Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Brown v. Chiang (Cal. Ct. App. - August 30, 2011)

Some cases make you do a double take even before you start reading them.

The named parties in the caption of this opinion are familiar ones.  Governor Edmund Brown, Jr.  State Controller John Chiang.  Secretary of State Debra Bowen.  None of that's unusual.  You see these government officials on captions all the time.

But here's the rub.  Those are the only people named on the caption.

Governor Brown's the plaintiff.  John Chiang's the defendant.  Debra Bowen's the intervenor.  You mean to tell me that the Governor sued the Secretary of State and Controller?!  Wow.  Talk about a disfunctional government.  Not to mention a conflicted Democratic Party, in which all three politicians are members.

But it gets even weirder.  The plaintiffs (Governor Brown) are represented by private counsel on appeal.  Who are the lawyers who represent the defendants and intervenors?  Let's see, the first name on the list of counsel is . . . Edmund G. Brown, Jr.!  To put it differently, Jerry Brown is the lead lawyer defending a lawsuit filed by none other than himself.

There's obviously a backstory, otherwise this would be both surprising as well as a massive conflict of interest.  And once you start reading the opinion, although the Court of Appeal doesn't mention the topic, you start getting a tolerable sense of what transpired to create this unusual line-up.  The litigation involves the validity of the governor's executive order that ordered furloughs of state employees during the state budget crisis.  Who issued that order?  Governor Schwarzenegger.  Who didn't like that order?  Among other people, the Controller, the Secretary of State, and other elected officials, who did not like seeing members of their staff furloughed.  So, for example, the Controller refused to implement the order, claiming it was illegal.  At which point the Governor filed for a writ of mandate directing implementation of the order (as well as, as a political matter, using his line-item veto to slash the budgets of the officials who didn't comply).

The trial court expedited the writ and directed the various state officials to comply with the order.  At which point they filed an appeal.  Which, needless to say, was not instantly resolved.

What transpired in the meantime?  An election.  So by the time the opinion rolled around, Governor Schwarzenegger  -- the one who made the order, and was defending it -- was no longer in office.  And Jerry Brown, who was the Attorney General, was now the new governor.  But the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the governor in his official capacity, continued apace.  The net result of which was the line-up you see in this opinion, with Jerry Brown ostensibly on both sides of the lawsuit.

In the end, the Court of Appeal affirms the trial court.  The orders were valid.  Both for regular employees as well as for employees of elected officials.

So Jerry Brown the plaintiff wins.  To the chagrin of Jerry Brown the attorney.

Which means, I imagine, that one Jerry Brown gets a victory party while the other a consolation party.

Let the celebrations begin.