Tuesday, May 19, 2020

People v. Valles (Cal. Ct. App. - May 19, 2020)

There's only a single published opinion from the Ninth Circuit and California appellate courts today.  One that the Court of Appeal's website inexplicably lists as "People v. Dueñas" -- which is ironic, as the opinion (which is actually People v. Valles) is one of the legion of cases in which the various justices indeed spar over whether the Court of Appeal's prior decision in People v. Dueñas (currently on review in the California Supreme Court) is right or wrong.

So add this opinion to the list.  But let's at least label it with its actual name:  Valles.

The most interesting part of today's opinion is not really the lingering Dueñas dispute, but rather Justice Menetrez's concurring opinion.  Which definitely begins with a bang:

"The opinion authored by Presiding Justice Ramirez is not a majority opinion. No member of the panel joins the analysis in Part 2 of the Discussion concerning People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (Dueñas), though we are unanimous as to the result. I feel compelled to point this out because otherwise readers could easily be misled. Only by reading the disposition and understanding its import (or by noticing that no one else has signed Presiding Justice Ramirez’s opinion) would a reader be able to determine that not everything in Presiding Justice Ramirez’s opinion is the opinion of the court. Given that Court of Appeal opinions (both published and unpublished) are often read in snippets online, dispositions are rarely read by anyone but the parties, and signatures are probably read even less, the potential for confusion here is far from trivial."

That's definitely making a point with a sharp stick, eh?

(Personally, I take no umbrage at Justice Menetrez's statement that Court of Appeal opinions "are rarely read by anyone but the parties," but for the record, there's at least one person other than the parties who reads every single one of the published ones; e.g., me.  So never fear that literally no one is going to read the thing other than the people who really care only about the result (e.g., the parties).)

Justice Menetrez not only wants to make clear the exact holding of the case -- something that you see other justices (in dissent or otherwise) also talk about -- but also seems to want to express a decent amount of displeasure at how the panel elected to publish the opinion.  A point which, again, he makes without holding much back:

"In addition, Presiding Justice Ramirez is publishing his Dueñas analysis, which is not joined by any other member of the panel and conflicts with this division’s published precedent in People v. Jones (2019) 36 Cal.App.5th 1028, 1031-1034 (Jones), which held that a Dueñas challenge to a pre-Dueñas minimum restitution fine is not forfeited by failure to raise it in the trial court. Presiding Justice Ramirez’s opinion does not explain why he is declining to follow Jones; the opinion does not even acknowledge that he is doing so. Moreover, in a footnote within his Dueñas analysis, Presiding Justice Ramirez erroneously refers to his own opinion as “the plurality opinion.” (Lead opn., ante, at p. 11, fn. 2.) “An opinion is characterized as a plurality opinion when it has more signatories than any other opinion supporting the judgment in the cause, but less than a majority.” (Cal. Style Manual (4th ed. 2000) § 1:10, p. 13.) Presiding Justice Ramirez’s opinion has the same number of signatories as every other opinion in this case (namely, one), and every opinion in the case supports the judgment (on which we are unanimous). In sum, Presiding Justice Ramirez is publishing a dissenting view on the Dueñas issue that is inconsistent with our division’s published precedent, and he is presenting it as a plurality opinion.

Justice Miller is the only member of the panel who is in the majority on every issue, both reasoning and result. Our division’s policy (as well as common sense) dictates that Justice Miller should therefore author the majority opinion. But my colleagues have chosen a different path, with Presiding Justice Ramirez authoring a lead opinion that expresses a minority analysis of the Dueñas issue."

You sense a keen sense of frustration here, no?

To a degree, all this is much ado about nothing, since the underlying issue (Dueñas) is one on which that the California Supreme Court will have the final say anyway, and nothing the Court of Appeal says on the matter (and certainly nothing in this particular opinion) will change that or (presumably) have any practical effect whatsoever on what the law is or becomes.

But, even then, sometimes people get very testy about process.  Even when it doesn't practically make any difference.

It's like what they say about academic faculty meetings.  The truth of which I can readily attest:

They're so rancorous precisely because nothing that transpires therein matters in the least.

POSTSCRIPT - And, right after I hit the "submit" button on this thing, the Court of Appeal changes the caption from "Duenas" to "Vallas".