Yesterday, we filed a lawsuit against the California Supreme Court and one of its appellate districts. Our suit contends that the courts violated our client’s constitutional rights of due process and equal protection rights.
We filed this lawsuit in connection with a recent Appellate Court decision that went against our client Joshua Hild, a young teenager, who was blinded in his right eye. The injury occurred when a Southern California Edison employee on duty, on Edison property fired a paintball gun at him. She played a very cruel and irresponsible trick on an unsuspecting child.
We contended that the employee was acting in her capacity as an Edison employee when she fired paintballs at Joshua and maintained that Edison was liable for Joshua’s serious injury. He was permanently blinded in the right eye as a result of that injury. A Los Angeles County jury ruled Edison is indeed liable and awarded Joshua $704,633.
But Edison appealed and on June 25, 2007, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, issued its unpublished opinion, rejecting the jury’s verdict. Our problem is primarily with the court’s “unpublished verdict.” Why? Let me explain.
When an appellate court issues a decision like that, it used to be a traditional expectation to express that in a written opinion, elaborating the reasoning behind that decision. Unfortunately, most recent rules imposed by the State Supreme Court have changed that expectation. Now, only opinions that “make law” are published.
There are many problems when the courts do not publish a decision. First, an unpublished opinions lack “precedential value,” which means they cannot be cited as a precedent. The publication of decisions holds judges accountable for their opinions, thereby encouraging well thought-out and reasoned decisions as well as consistency in their decisions. There is no way that litigants or their attorneys can know whether the judges gave careful consideration to the facts of their case without published opinions! There is no transparency or accountability without published opinions.
Another important point is when a court issues an unpublished opinion, it drastically reduces the possibility of additional review. So essentially the buck stops at the Court of Appeals and in the case of our young client, Joshua and his family, they have no other recourse, but to stoically accept this decision and wonder for the rest of their lives why the appellate court did what it did.
The negative effects of these unpublished opinions don’t affect corporations and government entities as they do the common man. The people who really lose out on their constitutional rights are civil rights litigants, people who make claims on social security and others like Joshua, who may not have the political clout that a large corporation like Edison may have. This is a classic case of the judicial system shortchanging the little guy.
Our hope is that this lawsuit changes the inequitable manner in which our judicial system works. Our hope is that our client and thousands others like him in the state of California who trust their disputes to the California courts, get justice in the form of well reasoned, published opinions.
Click here to read the original case documents.