News

Halling | Meza Obtains a Defense Verdict on $12M Claim

December 30, 2016 Posted by HallingMezaLLP

On December 9, 2016, following a two-week trial in Santa Monica before Judge H. Jay Ford, partner Chris Halling, along with associates Daniel Jonathan and Cameron Halling, successfully obtained a defense verdict for their clients. The case related to the acquisition and development of a $250 million luxury high-rise residential tower in San Francisco. Plaintiff was a real estate investment company which was part of the joint venture seeking to acquire, construct, market, and sell the project. Defendants were real estate investment bankers and brokers working to raise debt and equity financing for the project. An individual defendant had been released from the case prior to trial when HM LLP successfully obtained a partial summary judgment. The plaintiff had claimed that the defendants breached their contract with the plaintiff, and their duties as brokers and agents, by failing to negotiate for certain non-circumvention provisions with the insurance company that replaced plaintiff and ultimately provided $100 million of equity for the project. Plaintiff demanded over $12 million in lost profit damages in the bench trial. The court found in favor of our clients, the defendants, on all counts. The Plaintiff was awarded nothing and ordered to pay the defendants’ costs. Congratulations to Chris and his team!

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San Francisco’s “Stick em up” Tenant Relocation Assistance Payment Ordinance Held Unconstitutional

November 18, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

San Francisco’s Tenant Relocation Ordinance was struck down as unconstitutional on October 21, 2014 by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer.  San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation law required property owners who elected to withdraw units from the rental market to pay evicted renters as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave their units.  Under the ordinance, the amount required to be paid to tenants who were to be displaced by withdrawal of their units could be used for any purpose, not just for relocation purposes.  According to the judge’s ruling, the ordinance required one multi-unit property owner to pay more than $1 million to tenants being legally evicted from thirteen units.

Enacted in June 2014, the law increased relocation payments from a few thousand dollars for some tenants to as much as twenty-four times the difference between the current monthly rent-controlled rate and the fair market value of a comparable unit in San Francisco. The law was passed in response to evictions of a few long-time residents, some of whom were working-class or elderly, as the region’s technology company boom has ignited real estate values.  The law ignored the fact that a natural consequence of rent control measures is that long-time residents usually reap years of benefits from below-market rents and create a distortion in the rental market.

Judge Breyer ruled that the law crossed the constitutional line between legitimate government regulation and a money grab. He ruled that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the City from forcing “some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”  Legally speaking, the ordinance was not a permissible government regulation of land but was an impermissible monetary exaction that lacked an essential nexus and rough proportionality to the impact of the withdrawal of the unit from the rental market.

The plaintiffs in the case at issue were Dan and Maria Levin, who live in the upstairs unit of their two-story home.  They wanted to use the lower unit for friends and family, but under the San Francisco law they were required to pay their tenant $118,000 to withdraw it from the rental market.

“This is a great victory for every San Franciscan who owns any kind of home or property, small or large, and for everyone who values property rights as a fundamental freedom,” said the Levin’s attorney, J. David Breemer.  Mr. Breemer stated that the “ruling makes it clear that government can’t force people to stay in the rental-property business against their will.  And government can’t force owners to pay a massive ransom in order to make use of their own property.  The Constitution protects property rights for everyone, including rental property owners.  Today’s ruling should remind city leaders that the Constitution protects property owners in San Francisco, like everywhere else.”

Since no other city had a relocation scheme like San Francisco’s, this ruling will have little benefit to landlords in other jurisdictions.  However, the case is an important example that there are limits to what City governments can require in the area of relocation assistance.

by Chris Halling

 

*Photo credit: Pacific Legal Foundation

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Statutory Rape Victim Forced to Pay Child Support

September 29, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Is it fair for the victim of a crime to have his wages garnished to pay for the result of that crime? That is exactly what is happening to Nick Olivas, a 24-year-old Arizona man.

When Olivas was 14 he had sex with a 20-year-old woman. Arizona state law says that a child younger than 15 cannot consent to sex with an adult under any circumstance. This makes Olivas a victim of statutory rape even though he did not press charges, or even consider doing so.

Seven years later he was served with papers demanding child support. Olivas has no idea that the crime he was a victim to had made him a father. Not knowing what to do, he ignored the legal papers. The state has since seized money from his bank account and garnished his wages. He says he owes about $15,000 in back child support and medical bills, along with ten percent interest.

While it is understandable that the state goes after the non-custodial parent for child support when the custodial parent is on welfare, is it fair that they would garnish his wages and seek to hold him financially responsible? According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona does not seek child support when the parent seeking the money has been convicted of sexual assault with a minor or sexual assault. But because Olivas never pressed charges, the mother of his child was never convicted. Does the lack of a conviction make him less of a victim?

This is certainly not the first case of its kind. According to a 2011 article in the Georgia Law Review  “much of the law relating to child support is based on the fact that it is typically in a child’s best interest to receive financial support from mothers as well as fathers” even when there is “wrongful conduct by the mother.”  That was also the rationale for awarding O.J. Simpson custody of the children he had with Nicole Brown Simpson.

Olivas, now a 24-year-old medical assistant, says he would like to have a relationship with his daughter and is willing to pay future child support, but doesn’t think the state should be able to charge him support for the years he was a juvenile or when he didn’t know he was a father.

Sources: ABA Journal, Arizona Republic, USA Today

Photo credit: Charlie Leight, The Arizona Republic

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Sergio Garcia, an Undocumented Worker, Can Practice Law In California

February 18, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Sergio Garcia’s parents brought him to the United States from Mexico nearly two decades ago. He’s been waiting for a green card ever since.

But there’s one thing the undocumented immigrant no longer has to wait for, according to a California Supreme Court ruling on Thursday: his law license.

Garcia can be admitted to California’s state bar and legally practice as a lawyer there, the court ruled.

The landmark case quickly caught the eye of activists on both sides of the national immigration debate.

Garcia, 36, says his American dream has finally come true.

“With tears in my eyes I’m happy to report I am being admitted to the bar, thank God!” he said in a Facebook post Thursday after the court’s ruling. “This one is for all of you who dare to dream and by doing so change the world! Love you all! History was made today!”

But the case raises many questions, particularly among those who have been critical of Garcia’s efforts to practice law.

“How is Garcia supposed to uphold ‘the laws of the United States’ when he is, by his mere presence in this country, in violation of federal law?” CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette asks in an opinion column he wrote on the case in September. “How does he pledge to show respect for ‘the courts of justice’ when, for most of his life, he has lived here in defiance of the rule of law? And how can he claim that he won’t ‘mislead’ a judge or judicial officer when living in the United States illegally requires deception on a daily basis?”

California’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that no state law or public policy should stop Garcia or others like him from obtaining a law license in the state.

Immigration officials would be unlikely to pursue sanctions against an undocumented immigrant who had been living in the United States for years, had been educated in this country, and whose sole unlawful conduct was his presence in this country, the court said in a unanimous ruling written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

“Under these circumstances, we conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar,” the court ruled.

Garcia was born in Mexico in 1977 and taken to California by his parents when he was 17 months old, according to court documents.

He remained there until 1986, when he and his parents returned to Mexico. Eight years later, at age 17, Garcia again returned to California with his parents and without documentation, though his father had obtained permanent resident status in the United States.

That year, Garcia’s father filed an immigration visa petition on his son’s behalf, which federal immigration officials accepted in 1995. But, 19 years later, the visa has not been granted, even though Garcia has lived in the state since 1994.

“Because the current backlog of persons of Mexican origin who are seeking immigrant visas is so large, as of the date of this opinion — more than 19 years after Garcia’s visa petition was filed — a visa number still has not become available for Garcia,” the Supreme Court’s ruling said.

The ruling marks the end of a lengthy legal battle for Garcia, who received a law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009.

That year, he passed the California bar exam.

For about two weeks, Garcia was sworn in as an attorney. Then he received a notice from the state bar that his admission was in error.

“It was very, very hard for me to have to tell my family that the celebration we had meant nothing,” Garcia told CNN en Español in September. “It killed me inside to tell them that I really wasn’t a lawyer.”

 

The matter ended up in the California state court system, and Garcia earned the support of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who wrote in a 2012 brief: “Admitting Garcia to the bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society.”

The state bar argued that Garcia had met all of California’s requirements for a law license.

“With today’s ruling, the California Supreme Court reaffirms the Committee of Bar Examiners’ finding as not a political decision but rather one grounded in the law,” California State Bar President Luis J. Rodriguez said in a written statement Thursday.

Critics have argued that giving Garcia a license wouldn’t make sense. How can someone without legal status become licensed as a lawyer, whose job entails upholding the law?

Larry DeSha, former prosecutor for the State Bar of California, said Garcia shouldn’t be given his law license because his immigration status would be in violation of a civil immigration statute and could affect his ability to represent his clients.

“In the immigration debate, we must separate the individual from the idea. The individual — Garcia — looks like a keeper. The idea — that one who has lived most of his life outside the law can practice law — is problematic,” Navarrette wrote in his September column.

The executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter immigration restrictions, said the case is part of a troubling trend.

“The ruling that an unlawful immigrant can be admitted to the practice of law in California is the kind of thing that will light up talk-show switchboards, and rightly so. But beyond the Bizarro World nature of the decision is a broader issue,” Mark Krikorian wrote in an editorial published on the National Review’s website. “This is only the latest in a series of measures by some jurisdictions to normalize illegal immigration.”

The Obama administration originally opposed Garcia’s admission to the bar, saying that federal law demanded that legislation be enacted granting an undocumented immigrant the right to practice, according to a summary published by lawprofessors.typepad.com.

But the Justice Department backed off in November after California’s governor signed a new law that did just that.

The bill, which passed in October and went into effect this week, allows the bar to admit “an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States (who) has fulfilled the requirements for admission to practice law.”

That “greased the skids” in making the court’s work easier, said Dan Kowalski, editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin and himself an immigration attorney.

“I think it’s a natural, logical decision,” he told CNN in a telephone interview, adding that he expected other states to follow suit.

Víctor Nieblas, an immigration attorney based in Southern California, told CNN in September that the court’s decision could affect hundreds of other young professionals in the United States who are seeking a license.

“He’s the first, but he’s not the only. There are cases going on in New York and Florida,” said Rina Gandhi, a third-year law student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Gandhi, who heads an immigration law and service organization that invited Garcia to speak at her school last year, said the ruling is a positive step.

“I’m glad to see us moving forward in the right direction,” she said, adding that the case highlights the problems caused by backlogs in the country’s immigration system.

“He does have an immigration application pending,” she said. “It’s more a result of the broken immigration system that we currently have that he’s been waiting 19 years.”

Sergio Garcia was sworn in as a lawyer on the steps of the California capitol on February 1, 2014 by former California Supreme Court Judge Cruz Reynoso.

Sources – CNN and CBS Sacramento.

Photo credit: chicoer.com

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Is the Commercial Use of Drones In our Near Future?

February 7, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aerial vehicles may sound intimidating — but the public should get used to this technology, because it’s not going anywhere.

“When you hear the word drone, you probably think of a large military weaponized system — something that’s capable of persistent surveillance. That’s just not what we are talking about,” said Ben Gielow, government relations manager and general counsel at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Arlington, Va.  As the aviation industry increasingly embraces drones, their commercial and civilian use will become more and more common in the next few years, according to a panel of experts at a recent American Bar Association conference on aviation and space law.

Unmanned aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, have thousands of uses, and can be purchased by your average person.  This area is growing and the technology is becoming less expensive.

A team at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to remote locations and disaster zones. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has said it plans to use drones to watch for illegal activity among hunters. And a Domino’s franchise in the United Kingdom recently made news for delivering two pizzas using a drone. (We like ours with extra cheese and pepperoni!)

However, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to develop regulations for the commercial use of drones in the U.S. While the FAA allows the recreational use of airspace by model aircraft, the agency specifically excludes individuals or companies flying these aircraft for business purposes.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, passed by Congress on Feb. 14, 2012, requires the agency to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. The law gives the FAA specific deadlines to meet, including the crucial date of Sept. 30, 2015, by which time the FAA must allow for “the safe integration” of drones into the national airspace system.

While two drones have recently gained FAA certification for commercial use, the rest of the sector is stuck on the ground as the FAA works out its plans for integration.  Technological, regulatory, economic and public perception issues need to be resolved for the commercial use of drones to become routine.

While there is a lot of research into the issues related to the commercial operation of drones, at least 12 bills aimed at restricting the use of drones have been introduced in Congress this year.  Many are focused on the privacy issues.  In addition, there are real concerns regarding safety.  Crashes will sometimes happen, regardless of whether the drone’s operator is properly trained.  This may be a problem as most homeowners’ insurance and commercial liability policies include an aviation exception.  In addition, safety requirements are being discussed including the requirement for parachutes and sensors that shut the drone down when it comes close to objects.

Supporters of the commercial use of drones believe these aircraft can be beneficial.  They see the use of drones as having great promise. From a legal standpoint, interesting times are definitely ahead – not only in regards to the types of laws that will have to be written for such technology, but in the types of lawsuits it will most certainly bring.

Article Source:  ABA News Archive.
Photo Source: Don McCullough via Creative Commons

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Taking Getting out of Jury Duty to the Extreme

November 14, 2013 Posted by Halling Meza

Many people try to get out of jury duty when they are called to serve. As a convicted felon who served his time, Erick Haubenstricker of Bay City Michigan could have easily avoided service simply by checking the YES box in question number 10 on his jury questionnaire. Instead the “information” he included on the document got him sent back to jail.

Apparently bitter about being summonsed as a potential juror, Haubenstricker wrote out a profanity laden rant all over the form, MLive.com reported.  And, as a result, he was sentenced to three days in jail for contempt of court.

Haubenstricker apologized to the court and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt for writing such things as “Die in Hell” and “(Expletive) off dirty judges.” (He likely thought he was quite clever when he listed his phone number as 911-PIGS.)

Click here to see the juror form as a .pdf file. (Link provided by MLive.com)

Haubenstricker’s attorney, Paul F. Beggs, requested leniency. He pointed out that Haubenstricker did apologize and said that “Most people saw this as stupid rather than criminal.”

Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran did not agree and told Haubenstricker that after reading his comments he was concerned that Haubenstricker might have a mental illness. After seeing that he was not ill Judge Sheeran stated that “… the people who work in this court have difficult enough jobs to do, and they don’t deserve to be treated as you treated them.”

We’re fairly confident that Haubenstricker has learned his lesson. We’re willing to bet that if he ever receives another juror questionnaire in the mail he will simply check YES to question number 10. And not list his phone number as 911-PIGS.

 

Photo credit: Chris Potter via Creative Commons.

Additional source: ABA Journal

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Matthew S. Meza Distinguished as a Southern California Super Lawyer

October 12, 2013 Posted by HallingMezaLLP

Matthew S. Meza has been distinguished as a 2011 Southern California Super Lawyer in the areas of Real Estate and Natural Resources by Super Lawyer Magazine.  This is his second consecutive year on the list.

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