Billion dollars. When Mr. Burkle brought an ex parte application to seal large portions of the file, the Los Angeles Times intervened, contending that the streamlined procedure violated the right of public access to court records. Long Beach is not a common venue for facial constitutional challenges to statutory enactments. Judge Roy Paul sided with the press, ruling that, although prevention of identity theft (the legislative rationale for the statute) was a compelling state interest, the scheme was not narrowly tailored to effectuate that goal. The appellate court affirmed: “the streamlining procedure selected by the Legislature—the sine qua non of the statute—is, as we have seen, incompatible with constitutional requirements. Further, as the trial court observed, ‘there is not even a glimmer’ of legislative intent to authorize trial court discretion to redact specified financial information, rather than to mandate sealing of entire pleadings. And, even if we were to construe section 2024.6 as Mr. Burkle suggests—to redact ‘that part of’ the pleadings containing lists of assets and identifying information—the statute as so construed would shield from public view not only the information necessary to achieve the legislative purpose of preventing identity theft and other crimes, but also, we presume, all other information pertaining to any asset or liability, including its existence, nature and value.”
In the case of Olive Properties v. Coolwater Enterprises (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 1169, a commercial tenant had sued its landlord because a lease to a pizza business impacted available parking in the strip mall where both businesses were located. A few weeks later, the landlord sued the tenant for unlawful detainer, alleging the tenant’s failure to pay rent and CAM charges. The tenant brought an Anti-SLAPP motion, contending the UD was retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of its right to petition the court. Judge Ross Klein was affirmed for granting the defendant landlord’s and imposing monetary sanctions against the tenant. Costs are awarded to a plaintiff prevailing on such motion only on a finding that the motion is frivolous or for purposes of delay. The appellate decision was published not because a novel issue was decided, but to caution about the use of the procedure in what is supposed to be a summary proceeding: “The trial court properly discerned that the unlawful detainer complaint was not based on Tenant's protected petitioning activity. As the trial court observed, for a tenant to bring a proper special motion to strike an unlawful detainer complaint, it is insufficient simply to show that the unlawful detainer complaint was filed after the lessee's complaint against the lessor. Navellier demonstrates that the sequence of the two lawsuits is not the test. (Navellier, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 89.) Thus, a non-paying tenant should not be able to frustrate or stall an anticipated eviction by filing a preemptive complaint against the landlord, followed by a special motion to strike the landlord's unlawful detainer complaint on the ground it arose out of the tenant's protected petitioning activity in filing the first lawsuit.”
The Long Beach Bar Association, after one hundred years, remains a vital institution in the legal community, and its scholarship programs and juvenile offender diversion programs benefit the community at large. In the next century, the Bar Association will doubtless continue to move with the times.
Happy Centennial, LBBA!
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The LBBA would like to extend a special thank you to Ken Freedman for his work in preparing this series.