Change in judges delays decision in S.F. case

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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO - In early September, both sides in the lawsuit filed by the California Alarm Association against the city of San Francisco were left waiting for a decision on seven cross-motions that will determine the future of the case.

The hearing on the motions was held in late-July, but mitigating circumstances caused a delay in the ruling, which had been expected almost immediately.

One of the obstacles was the retirement of the appellate judge, David A. Garcia. In July, Garcia continued the case for two weeks but was not around to hear it when the rescheduled date came about.

“He did not mention when he continued it for two weeks that his intention was to retire in 13 days,” said Arthur Fine, of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, who represents the CAA.

At issue in the lawsuit is whether San Francisco can implement its false alarm policy, which makes alarm monitoring companies responsible for collecting false alarm fees and remiting those fees to the city. In June, the court denied CAA’s bid for an injunction, saying the association had not adequately demonstrated the irreparable injury that the city’s ordinance would do to alarm dealers. The San Francisco lawsuit is one of several the CAA has pursued in recent months. Fine also represented CAA in its fight against a proposed verified response policy in Los Angeles. In that case, the two sides came to a compromise that has met with mixed results in the industry (see related story on page 1).

At press time, the new judge, James Warren, who is the grandson of former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren, had still not made his ruling on the motions more than a month after hearing arguments. How Warren rules on these cross-motions should determine where the lawsuit goes from here, said Tom Owen, deputy city attorney with the City Attorney’s Office for the City and County of San Francisco.

“There was a motion for judgment on the pleadings on a few causes of action that was briefed and argued, but the court hasn’t ruled yet,” Owen said. “That, at most, will dispose of some of the case, but not all of it.”

Fine said unlike in most cases, he can’t predict one way or the other how the judge will rule based on the length of time the judge has taken.

“Normally, if you were the party bringing the motion and the court was taking a long time, that would be a good sign that the motion would be granted because it doesn’t take that much time to just consider the oral arguments and write, ‘denied,’” Fine said. “In this case, because there were cross-motions, the fact that he’s taking a long time doesn’t tell me anything. It tells me that he’s writing the decision, but it doesn’t tell me in whose favor he’s writing the decision.”

Fine said the CAA has appealed that ruling to the court of appeal, but that no briefs have been filed as yet.

“Whether we pursue that appeal will be dependent in part on what the outcome is on the cross motions for judgment on the pleadings,” he said. “We’re waiting because there’s nothing more that we can do.”

In the interim, the city announced its proposed alarm- licensing fees will be $40 for residences and $60 for businesses annually.