Just as Californians manage to put behind them the embarrassing mistreatment of quadriplegic Sarah Granda by the State Bar of California, Gayle Murphy, Judy Johnson and Dean Barbieri – which necessitated direct intervention of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, now comes a new scandal to stir up the firestorm again.
William G. Wells, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp, was admitted to the practice of law in California in 1959. He practiced for approximately 35 years without discipline. Unfortunately, Wells's career has recently come to a screeching halt.
According to Wells, while he was recovering from a serious stroke, an attorney in his office conspired with the office's legal secretary to transfer ownership of a parcel of land located in Corona, California and owned by Wells to the secretary.
The secretary maintained that the property was a retirement gift from Wells, and that it was hers to keep.
Wells, one upset lawyer, turned to the judicial system to vindicate his rights. Years of litigation ensued, and the secretary was ultimately declared the rightful owner of the Corona parcel.
Later, the secratary complained to the State Bar against Wells, alleging that had he misused the court system in pursuing his claims against her. In turn, the State Bar charged Wells with various acts of misconduct.
Wells, who is legally deaf, ended up in the courtroom of Judge Patrice McElroy after Presiding judge JoAnn Remke issued an order disqualifying Judge Richard A. Platel.
A settlement conference was held in front of Judge Platel. Notwithstanding Judge Platel's disqualification from "any further involvement" in Wells' case, Judge Platel took the bench to serve as the settlement conference judge. Wells did not and could not object to Judge Platel serving only as the settlement conference judge, pursuant to C.C.P. § 107.4(a)(6). However, Wells stated that he did not consent to any waiver of Judge Platel's disqualification and that he did not waive any objection to Judge Platel's involvement in his case.
Apparently, despite a direct order from the presiding judge Remke disqualifying Richard Platel, Judge McElroy attempted to force on Wells a non-existent agreement that had allegedly been entered into during the settlement confrence:
Photo:courtesy of Bar Journal
THE COURT (McElroy): Okay. My understanding is there was an agreement at the end of the settlement conference, that the parties reached an agreement on all issues, including findings of facts and conclusions of law and a proposed degree of discipline.
MS. MEYERS: That's my understanding, your Honor.
MR. WELLS: Well, that's not correct.
THE COURT: Well, my understanding is the specific terms of the agreement between the parties was explicitly placed on the record. Do the parties agree with that?
MR. WELLS: It was not concluded.
MS. MEYERS: That's my - that's my understanding.
MR. WELLS: Well, I don't know where you get your understanding, but it was not concluded. And this-
THE COURT: It's my understanding it was, and as a result, I'm going to vacate the trial dates. Mr. Wells?
MR. WELLS: I'd like the ruling on my motions.
THE COURT: Your motions are moot.
When Wells inquired how Judge McElroy had developed her understanding of the outcome of the settlement conference which had concluded the previous afternoon, Judge McElroy disclosed that she had spoken to Judge Platel, the judge who had been disqualified from hearing Wells's matter.
MR. WELLS: Well, your Honor is saying that, based on somebody's communication to you, that something was put on the record?
THE COURT: No. This - this - it is on the record.
MR. WELLS: You have it?
THE COURT: Yes.
MR. WELLS: You have a transcript of the verdict?
THE COURT: I don't need a transcript.
MR. WELLS: What do you have?
THE COURT: The disk.
MR. WELLS: Well, you don't hear my agreement to it.
THE COURT: And my understanding is, having talked to Judge Platel, that there was -
MR. WELLS: Well-
THE COURT: - an agreement on all the issues, and it was placed on the record.
MR. WELLS: Well, that is not accurate.
Judge McElroy ultimately refused to take any evidence or allow Wells to be heard on the issue of whether a settlement had been reached during the earlier settlement conference:
THE COURT: What is the State Bar's position on this matter?
MS. MEYERS: The State Bar's position is the same as your Honor's position. We believe there was a settlement reached in good faith. It was put on the record, and we believe Mr. Wells should be bound by the settlement reached.
THE COURT: Okay. And Mr. Wells, you will be bound by it.
MR. WELLS: Well, you've already ruled, I guess, right?
THE COURT: Yes.
MR. WELLS: Well, I haven't even filed my motion, and you still ruled.
THE COURT: Well, I'm going to have - issue an order approving the stipulation as to findings of facts.
MR. WELLS: Without even hearing from me, right?
THE COURT: No. I'm going to file an order approving the stipulation.
At the conclusion of the conference, Judge McElroy ordered that the case was settled and vacated the trial date.
Later, over Wells's objections, Judge Platel sua sponte issued an "Order Approving Stipulation re: Facts, Conclusions of Law and Disposition."
Wells moved for reconsideration of Judge Platel's order, which Judge Platel denied. Next, Wells filed a petition with the Review Department to set aside Judge Platel's order.
The Review Department ruled that Judge Platel had no authority to make binding adjudications at the settlement conference, or any time, due to his disqualification from Wells's case.
Wells then moved for an order disqualifying Judge McElroy based on her ex parte conversations with Judge Platel about what had occurred during the settlement conference.
Judge McElroy filed a verified answer to Wells's motion, declining to recuse herself. Specifically, Judge McElroy stated, "The Court has carefully reviewed respondent's motion to disqualify and the declaration in support thereof, and the court denies each and every allegation of bias, prejudice or other impropriety made against her by respondent.” Judge McElroy ordered: "it is HEREBY ORDERED that respondent's motion is referred to Judge Lucy Armendariz for such further action as she deems appropriate." The order was signed: "Pat McElroy, Judge of the State Bar Court."
Ms. Lucy Armendariz, a 1997 graduate of Hastings College of the Law. She was appointed to serve as judge in 2007. Prior to her appointment, she was chief of staff to California State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero; worked as an attorney with the law firm Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe; and as an ombudsman with the California's women's prisons. At the age of 10, Lucy Armendariz was removed from her parents' custody and entered California's crowded foster-care system. According to U.C. Hastings' Magazine, in 2006, Armendariz was appointed to the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care by California Chief Justice Ronald George. The commission's report, issued in 2008, outlined the need to make foster children's welfare a top priority. (Photo: courtesy of California Leadership)
Judge Armendariz denied Wells's motion to disqualify Judge McElroy. Judge Armendariz wrote:
"Based on the documents filed by each party, including the declarations of both parties, the court rejects respondent's contention that Judge McElroy has or will exhibit bias in her handling of respondent's matter. As such, respondent has failed to show sufficient cause to warrant the recusal of Judge McElroy."
Later on, Judge McElroy, without explanation, issued an order recusing herself from Wells' case. Judge McElroy did not state any grounds for her action. Nonetheless, the State Bar has asserted that Judge McElroy's orders are valid and enforceable.
To be continued.