Recently in Litigation Category

Settling Spats Over Rover: What to Expect in Pet Custody Cases

September 23, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

pet-divorse-litigation1.jpgIncreasingly, Americans view their pets as family members. We only need to look at the pet industry to see how manufacturers reinforce this feeling by marketing clothing, specialized kibble and treats, shampoos, conditioners, collars and leashes to keep Spot, Fluffy or Fido fashionable, hip and healthy.

So what happens when couples divorce?

Under the law, pets are personal property. As such, the courts will look to establish who owns the animal in the same manner they would decide on how to divide a patio set or the bedroom furniture.

However, in today's world where pets have become a more integral part of families, courts are beginning to broaden their views, especially when the custody issue affects dogs.

In some cases, the courts will go so far as to consider the issue as they would a child custody case and consider shared custody and visitation arrangements as well as alimony payments to the individual awarded with physical custody.

What if you didn't originally adopt or purchase your dog? There are other ways to substantiate that you should be the primary owner or caregiver of the animal. For example, if you've been paying for the animal's veterinarian and grooming expenses, purchasing its food, hiring trainers, and walking it everyday, you could make the case that you've been the primary caregiver.

You could even have neighbors testify on your behalf as proof that they've seen you walk your dog in the early morning or after work, or seen you with your dog at a nearby dog park.

Pet custody battles are increasingly common, but there's no guarantee that a judge in your jurisdiction will treat your beloved ferret as though it were child.

Continue reading "Settling Spats Over Rover: What to Expect in Pet Custody Cases" »

Notorious Sonoma County Landlord/Tenant Case Finally Comes to a Close After 4 1/2 Years

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Smith v Cook .jpgLANDLORDS BEWARE!

According to a Press Democrat article dated April 8, 2010, Gwen Smith seemed like the perfect tenant. The 53-year-old single mother was articulate and bright, had good references and talked about using her law degree to help crime victims and other women raising children on their own.

But what Landlord Connie Cook didn't know when she handed over the keys to her converted barn in 2009 was that she was opening her doors to trouble.

According to court records, Gwen Smith runs a "scam pattern". "She seeks a kind landlord, moves in and never intends to pay anything but the first month's rent." Gwendolyn Smith, has eviction cases against her in at least three states that we know about. She is an accused serial squatter who has frustrated landlords using a tactic of legal delays afforded to her by California's tenant friendly legal protections.

Gwen Smith's tactics were found to be "intentional, malicious, and outrageous" by retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil.

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Battles Over Same-Sex Marriages Continue

January 21, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Same Sex Battle.jpgLiving in California, we can sometimes forget how conservative other states are, especially in the arena of same-sex marriages.

Take Oklahoma as an example. A federal judge recently struck down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his state. In his 68-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern lambasted the state's ban, referring to it as arbitrary for "just one class of Oklahoma citizens."

He added in stern language that equal protection "is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions."

His ruling stemmed from a suit filed by two lesbian couples who sued federal and state officials in 2004. In 2006, the 10th Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue them, so the plaintiffs sued again, this time omitting the governor and attorney general as defendants.

Kern strenuously supported the two couples in his ruling. He stated, "Same-sex couples are being subjected to a 'naturally procreative' requirement to which no other Oklahoma citizens are subjected, including the infertile, the elderly, and those who simply do not wish to ever procreate."

He also pointed out how one of the couples had been in a long-term, committed relationship, owned property together and planned to retire together. Why should they be denied the legal standing of marriage?

Struggle Over Gay Marriage Isn't Over

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Financial Instability of Sonoma County Families Breeds New Forms of Fraud

bankownedpic.jpgSonoma County foreclosures may be less common than they were two years ago, but they continue to besiege financially vulnerable homeowners.

According to The Real Estate Report, notices of default in Sonoma County - the first step in the foreclosure process - jumped 52.1% in February. But the good news is that there were still down by 70.1% from the previous year.

Due to the avalanche of foreclosures in recent years, banks continue to own about 685 properties in the county.

Financial Vulnerability Breeds New Forms of Fraud

The Great Recession saw too many people lose their jobs and their homes. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals saw a window of opportunity amid this atmosphere of pain and financial uncertainty.

As part of their fraud, companies cropped up, claiming they could prevent foreclosure by negotiating with a consumer's lender or obtaining a loan modification.
These services were offered at a price and naïve and desperate homeowners facing the prospect of foreclosure gladly paid the fee.

Many of the companies pretended to be affiliated with the government or government housing assistance programs. Others falsely claimed to offer legal services or "audits" of consumers' loan paperwork to help them negotiate a resolution with their lenders.
Unfortunately, promised services were never delivered.

Continue reading "Financial Instability of Sonoma County Families Breeds New Forms of Fraud" »

Former Sebastopol Tenant Gwen Smith Is Up To Her Old Tricks

December 8, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

kim-jong-il.jpgFor those of you following along, Gwen Smith is at it again. Off the heels from her defeat in federal court attempting to sue the Press Democrat for defamation, she has now filed a lawsuit in federal court against her former landlord Barbara Wilt. Smith vs. Wilt.pdf

As usual, you can formulate your own opinions.

Sebastopol Tenant Gwen Smith Ordered To Pay The Press Democrat$30,613.50 In Attorney's Fees

August 14, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

cms_eaw_1_6_justice[1].jpgI previously wrote a post about the defamation lawsuit Gwen Smith filed against the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Well that suit is over and Smith was ordered to pay the Press Democrat $30,613.50 in attorney's fees and $5,747.50 in costs. Oh, California's Anti-Slapp statutes can be a wonderful thing.

For those of you interested in the full decision please read on.

Continue reading "Sebastopol Tenant Gwen Smith Ordered To Pay The Press Democrat$30,613.50 In Attorney's Fees" »

Santa Rosa Landlord Constance Cook vs. Sonoma County Tenant Gwendolyn Smith, The Appeal

August 10, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

ostrich_head_in_sand.jpgAs any reader of my blog knows, Gwendolyn Smith has appealed the $49,635.96 judgment against her. Just like she did in the trial court, Smith was able to prolong the appeal by filing several motions for extensions of time. For those who are interested, below you will find (1) Smith's opening brief, Cooks Brief, and Smith's Reply Brief. If you read nothing else, you will enjoy Smith's Reply Brief. It says all that you need to know. I shall not say any more on that subject. For the full case docket click here.

I almost did not have time to write this post as my "white van" had to be taken back to the "CIA". I also am "biding my time" and will be ready to stand up to protect my clients from the tyranny of others. (You need to read Smith's Reply Brief for this to make sense).

Appellants -Gwen Smith- Opening Brief.pdf (Gwen Smith)

Cook Respondent Reply Brief.pdf (Constance Cook)

GS Reply Brief.pdf (Gwen Smith)

Remember, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

Recorded Witness Statements Are Entitled To Qualified Work Product Protection

images.jpgThe idea that an attorney‟s work product should receive protection from discovery was first recognized by the United States Supreme Court in 1947. Today, California law provides absolute protection to writings that reflect "an attorney‟s impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal research or theories. All other work product receives qualified protection; such material "is not discoverable unless the court determines that denial of discovery will unfairly prejudice the party seeking discovery in preparing that party‟s claim or defense or will result in an injustice."

On a 2-1 vote, the Court of Appeal (Fifth Appellate District) held that the witness statements were not protected under the attorney work product doctrine.

The CA Supreme Court was recently asked to decide if the Fifth Appellate District was correct and to determine what work product protection, if any, should be accorded two items: first, recordings of witness interviews conducted by investigators employed by defendant‟s counsel, and second, information concerning the identity of witnesses from whom defendant‟s counsel has obtained statements.

The case that has lead to this legal issues is Coito vs. The Superior Court of Stanislaus County. Coito concerns the death of Jeremy Wilson, a teenager who drowned in the Tuolumne River. His family sued various defendants, including the city of Modesto and the state Department of Water Resources. The attorney general's office sent two investigators to take recorded statements from four witnesses to the drowning.

Counsel for Wilson's family sought discovery of the recordings via Judicial Council Form Interrogatory 12.3. A trial judge denied the firm's motion to compel, but the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed, saying that witness statements "are classic evidentiary material."

On Monday, June 26, In Coito vs. The Superior Court of Stanislaus County the CA Supreme Court held the following:

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FTC Enjoins Fake, Harassing, Payday Loan Debt Collector's Business

800-loan-shark.gifPayday loan companies, or as they used to be called "loan sharks", are creating a real problem for consumers who are in dire need of a quick buck for an unexpected expense.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government. Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of what regulators perceive to be harmfully anti-competitive business practices.

On April 11, the FTC announced a temporary restraining order against Broadway Global Master, Inc. a debtor collector enjoining them from conducting business or withdrawing any funds from their bank accounts. Broadway obtained detailed information about payday borrowers from an unknown source and engaged in intimidation to collect over $4 million from them.

According to the FTC, representatives from Broadway would contact debtors and pretend to be law enforcement officers, use a FBI caller ID, threaten arrest, a state placement of the debtor's children, or to call the debtor's employer, and use obscene language.


















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US Supreme Court May Hear Case That Could Potentially Outlaw Rent Control

forrent.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court may be prepared to hear a case that could potentially outlaw rent control. New York City landlord James Harmon contends the City's rent control law constitutes a physical taking of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Court has not yet announced whether it will hear the case but has asked the state and city of New York to respond to Harmon's argument.

Harmon, 68, lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side in a five-story brownstone that has been in his family since his grandfather bought it in 1949. In 1969, the building became subject to New York City's Rent Stabilization Law, which caps the percentage that a landlord may raise rents each year.

By the time Harmon and his wife took full ownership of the brownstone in 2005, three of the six units were renting at rates that were 59 percent below-market to tenants that Harmon claims did not need the discount.

Harmon argues that he and his wife effectively have been financing the approximately $1500 monthly mortgage payments on the Long Island home of one of their rent stabilized tenants who pays $951.22 monthly rent. According to his petition, Harmon has spent two years and more than $30,000 in legal fees trying to recover possession of one rent-stabilized apartment for one of his grandchildren.

The U.S. Supreme Court now wants to review records on this case from two lower courts that previously rejected Harmon's petition and may decide to hear arguments some time before October of this year.

For further information on this case and on rent control in general, use the links below.

Washington Post Article

Wall Street Journal Article

The Law Offices of James V. Sansone is located in Santa Rosa, California and litigates numerous landlord tenant disputes including evictions, contract and lease disputes, evictions after foreclosure, and problem tenants, throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lake County, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville.

Contents of MySpace Page Are Sufficient To Establish Its Authenticity

December 20, 2011, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

online-social-networking-2-320x200.jpgGenerally in court, documentary evidence such as records, letters, bills, contracts, and similar writings have to be authenticated or identified before being admitted in evidence as genuine.

In today's society, information obtained on social networking websites is being used in court as evidence against the party who made the post.

This seemed to have begged the question, how do you properly authenticate a social networking post? That question has been answered in People vs. Valdez.

In Valdez, supra, a jury convicted Vincent Julian Valdez, Jr., of two counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a firearm, and two counts of street terrorism (Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (a)), arising from two separate drive-by shootings. Valdez asserts challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction of street terrorism by arguing that the trial court erroneously admitted pages from his MySpace social networking site that included his gang moniker ("Yums"), a photograph of him making a gang hand signal, and written notations including "T.L.F.," "YUM $ YUM," "T.L.F.'s '63 Impala," "T.L.F., The Most Wanted Krew by the Cops and Ladiez," and "Yums. You Don't Wanna F wit[h] this Guy."

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Sonoma County Plaintiff Is Awarded 1.2 Million Damages Following Collision With CHP

December 13, 2011, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

civil_litigation.jpgOn September 26,2009,plaintiff Cynthia Dempsey's pickup truck was struck by a CHP patrol vehicle on Highway 12 westbound,just east of Santa Rosa Avenue in Santa Rosa,causing the pickup to flip onto a guardrail,bounce off and skid along Highway 12 on its roof for approximately 100 feet.

The officer had received a call that a group of approximately 25-30 people,some dressed in baggy clothing,had gathered at the Santa Rosa DMV parking lot. He entered his vehicle and began a code three emergency response. Between Farmers Lane and the Maple Avenue on-ramp,the officer reached speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

A Sonoma County jury awarded plaintiff more than $1.2 million against the State of California for the injuries she suffered in a collision with a CHP officer. The State denied liability, contending that the officer was properly responding to an emergency and that a motorcycle driver was the primary cause of the accident. The jury found the officer to be negligent and apportioned 99.5% of the liability to the State.

As it turned out, the call ended up being a false alarm. However, do you think the result should have been different if the call ended up being valid and a gang fight was actually happening?

For more information, please click here

The Law Office of James V. Sansone was founded with the goal of providing individuals and local business owners with a meaningful and cost-efficient alternative to large law firms. We are pleased to offer experienced legal representation, while still offering reasonable rates that are favorable to what clients might expect in a large law firm setting.

Unprotected Sex Is Not Willful and Malicious Act For Purposes of Non-Dischargeability

December 6, 2011, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

throwing-a-punch.jpgIn the case of Cragen v. Maxwell the plaintiff (Cragen) believed he contracted a sexually transmitted disease from debtor (Maxwell) and threatened to sue her. To avoid suit, Maxwell agreed to pay Cragen $35,000. She signed a promissory note to which the plaintiff agreed to release her from any claims sustained by or resulting from contracting a sexually transmitted disease from Maxwell.

11 USC 523(a)(6) provides that debts for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another can't be discharged in bankruptcy.

Pursuant to Section 523(a)(6), after Maxwell filed for Chapter 7 protection, Cragen filed a complaint alleging his claim was nondischargeable.

He alleged that Maxwell willfully and intentionally exposed him to human papilloma virus by engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with him without informing him of her diagnosis. Maxwell denied having a past diagnosis and argued that her actions did not rise to the level of willful and maliciousness.

Continue reading "Unprotected Sex Is Not Willful and Malicious Act For Purposes of Non-Dischargeability" »