Betting on the horses at the race track is legal; everyone knows that. And betting on the ponies with a bookmaker while you're sitting at home is illegal. That's obvious.
But is it legal to send out money to the track with a friend or a messenger service to place a bet on your behalf?
Believe it or not, this question was actually asked in court. And the answer was easy for a California Court of Appeal to figure out. It's illegal. If you want to bet on the horses, you've got to go to the track.
"One cannot bet through a convenient messenger service," the court said. "Such a messenger service would tempt persons to bet and encourage messengers to make book."
This ruling, which seems relatively simple and straightforward, offers some interesting lessons about how courts resolve disputes and interpret the law.
The case arose in an unusual way. No one was accused of a criminal act. A bettor and a messenger service were not taken to court for what they had done. Instead, they filed suit against the police chiefs of Inglewood and Los Angeles to find out what they could do without violating the law. They sought what lawyers call "declaratory relief," a declaration by the court that the law against bookmaking and gambling didn't apply to their proposed scheme, or that if it did apply, that it was unconstitutional.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the police, ruling that the proposed conduct was illegal and that the statute was not unconstitutional. A summary judgment is a pretrial device used to resolve cases before they get to a jury.
In general, judges decide legal issues. Juries decide factual issues and apply the law as instructed by the judge. But if there is no dispute about the underlying facts, no "triable issue of fact," then the judge can decide the case "as a matter of law."
In other words, if one side can prove there is absolutely no factual merit to the other side's case, the judge can enter a summary judgment in their favor without a jury.
A trial judge has a great deal of discretion, and an appeals court usually cannot overturn a summary judgment unless there is a clear showing of "abuse" of that discretion. It is not enough that the appellate judges themselves believe they would have decided the case differently; they can't impose their judgment on the trial judges. They must believe there was a clear error in interpretation of the law.
In this gambling case, the appellate judges agreed with the trial judge. The state law that permits parimutuel wagering says a person "within" a race track may wager on a horse by "contributing his money" to the parimutuel pool. That, the court said, means you've got to bet your money, not somebody else's. And you've got to be at the track to bet.
In California, there is a special type of document you can use to authorize someone else to make health-care decisions on your behalf if, because of your own disability, you are unable to decide yourself. Called a "durable power of attorney for health care," these forms can be completed without an attorney. Although they've been around a couple of years, they are still relatively unknown and misunderstood by the public and the medical and legal communities.
On Tuesday, Valley Presbyterian Hospital will offer a free one-hour program, "Your Health Care--Who Will Decide When You Can't." A doctor, lawyer, social worker and chaplain will discuss the ethical, medical and legal issues of the durable power of attorney for health care.
Blank forms prepared by the California Medical Assn. and a booklet explaining how to fill them in will be available at no charge.
Valley Presbyterian Hospital is at 15107 Vanowen St., Van Nuys. For further information, call (818) 902-2977.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Klein, The Times' senior staff counsel, cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about the law. Do not telephone. Write to Jeffrey S. Klein, Legal View, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.