Friday, April 29, 2005

Malibu v. California Coastal Commission (Cal. Ct. App. - April 25, 2005)

You may well have heard from the popular press that David Geffen, the co-founder of DreamWorks, had been fighting a years-long battle with the California Coastal Commission to keep closed a walkway that provides coveted beach access alongside his property that he agreed to dedicate to the public as a condition to getting a permit to improve his beachfront mansion on PCH in Malibu. Geffen's next-door neighbors, John and Mary Heidt, moved to intervene in this litigation, arguing that they too should be allowed to oppose the opening of the walkway, particularly since it was located immediately alongside their property. The lower court denied their motion to intervene, and the Court of Appeal in this case -- over the dissent of Justice Vogel -- affirmed. According to Justice Mallano, the interests of the Heidts were more than adequately represented by Geffen, since both of them had an interest in opposing the opening of the walkway.

What's very interesting -- and unusual -- about this case is that neither Justice Mallano nor Justice Vogel mentions that Geffen dropped his lawsuit over a week prior to the decision by the Court of Appeal. That's a fairly significant development, and sheds some light on why Geffen might well not adequately represent the interest of the Heidts. And it's not like this was a secret or anything; for example, I recall hearing about this on the radio the day he dropped the suit. What's even more surprising, perhaps, is that not only did the Court of Appeal not mention this fact, but that none of the attorneys apparently notified the Court either. And I can't fathom why. (Counsel for the Heidts, by the way, was Dean Dennis, a Princeton and USC Law graduate.) That Geffen had already dropped his lawsuit seems something that the Court of Appeals would surely want to know.