Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kim v. Yi (Cal. Ct. App. - May 15, 2006)

It's not too late, Justice Armstrong. This is a good opinion. Nice, tight, short (8 double-spaced pages), well-argued, and seemingly correct. Something of which to be reasonably proud.

All except the final paragraph. Which it a bit embarrassing, in addition to being somewhat off the mark. Take my advice: Delete it. It'll make the opinion better. Much.

The issue is a fairly straightforward one. When X and Y settle a jointly-filed personal injury case for a lump-sum, unallocated settlement of $Z, who decides upon the allocation of $Z between X and Y: a judge or a jury? Justice Armstrong answers: a judge. Seems reasonable. I'm fine with that. Yes, I could perhaps quibble, but Justice Armstrong does a good job of convincing me that he's right.

But then there's the stinking final paragraph. Which -- after otherwise cogent analysis -- supports the result with the following "analysis": "This cannot be construed as a proceeding in which anyone is being prosecuted for anything. Indeed, at oral argument on the Yi parties' motion in limine, all counsel and the court spent some time puzzling over the proper arrangement of parties in the courtroom if there was a jury, trying to determine who would sit at plaintiffs' table, with the "plaintiffs" sign, given that in any real sense, all parties were plaintiffs, and none were defendants."

Uh, dude. Like a little confusion over where everyone should sit could somehow be relevant to -- much less dispositive of -- your constitutional and statutory right to a jury trial. We have, and solve, similar problems all the time. Who's the "plaintiff" in a declaratory relief action? Who sits where when all that's left at trial are competing cross- and counterclaims? And -- most analogously of all -- what happens when it's an interpleader action, where (as here) all of the parties are on the same side (e.g., are all defendants)?

We deal. Where you sit is utterly irrelevant to whether you have a right to a jury. So is what you're called. So not only is Justice Armstrong's final paragraph both tangential and ancillary to his otherwise cogent analysis, but it's also utterly irrelevant. Which is a shame, and a bad way to end an otherwise good opinion.

Take it out. You'll be glad you did. I promise.