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Florentina Demuth v. County of Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; Wai

August 10, 2012

FLORENTINA DEMUTH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; WAI CHIU R. LI; AND DOES 1-100, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael W. Fitzgerald United States District Court Judge

JS-6

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This matter came on for trial before the Court sitting without a jury on May 22, May 23 and May 24, 2012. Following the presentation of evidence and argument, the parties filed supplemental briefs, after which the matter was taken under submission.

Having carefully reviewed the record and the arguments of counsel, as presented at the hearing and in their written submissions, the Court now makes the following findings of fact and reaches the following conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. The events relevant to this case occurred on February 11, 2010, in the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse, of the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles, located in Downey, California.

2. Plaintiff Florentina Demuth is employed as a Los Angeles County Public Defender and has been at all times relevant to this case. As of February 2010, she was assigned to Department 250 of the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse.

3. Defendant Wai Chiu R. Li was employed as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy as of February 2010. He has since retired from that position. As of February 2010, he was assigned as the courtroom bailiff for Department 250 of the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse.

4. As of February 2010, the following persons were employed in the following positions: Honorable Heidi W. Shirley, Judicial Referee presiding in Department 250; Stephanie Levy, Court Reporter in Department 250; Ron Segalini, Courtroom Clerk in Department 250; Glendy Ortiz, Deputy Public Defender in Department 250; Andrea Mader, Deputy District Attorney in Department 250; Patricia De La Guerra Jones, Public Defender Deputy in Charge for the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse; Alison Hudak, Deputy Public Defender assigned to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse; Sherri Brown-Williams, Court Liaison for the Los Angeles County Probation Department in Department 250; Walter Munoz, Deputy Public Defender assigned to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse; Lieutenant Dave Loomis, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; Deputy Randy Miranda, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department assigned to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse; Kevin Shaw, Senior Legal Office Support Assistant for the Public Defender's Office in the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse; Norma Linares, paralegal in the Public Defender's Office in the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse.

5. All actions taken by Deputy Li, in connection with the allegations in Ms. Demuth's Complaint (Docket No. 1), on the morning of February 11, 2010, in the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse, were in the course and scope of his duties as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy.

A. February 10, 2010: Department 250 ("Day 14 of 15" in the Simon Matter)

6. Under California Welfare and Institutions Code § 657(a)(1), "[i]n the case of a minor detained in custody at the time of the filing of the petition, the petition must be set for hearing within 15 judicial days from the date of the order of the court directing such detention." See also Cal. Ct. R. 5.774(b) ("If the child is detained, the jurisdiction hearing on the petition must begin within 15 judicial days from the date of the order of the court directing detention.").

7. On February 10, 2010, a case involving one of Ms. Demuth's juvenile clients (for purposes of this case, identified only as "Simon") was called for adjudication in Department 250.

8. February 10 was the fourteenth day out of fifteen for adjudication in the Simon matter ("Day 14 of 15"). (Exhibit 1).

9. On the record in Department 250, Ms. Demuth, Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County Emily Baker and Referee Shirley discussed the parties' preparedness for trial and the possibility that the Simon matter would be "sent out" -- i.e., transferred to another juvenile court -- for adjudication because of Department 250's potential unavailability and the very near "Day 15 of 15" deadline. (Id.)

10. After a brief recess, Ms. Mader replaced Ms. Baker on the Simon matter, which was continued until the morning of February 11, 2010. (Id.)

B. February 11, 2010: Department 250 ("Day 15 of 15" in the Simon Matter); Ms. Demuth Discussed the Simon Matter with Ms. Mader and Then Left Department 250

11. On the morning of February 11, 2010, Ms. Demuth entered Department 250 at approximately 8:40 a.m. Deputy Li was present in Department 250 at that time and at all times relevant to this case until he left the courtroom approximately one hour later.

12. Ms. Mader entered Department 250 at around the same time as Ms. Demuth. Ms. Demuth and Ms. Mader then discussed the Simon matter. It was the last day for adjudication in the Simon matter ("Day 15 of 15"), and Ms. Demuth and Ms. Mader discussed whether the case would be sent out for adjudication.

13. If the Simon matter could not be heard in Department 250 on February 11, and would be transferred to another courthouse for adjudication, it would have taken some time for Ms. Demuth, Ms. Mader, the juvenile and all other persons involved with the case (including the juvenile's mother) to travel to the "transferee" courthouse.

14. Ms. Demuth did not believe that the Simon matter should be transferred; Ms. Mader thought it would be necessary.

15. At some time before 9:00 a.m., Referee Shirley also entered Department 250. Ms. Demuth and Referee Shirley had a brief, informal conversation at that time, but they did not discuss the Simon matter and court was not called to order. Referee Shirley then exited Department 250.

16. At the end of her conversation with Ms. Mader at approximately 9:00 a.m., Ms. Demuth left Department 250 and indicated to Ms. Mader that she would not be returning until approximately 1:30 p.m.

C. Referee Shirley Took the Bench in Department 250

17. Referee Shirley had approximately fifty-three cases on calendar for February 11, which she needed to have completed by 2:00 p.m. Referee Shirley had an afternoon meeting for juvenile delinquency bench officers. Department 250 also was engaged in trial in another matter.

18. When Referee Shirley was ready to call the Simon matter, Ms. Demuth was not in Department 250.

19. After consulting with a more senior district attorney in Department 250, Ms. Mader asked Deputy Li to page Ms. Demuth using the court's intercom system.

20. Deputy Li paged Ms. Demuth, but she did not come to Department 250.

21. When Ms. Demuth failed to respond and approximately ten minutes after Deputy Li had paged Ms. Demuth, Ms. Mader went to her office to discuss the situation with her supervisor. The supervisor advised Ms. Mader to have Referee Shirley order Ms. Demuth's appearance in Department 250.

22. Approximately five minutes later at approximately 9:40 a.m., Ms. Mader returned to Department 250 and discussed the Simon matter with Referee Shirley. While off-the-record, Ms. Mader asked Referee Shirley to order Ms. Demuth's appearance. (Exhibit 3 at ~0:29).

23. Referee Shirley asked Deputy Li to page Ms. Demuth; Referee Shirley indicated that she was expecting Ms. Demuth to hear the page because Referee Shirley understood that Ms. Demuth was in the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse. (Id. at ~1:32).

24. Deputy Li again paged Ms. Demuth, stating as follows: "Ms. Demuth, Department 250, please. Ms. Demuth, Department 250." (Id. at ~1:40).

25. In addition to paging her, Deputy Li also telephoned Ms. Demuth's direct line between one and three times. There was no answer.

D. Referee Shirley Ordered Ms. Demuth to Come to Department 250

26. When Ms. Demuth again failed to respond, at approximately 9:45 a.m., Referee Shirley made the following statement from the bench in Department 250: "Alright, I order Ms. Demuth to come to this courtroom. If she refuses, then Ms. De La Guerra Jones will have to come in and explain to me why this is happening." (Exhibit 3 at ~4:50).

27. When Referee Shirley made this statement, Department 250 was not in session.

28. Referee Shirley's statement was not recorded as an order of Department 250.

29. There was no bench warrant or body attachment order issued for Ms. Demuth to be moved physically into Department 250.

30. While Deputy Li was paging and telephoning Ms. Demuth, she was in her personal office inside the Public Defender's office suite, which is inside the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse.

31. During this time, Ms. Demuth was working on an assignment which Ms. De La Guerra Jones had given to her. Ms. De La Guerra Jones had instructed Ms. Demuth to prepare Ms. Demuth's other cases for another deputy public defender in the event that the Simon matter were transferred and Ms. Demuth necessarily were to leave the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse. Ms. De La Guerra Jones had asked Ms. Demuth to complete this assignment as quickly as possible and before Ms. Demuth left the Public Defender's office suite to go to Department 250 because of the possibility that Ms. Demuth would have to leave the Los Padrinos Juvenile Courthouse almost immediately if the Simon matter were to be sent out.

32. Ms. Demuth heard at least one page for her from Department 250. She did not respond to Department 250. She heard her telephone line ringing in her personal office, but she did not answer.

33. There were secretaries available in the Public Defender's office suite who could have been reached by telephone, but during this time no telephone calls were placed from Department 250 looking for Ms. Demuth to any of those secretaries.

34. As of February 2010, it was not unusual for attorneys, particular the Deputy Public Defenders, to be absent from Department 250 when their assigned cases were to be called. In those instances, it was the normal practice of Department 250 for the staff to page and telephone attorneys to come to the courtroom. Once an attorney was paged, it was not unusual for that attorney to take several minutes or more to come to the courtroom. Also, the courtroom staff in Department 250 had Ms. Demuth's cellular telephone number. On other days, she had received cellular telephone calls or text messages from the courtroom staff asking her to come to the courtroom.

35. Ms. Demuth had been paged and called into Department 250 on other occasions.

36. On February 11, 2010, she did not receive any cellular telephone or text messages from the courtroom staff in Department 250.

E. Deputy Li Left Department 250 to Find Ms. Demuth

37. Shortly after Referee Shirley ordered Ms. Demuth to come to Department 250, Deputy Li asked Referee Shirley whether he should leave Department 250 to find Ms. Demuth.

38. Deputy Li understood Referee Shirley's order to mean that he was to leave Department 250 and bring Ms. Demuth or Ms. De La ...


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