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Accusations Judges Use 'Unpublished' Opinions To Avoid Judicial Review

Suit On Behalf Of Boy Partially Blinded by Edison Employee Could Dramatically Alter How California Civil Cases Are Won and Lost

Hild v. California Supreme Court, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District

LOS ANGELES - In a move that could fundamentally alter how lawsuits are won and lost in California courts, the Orange County law firm Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys today filed suit against the state's Supreme Court and one of its appellate districts, alleging widespread violations of due-process and equal protection rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

The suit argues that rules imposed by the state Supreme Court have led some or all of the districts that make up the California Court of Appeal to increasingly issue rulings accompanied by "unpublished" opinions. Under the high-court's rules, "unpublished" opinions are essentially ''non-precedential'' or "non-citation" decisions that cannot be cited by attorneys in future cases to bolster their arguments nor can jurists consult them for precedent or even guidance.

And because unpublished opinions have no practical reach outside the case at hand, only in exceptionally rare cases will the higher court review an unpublished opinion. Joshua Hild, a teen-ager from Big Creek, a small town about 90 miles northeast of Fresno, is named as the plaintiff in the suit. Acting through his guardian ad litem, Hild sued the Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) after a paint gun being handled by an on-duty employee of the company discharged, permanently blinding him in his right eye.

Legal scholars say the lawsuit is a legitimate challenge to the California Supreme Court's rule. A similar rule was struck down at the federal level last year for opinions after Jan. 1. (For revised federal rule see: http://nonpublication.com/rule32.1.pdf)

The suit asks for an order forbidding enforcement of the "non-citation rule," as it has become known (C.R.C. Rule 8.115), and for the court to void the appellate ruling on the grounds it was a product of an unconstitutional system of "selective prospectivity," which deprived him of his 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

In 2005, a jury that heard his case in Los Angeles County Superior Court awarded him $704,633. SCE appealed, and on June 25, 2007, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, issued its unpublished opinion, rejecting the jury's verdict.

"The appellate court reached conclusions that are absolutely contrary to legislative and established law," said Brian D. Chase, the attorney who represented the teen at trial and during appeal and who filed the case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.

"This child loses an eye to an on-duty Edison employee, for which a jury found Edison responsible, and now gets an obviously pre-determined unpublished opinion. And because of that - it being unpublished - there's almost no chance that the Supreme Court will review it. So, the ruling itself - flawed as it is - is left to stand even though it doesn't have even a single leg to support it."

The appeals court, the federal suit says, "offered no explanation whatsoever as to how or why the scores of other cases cited by Plaintiff - which plainly conflicted with its decision - were or are 'distinguishable." Further, the appeals court "purposely" issued its opinion as "unpublished" to make certain that the teen was denied the right to judicial review, the federal suit says.

"When you consider the practical affect of this rule, it's dumbfounding that it could have been on the books this long," Chase said. "It brings the legal process less accountability, less transparency, less uniformity and more opportunities for people to get their day in court only to be ruled against by a secretive-like opinion that is flawed from top to bottom."

ABOUT Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys

Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, is a California law firm, headquartered in Newport Beach, that litigates consumer, serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout the country. Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys accepts all types of consumer and personal injury cases, but the firm built its formidable reputation on winning defective automobile cases. Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys recovers millions of dollars annually for its clients, including cases against the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. For more information, visit: www.auto-defect-attorneys.com, www.bisnar-chase.com and www.bestattorney.com.

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