Friday, August 19, 2005

Ventura Packers v. F/V Jeanine Kathleen (9th Cir. - Aug. 11, 2005)

I don't like the smell of this one. Ventura Packers (no, not THOSE Ventura Packers) files an admiralty action alleging unpaid debts and arrests three fishing boats, and subsequently agrees with the owners to accept a cash deposit as security and accordingly release the vessels. The agreement says that the cash security will be held by Ventura's counsel, Bright & Powell, until the parties agree or there's a judgment or order of the court and the time for appeal has expired.

Ventura later loses a summary judgment motion. It hires new counsel and, two days before filing its Notice of Appeal, fires its current counsel -- Bright & Powell -- and substitutes new counsel, Denise Brogna of Lascher & Lascher. The same day he's fired, Michael Damen -- Ventura's former lawyer at Bright & Powell -- sends the owners of the ship a check for the security, allegedly pursuant to the "order of the court". But, again, the time for an appeal hasn't expired. And isn't it a bit suspicious that this happens the same day he's fired? Pique? By the way, counsel for the owners says that she never asked for this check, and was totally surprised when Damen sent it to her in the mail. Makes one wonder.

Of course, thereafter, the case gets reversed on appeal. And on remand, the ship owners now make a new argument: that in rem jurisdiction was lost once Damen sent back the checks. And obtains a dismissal in the district court on that basis. But Judge Pregerson reverses. Again. So back to the district court for a third time.

I wasn't there. I don't know all the facts. But from what I read in this opinion, I have an instinctive reaction to what Mr. Damen (a graduate of the Santa Barbara College of Law -- don't see way many of these) did here. And it's not a good one. And I'd be much less displeased if it were a mere error -- which would still have resulted in Ventura having to endure multiple unnecessary proceedings -- than one of the alternatives. Which include a potentially deliberate attempt to get back at the client who just fired him. But I hope, hope, hope that's not the case. I really do.