Judge sets trial date in Berkeley co-op lawsuit

Three attorneys briefed the judge in a lawsuit involving a Berkeley senior housing cooperative, and the judge set a trial date for the case.

Three attorneys in a three-year-old lawsuit involving a Berkeley, California, senior housing cooperative gathered today for a case management conference with the judge and agreed on a date for a trial.

Judge George C. Hernandez, Jr., of the Alameda County Superior Court set 13 May 2016 as the trial date in the suit against 7 former directors and a former manager of Berkeley Town House, a 60-unit cooperative housed in a 9-story building south of the University of California campus. In his complaint, filed in March 2012, Jonathan Pool, a member of the co-op, claimed that the defendants had illegally wasted over $200,000 in co-op funds, neglected warnings of seismic risks, and violated numerous rights guaranteed to co-op members. Pool asked the court to make the defendants pay back the co-op, deal with the suspected seismic hazards, and stop their governance violations.

The conference marked a resumption of proceedings in Judge Hernandez’s court after a 17-month interruption caused by the defendants’ unsuccessful appeal of an order issued by the judge.

It was unclear from the attorneys’ remarks whether to expect the case to proceed through trial or to end earlier with a voluntary settlement. David H. Schwartz, attorney for Pool, said that he hoped a companion suit filed yesterday to enforce a monetary settlement agreement would bring part of the case to an end without a trial on the alleged waste of funds. He and Dennis F. Moriarty, representing the co-op, also agreed that settlement talks under way between Pool and the co-op gave some reason for hope of success, and both attorneys indicated a willingness to consider involving a mediator at this stage.

But Fred M. Feller, representing the 7 former directors, offered a more caustic view. He said that opportunities to settle the case had been squandered and called Pool’s enforcement suit “frivolous”. Its only purpose, he said, was to prevent the court from scheduling a trial.

Feller asked for the earliest possible trial date, given the futility of a settlement. Schwartz and Moriarty, however, asked for a trial no earlier than April 2016, and Hernandez chose the May date.

Hernandez also discussed whether the case would remain in his court, which is dedicated to “complex” cases, or be transfered to a regular court. He concluded that he wanted to keep the case on his own calendar unless it was “wrested” from him.

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