Sunday, October 22, 2006

JUDGE DZINTRA JANAVS: Metropolitan News-Enterprise Background on AB 1381 Jurist + 3 news items

Veteran Jurist on LAUSD v. California Attracts Both Plaudits and Brickbats

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs, who sits in Department 85 of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse—one of the two high-volume writs and receivers departments—has her boosters. They praise her as brilliant and exceedingly hard-working. Some of them concede, however, that she can be curt.

Janavs also has her detractors, their criticism centering on her demeanor. Some say she’ll scream at lawyers and, if they don’t understand what she’s saying because of her accent, she’ll become all the more agitated. Yet, when complaints about her are voiced, her legal abilities and her work ethic do not come into question.

One booster is Deputy Attorney General S. Paul Bruguera, who is himself a candidate in a judicial race. Asked by the METNEWS editorial board what sitting judge he would seek to pattern himself after, he said that (in addition to his wife, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Soussan Bruguera) it would be Janavs.

He hailed her as “very thorough, very knowledgeable.”

Bruguera acknowledged, however:

“I’ve heard attorneys who were disappointed with her temperament.”

One of the county’s top litigators remarked that Janavs is “not perceived as warm, fuzzy, friendly—although I’ve never heard anything derogatory about her intellect.”


Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Turner of this district’s Div. Five commented:

“For the past 16 and one-half years, I have reviewed the decisions of Judge Janavs. She consistently follows the law and does so with efficiency and integrity.”

If she had temperament problem, he said, it would come through in the transcripts of proceedings in her courtroom. He’s viewed dozens of such transcripts, he noted, and spotted not “a single instance” of demeaning conduct.

Nonetheless, through the years, there have been grumblings among attorneys about her deportment. Putting it about as strongly as it’s apt to phrased, Torrance attorney Christopher S. Davis said of Janavs:

“In my experiences appearing before Judge Janavs, I recall a short-tempered, narrow-minded, mean spirited and extremely biased judge.”

He added:

“Other attorneys with whom I have spoken regarding Judge Janavs comment that she heavily favors the Deputy A.G. on every case and turns a deaf ear to private counsel.”

Another lawyer, who requested anonymity, remarked:

“My own experience and observations are that Judge Janavs is frequently aloof and surly, and always very punctilious.”


Confronted with the disapproving comments, Janavs, 69, appeared taken aback. She knew that some lawyers considered her “too demanding,” she said, but had not realized that there was a perception that she lacked appropriate temperament.

“I have to run a pretty tight ship because I have a huge calendar,” she pointed out, saying:

“I may have to tell a person, ‘This argument must end in the next two minutes.’ ”

Yet, she related, some observers of proceedings in her courtroom have told her they don’t know how she can remain so patient.

“There are times when one is frustrated,” Janavs said, giving as an example when she sees a declaration under penalty of perjury that doesn’t ring true, causing her to inquire as to the facts.

“Who doesn’t get frustrated occasionally?” she asked.

She acknowledged that hers is a “demanding court,” and described herself as a “perfectionist.”


Janavs’ high standards have not only ruffled feathers of some of the attorneys appearing before her, but also court research attorneys. One source at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse contended: “None of the experienced permanent research attorneys have worked for her or have expressed an interest in working for her.”

She can only get new admittees to work for her, the source said, remarking: “It’s basically been a revolving door in Department 85.”

Until last November, law clerks could only be assigned to a particular judge for two years; now it’s two-and-a half years. Most leave Janavs within a year, “some don’t even make it past six months,” the insider noted.

Janavs responded: “I’ve never heard of that,” and maintained that she has no problem working with staff lawyers. She noted, however, that she does the best she can to minimize reliance on them, working 12-hour days.

“I do three-fourths or so of my own work,” she said.

Preparation of rulings on applications for temporary restraining orders, Janavs noted, “I do myself, exclusively.”


Janavs hears matters on odd-numbered days in Department 85, while David Yaffe, the judge in department 86, has a calendar on even-numbered days. The two courtrooms constitute the Writs and Receivers Department which Janavs supervises.

She spends the non-calendar days and, generally, the afternoons of the days when she does hear matters, reading the papers—including, often, volumes of records in administrative mandamus matters.

Janavs noted that while the need to devote time to preparation militates against allowing argument to stretch into the afternoon if it can be avoided, it sometimes can’t be.

“I will never, ever cut my time short [in hearing argument] if I think it’s needed,” she said.

Turner pointed out that Janavs and Yaffe handle “some of the most complex cases in the state.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Stephen Czuleger remarked that having Janavs in the Writs and Receivers Department “these past many years”—it’s been since August 1999—“has given the Los Angeles Superior Court an unparalleled resource to deal this most complex and demanding of calendars.”

Seemingly signaling that he intends to reassign her to that department during his tenure next year and the year after as presiding judge, Czuleger added:

“Judge Janavs is simply one of the most tireless and intelligent bench officers sitting today....Having her skill and dedication has made the job for court administration a much easier one and the public which we all serve is blessed with the quality that she brings every day to work.”


Janavs’ native Latvia was invaded by Russian troops in 1941 when she was 4; became an unwilling constituent of the Soviet Union; was raided by Nazis during World War II; and remained under Communist domination after end of the war in 1945. Janavs and her family took refuge in 1944 in a camp for displaced persons in southern Germany. Rather than return to their native land, under Soviet rule, they sought entry into the United States, and succeeded in 1950, under the sponsorship of the Unitarian Church.

Janavs’ father, who in Latvia had been a court clerk studying law at night, became a gardener here, and her mother, who was a lawyer in their homeland, was reduced to working as a housekeeper.

Both, she noted, were alive when Gov. George Deukmejian appointed her to the Superior Court in 1986, and attended her enrobement.

At the time of her appointment, Janavs was first assistant chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. One of the numerous attorneys she supervised in that capacity was Fumiko Wasserman, now a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Wasserman recounted that in that role, Janavs “was highly regarded for her integrity, intelligence, work ethic, and knowledge of the law” and “was an excellent supervisor, who was accessible and supportive,” adding:

“She instilled her core values of doing what was fair and just.”

Wasserman went on to say:

“As a judge, she continues to promote and maintain those high standards. Our court has benefited from her legal acumen, hard work, and collegiality.”

Janavs had been a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 1962, the year she was admitted to practice. She received her law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1961 and her undergraduate degree, summa cum laude, from San Jose State University in 1958.


Then-U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., in 1990 recommended Janavs for appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. President George H. W. Bush did not take Wilson’s advice.

Janavs recounted that she came under consideration at the same time as William Masterson (who became a member of this district’s Court of Appeal, and is now retired). Masterson was then 60.

The perception on the part of the administration, she said, was that Masterson “was too old and I was too liberal.”

She identified herself as a moderate Republican.

Janavs noted that Court of Appeal Justice (now Presiding Justice) Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four had urged her to seek appointment to his court, but she decided not to.

“I really sort of enjoy what I’m doing,” she explained.

Janavs lives with her husband, retired architect John R. Janavs, in a Studio City apartment. They have three adult children—a daughter who is a neurologist, a son who is an art director in the film industry, and a son who is an investor—and six grandchildren.

“I have thought over the years that maybe I should retire,” she said. “I just couldn’t do it.

“I’m just not ready yet.”

The judge related that when she was challenged, the immediate support lent by colleagues was “uplifting, heartwarming, incredible.”

Now, she’s revving up as a candidate, readying to attend bar meetings and speak before civic groups.

“I’m not looking at this as something that’s going to be a misery,” she said.



Newstory: Thursday, April 6, 2006

JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: Los Angeles Superior Court Office No.120


Metropolitan News-Enterprise

The sole Los Angeles Superior Court incumbent to be challenged in the June 6 primary election is Dzintra Janavs, a native of Latvia, who has been a judge for 20 years.

The challenger is Lynn Diane Olson, co-proprietor of a bakery and sandwich shop in Manhattan Beach. Olson has been on active bar status for roughly six of the 16 years she’s been licensed to practice law.

Olson, running a silent and invisible campaign, has launched no criticism of the incumbent.

Speculation is that Olson entered the race because she viewed Janavs as vulnerable to a challenge in light of her foreign-sounding name. Olson has not denied that motivation.

In 1992, little-known attorney Patrick B. Murphy unseated incumbent Abraham Aponte Khan in a Citrus Municipal Court race, with the election outcome generally attributed solely to Khan’s name having been a political drawback.

The current race tests the strength of the ballot designation of “Judge of the Superior Court” in a context in which it has not previously been tested.

Janavs has hired the political consulting firm of Cerrell Associates, Inc. and will be holding fundraisers, while the challenger has said she will not spent even as much as $1,000.


JUDGE BACK ON BENCH: Environmental groups say case dismissal error

by Alex Dobuzinskis, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

October 6, 2006 - Four months ago, Judge Dzintra Janavs lost an election to a Hermosa Beach woman with limited legal experience who ran a bagel shop.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge was officially re-appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But two environmental groups complain that Janavs recently erred in dismissing their case.

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment and the California Oak Foundation case against a proposed 160-acre Newhall business and industrial park was thrown out last month by Janavs, and they claim that the dismissal was a mistake since their side was due to be argued in court.

"I think a mistake on this (case) on the part of a judge is really questionable," said Lynne Plambeck, president of SCOPE, adding that Schwarzenegger should not have reappointed Janavs.

"It was a real slap in the face of the voters," she said.

An attorney for Gate King, the developer behind the contested industrial and business park project, also said the dismissal may have been an oversight, even though it was in favor of her client.

"It's unclear whether that dismissal was valid," said attorney Annie Mudge, adding that there may be other grounds for dismissal.

Janavs dismissed the case in favor of the defendants on Sept. 25, even though within a few days the plaintiffs were due to argue against a report that found there was enough water to support the project, said plaintiffs' attorney Babak Naficy, who was less critical of the judge than his clients.

"It's sort of a tempest in a teapot; I don't tink this is a significant event because it's pretty clearly done by a simple kind of oversight error," he said. "It's pretty rare, but these kind of mistakes do happen."

Naficy is due to argue in court on Oct. 25, and before then he expects to ask the court to reverse the dismissal ruling.

Janavs had been widely endorsed in her race against challenger Lynn Diane Olson, who practiced commercial law for four years before opening a bagel shop in 1992. Janavs finished 8 percentage points behind Olson.

After Janavs' supporters rallied around the judge, Schwarzenegger announced in June that he would reappoint her. Schwarzenegger suggested Janavs lost because of her name and that he could relate - since his own name is hard to pronounce.

Janavs was sworn in Friday at her Los Angeles courtroom, taking a seat vacated by a judge who had been promoted.

"Judge Janavs has a long and distinguished record as a jurist in Los Angeles County, and the governor is pleased to appoint a fine jurist who is highly and widely respected in the field," said Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Santa Clarita is a defendant in the lawsuit and has declared that water supplies are adequate for the Gate King industrial park. An attorney for the city said that because Naficy apparently submitted objection papers late, Janavs' dismissal ruling should stand.

"It's a real technical issue; whether or not it will be reinstated is unknown," said attorney Geralyn Skapik, of Burke, Williams and Sorensen. "The judge will have to make a decision."

The California Oak Foundation has argued that the project, on Sierra Highway south of San Fernando Road, would needlessly destroy oak trees. The courts decided against putting the oak trees ahead of the project, but the case continued to be litigated as both sides argued over water supplies.

Janet Cobb, president of the California Oak Foundation, joined Plambeck in slamming the judge's dismissal of their case.

"... For whatever reason, it's highly unusual that someone voted out of office would be reappointed and then would make this grave error," she said.



By Janette Williams Staff Writer, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

October 18, 2006 - PASADENA - The city should have made developer Gene Buchanan provide a new Environmental Impact Report when substantial changes were made to plans approved two years earlier to convert the historic Raymond Theatre to a housing and retail complex, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals panel of three judges said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs erred in ruling that no new environmental report was needed in her decisions on a lawsuit filed in 2005 by Friends of the Raymond Theatre against the city and Buchanan.

The justices upheld Janavs' dismissal of the rest of the lawsuit, which alleged the city violated other state and local laws. The decision goes against the city, and removes Buchanan as a defendant.

Friends of the Raymond Theatre have fought for years to prevent the 1920 Beaux Arts building from being redeveloped as anything but a place of entertainment.

In the 2005 suit, the group objected to city approval of Buchanan's plans to add a seventh story to the building and cut a hole in the roof to allow light and air into the interior. Members also opposed changing the residential part of the project from 61 apartments to 36 condominiums; the expansion of commercial space within the project; and a reduction in parking requirements.

In response, the city and Buchanan argued they were not properly served with notice of the lawsuit. The appellate court sided with Buchanan and dismissed the case against him, but ruled the city was properly served. Four other lawsuits are pending over the development.

Gina Zamparelli, founder of Friends of the Raymond Theatre, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

City News Service contributed to this report

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