Appeals Court Finds Local Lawyer in Contempt for Comments in Petitions Seeking Rehearing
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles lawyer who in two petitions for rehearing asserted that appellate justices were biased against her client and had reasoned backward to reach a predetermined result has been found guilty of criminal contempt by this district’s Court of Appeal.
In an unsigned opinion filed Tuesday, Justices Kenneth R. Yegan and Steven Z. Perren and Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of Div. Six, citing In re Buckley (1973) 10 Cal.3d 237, said the arguments made by Debra L. Koven amounted to an accusation of “deliberate judicial dishonesty” and were part of a “pattern of abuse.”
The justices noted that, after the court set a contempt hearing, Koven admitted her comments were inappropriate and apologized, and said they accepted the apology.
“Nevertheless,” they wrote, “we do not purge Koven of the contempts she committed because her unsupported accusations of judicial misconduct are patently outrageous. Moreover, there is an aggravating factor. She has also impugned the integrity of the trial judge, opposing counsel, and counsel’s expert witnesses.”
The court fined Koven $2,000 and ordered her conduct reported to the State Bar.
“In view of her apology, we do not impose any jail time,” the justices declared.
Koven’s comments were made in two petitions on behalf of a legal malpractice plaintiff. When the panel affirmed Ventura Superior Court Judge Kent M. Kellegrew’s orders in the malpractice case denying Koven’s motions to disqualify defendant DeWitt Blase’s attorneys and his expert witness, and granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Koven filed the rehearing petitions.
One petition asserted that the justices had “worked backwards in reviewing the issues” to reach a predetermined result. Yegan and Perren had “personal biases in favor of” Blase, she argued.
The appeals court’s ruling on the summary judgment was “not simply a flagrant, reprehensible breach of its ethical and legal obligations to afford every litigant equal protection under the law, but it is contrary to all published legal authority in this state,” Koven wrote, adding that it demonstrated a “profound lack of integrity.”
Koven’s statements were “contemptuous on their face,” the justices wrote, and were “far more egregious” than conduct found contemptuous in Buckley and other reported cases.
The justices wrote:
“It appears to us that Koven’s approach to litigation focuses upon impugning the integrity of everyone in the legal system, whether judges, justices, attorneys, or expert witnesses, who obstruct the achievement of her goals. This shows a pattern of abuse which serves to aggravate the contempts committed here.”
Koven has been a member of the bar since 1990. She attended UCLA as an undergraduate and Western State University College of Law, and has no public record of discipline.
She could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
The case is In re Koven, B184017.
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