Civil Rights

$1M Verdict Against Middle School Officials For Drug Sting

August 11th, 2011  |  Published in Civil Rights

Attorneys Alexander Calfo and Arthur PreciadoRoe v. LA Unified School District (Los Angeles, California)

After three Los Angeles Unified School District officials at Porter Middle School used a 12-year-old boy — named only as Roe in the case — as bait in an attempted drug sting devised to expel a suspected drug dealing student at the school, the boy said he experienced threats from students at the school who said they knew he was the “snitch” and indicated that his participation in the operation was widely known. Fearing for the boy’s life, his parents moved him and his sister to another school district.

Plaintiff attorney Alexander Calfo (Yukevich Calfo & Cavanaugh) noted that the use of a minor in a drug sting is illegal, further arguing that the choice to use the boy in the sting operation was not only detrimental to the boy and his family but also unnecessary.

“Pursuant to their own policies and procedures, all they had to do was pick up the phone. Call the parents. Call the police,” Calfo said. “There were other methods, other than invading or intruding into this boy’s life.”

For the defense, Arthur Preciado (Gutierrez, Preciado & House) admitted that three school officials had used of a minor in a drug operation, but stressed that the school district had acted quickly in accordance with the severity of the situation and in no way intended to harm the child in question. Mr. Preciado added that the teachers executing the plan had no training in law enforcement.

“[Assistant Principal Armando Mejia] felt that it was so important to act then and act swiftly that he didn’t think about the potential consequences down the road,” Preciado said. “He felt that the greater concern was to act swiftly and to do something to take care of the problem.”

The jury found the defendants were liable for negligent supervision and negligence per se, and had acted recklessly and outrageously, and awarded the plaintiff $500,000 for past non-economic loss, $500,000 for future non-economic loss, $15,000 for future tutoring, and $250 for past tutoring, for a total of $1,015,250. The jury allocated 35% of the fault to Joyce Edelson (the Principal of Porter Middle School), 25% to Armando Mejia (Assistant Vice Principal), and 40% to Laura Custodio (Dean of Students).

CVN webcast Roe v. LA Unified School District live. 

$1.67M Verdict for Retaliatory Discharge of Prison Employee

July 8th, 2011  |  Published in Civil Rights, Employment Law

Stephen Horvath and Bruce Reynolds in Hughes v CalforniaHughes v. State of California (Los Angeles, California)

Lieutenant Charles Hughes was a union leader discharged by the California State Prison system from his job at the prison in Lancaster in retaliation for his reporting illegal racial segregation of inmates and other racial discrmination, a Los Angles jury has found.

Plaintiff attorney Stephen J. Horvath told the jury in closing argument that the Department had an unwritten blanket policy to segregate inmates by race. Lieutenant Hughes testified before the California State Senate about segregated conditions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisons. In addition, Hughes subsequently complained about a rat-with-a-target display seen in the prison warden’s office (allegedly encouraging a code of silence), and a comedy performance rife with racial epithets.

Although Hughes had a lengthy and “stellar” career with promotions and excellent evaluations, soon after the complaints, he was discharged soon thereafter based on three adverse actions in rapid succession, for using profanity at work and not following policies after a prisoner was murdered.

Representing the Department of Corrections, deputy Attorney General Bruce Reynolds told the jury that Lieutenant Hughes was not retaliated against, but brought the adverse actions upon himself by his own conduct. There was no direct evidence from any employee or decision-maker — statements, emails, text messages, or otherwise — stating that they wanted to get rid of Mr. Hughes because of his complaints, or indicating the presence of a conspiracy.

The circumstantial evidence, said Reynolds, was inadequate to show retaliation, because the Department had a legitimate, non-discriminatory explanation for its actions. The extensive procedural checks associated with the discpline of a public employee ensured the credibility of the proferred reasons for the adverse action, said Reynolds. Reynolds characterized Hughes as “a top-notch complainer, the king of complaints,” who attempted to hide behind his complaints to avoid the consequences of his job performance.

The jury found that the plaintiff engaged in communications protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and that some of those communications were motivating reasons for some of the adverse actions, including Lieutenant Hughes’ termination.

The jury awarded past and future lost wages, as well as past and future general damages, totaling $1.67M. 

CVN webcast Hughes v. California live.

Opening Statements In Wells Fargo Lender Liability Trial

December 1st, 2010  |  Published in Civil Rights, Jones v. Wells Fargo

Barry Capello and Thomas Nolan in Jones v Wells FargoJones v. Wells Fargo is a lender liability trial involving alleged racially discriminatory lending practices between 2002 and 2005.

Plaintiff attorney Barry Capello told the jury that Wells Fargo had a “program of discrimination,” that resulted in high home loan rates in minority areas.

According to Mr. Capello, Wells Fargo’s home loan rates were not competitive, but loan officers were unwilling to impair their own commission by offering lower rates. However, said Mr. Capello, it was widely understood in the loan industry that minority borrowers were less likely to shop for better rates.

Therefore, according to Mr. Capello, Wells Fargo introduced nationally a new software program called “Loan Economics,” which was supposed to be used for all loans. Loan Economics allowed loan officers to make home loans at lower rates without impairing their commissions.

But, Mr. Capello told the jury, Wells Fargo area and regional manager Tom Swanson prohibited loan officers from using Loan Economics in branches located in areas where minorities exceeded 50% of the population, such as Carson or El Segundo, but required the use of Loan Economics in branches located in areas with lower minority populations, such as Beverly Hills or West Los Angeles. As a result, approximately 7,000 minority borrowers in Los Angeles County allegedly paid more for their home loans than white borrowers.

For Wells Fargo, Skadden Arps’ Tom Nolan told the jury that Mr. Capello “will not and cannot establish that Wells Fargo or its employees used race, ethnicity, or level of income to discriminate using the Loan Economics program.”

According to Mr. Nolan, Loan Economics was not a pricing tool, and was not intended to provide higher or lower prices. Instead, the program was intended to focus on the problem of underages — loans offered at a discount rate, which normally would have required the loan officer to share part of their commission.

Loan Economics was not a mandatory tool, said Mr. Nolan, and in fact Loan Economics actually hurt loan officer commissions for some small loans. And where Loan Economics was not used, local market adjustments and a daily “price blast sheet” were always available for loan officers to provide lower rates in competitive situations without hurting their commissions.

Moreover, said Mr. Nolan, thousands of the loans in question, which were written without the assistance of Loan Economics, were written at rates lower than the bank’s minimum profitability threshold, and still received full commission.

Mr. Nolan told the jury that testimony by loan officers that the officers were not allowed to use Loan Economics would be shown to be false, and that the minority borrowers did in fact shop for better mortgage rates.

Watch opening statements in Jones v. Wells Fargo webcast by CVN.

Sonoma County Gay Rights Suit Settles

July 23rd, 2010  |  Published in Civil Rights

Greene v. Sonoma County, which involved claims that a county had inappropriately separated and sold the property of an elderly gay couple, settled for $600K. Santa Rosa’s local newspaper quoted the county’s lawyer as being confident that there was never any discrimination, but conceding that there were procedural errors in the sale of the property, and suggesting the dispute might have been avoided if the men had been able to legally marry.

CVN was approved to webcast the Greene v. Sonoma County trial live.

CVN to Webcast Sonoma Gay Partners Lawsuit

July 13th, 2010  |  Published in Announcements, Civil Rights

Clay Greene and Harold Scull v Sonoma CountyThe plaintiffs in Greene v. Sonoma County allege that a California county violated the civil rights of two elderly gay partners, Clay Greene and Harold Scull, when it placed Greene in a nursing home, Scull in a hospital, prevented Greene from seeing Scull, and auctioned almost $500K worth of personal property from the home that the two men had shared. Scull died in the hospital a few months later.

Sonoma County, however, claims that it was protecting Scull from Greene’s physical abuse, and that Scull did not wish to return to the two men’s shared home.

According to the New York Times

Mr. Greene’s troubles began when Harold Scull, his partner for more than 20 years, fell down the steps of their home in April 2008. At the time, the complaint said, Mr. Scull was showing signs of mental impairment.

County officials successfully petitioned the court to gain some powers of conservatorship. Then they “sold, kept, converted to their own use, and otherwise disposed of” almost $500,000 worth of belongings from the home shared by the two men — including furniture, art objects, memorabilia from the years Mr. Scull spent working in Hollywood, as well as a truck and two cats, the lawsuit alleges.

Mr. Greene said that he and Mr. Scull had previously specified each other as executors in case either became incapacitated, but the county ignored the legal documents and the history of their relationship, and at one point referred to Mr. Greene as Mr. Scull’s “roommate.

Scull died at age 89, without ever seeing Greene again. Greene’s lawsuit also names as defendants the nursing home and the auction company.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights launched a national media campaign to bring visibility to the case. “In the 33 years of our organization’s history, this case is perhaps among the most tragic the NCLR has ever been involved in,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. The complaint is available here.

According to the County, hospital employees saw bruises on Scull’s arms and face, and suspected elder abuse. Sonoma County claims that Scull required assistance with his financial affairs and medical needs, and that Scull was afraid of Greene, and did not wish to return to him. The County asserted that it acted properly in response to Clay Greene’s domestic abuse of Harold Scull.

CVN will webcast Greene v. Sonoma County gavel-to-gavel.