California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division
1/29/14 (ORDER ATTACHED)
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. LC094433. Frank J. Johnson, Judge.
Steptoe & Johnson and Rebecca Edelson for Appellant.
No appearance by Respondent.
RUBIN, ACTING P. J.
Atom Petrosyan appeals from the judgment entered after the trial court granted a second mistrial and dismissed without prejudice his appeal of a Labor Commission unpaid wages award. We reverse because the second mistrial should not have been granted and remand for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Labor Commissioner awarded Atom Petrosyan almost $12, 700 for unpaid regular and overtime wages from his former employer, Prince Corporation, dba Sherman Car Wash. Petrosyan believed he was owed a total of more than $54, 000 and appealed by way of a trial de novo in the superior court. (Lab. Code, § 98.2.)
Petrosyan represented himself at trial through an Armenian language interpreter. In advance of the first trial, Petrosyan told Prince’s lawyer that he intended to introduce evidence that Prince had settled with nine other car wash employees who had sued for unpaid wages. Defense counsel said the evidence was more prejudicial than probative and asked the trial court to exclude it. The trial court asked Petrosyan if he intended to admit evidence of “that prior lawsuit?” Petrosyan said Prince had paid $225, 000 to settle the dispute. The trial court asked again whether Petrosyan would try to “tell the jury about that lawsuit... ?”
When Petrosyan answered yes, the court asked why that evidence was relevant. Petrosyan answered, “Because I used to work with those employees who make the lawsuits and he promised to give me the car wash after five years of working there. That’s why I didn’t go on the lawsuit with them at the time.” The trial court told Petrosyan that his action was for unpaid wages only, not for breach of an agreement to obtain the car wash. It granted the defense motion in limine, stating: “From what you’ve been able to tell me so far, I don’t see any link between that lawsuit and this lawsuit. So you are not allowed to tell the jury about that lawsuit in this case.”
Petrosyan began his opening statement by talking about the harsh conditions under which he supposedly worked. Defense counsel objected when he said “there were many workers as I was in the same condition. And some of those --.” As defense counsel continued to object and the translator asked to be allowed to translate, Petrosyan went on to say, “[a]nd some of those workers that worked there from 2006 to 2008 filed the claim.... [¶]... – for $225, 000.”
Defense counsel objected that the statement was prejudicial. After having the jury leave the courtroom, the trial court had Petrosyan confirm that he had been directed not to mention that lawsuit. The following colloquy occurred:
“THE COURT: So what makes you think that you can bring that ...