Judge Elizabeth Allen White Retiring From Los Angeles Superior Court: A Look at Three of Her Most Prominent Decisions
Judge Elizabeth Allen White of the Los Angeles Superior Court has announced she will retire from the bench on March 14 after 22 years of service.
Governor Pete Wilson appointed Judge White to the then-Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1997. She was elevated to membership in the Superior Court in 2000 upon unification. She presides over civil court litigations including mass tort and personal injury complaints from the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
During her time on the bench, White has presided over numerous high-profile personal injury and tort cases. While the litany of major cases White has overseen is extensive, PINews takes a look at three of her most prominent decisions:
1. Guess? Jeans Founder Defamation Case:
In 2009, White presided over the $370 million defamation verdict against Guess Clothing (Guess ? Inc.) founder, Georges Marciano. At the time of the verdict, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, R. Rex Parris, called the decision “…one of the largest defamation verdicts ever handed down in Los Angeles County.”
The genesis of that considerable verdict stemmed from an August 2007 lawsuit brought by Marciano against a former employee, Joseph Fahs. In February 2008, Marciano amended his complaint to include four additional former employees, alleging that they embezzled money and stole property from him.
In what was perhaps a surprise turn of events (certainly for Marciano), all of his former employees filed separate cross-complaints against him, alleging his lawsuit constituted defamation that led to intentional infliction of emotional distress. Marciano’s original complaint against his former employees was dismissed December 31, 2008, but the employees had yet to receive their day in court.
A liability trial was held in Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2009, and the presiding judge was Elizabeth Allen White. White found that Marciano was liable for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against each cross-complainant, and that his acts justified the complainants to punitive damages.
In July 2009, following hours of testimony, the jury found Marciano liable to damages for all five of his former employees. Each cross-complainant was awarded approximately $69 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages (approximately $74 million each, with a combined verdict value of $370 million).
2. “Happy Days” Actors’ Merchandising Lawsuit Against CBS
In 2011, Judge White threw out a $10 million lawsuit brought by actors from the famous television sitcom, “Happy Days,” against the show’s network, CBS. The lawsuit — brought by actors Marion Ross, Don Most, Anson Williams, Erin Moran, and the widow of Tom Bosley (who passed away prior to the suit coming to trial) — alleged that CBS committed fraud by withholding merchandising revenue from slot machines and other consumer products featuring the actors’ faces that had been licensed over the years. In addition to dismissing the case, Judge White ruled that the plaintiffs could not receive punitive damages specific to the fraud allegations at a future trial.
However, in a separate decision, Judge White ruled that the cast members could argue before a jury that they were owed royalties from DVD sales. That decision eventually led to a settlement being reached between the actors and CBS. The terms of the settlement were never disclosed, but Jon Pfeiffer, the attorney representing the actors, said in a statement, “We are satisfied with the outcome. We will continue to receive all of the merchandising royalties promised to us in our contracts.”
3. $10 Million Wrongful Death Judgment Over Murder by LAPD Detective:
In January 2018, the Court of Appeal for Los Angeles County affirmed White’s $10 million wrongful death judgment on behalf of the parents of a woman who had been murdered over thirty years earlier by a detective of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The parents of Sherri Rasmussen always suspected they knew the identity of the perpetrator who had brutally beaten and then shot their daughter three times in 1986. Despite their suspicions, the case went unsolved until 2009, when DNA evidence implicated LAPD detective, Stephanie Lazarus, the ex-girlfriend of Sherri Rasmussen’s husband.
Lazarus was charged with the murder on Dec. 18, 2009, and convicted on March 8, 2012. The Rasmussen family brought a wrongful death suit against her in July 2010, but Lazarus moved for a dismissal of the civil suit on the basis of Code of Civil Procedure §340.3. Said code provides, in part:
“Unless a longer period is prescribed for a specific action, in any action for damages against a defendant based upon the defendant’s commission of a felony offense for which the defendant has been convicted, the time for commencement of the action shall be within one year after judgment is pronounced.”
Lazarus argued that the civil action should be dismissed because it was brought before the conviction, and was therefore time-barred by a two-year statute of limitations under §340.3. Judge White denied the motion declaring the Rasmussens should not be penalized for bringing the suit, noting in her decision that their due diligence spanned multiple decades.
Justice Laurence D. Rubin of the Court of Appeal declared White’s ruling to have been correct. Though White’s judgment received widespread attention at the time of the decision, a 2019 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times — partially titled “how an LAPD officer hid a murder for nearly 30 years” — brought the cold-case back into the public’s eye, shedding further context on the weight of the decision to uphold the Rasmussen’s wrongful death lawsuit.
Judge Elizabeth Allen White received her undergraduate degree and paralegal certificate from UCLA. She worked as a paralegal for the law firm of Loeb and Loeb prior to earning her law degree from Loyola University in 1981. As a judge, White also served in adjunct professor positions at Loyola, as well as the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. Additionally, White is vice president of districts for the National Association of Women Judges.