Winterbottom v. Ronan (CA1 5/26/11)

An attempt to use the Victims’ Bill of Rights to prevent depositions in a civil case.

Defendant was sued for molesting girls named in the caption and in the opening of the opinion but thereafter referred to as Crime Victims. (Reminds me of when people refer to the guy who “allegedly” shot Judge Roll; for many the use of labels is a process that need never involve the brain.) Defendant’s Lawyer withdrew because his bills didn’t get paid. Defendant then found money somewhere and settled the case for a judgment that said $2.2 million but was really for $111,000 plus a third of the recovery in Defendant’s malpractice case against Lawyer. Defendant then sued Lawyer (for reasons unclear, apparently something to do with discovery). Lawyer’s counsel subpoenaed Victims for deposition; they moved for protective order on the basis of being victims. The trial judge prohibited questions about the molestation but otherwise allowed their depos.  They took special action.

The Victims Bill of Rights prohibits depositions and discovery by or for the defendant. “We start (and end) our analysis with the language” the court says  (but of course doesn’t really mean – it starts by explaining at length that statutes and the constitution mean what they say). Lawyer wasn’t acting by or for Defendant. (Daughters apparently tried to argue that he really was, that their dispute was phony, maybe just a ruse to take a prohibited deposition; the court disagrees in a factual finding disguised as a footnote. Daughters presumably failed to explain why they contracted to buy a third of a phony dispute. The various ethical issues in this case are interesting but unremarked.)

Victims also objected, under Rule 26(C), that the depositions would be embarrassing and oppressive. The trial court’s limitations in response to that were within his discretion.

The court declines to rule on whether the Victim’s Bill of Rights applies “beyond the end of a criminal case.”

(link to opinion)