Can’t We All Just Get Along?

A sheriff’s deputy, sent to fetch a public defender who was tardy for a court hearing, is immune from liability after he arrested the lawyer, placed her in handcuffs and took her to court.

“No one in this case has covered himself with glory,” said Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday.

Kozinski had no kind words for the “lackadaisical” response by attorney Florentina Demuth, who egged on the deputy, Wai Chui Li, by saying “if you want me to come now you have to arrest me.”  Nor did Kozinski sympathize with the deputy who “took the bait and abused his power” nor the judges of Los Padrinos Juvenile Court, who failed to mediate this minor dispute among court officers “and allowed it to metastasize into a federal case.”

‘What seems to be at stake here is little more than wounded pride, as any damages suffered by the plaintiff seem hardly more than nominal,” Kozinski said.

This could have been resolved by an admission that the deputy violated Demuth’s constitutional rights, “followed by mutual apologies and a handshake, saving the taxpayers of Los Angeles county the considerable costs of litigating this tiff,” he said.

The Dispute

This began when Demuth arrived for a hearing in juvenile court at 8:30 a.m. but learned her hearing was later in the day, with no specific time.  She told opposing counsel she would go back to her office in the same building and return at 1:30pm.

The juvenile court referee got to her case early and had Demuth paged.  But Demuth did not respond to several pages, which is apparently not unusual in the building, the court said.

A deputy then called Demuth, who didn’t answer and finally the deputy was sent to bring Demuth to court.

When they deputy located Demuth she was talking to a supervisor and after a few exchanges the deputy demanded Demuth return to court. Demuth finally said, “if you want me to come right now, you’ll have to arrest me.”

The deputy did just that  She was handcuffed and escorted to court.  The arrest lasted 11 minutes.

The appeals court upheld a finding that the deputy was immune from liability.

Case: Demuth v. County of Los Angeles, No. 12-57197


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