AP California News
By Brian Melley
July 9, 2015 – 6:15 PM EDT
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court overturned a jury verdict because of egregious misconduct by a state Department of Transportation lawyer who portrayed an injured motorcyclist minister as a low-life Nazi biker.
The unanimous ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal on Tuesday was rare in reversing a case due to a lawyer running roughshod over her opponent and repeatedly ignoring a judge’s admonitions. The justices took the extra step of referring the case to the state bar for an ethics investigation.
In a ruling replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, sports and a warning about the danger of invoking Hitler or Nazis in an argument, the court said it stopped tallying instances where attorney Karen Bilotti committed misconduct.
“While Judge (James) Di Cesare showed the patience of Job – usually a virtue in a judge – that patience here had the effect of favoring one side over the other,” Acting Presiding Justice William W. Bedsworth wrote. “Imagine a football game in which the referee continually flagged one team for rule violations, but never actually imposed any yardage penalties on it. That happened here.”
Bilotti did not return messages seeking comment.
The case involved a minister in the biker group known as the Set Free Soldiers who was permanently injured riding in a funeral procession May 4, 2010. His motorcycle struck a freeway curb beneath an Orange County overpass known as the “Orange Crush” that once earned Guinness Book distinction as the world’s most complex road interchange.
Donn Martinez said the state was negligent because the curb was not visible and was shorter than Caltrans specifications.
The trial judge had barred the defense from mentioning irrelevant details about Martinez’s life, such as his biker affiliation and the group’s logo described by the court as a “rather fearsome, skull-like face” wearing a Nazi-style helmet.
In addition to repeatedly asking verboten questions, Bilotti “played the Nazi card,” the court said.
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