PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
On July 27 an appellate court ruled against a second plea on behalf of skilled nursing mogul Shlomo Rechnitz requesting that an upcoming elder abuse and wrongful death civil trial be moved closer to Rechnitz's home and center of operations in Los Angeles County.
The suit is being brought by local law firm Janssen Malloy, LLP on behalf of the family of Ralph Sorensen, who died in January of 2016 due to an infected pressure ulcer
that was allegedly related to understaffing at Seaview Rehabilitation & Wellness Center. Seaview was named as a defendant, as well as its associated corporate entities, including Rockport Healthcare Services, the facility's administrator Lorena Smith and Brius Management Company. Rechnitz is Brius's owner and is personally named in the lawsuit.
In the initial request for a venue change, Rechnitz's attorney argued that he could not get a fair trial in Humboldt County due to negative media coverage and that the distance from Los Angeles would make it difficult for Rechnitz and his wife, Tamar, to attend the trial. The bid for a change of venue was rejected on May 26 by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna.
Rechnitz's law firm, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, filed an appeal July 7 with the California First District Court of Appeals, stating that the respondent court (Humboldt County Superior Court) had "abused its discretion" in denying the motion for change of venue, and accusing Janssen Malloy of adding Smith as a defendant after the motion to change venue had been filed as an act of bad faith, an attempt to keep the trial in Humboldt. (Smith lives locally.)
"Humboldt County is the proper venue for only two of the causes of action against petitioners," the appeal states. "Los Angeles County, however, is the proper venue for all the causes of action."
The petition continues to cite the inconvenience of the Rechnitz and his associates (collectively referred to as "petitioners" in the document) defending themselves "in Humboldt County, over 700 miles from where petitioners reside, 300 miles from any major airport, and at least a 10-hour car ride from Los Angeles. Indeed, petitioners will be immensely inconvenienced if the case is heard in Humboldt County."
In its response, Janssen Malloy argued that, according to the Code of Civil Procedure, Humboldt County is the appropriate jurisdiction, as it is where the incident happened, and that the petitioners' argument that the mixed cause of action (several different violations creating cause to bring suit) should be reason to move the case out of the area is "flat wrong.".
"Respectfully, Petitioners' analysis is hopelessly flawed," said the response, prepared by attorney Tim Needham, adding that the "bad faith" claim of adding Smith as a defendant is based on case law that "has not been the rule in California for over a century."
The appellate court apparently agreed with Needham, denying the appeal on July 27. No court date has been set for the Sorensen case or another case also involving a patient death brought on behalf of the family of Randy Kruger, who also allegedly died as a result of infected pressure sores he developed in a local skilled nursing facility. Judging from the extended back and forth just over trial venue, it might be quite a while before the families of the deceased see their day in court.
"I am pleased that we will have the opportunity to have this matter heard before a Humboldt County jury," said Needham in a phone interview yesterday morning. A call to the office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP was not returned.