Monday, May 5, 2008

Judge admits filing lawsuit without merit--but only after being forced to do so by the California Superior Court

I suspect that there are plenty of attorneys and judges in California who are as bad or worse than this one. The story in the article below appears to be typical of what I know of the practice of law in California. What is atypical is the apology for filing a lawsuit that had no merit.

I was introduced to the court system by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, who were working with Parham & Rajcic, who may not be typical. These two firms help public school clients commit and cover-up wrongdoing. As a result of the machinations of these two firms, I got to know lawyers Deborah Garvin and Elizabeth Schulman, who may perhaps have been restrained by legal ethics in some other case, but certainly were not so restrained in mine.

Finally, I had my eyes opened by the California Teachers Association, of which I had been a big supporter, financially as well as politically, for decades. I discovered that CTA lawyers were just as ready as any of the above-mentioned attorneys to violate the law in order to gain a political advantage for the people who run the union. Head counsel Beverly Tucker and CTA executive director Carolyn Doggett turned out to be no better than Dan Shinoff.

During my odyssey in the court system, I met only one ethical lawyer. Unfortunately for me, she has gone on to bigger and better things than school district lawsuits.

For these reasons, the following story is interesting only in that it is the exception to the rule.

Most of us don't have the resources of Tom Siebel, and we will never get apologies from the attorneys and institutions who make big money and good reputations by abusing the justice system. Or maybe we will. Maybe I should file a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against Stutz law firm for its meritless defamation suit against me.

Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt Issues Public Apology for Her Role in Lawsuit That 'Lacked Legal Basis' Against Thomas M. Siebel

PALO ALTO, Calif.,
May 1, 2008

San Mateo County Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt has issued a public apology to Silicon Valley businessman Thomas M. Siebel, chairman of First Virtual Group, for bringing a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages from him that was determined to be without merit.

The apology is part of an agreement reached between Mittlesteadt and Mr. Siebel to settle a malicious prosecution case filed by Siebel in July 2000. In addition to her apology, Judge Mittlesteadt agreed to a financial settlement of $100,000, which Mr. Siebel will donate to the Stanford University Law School to support the study of legal ethics.

Mr. Siebel initiated the malicious prosecution case against Mittlesteadt in 2000 in response to a wrongful termination and gender discrimination claim that Mittlesteadt filed in 1996 on behalf of a former employee of Siebel Systems, Inc. Mittlesteadt filed her suit while Siebel Systems was preparing for its initial public offering, and thus was particularly vulnerable to disclosable litigation claims. Mr. Siebel prevailed in that case when the court determined that all claims against him were unfounded.

In an effort to set a precedent that would prevent similar lawsuits in the future, Mr. Siebel filed a malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt and her co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II. The suit stated that they had misused the legal process, in violation of the law and in violation of legal ethics, to pursue claims that they knew to be false in the hope of extracting a large financial settlement from Mr. Siebel and Siebel Systems.

Mittlesteadt attempted to block Mr. Siebel's malicious prosecution suit, claiming that he had no right to sue. The California Supreme Court disagreed in a ruling last year. The court's ruling cleared the way for Mr. Siebel's suit to proceed, and set a precedent that will make it easier for companies and individuals to pursue malicious prosecution claims and defend themselves against unfounded, economically damaging lawsuits.

"This case was a private effort at tort reform," said Mr. Siebel. "My hope is that other plaintiff's lawyers will look at this outcome and think twice before seeking to extort settlements by filing lawsuits they know have no basis in fact."

Lisa A. Rickard, President, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, applauded Mr. Siebel for pursuing his malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt.

"It is courageous people like Mr. Siebel who, by taking a stand, make it easier for individuals, small businesses and corporations to fight back against malicious lawsuits rather than be extorted into a settlement," Rickard said.

Settlement in the case was reached following arbitration by former California Supreme Court Judge Edward A. Pinelli.

In her letter of apology to Mr. Siebel, Judge Mittlesteadt said:
"I write to express my sincere regret for pursuing claims against you
that were determined to be without merit. I accept the ruling of the
California Appellate Court that the litigation contained claims for
which there was no legal foundation. I acknowledge that my actions may
have caused substantial expense and inconvenience, and damage to your
reputation and good name, for which I apologize."

Mittlesteadt originally sued Mr. Siebel in 1996. Mittlesteadt's co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II, settled with Mr. Siebel last year, apologizing for his role in the case in a letter to Mr. Siebel:

"I am writing to you to publicly express an apology for my part in
participating in the litigation captioned Christoffers v. Siebel
Systems, et. al., against you. I sincerely regret participating in this
clearly intemperate and ill-advised action, and accept the California
Supreme Court's and California Appellate Court's opinion that the
litigation contained claims for which there was no legal foundation.
Accordingly I ask that you accept my apology. I thank you for your wise
and gracious effort to put this unpleasant and unnecessary event in the
past and for allowing the parties to move on with their lives."

Mittlesteadt is now a Superior Court judge in San Mateo County, an appointment she received while Mr. Siebel's litigation was still pending.


Anonymous said...

This is NOT something to applaud Mr. Siebel for. Big money talks, and it really gave a speech in this case!

Maura Larkins said...

To Anonymous: You might be right. It's possible that the suit filed by the judge did indeed have merit, but some court found otherwise. I know from experience that powerful institutions are able to get courts to rule in their favor even when they have violated the law.