University of California for gender discrimination based on a series of events that took place while she was a Professor of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The jury found in favor of Dr. Pinter-Brown and awarded her upward of $13 million in economic and noneconomic damages.
Unfortunately, the trial court committed a series of grave errors that significantly prejudiced The Regents’ right to a fair trial by an impartial judge. First, the court delivered a presentation to the jury highlighting major figures in the civil rights movement, and told the jury their duty was to stand in the shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King and bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
Second, the court allowed the jury to hear about and view a long list of discrimination complaints from across the entire University of California system that were not properly connected to Dr. Pinter-Brown’s circumstances or her theory of the case.
Third, the court allowed the jury to learn of the contents and conclusions of the Moreno Report, which documented racial discrimination occurring throughout the entire UCLA campus.
Finally, the court allowed Dr. Pinter-Brown to resurrect a retaliation claim after the close of evidence despite having summarily adjudicated that very claim prior to trial.
“Trial judges ‘should be exceedingly discreet in what they say and do in the presence of a jury lest they seem to lean toward or lend their influence to one side or the other.’ ” (People v. Sturm (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1218, 1237–1238.) A judge’s conduct must “ ‘ “ ‘ “accord with recognized principles of judicial decorum consistent with the presentation of a case in an atmosphere of fairness and impartiality,” ’ ” ’ ” and “ ‘ “[t]he trial of a case should not only be fair in fact, . . . it should also appear to be fair.” ’ ” (Haluck v. Ricoh Electronics, Inc. (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 994, 1002.) “Jurors rely with great confidence on the fairness of judges, and upon the correctness of their views expressed during trials. For this reason, and too strong emphasis cannot be laid on the admonition, a judge should be careful not to throw the weight of his judicial position into a case, either for or against the defendant.” (People v. Mahoney (1927) 201 Cal. 618, 626–627.)
Indeed, the third canon of our Judicial Code of Ethics admonishes us to “perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice,” and to refrain from engaging in speech that would reasonably be perceived as bias or prejudice. (Cal. Code Jud. Ethics, canon 3B(5).) Additionally, standard 10.20 of the California Rules of Court’s Standards of Judicial Administration instructs us to “preserve the integrity and impartiality of the judicial system” by ensuring courtroom proceedings “are conducted in a manner that is fair and impartial to all of the participants.” (Cal. Stds. Jud. Admin., std. 10.20(a) & (a)(1).)
These errors were cumulative and highly prejudicial. They evidence the trial court’s inability to remain impartial and created the impression that the court was partial to Dr. PinterBrown’s claims.
The California Court of Appeal stated it “must reverse.”
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Robert Rodriguez has represented employees before the California State Labor Commissioner and in the Superior Court over wage disputes, and litigated well over 100 family law cases and civil litigation matters, including jury trials, and including personal injury motor vehicle cases, dog bite and slip & fall cases, breach of contract, defamation & invasion of privacy, fraud, unfair business practice, malicious prosecution, workplace and employment matters including sexual harassment, wrongful termination, wage & hour violations, discrimination pursuant to the FEHA, Gov’t Code §§ 12940 et seq., violations of the FMLA & Pregnancy Leave, Civil Rights discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the State of California and California federal district courts.
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