Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Appearance at the Court of Appeals

On Friday, March 18, 2016, I made my first appearance in the Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Four, for Julian Casas, the petitioner, in case Casas v. City of Baldwin Park. It was a baptism by fire -  or maybe a more apt term - trial by fire.

In this entry, I'm going to explain the appeals process, the issue in the case, and my experience, orally arguing in front of the Court of Appeals for the first time.

When you appeal a case, you're basically asking the higher court to say that the lower court (also known as the trial court) is wrong and that the decision in the case needs to be reversed. It's a mountain of work to get in front of the Court of Appeals. To have this case heard before the Court of Appeals, the client and I paid with blood and tears.

After working for the City of Baldwin Park for 20 years as a boxing coach, Julian Casas was fired by Manuel Carrillo Jr. and Chief Michael Taylor for bringing this case to court. (At the time Julian was fired, Julian was making $8.80 an hour. To teach me a lesson, Carrillo increased the pay after firing Julian to $16 an hour, and hired an incompetent boxing coach, who worked for the City for two years, to be head boxing coach. The saddest thing is that the incompetent boxing coach threw us all under the bus, so that he could get double the pay, without any regard that we sacrificed ourselves for his pay increase.)

I was retaliated against just as fiercely as Julian, but I also ended up being luckier. Remember; I was arrested, jailed, and strip searched because of this case. Then, the City Attorney tried to get a restraining order against me, and after the City officials and directors obtained one, they were going to try to get me disbarred as an attorney; so, I could lose my livelihood, and no longer practice law.

I mention all of this; so, that you the readers know how much blood we spilled to get this case heard in front of the Court of Appeals; so that we could plead our case to the three justices. That's not including the hundreds of hours of research and work needed to go into the case, to get it to oral argument. If I put in 300 hours (it could've been more), that would cost the client over $100,000. If Julian was working full time, at his $8.80 an hour, 40 hours for 52 weeks, and saved up all that money without spending a cent on it or paying taxes on his salary, he'd have to work for close to nine years to pay that amount, without me taking on the case for free. (That's to give you a perspective as to why these type of cases never make it this far.)

In this appeal, we are arguing that the person who fired Julian, Manuel Carrillo, was operating a sham non-profit corporation called the Baldwin Park Community Center Corporation (BPCCC). Our allegation is that Carrillo was taking bribes through the sham non-profit to hide the tracks of those who were giving those bribes and then taking it back tax free. (That's what money laundering is.)

Carrillo was also taking city money in the city bank account and laundering it, to himself. This is not why non-profits exist. (So, now you could see why Lozano and Carrillo and all his goons hurt us so much; if they're caught doing this - they could go to jail - like Robert Rizzo of Bell did.)

While the case was in the process of going to trial, a big problem arose. The city spent our taxpayer money to hire the City Attorney Robert Nacionales-Tafoya to defend Manny Carrillo and his sham non-profit. And in doing so, Manny Carrillo didn't have to pay his own attorney's fees, which gave him a get-out-of-jail free card, even though he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

On multiple occasions, I explained to Tafoya that he could not represent Manny Carrillo or the BPCCC. Tafoya agreed, but then decided he was going to do it anyways. (Not surprising, after he forged my signature in this case to get a strategic advantage, another cost of suffering I had to pay to get this case in front of the Court of Appeals.)

I filed the motion to kick him off from represent Carrillo. The judge denied my motion. I appealed the case both on the normal path and the emergency path.

The issue before the court is landmark case in California. The reason is, it asks the Court to intervene and tell the City, it cannot pay attorney's fees for a sham corporation that is cheating the taxpayer. The City's argument is that it can spend other people's money anyways it wants. And that's the big issue before the Court of Appeals.

If we don't win this, I think it's a tragic blow for the citizens. It basically means, if the Carrillos and Rizzos of the world want to steal from us, not only can they, but they won't be held accountable for it because we'll pay for their expensive legal defense fees to get them off the crime or civil lawsuit. Doesn't there seem to be something wrong with that?

Although cases involving attorney representation are generally heard on the emergency track, the Court of Appeals decided to wait and see what would happen, because (most likely) of the complexity and controversy of the case. When it knew the City would be stubborn about it's position, it had no choice but to ask for full briefing, and then call us in for oral argument. At that point, the City replaced Tafoya with the law firm of Albright, Yee, and Schmit.

Although I originally asked for 15 minutes of time, I spent somewhere between thirty and fifty hours preparing for the case. After understanding how complicated the issues actually were, I had to ask the court for the maximum time of 30 minutes. The court granted it.

I dressed in my best suit and tie. Security patted me down before walking into the sacred chambers. I signed in. I sat in the attorney section. I remember not knowing what to expect, even though people told me what to expect, and that in itself created a dread in me.

I thought to myself, Wow, I'm finally here. I've been wanting to be here for so long. But now that I'm here, I'm nervous and anxious. What's going to happen? There was no tentative decision - meaning the justices most likely didn't make up their mind on whom should win. But I knew, to win, I needed to convince two of the three judge panel, that the City shouldn't pay our money to defend Carrillo.

I was looking around, and I remember how stately and royal the entire chambers looked. I felt like I was in the king's hall of justice. And behind the podium, from a noticeable distance, there were four green chairs - that were so huge and grand and stately - they looked more like thrones than chairs to me.

The bailiff announced the decorum rules. He announced the justices' arrival. We all stood up. We all sat back down. They took their seats.

They called the first case. Then they called the second one, which was our case.

I approached the podium and said, "May it please the court, Paul Cook, counselor at law for Petitioner Julian Casas. First, I'd like to thank the court for letting me argue for the first time in the Court of Appeals. I'm honored to be in the Second District of the Court of Appeals of California, Division Four."

Then, I started my argument.

I won't go into much detail about it, not because I can't, but I felt like what happened in the chambers generally should stay there because there was such a sacredness about the place, the conversation, and the ceremony. The tape for oral argument could be ordered because in the United States, we believe in a transparent court system. So, it's not that I can't tell you what happened; it's just that I feel like it was a consecrated moment in time and place for me, especially it being the first time I argued in front of the justices of the Court of Appeals.

In general, I presented my arguments. The justices ask me tough questions. I answered them to the best of my ability.

The City then made it's arguments. It was asked tough questions. It answered to the best of its ability.

Then, I was given a chance to respond to the arguments the City made. After I was done, I bowed to the three justices and thanked them. I think the entire affair took close to an hour.

I walked out of the chambers, feeling like I had crossed through a sacred rite of a sort of Baptism by Fire or Trial by Fire. It was both intense and purifying. But, I felt tired and just wanted to go home. (Only three days ago, I had another trial for Greg Tuttle, whom two council members and Mayor were trying to get a permanent restraining order against.)

I drove home. Still in my suit, I saw my mother. I hugged her, and I said, "I think I did well."

She said, "Oh, that's so good."

I replied, "Hey mom, where's Jeh Pan [my cat named Trial]."

"Oh, he's somewhere in the garden. Why not get changed and look for him. So what happens next with your case?"

"I don't know exactly. Just wait and see."


1 comment:

  1. You are doing a wonderful job and a person like you has been long over due.

    ReplyDelete