Monday, April 18, 2005

Canatella v. State of California (9th Cir. - April 11, 2005)

Perhaps only civil procedure and federal courts scholars would be interested in this opinion by Judge Brunetti. But I was. It's all about the interplay between intervention and Younger abstention; in particular, whether a district court can abstain from a proposed intervenor's complaint without deciding whether the intervenor meets the requirements of Rule 24. (That's why virtually no one except absurd people like me would be interested in the opinion.) Judge Brunetti affirms, holding that they can.

I honestly haven't thought about this complex issue enough at this point to tell whether I agree with the opinion. It certainly seems facially correct, and I also agree that a party shouldn't be able to use Rule 24 intervention as a means of getting around Younger (which would potentially work -- though I'm far from sure it actually would -- when the underlying complaint isn't subject to Younger abstention but yours would be). But there nonetheless a couple of troubling components of that rule. First, it means that a party really does have no ability to participate in a decision that will critically affect him (which is the classic situation in which intervention is allowed). When, as here, Lawsuit X started first, and you've got ongoing Proceeding Y, and the outcome of Lawsuit X will -- as a matter of precedent -- control Proceeding Y (and hence your fate), it seems a bit unfair not to let you participate in Lawsuit X. Which is basically what is transpiring here.

Second, the application of Younger in this context seems especialy unfair when one realizes that the tribunals in Proceeding Y aren't even allowed to consider the constitutional challenges that are at issue in Lawsuit X and that are a big part of the defense to Proceeding Y. Here, the State Bar is trying to discipline Richard Cantanella and he wants to raise a variety of constitutional challenges. But, as Judge Brunetti recognizes, the State Bar court has no authority to strike down a statute or even entertain these challenges. Which means that they'll never be considered if the courts abstain. Sure, Cantanella can seek judicial review of any adverse result rendered in Proceeding Y. But such review is entirely discretionary; moreover, as a practical matter, what are the odds that the California Supreme Court is really going to devote its scarce resources to such claims?

So the holding is a little bit troubling. Maybe it's still right; again, I haven't come to any definite conclusion. But there are at least parts of the case that give me pause.

Okay, so that's the academic part. Here's the tabloid part. The attorney at issue is, as I mentioned earlier, Richard Cantanella, a Hastings graduate who practices up in San Francisco. This isn't his first time before the State Bar: for an interesting summary of his prior disciplinary record, look here. Brief summary: Disciplined for filing numerous frivolous actions, 37 separate sanctions, and a complaint that one federal court labelled "a paradigm for 'frivolous'." Yikes.