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Complaint Claims Vista Judge Aided Lawyer Son in Trial

December 18, 1987|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

The incoming president of the San Diego Trial Lawyers Assn. has filed a complaint with state officials, accusing a Vista Superior Court judge of improperly involving himself in a case in which his son is one of the attorneys.

Target of the complaint is Superior Judge Don Martinson, whose son, Blake Martinson, represents the defendant in a civil lawsuit.

The accusing lawyer, Louisa Porter, is the attorney for the plaintiff in the case where Blake Martinson is an adversary.

Both Porter and the judge said the matter is before the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which investigates complaints against judges. A commission spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny the investigation.

Setting of Date at Issue

Porter said Don Martinson improperly intervened in the suit by setting a court date for the trial and by extending the time both sides may continue discovery--such as taking depositions--in the case. That decision, Porter said, will cost her client "a great deal of money and will cost me a great deal of time."

The extension in the time for discovery, she further charged, directly aided the judge's son.

Don Martinson said he set the trial date--a procedural matter not involving any question of law--with the full concurrence of Porter and his son, as well as two other attorneys involved in the case, after he expressly pointed out that he was the father of one of the litigating attorneys.

None of the attorneys, including Porter, objected to his involvement at the time and, in fact, everyone at the time agreed to the trial date he set, Don Martinson said.

The question of a trial date was put before him in the first place because he was the acting supervising judge in Vista Superior Court on the specific day the civil trial was scheduled to begin last June.

The trial would have begun that day had not another Vista Superior Court judge allowed the defendant to file a cross-complaint, thereby delaying the start-up of the initial trial.

Don Martinson said that because of the other judge's ruling, it became his job--given his role for the day as supervising judge--to set a new date, based on what the court calendar would allow.

Part and parcel of setting a new trial date, he said, was the setting of a variety of procedural deadlines, including that for discovery, the exchange of witness lists and a mandatory settlement conference.

'Judge's Son Was Helped'

Porter claims that Don Martinson, by setting a cutoff date for discovery, in fact extended the time of discovery that had already come to pass for the initial trial, thereby benefiting the judge's son.

Don Martinson said: "I didn't say they must have discovery, but merely that if there was going to be continued discovery, it must be cut off by a certain date."

The judge said the state's civil code of procedure specifically allows a judge who has disqualified himself from a case because it involves a relative to nonetheless set dates for various proceedings.

"Anything I did was with the full agreement of the parties and with the full knowledge that my son, Blake, was an attorney in the case. It's not as if I was concealing anything or coercing anyone," Don Martinson said.

He said he was bothered that Porter would have filed a complaint about an action he took with her blessing at the time.

Porter said she was "too numb at the time," because of the filing of the cross complaint and because it had been a long day in court for her and her client, to react immediately to Don Martinson's involvement in the case.

Retorted the judge: "If she turns numb in court, you wonder what kind of a trial lawyer she is."

The trial was ultimately transferred to San Diego Superior Court after Porter raised the conflict issue in October to assistant San Diego Presiding Judge Michael I. Greer. It was also in October when Porter filed her complaint with the state. Don Martinson learned of it last Friday.

Porter's clients--a Carlsbad woman and her son--are seeking $2 million in civil damages from Louis Sebesten of Carlsbad, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges of molesting the son and is now serving a 10-year state prison term. Blake Martinson is representing Sebesten.

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