A New Age Feud in San Diego
Sex harassment charges against Deepak Chopra associate leads to author accusing court
of corruption and cronyism
By Gail Diane Cox
October 17, 2000
New Age superstar Deepak Chopra has taken his running feud with San Diego's judges to
the California court of appeal, with the guru's attorneys urging the appellate court to
"restore faith" in the "poisoned atmosphere" of San Diego's legal community.
Chopra, whose books preach that inner tranquility can fend off aging and disease, is
appealing an $11,000 judgment to a former employee who says she was sexually harassed
by a Chopra associate.
The case, Auxter v. The Chopra Center for Well Being, D030839, would be a passing blip
on the employment law screen if it weren't for its extra baggage. Four San Diego judges
have recused themselves from cases involving Chopra, who has a house in La Jolla.
During oral arguments before the 4th District last Wednesday, Chopra's attorneys claimed
that cases involving the author and his associates were funneled to a judge who they say is
bent on advancing her own career by currying favor with a prestigious local law firm
representing Chopra's opponents.
Earlier this year, during a break on a tour for Chopra's 25th book, "How to Know God," the
Indian-born endocrinologist was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: "I want this on
the record: I am going to get Judge Judith McConnell in the end; she will not get away with
In Auxter, Jyl Auxter contends she lost her $70,000-a-year marketing and sales job after
barely a month in 1995 when she rebuffed the sexual advances of her boss, Dr. David
Simon, a partner of Chopra.
Chopra's attorneys say she was a volunteer, not an employee, and that lawyers at San
Diego's Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich solicited her to file suit because they had another
client, Vicky Weaver, with a sexual harassment suit against Chopra himself.
...During pretrial discovery in the Auxter case, McConnell repeatedly imposed monetary
sanctions on Chopra's attorneys, led by Philip Stillman and Carla DiMare of
Boston-based Flynn, Sheridan, Tabb & Stillman. The bulk of the problems entailed not
producing witnesses' names or home phone numbers.
"I can tell you there was no willfulness on my part," DiMare told the appellate panel last
Wednesday, attributing the problems to inadvertence, the judge's desire to "punish" an
out-of-town firm, and, in one instance, alternative interpretations of the punctuation in the
Ultimately McConnell imposed a liability sanction on Chopra's company, finding that Auxter
had been so prejudiced in discovery that the only issue left to try to the jury would be
what damages she deserved.
A month later, March 1998, McConnell stated the case was the most "insulting"
she had ever dealt with and that none of the papers had been filed with respect
for the court. After a break, the judge recused herself.
A jury ultimately refused to award damages, but Judge Thomas LaVoy entered
judgment notwithstanding the verdict and awarded $11,000 in damages and nearly
$100,000 in fees and costs.
A jury ultimately refused to award damages, but Judge Thomas LaVoy entered judgment
notwithstanding the verdict and awarded $11,000 in damages and nearly $100,000 in fees
McConnell is not the only San Diego judge to bow out of Chopra cases spun out from the
Auxter and Weaver litigation, including a lawsuit by Chopra that alleged that a Gray
Cary-hired investigator went through Chopra's attorneys' trash.
Judges Thomas Murphy, Robert O'Neill and John Einhorn have also recused themselves --
Einhorn telling a Chopra attorney in court, "In my more than 30 years as a trial lawyer and
as a Superior Court judge, I have never witnessed such misleading, manipulative, distorted,
deceptive, vitriolic action by any lawyer or law firm."
McConnell's comments show "uncontroverted, long-term bias," DiMare told the appellate
justices last Wednesday, asking them to overturn the liability sanction. Justice Daniel
Kremer, who conducted most of the questioning, seemed more inclined to accept the
interpretation of Gray Cary attorney Kathryn Karcher that the trial judge had been baited
until she become too frustrated to continue.
Kremer repeatedly challenged DiMare to come up with examples of prejudice that were not
merely rulings that had gone against her client. He also chided her for straying from the
topic of his questions, noting that he had nearly doubled her allotted time to speak. And, in
an echo of the discovery battles before McConnell, the presiding justice warned "you don't
need to personalize" by berating Gray Cary.
Quiet during most of the session was Justice Don Work, whose only question was to ask
DiMare where she had heard that the San Diego Superior Court was sending all Chopra
cases to McConnell because the judge was allegedly "controlled" by Gray Cary. DiMare
answered that had come from a private investigator working for Chopra.
Almost lost in the superheated exchanges was the more legally significant issue.
The Auxter jury, instructed that liability had been found, still refused to award
anything in damages. Lavoy, the judge who had inherited the case from McConnell,
intervened. He made the $11,000 award -- one month's salary, doubled under Labor Code
provisions -- and added on the fees and costs.
The third member of the appellate panel, Gilbert Nares, briefly asked Karcher to defend the
standard of review on the LaVoy award. "What if the jury simply disbelieved your client?" he
said. Karcher, who is scheduled to become the head of the San Diego Bar Association's
appellate section next year, replied that if the sanction was proper, then some award must
Chopra was not in the courtroom. According to the Los Angeles Times, he has complained
to Gov. Gray Davis in a letter that he feels "impotent and paralyzed because of the
cronyism and corruption in the San Diego judicial system." The governor replied that when
it came to appointments to the appellate bench, Chopra's views would be duly considered.
|San Diego Education Report
The Auxter case
"...the only issue left to try
to the jury would be what
damages she deserved...
"The Auxter jury,
instructed that liability had
been found, still refused
to award anything in
"Lavoy, the judge who had
inherited the case from
McConnell, intervened. He
made the $11,000 award --
one month's salary, doubled
under Labor Code provisions
-- and added on the fees and
Lobbyist in the house
By Matt Potter
San Diego Reader
Nov. 30, 2000
...La Jolla's own holistic health guru-in-residence, Deepak Chopra, has lost a round in his
battle against the local judicial bench, and one judge in particular.
Last week, the Fourth District Court of Appeal said it found "implausible"
Chopra's contention that Superior Court judge Judith McConnell was biased
against Chopra's Boston lawyers and tilted unfairly to the old line San Diego firm
of Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich when she ordered sanctions against the guru's
defense team. Chopra was sued by two women alleging sexual harassment against the
La Jolla?based Chopra Center for Well Being and wound up on the losing end of the
Deepak Chopra should have meditated more during his
conflict with Judge (now presiding Justice of the 4th
district CA Court of Appeal) Judith McConnell
Maura Larkins comment:
In my experience, too many judges allow lawyers to get away with discovery shenanigans.
Assuming Judith McConnell regularly insisted that lawyers cooperate with discovery
requests, I think she must have been an excellent superior court judge.
An example of a judge who allows shenanigans is Judge Judith Hayes, who allowed Dan
Shinoff, a partner of plaintiff Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, to get away with not showing up
for his deposition in Nov. 2007 without filing an objection or following up with a motion for
protective order. Mr. Shinoff's law firm was suing this author for defamation. Why file suit
if you don't want to produce documents or be deposed?
Then a year later, Judge Hayes denied a second motion to compel Mr. Shinoff's
deposition, claiming to believe his statement that he had begun his Nov. 2007 deposition.
If he had begun the deposition, I would have been required to file a separate statement.
Since I didn't, my motion was denied. It didn't bother Judge Hayes that Stutz law firm
provided no transcript to show that Mr. Shinoff's deposition had begun. At the same time,
she ignored the evidence of defendant's transcript of Ray Artiano's deposition, in which
Dan Shinoff, acting as counsel, had announced that he was not going to show up for his
deposition scheduled two hours later (the quote is close to the bottom of the webpage).
Judge Hayes also ignored defendant's declaration that Mr. Shinoff's deposition had never
Davis Appoints San Diego Jurist McConnell to Fourth District Court
By Staff Writer
August 30, 2001
San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith D. McConnell, whose federal bench
nomination stalled after Republicans took control of the Senate in 1994, was appointed
yesterday by Gov. Gray Davis to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
McConnell, 57, has served as a San Diego trial judge since her appointment by Gov. Jerry
Brown in 1978.
The appellate court appointment is subject to confirmation by a panel consisting of Chief
Justice Ronald George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and Justice Daniel Kremer, the senior
presiding judge of the Fourth District.
Davis also appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Amalia L. Meza and state deputy
Senior Assistant Attorney General Laura Whitcomb Halgren to the San Diego
McConnell likely is best known to San Diegans today for a series of rulings on a new
baseball stadium and efforts to put it on the ballot, and for rulings involving the re-use of El
Toro Naval Air Station.
But she garnered the ire of conservatives with a ruling more than a decade ago that
awarded the custody of a child to a gay man rather than the child’s mother, a Christian
fundamentalist accused of kidnapping the boy.
That ruling was cited as the reason for Republican resistance to her appointment to the
federal court by President Clinton, which came on the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Barbara
McConnell, who was elevated to the Superior Court by Brown in 1980, later served as that
court’s presiding judge. She is widely lauded for her contributions to improving access to
justice,, and was awarded the Benjamin Aranda Access to Justice Award by the state Judicial
Council, the California Judges Association and the State bar of California. The Judicial
Council this year named her Jurist of the Year.
McConnell is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and earned her law degree from Boalt Hall School
She worked as an attorney for the California Department of Transportation from 1969 to
1976, then went into private practice with the San Diego firm of Reed, McConnell & Sullivan
from 1976 to 1978.
If confirmed, she will fill a vacancy created by the death of Don Work on May 16. Court of
Appeal justices earn $152,260 annually.
Meza, 48, graduated from Yale University and earned her law degree from Stanford. She
began her career with the Legal Aid Society, heading the government benefits unit, then
worked as a litigator with Sullivan & Jones and Rogers & Wells.
She joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego in 1987 and headed the Organized Crime
Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Narcotics Task Force. She currently serves as the
office’s civil rights coordinator.
Meza, who said she applied for the post in March, is to be sworn in today.
She said she looked forward to her new post but added, “It’s bittersweet. I’m going to miss
my friends and colleagues.”
Halgren, 44, is best known for having represented the state in defense of the death penalty
imposed on Jaturun Siripongs, a former Buddhist monk executed in 1999 for the murder of a
Garden Grove market owner. She was also counsel to the Commission on Judicial
Performance in a variety of investigations, including a probe of a San Diego judge for receipt
of gifts from lawyers who appeared before him.
She is a graduate of Loma Linda University and earned her law degree from UCLA. She
began her career as an associate with the law firm of Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye.
Superior court judges earn $133,051 a year.
Judges from everywhere