A Ventura County judge has recommended to the Judicial Council that Los Angeles County Superior Court serve as the venue for pretrial coordination proceedings in cases pertaining to the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide/debris flow disasters against Southern California Edison. The order was issued on Monday, April 16 by Vincent J. O’Neill Jr., Coordination Motion Judge of the Ventura County Superior Court, and designates the Court of Appeal, Second District as the reviewing court.
“We are pleased with the ruling,” says Brian Panish. “While Ventura and Santa Barbara counties have excellent judges, Los Angeles County courts are best equipped to handle thousands of complex cases such as this and can efficiently administer the case. We’re ready to move forward in seeking justice for our clients.”
The Ventura County court determined Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow cases are complex due to the sheer number of existing complaints filed as well as the amount of witnesses and discovery evidence included with each action. As noted by Judge O’Neill in his recommendation, “exceptional judicial management will be necessary to handle the included actions to avoid placing unnecessary burden on the court, to reduce litigation costs, and to expedite the cases.” Coordination of the cases in a single courthouse before a single judge promotes efficient use of judicial resources, streamlined litigation procedures, and, importantly, eliminates the opportunity for inconsistent rulings and orders on the same legal issues.
“As a Santa Barbara native with friends and members of my firm being victims of this tragedy, I know all too well that justice delayed is justice denied,” says Travis Logue of Rogers Sheffield & Campbell LLP. “For that reason, I too share the sentiments of Judge O’Neill that exceptional judicial management compels transfer of these cases to Los Angeles County.”
The court weighed eight factors when ruling in favor of Los Angeles County as the site for pretrial coordination including the convenience of the location to the parties, witnesses and counsel, the parties principal place of business, the ease of travel and availability of accommodations, and the efficient use of court facilities and judicial resources. The court also noted that while attorneys for the parties have offices in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, as well as other counties in California, it was not a factor that weighed in favor of or against a particular venue.
“The impact of the Thomas Fire continues to devastate the many ranchers, farmers and growers who have lost millions in cattle, crops and avocados groves,” says Robert Boatman of Gallagher & Kennedy. “Their losses are significant, their cases complex and we’re confident Los Angeles County courts and its judiciary will be just in serving our clients.”
Beginning on December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire wreaked havoc in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties as it burned more than 280,000 acres, making it the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. Two people were killed and over 1,063 homes and structures were destroyed before the firestorm was fully contained and evacuations were lifted. Six weeks after the Thomas Fire began, these communities were devastated once again as torrential rains poured down charred hillsides. Water, mud and debris invaded neighborhoods in the early hours of January 9, destroying 128 homes, damaging hundreds more, and claiming the lives at least 21 residents in the community of Montecito – the cause of death of each victim identified by the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office as “multiple traumatic injures due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.”
Two people remain missing.