Not Tainted by Ex-Clerk’s Politicking, Judge in Angels Case Says
An Orange County judge who has been asked to step down from a six-month court battle between the California Angels and the City of Anaheim, the Los Angeles Rams and a development firm Friday denied allegations of impropriety.
In a 35-page court document, Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini said the move by the Rams and Boston-based developer Cabot, Cabot & Forbes to disqualify him from the trial was based on “nothing more than highly tenuous speculation.”
In his official response to the disqualification move, Domenichini repeated his earlier statements, made in court, that his impartiality has not been tainted.
“I expressly denied that any conduct of mine has created a reasonable doubt concerning my ability to be impartial; or that any conduct or actions of the clerk have in any manner influenced or affected me about this case, or will have any effect on my decision,” Domenichini wrote.
Activities of Former Clerk Cited
Anaheim Stadium Associates (ASA)--a partnership between the Rams and the developer--filed documents on May 6 to disqualify Domenichini, citing concerns about the actions of a former clerk who has shared the same courtroom with the judge for 15 years.
Al Augustini, an attorney for ASA, said the politicalactivities of the clerk gave the appearance that the judge’s decision in the case could be biased.
The clerk, Marshall Norris, is a candidate for county clerk and earlier circulated invitations to a fund-raiser bearing a photograph of himself and Angels owner Gene Autry, one of the parties in the lawsuit. Autry has endorsed Norris’ candidacy.
In the lawsuit, Autry is suing the city and ASA, contending that the city violated its lease with the Angels when it promised 81 acres of the Anaheim Stadium parking lot to ASA for a commercial development as an inducement to get the Rams to move to Anaheim in 1978.
The Angels contend that the city had no right to make such an offer without written authorization from the Angels. The baseball club has also charged that the proposed development of an office building would reduce the stadium’s surface parking area and hurt attendance.
In his response to the disqualification motion, Domenichini denied most of Augustini’s arguments point by point. The judge, for example, said he is not involved “directly or indirectly” in Norris’ campaign.
The judge also denied Augustini’s allegations that Norris had solicited support for his political campaign by implying that he was requested to run for election by Domenichini and other judges in the Orange County Superior Court In his response, Domenichini wrote: “Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.3 (c) (7) requires a statement of facts in support of disqualification, not allegations on information or belief.” He underlined the words facts and not .
Calls Impartiality the Issue
“The standard is not whether there is an ‘appearance of impropriety,’ but whether a person aware of all of the facts might reasonably doubt the trial judge’s impartiality,” Domenichini wrote.
“It is the trial judge’s impartiality that is at issue in a motion to disqualify--not whether the unrelated activities of some third person create an ‘appearance of impropriety.’ ” In the court document, Domenichini agreed with Angels attorneys that ASA waited too long to file its statement of disqualification and thus “waived its right to do so.”
The judge also noted that ASA, along with other parties, had approved of Autry’s endorsement of the courtroom clerk.
Issues Still Pending
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday. Attorneys for all parties are working to pick a judge who will decide whether Domenichini should be removed from the case. Meanwhile, Domenichini has to decide whether to suspend the trial while the disqualification issue is pending.
The 1982 lawsuit thus far has involved 51 trial days, 28 trial witnesses, more than 200 trial exhibits, more than 1,300 exhibits marked for identification and “at least several hundred evidentiary rulings,” Domenichini wrote.
The cost of the lawsuit has been estimated at $3.1 million to the city, $2.3 million to the Angels and more than $2 million for ASA, according to attorneys from each side.
Additional county costs include about $1,000 for each trial day, Orange County Clerk Gary Granville said.
Meanwhile, several other lawsuits between the city and the Angels have yet to be resolved, and consideration of plans for office towers and garage complexes on a portion of the Anaheim Stadium parking lot has been delayed.