Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Regan v. Price (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 17, 2005)

You know you gotta read the rest of the opinion -- if only for the facts -- when the opening paragraph is this: "This case presents the issue of whether a judicial officer enjoys absolute immunity from civil liability for assaulting and battering a litigant."

The "judicial officer" here is actually a discovery referee, Roseville attorney David L. Price. According to the plaintiff, Price is a hothead who allegedly slammed a door into a frail, 63-year old litigant. Now, mind you, the facts recited by the Court of Appeal all come from the complaint, to which a successful demurrer was filed. So don't necessarily believe everything you read. That said, even from the complaint (and resulting litigation), one gets the keen sense that Mr. Price and plaintiff's counsel, Robert Kingslan, had a contentious relationship.

Anyway, so it's not like a judge beat the plaintiff senseless or anything. But Justice Butz still has to decide whether the discovery referee here is indeed absolutely immune. And decides -- sensibly, in my view -- that the referee is not. That assaulting a litigant isn't anything near a judicial act and hence immunity doesn't lie.

Admittedly, this holding requires a fair amount of dancing, and distinguishing a plethora of other cases. But Justice Butz does it well, and the distinctions that she draws make sense to me. This is a good example of an opinion that takes a limited group of cases and derives a rational and coherent doctrine therefrom, and one that is dispositive of the case at hand. It's a nice, short (dozen pages) piece of legal reasoning.

Plus, it's always fun to read about counsel who want to beat each other senseless. And, sometimes, the judge too.

P.S. - Don't know exactly what to make of Mr. Price. Again, everything I know about the case comes from the Court of Appeal, and it reaches that court on a demurrer, so who knows what the full truth is. But interesting that he's general counsel to the Sacramento Kings (and the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs), as well as a former adjunct at Davis. With no former disciplinary record (unlear if he'll get one from this). Definitely was a nasty litigation, though. That much is clear.