Friday, January 26, 2007

Williams v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 26, 2007)

This opinion kicks butt.

It's by Justice Haller. It's incredibly good. Perhaps most impressive is that it deals fairly and equitably with a case (1) in which the overall sleaze factor is relatively high (e.g., lots and lots of Machiavellian manipulation of the rules and "gotcha" litigation tactics), and (2) in which it's extremely uncertain which side has the better of the argument, and in which the stakes are relatively high.

I thought that the opinion was worth reading even before I got to the discussion of the merits. The underlying factual circumstances are very interesting, and surround a lengthy -- and understantably important -- fight between the maternal grandmother and the father/paternal grandparents over who should be appointed as the guardian ad litem for minor daughters suing for their mother's death in an automobile accident. Father was in the midst of divorcing mother at the time of her death, and has his own separate claim against the defendant, so the maternal grandmother doesn't want him to control the litigation (in part because she fears he's more interested in money flowing his way than on behalf of the kids). But Father doesn't have a great relationship with Maternal Grandmother (he was, after all, in the midst of a divorce with mother), so Father would rather have his parents (Paternal Grandparents) represent the kids instead.

I'll not repeat all the procedural tricks and races-to-the-courthouse that each party used in an attempt to get their way. Suffice it to say that there was much going on here, and all of it was interesting. Even before I got to the discussion of the merits, I was also struck by how much all of the underlying judges involved -- Judge Kevin Enright and Judge Linda Quinn (both of whom are down here in San Diego) -- really made a hard core effort both to get things right and to do what's fair. Which, especially in this case, is no small task.

Justice Haller also does the same thing, and her opinion is also really impressive. So I was struck with both the situation as well as how, as I was reading Justice Haller's opinion, she ended up persuading me more and more on every page. Again, it's a hard issue. Rarely do I think that opinions on tough, close issues are really good. But this one is an exception. It's really good.

In the end, maybe I'm overly effusive both because (1) I thought that every participant in the process was trying their absolute best here -- and, in general, I'm not at all sure that's uniformly the case, so I'm very glad (and a little bit surprised) to see it, and (2) in the end, substantial justice was accomplished. So a good day. And a good way to end the work week.