Does Rescinded Van de Kamps Court Judgment, Without Any Notice, Mean That Eli Broad’s Wealthy Foundation Is Entitled To More Justice In LA County Courts?
By Miki Jackson and Laura Gutierrez of the Van de Kamps Coalition
The Van de Kamps Coalition (VDK Coalition) has been locked in a two-year environmental lawsuit against the owner of the Van de Kamps site – the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD).
After a February incident in the VDK Coalition’s CEQA lawsuit, we are left wondering if the community-based organizations and the low income, minority community represented by the VDK Coalition is entitled to LESS JUSTICE in Los Angeles Courts than that afforded to the well-heeled interests sitting on the Board of Directors of the Alliance Charter School.
Last September, VDK Coalition won a hard-fought case in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones found that LACCD violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it authorized a multi-year lease of half of the new community college campus at Van de Kamps to the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools – a K – 12 charter high school. The VDK Coalition is a group of concerned organizations and individuals who saved the historic Van de Kamps Bakery Building at Fletcher Drive and San Fernando Road from destruction.
The Board of Directors of the Alliance Charter School includes the Eli Broad Foundation, former Mayor Richard Riordan, and even a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge: David S. Cunningham III (the son of a former LA City Council member).
Here is why we are wondering about who is entitled to what Justice in LA Courts:
1. September 12, 2011 – Judge Jones issued a strongly worded decision finding that the LACCD violated CEQA by failing to perform any environmental analysis of the new impacts generated by changing Van de Kamps from a community college campus to a leased facility to the Alliance Charter School.
2. October 2011 to Early February 2012 – Judge-ordered negotiation process over how the final judgment ending the case should read leads to stalemate, and then the LACCD’s attorneys played games to delay entry of the Court’s final judgment.
3. February 3, 2012 – The VDK Coalition filed objections to LACCD’s games.
4. February 6, 2012 – Judge Jones, in response, pulled the VDK Coalition’s proposed final judgment out of the court’s files, reviewed it, and signed it.
5. February 8, 2012 – The Clerk of Courts official order (“writ”in legalese) was served on the LACCD and its Board of Trustees commanding it to set aside the Alliance School lease agreement and prepare a supplemental EIR to analyze the impacts of the changed use of the campus.
6. February 9, 2012 – VDK Coalition’s attorney received a notice from LACCD attorneys that the next day at 8:30 a.m., they would ask Judge Jones at a shortened-notice hearing for an “order shortening time” to file a motion asking her to consider setting aside the February 6 judgment in favor of the VDK Coalition
7. February 10, 2012 – At 8:25 a.m. VDK Coalition’s attorney entered the Courtroom. He is stopped by the Alliance Charter School’s attorney who wants to speak to him in the hallway. When VDK Coalition’s attorney says he needs to check in for the court hearing, the Alliance Charter School’s attorney says: “Well, it’s over. We already met with the judge.”
OK, stop the timeline right there. What? A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge conducted a private closed door hearing PRIOR to the noticed hearing time and without the attorney representing the VDK Coalition? How did LACCD and Alliance Charter School attorneys convince the judge to do that? This immediately raised the question whether there is some kind of LA County Court favoritism for the LACCD and Alliance Charter School (and its well-heeled Board).
8. As The VDK Coalition’s attorney checked in with the Courtroom Assistant, the Clerk came out of judge’s chambers and announced that the “Judge has already met with the other attorneys” and our attorney is supposed to go to the hallway to discuss the Court’s order. So the decision was already made before our attorney arrived.
9. Then an associate of the LACCD’s attorneys handed the VDK Coalition’s attorney an envelope saying: “This is what we filed with the Court today.” Inside, it showed that the LACCC’s attorneys not only asked for an order to shorten time, but also simply asked Judge Jones to overturn the February 6, 2012 judgment in favor of the VDK Coalition. Under California law, no court is authorized to set aside a judgment or order without a noticed motion and hearing from all parties. In other words, it is not permitted at a shorten-notice hearing such as occurred.
10. When he went to the hallway, our attorney learned from LACCD’s and Alliance Charter School’s smirking and giddy attorneys that they not only showed up early for the hearing, but that Judge Jones met with them prior to the noticed hearing time to discuss the merits of our case in chambers and without a Court reporter. No one other than the judge and the attorneys on one side of the case know what happened in this meeting. All we know is that Judge Judges decided to overturn our hard-earned judgment that should have ended the case!
11. Our attorney went back into the Courtroom and waited for our case to be called. After Judge Jones conducted all of the other short-noticed hearings of the day from the bench, she then stepped off the bench and gestured the attorneys to come into chambers.
12. When our attorney asked the Judge to return to the Courtroom to conduct the hearing before a court reporter to explain what happened before he arrived, the Judge refused and replied: “I’ll tell you what happened. Nothing.”
13. When our attorney tried to object, the Judge told him to “put it in a pleading.” So, we did. In the form of a fully noticed and properly briefed Motion to Set Aside the Court’s February 10, 2012 Order as null and void.
What happened in the Courtroom on February 10, 2012 is quite confusing and alarming to us as members of the VDK Coalition. Under what circumstances in America can a judge meet privately with just one side’s attorneys and make the decision BEFORE the appointed hearing time? We think this one-sided hearing worked a great injustice on our rights in the Court’s February 6, 2012 judgment that the Judge signed just four days before. When is a final judgment, apparently not final in Los Angeles County?
Other Attorneys that we tell this story to are dumbfounded. They say that the professional codes governing both attorneys and judges bars the kind of one-sided communication that occurred. On this basis, we have prepared a online Petition that asks the people of Los Angeles to demand that the California State Bar Association and the California Judicial Performance Commission investigate what happened on February 10, 2012 – the day, without any notice at all to us, LACCD and Alliance Charter School attorneys convinced a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to go behind closed doors with them to decide a matter the law prohibits from being decided in a short noticed hearing.
In this way, does the Eli Broad Foundation and similar well-heeled interests obtain MORE JUSTICE than those like ourselves with fewer resources? What happened to fairness and the right to be heard in our Courts?
You can join our Petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/the-california-state-bar-and-state-commission-on-judicial-performance-investigate-misconduct-that-deprived-vdk-coalition-of-its-court-judgment