Terran graduated in 1957 from Los Angeles High School, the oldest public high school in the city. He participated as a long jumper and hurdler on the track team, and was a member of the inter-school competitive debating team. He was inducted into the California Scholarship Federation as an honor student, and was a speaker at the graduation ceremony.

Terran graduated with honors, Phi Beta Kappa, from UCLA in 1961, majoring in political science, minoring in literature. In addition to the required scholarly pursuits, Terran was a member of a social fraternity, living on campus at the fraternity house, and enjoyed, dating, going to sporting events, and many other frivolities of college life.

Terran graduated from Harvard Law School, cum laude, in 1964. While this was the pinnacle of his formal educational experience because of the deep intellect of the professors and other students, Terran also enjoyed the frivolities of graduate college life in the metropolitan Boston area, having fellowship with heady students from the four corners of America, as well as the colorful locals of New England.

There was a memorable moment at the finals of the first year student moot court competition, the judges of which were two justices of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Byron "Whizzer" White, a sitting justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (and former professional football running back). Just before the competition, to his surprise and delight as a first year law student, Terran met Justice White in the men's bathroom, memorably describing the event as "taking a whiz with the Whizzer."


Terran was admitted to the State Bar of California on January 5, 1965, which licenses him to practice in all courts of the State of California. He is also admitted to practice before the U.S. District Courts in the Central and Northern Districts of California and the Southern District of Texas; and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

AV Preeminent Rating

Terran has achieved an AV Preeminent rating in Martindale-Hubbell. This is a peer-review rating, formulated by a survey of the confidential opinions of other attorneys and members of the judiciary, and attests to the excellence of an attorney's legal ability and professional ethics in the actual practice of his craft.

Career Highlights & Memorable Moments

Cub Attorney

As a cub attorney, fresh out of law school, Terran became an associate with Swerdlow, Glikbarg and Shimer, Beverly Hills, primarily handling real estate and construction industry litigation. Partner Harry Swerdlow was a noted antitrust trial attorney that represented Pacific Theaters, amongst other notable clients. Amongst Terran's mentors was partner Irving Shimer, one of the most intelligent and insightful attorneys that Terran has ever met. Irv later became a wise and distinguished judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

First One
Terran got his first taste of trial work as a lawyer while at this firm. During the summer of 1965, the infamous Watts Riots occurred, in which there was an uproar of frustration and hostility by residents of South Central Los Angeles. Many buildings were burned out, and other criminal conduct ensued. A general call for volunteer lawyers to handle the many resulting criminal cases went out from the local courts. Terran volunteered to handle a case involving a charge of burglary against a local resident that went into a burned out hardware store and was arrested in the act of taking two cans of paint. Terran tried the case to a judge sitting without a jury. The defendant was convicted and was given summary probation. At the time of sentencing, the court asked Terran why he tried the case rather than simply negotiating a plea bargain. Terran replied that he thought the case was defensible on technical grounds. Also, which he did not mention to the judge, Terran had a keen desire to be a trial lawyer, and this was his first chance to do so.


Terran was an associate of Green, Simke and Lasher, Beverly Hills, handling diverse business and some personal injury litigation. During his years of apprenticeship there, Terran learned a guiding life principle from partner Mark Green: The quality of a person's character is not to be measured by how few mistakes he makes, but how well he recovers from the many mistakes he will inevitably make.

During this affiliation, Terran brought a new client to the firm, Fela Ransome-Kuti, a Nigerian musician who had brought his entire multi-piece band to Los Angeles in1969 to try to succeed in the record business. Fela was a vibrant performer whose band played a unique, engaging style of up tempo music that he called "High Life." Fela greatly admired the band of James Brown, "the godfather of soul." After his sojourn in the United States, inspired by his mother, a civil rights champion, Fela became a social activist that defied a corrupt and oppressive military regime in Nigeria and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity. Around 2010, his life became the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical, "Fela," copresented by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will Smith & Jada Pinkett Smith.

Noteworthy Mentors
During the period 1966-1969, Green, Simke & Lasher, the law firm with which Terran was associated, shared office space in a large suite that included the law firm of Irmas & Rutter, the principals of which were Sidney Irmas, the commendable trial attorney, and William Rutter, the intellectual giant that later founded The Rutter Group, producer of the indispensable California Practice Guides. After Terran's sojourn in criminal defense law from 1969-1971, from 1971-1974, he became an of counsel associate with the his prior colleagues, which by then had amalgamated the Green, Simke & Lasher, Irmas & Rutter, and Richard Hecht law firms into one law firm with a firm name consisting of all six names . . . which was certainly a blessing to its stationery printer.

Irmas & Rutter were attorneys for Terran's parents while he was attending UCLA in the late 1950s. He first met Sid Irmas and Bill Rutter when they visited his parents at Terran's family home one day. Terran was impressed by these young attorneys, and that meeting was one of the events that influenced his decision to become a lawyer. During the early years of his law practice, Terran became a working colleague of these noteworthy lawyers, whom he respectfully regards as mentors from whom he learned valuable lessons in the practice of law. In addition to his legal genius, Bill Rutter is memorable for his remarkably kind and humble spirit.

The Manson Trial

Terran became a founding member of Steinhart & Adelson, later Steinhart, Adelson & Fitzgerald, later Steinhart & Fitzgerald, near downtown Los Angeles, specializing in criminal defense. Partner Paul Fitzgerald, was one of the best and most inspiring criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles County, exuding an engaging, humorous persona, that was reminiscent of his comic idol, W.C. Fields, although Paul was considerably better looking than W.C. During this era, Paul was the lead defense attorney in the infamous Charles Manson / Tate-La Bianca murder trial, representing Patricia Krenwinkle, one of the three "Manson girl" defendants. Terran assisted Paul by preparing all of the written motions and briefs during the trial. Partner Michael Adelson went on to become one of the foremost criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles County for decades, being a veteran of countless death penalty trials.

Hutzpa on the Bench
Although short in duration, this was an intriguing and eventful era in Terran's career. Around 1970, there was a disturbance in the Los Angeles County Men's Jail resulting in charges of assault on peace officers against several inmates. Terran was appointment by the court to defend one of the inmates in the ensuing multi-defendant criminal case. Judge Vaino Spencer presided over the preliminary examination during which Terran cross-examined two deputy Sheriffs that were called as witnesses against his client. As a result of cross-examining each of them about the alleged incident in detail, each outside the presence of the other, it became apparent that their story was fabricated, as the testimony of each was contradictory to the testimony of the other on material points. After ordering the charges dismissed against Terran's client, while still seated on the bench, Judge Spencer made a direct call to Peter Pitches, the legendary Sheriff of Los Angeles County, advised him that two of his deputies had committed perjury in her courtroom, and requested that he investigate the matter for the purpose of disciplining them.

Hooray for Judge Spencer. She was a trailblazer for women and African Americans in the legal profession. She became California's first black female judge when appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1961. She was appointed to the Superior Court in 1976, and four years later was elevated to the Court of Appeal, where she went on to become the presiding Justice of the Second Appellate District, Division One, completing 46 years of service on the bench in 2007. Amongst her many contributions, in the 1970s, she founded the Black Women Lawyers Association, and co-founded the National Association of Women Judges with Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. In addition to being a superb judge, she was beautiful in appearance, and elegant in her mode of behavior. Terran once again crossed professional paths with Justice Spencer in People v. Heather B., WL 1250145 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.), an unpublished Court of Appeal opinion granting reversal of a juvenile court judgment against a minor for allegedly having made a death threat to an adult neighbor. See Discerning Justice, below. Once again, Vaino Spencer righteously stood in the gap for truth and justice in favor of an oppressed criminal defendant. In that case, in addition to voting to reverse an unjust trial court judgment of guilt, during oral argument on appeal, she pulled rank as Presiding Justice to protect Terran from what was festering as an unreasonable verbal attack by an Associate Justice. Incidently, the Associate Justice later authored a vitriolic dissenting opinion in the case.

During this period, the black power movement was active, spawning organizations such as the Black Panthers and Us. Terran represented defendants affiliated with the movement. At one point, he provided legal consultation to then Ron Karenga, later Maulana Karenga, the founder in 1965 of Organization Us. Dr. Karenga is well-known as the creator of Kwanzaa, a cultural holiday. He went on to earn two doctorate degrees, becoming a notable author, college professor, and chairman of the Afro Studies Department of Cal State University, Long Beach from approximately 1989 to 2002.

King of Torts

For three years, Terran was the sole proprietor of his own law offices in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, which engaged in general practice with special emphasis on business litigation. The law suite at which Terran rented an office during this period was the Southern California affiliate of the Melvin Belli personal injury law firm of San Francisco. Melvin was a hugely successful, flamboyant personal injury lawyer with the nickname "King of Torts." During this period, Terran met with Melvin and his distinguished law partner, Lou Ashe, at their San Francisco law offices. Later, Terran provided legal representation to Lou Ashe.


Terran was an associate of prominent music business lawyer, Martin Cohen; then became a junior partner in Cohen & Steinhart, Hollywood. Terran handled all of the entertainment litigation and trials, and to a lesser extent, handled music business transactions. Martin, nicknamed Mutt, was one of the most intriguing and colorful people that Terran has ever met. After God created Martin, he broke the mold. Terran joined Martin's law firm because he was impressed with Martin's adversarial spirit. During the employment interview, Martin conveyed his combative spirit by a fanciful story. He told Terran that when he grew up in New York, he occasionally got into street fights; and that he was not so egotistical as to believe he would win every fight, but whenever he lost, he made sure that his opponent ended up in the hospital bed next to him!

During this era, Terran handled litigation matters for various music producers, personal managers, private record labels, songwriters, singers, and musicians, including noted artists: Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Bobby Womack, Eric Burdon, George Duke, and John Mayall. There were memorable trials in which Terran was the lead attorney during this period.

Terran represented Frank Zappa's record company, Bizarre Records, against noted rock star, Alice Cooper, in a six week breach of contract/unfair competition trial. Frank was one of the most creative and original pop music musicians and songwriters of his era. He had an engaging personality, and an understated, dare one say, bizarre, sense of humor. During the taking of his deposition, he testified about a meeting in which he participated in a conference room into which a gentlemen walked during the meeting. Frank was asked by the examining attorney whether he had ever seen the man before, to which Frank said no . . . and then volunteered that when he first saw the man, he immediately distrusted him! When asked how he could immediately distrust a man he had never seen before just by looking at him, Frank responded that the man was smoking a cigar, and that he distrusted all men that smoked cigars! Later in the deposition, he was asked whether he knew another man whose name was _______; to which Frank responded, "No, but that's a good name!"

Dukeing it Out
Terran represented songwriter, musician, singer Tom Waits against Los Angeles County for law enforcement abuse against Tom and his good friend, Chuck E. Weiss. Chuck was the subject of Tom's hit song, "Chuck E's in Love." During the incident which gave rise to the litigation, without provocation on their part, Tom and Chuck were physically attacked and pummeled by three deputy sheriffs. Tom is one of the most profound songwriters and lyricists over several decades of popular music. He went on to also become a successful movie actor. The police abuse incident occurred outside Duke's Restaurant in West Hollywood. With his wonderful and inventive sense of humor, Tom nicknamed the case: "Dukeing it Out at Dukes," although Tom was solely a "dukee" and not a "dukor," which was why the jury rendered a verdict in his favor.

Fleetwood Mac
Formed in 1967 as a British rock band, the Fleetwood Mac band entered superstar status when it added guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks to its core: drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and keyboardist Christine McVie, and released the album Fleetwood Mac in 1976, which reached #1 in the US, and sold over five million copies. That success led to a lawsuit in which Terran represented record producer, Keith Olsen, in a civil action against the band, in which Olsen alleged that he had co-produced the album with the band, but did not get co-producer credit nor compensation. The band was represented by Terran's college fraternity brother, notable entertainment attorney, Mickey Shapiro. After Terran took the oral depositions of all five members of the band (all of whom were later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), cross-examining each as to his or her version of Olsen's role in the production of the album, Mickey telephoned Terran, and (recalling memorable Marlon Brando dialogue from The Godfather movie) announced that he was going to make a settlement offer which Terran could not refuse. Mickey was correct. The case settled; and all of the litigants lived happily ever after in the music business.

Since 1981, Terran has been the sole proprietor of Steinhart Law Offices, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Amongst the many interesting and inspiring cases of lesser note that make up a trial and appellate attorney's law practice, this era has included media event trials and momentous appeals.

Media Event Trials
Terran was the lead trial attorney (indeed, the sole trial attorney) for the plaintiffs in two high profile, media event, music copyright infringement jury trials: Goldberg v. Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Tom Hayden in the mid-1980s, regarding Dolly's hit song, "Nine to Five;" and Thompson v. Lionel Richie, in the early 1990s, regarding Lionel's hit songs, "Stuck on You" and "Sela."

The Dolly Parton case was a media bonanza, because it involved a Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, an Academy Award winning actress, and a nationally-known politician, all in one case, and involved a hit song written by Dolly as the title song for the hit movie, "Nine to Five," produced by Jane, starring Jane and Dolly. During the trial, Terran was involved in news coverage and on-camera interviews daily on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Los Angeles. The day that Jane Fonda testified at trial, the courtroom was standing room only, packed out with news reporters. Although because of the celebrity of Lionel Richie, his case commanded significant media attention, it could not compete with the media blitz generated by the star power combination of Dolly and Jane.

What Terran learned from those two trials is that jurors are quite susceptible to losing their objectivity as judges of the facts when judging the conduct of famous entertainment stars. The alleged infringing songs in each case were substantially similar to the plaintiffs' infringed songs (in the case of "Nine to Five," there was striking similarity of melody line, to which Dolly admitted in her trial testimony, and even substantial similarity in lyrics). However, jurors get star struck by famous entertainers, especially when they bring their guitar (Dolly) and keyboard (Lionel) to trial and sing songs to the jury from the witness stand, ostensibly to demonstrate their song-writing prowess (as if their long history of musical hits were not enough to prove the point). In interviews of the jurors after the defense verdicts in both trials, its was quite apparent that the jurors viewed the evidence through star-struck lenses, and simply did not hear the musical substantial similarity that was obviously there in both cases, even disregarding Dolly Parton's testimony that the melodies of her song and the plaintiffs' song were "strikingly similar." Having obtained wisdom through the school of hard knocks twice, when Terran later brought a copyright infringement action against the award-winning songwriters of "Didn't We Almost Have It All," the hit recording by multiple Grammy award-winner Whitney Houston, he adroitly settled the case before trial rather than risk another star-studded, in-court musical concert.

Centennial Plaintiff
During the early 1990s, Terran went to trial own behalf of a 102-year-old woman who fell down and broke her hip while trying to avoid a malfunctioning automatic door that began to close on her as she walked through the rear doorway of Balian's Market in Culver City: Abbott v. Balian's Market. Ultimately, the case settled during the second day of jury selection. Records are not kept on these things; however, Terran reasonably suspects that Ms. Abbott may have been the oldest litigant to ever go to trial in Los Angeles County. At 102, she maintained total mental clarity, was the sweetest person . . . and fearless.

Happiest People on Earth
Beginning in the 1980s Terran began representation of various Christian ministries and missionaries. He represented his friend, Demos Shakarian, the founder of Full Gospel Business Mens Fellowship International (FGBMFI), an international organization of Christian men that at its peak had a membership of 70,000. Demos was the co-author of the well-known Christian book, The Happiest People On Earth. He was a colleague of many of the most respected Christian ministers in the world, who often spoke at convocations sponsored by FGBMFI.

Long Walk
In the 1990s, Terran represented Arthur Blessitt, the missionary that carried a 12 foot cross around the world. He is listed in the Guinness World Records for the world's longest walk – over 39,060 miles, through 315 countries and major island groups for 42 years, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, often walking alone through countless dangerous and uncomfortable circumstances, including many environments hostile to a man physically bearing a huge cross, or merely considering such a man to be a lunatic, egomaniac, or both. People have written grand books about some highly difficult journey or adventure they completed in a matter of days, weeks or months, such as scaling a high mountain, crossing a huge desert or a continent of ice, flying or sailing around the around the world alone . . . But 42 years . . .

Momentous Appeals

Lights Out
In Fran T. v. Village Green Homeowners Assn. (1986) 42 C3rd 490, from the trial court through the California Supreme Court, Terran represented the plaintiff/appellant who, at age 65, was molested, raped and robbed by a burglar in her condominium unit. The particular condominium project was a park-like sprawl of bungalow-type individual residences. Lighting was dim in the common areas, resulting in criminal victimization of residents in purse snatchings, break-ins, etc. When the board of directors failed to take action to have adequate lighting installed in the common areas, plaintiff used self help by installing extra lighting outside her bungalow condo. The board ordered her to remove the lighting as it was not authorized by them. The day she complied with the order, when she returned home from a restaurant, she encountered a burglar in her unit that molested, rape and robbed her. The Court held that the standard of care that applied to landlords should be extended to condominium associations, such that if they had notice of criminal conduct on premises controlled by them and failed to institute reasonable precautions to protect the residents, they would be liable for harm suffered by the residents as a result of third party criminal conduct. The most momentous aspect of the case was the holding that under circumstances where the individual board members were responsible for the association's negligent conduct, the board members were subject to individual liability, notwithstanding that they were serving as volunteers without compensation.

This case sent shockwaves through the nonprofit corporate world. A few months after the decision, Terran was invited to address the nonprofit association section of the California State Bar at its annual Convention.

Shortly after the Supreme Court opinion, the case settled without trial.

Motown Renown
Columbia Record Productions v. Hot Wax Records (1992) 966 F.2d 515, is a published opinion of the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit in which Terran achieved a judgment of reversal on behalf of the appellant. It involved an extremely erudite analysis of a civil procedure issue in regard to the jurisdiction of federal magistrate judges under the Federal Magistrates Act. This case is not mentioned because of its epochal legal significance, but merely because it is a published reversal, and Terran's client was Edward Holland, a member of Holland, Dozier, Holland, the famous Motown songwriting team.

My Prayer
Terran represented plaintiff Howard Wolf, a well-known personal manager in the entertainment business, in a breach of contract action against Martha Robi, the widow of the late Paul Robi, an original member of the 1950s hit-making recording group, The Platters. When he was 16, The Platters hit song, "My Prayer," was Terran's favorite song. After the original Platters group broke up, some of the members of the group formed different Platters tribute groups that performed the material of the original group. Howard managed Paul Robi and his tribute group. In the lawsuit, Howard alleged that after Paul's death, Martha took on management of the group, and at live performances of the group, sold record product to fans based on a record album, the recording of which had been negotiated by Howard while he was Paul's manager; and that Martha, who inherited the obligations under Paul's management agreement with Howard, breached that agreement by failing to pay Howard the management commissions due him for the sale of the record product.

There were two appeals in this case. In the first appeal, Wolf v. Robi (1999), Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC184552, Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District Case No. B123665 (unpublished opinion), Terran won a reversal of a judgment of dismissal by the trial court after it sustained defendant's demurrer to plaintiff's complaint without leave to amend. The second appeal, Yoo v. Robi (2005)126 CA4th 1089, is a published opinion in the field of entertainment law, and is of particular interest to personal managers and performing artists with reference to its rulings in regard to the California Talent Agencies Act. This appeal was from a defense judgment in favor of Martha after Howard's case was tried to a judge sitting without a jury. The trial court ruled that Howard had violated the Talent Agencies Act while managing Paul by working with booking agents to obtain personal performance entertainment engagements for Paul without Howard's being licensed to do so under the Act; and that the legal consequences of such conduct was to make Howard's personal management contract void from its inception; and that there was no liability on the part of Martha for breach of a void contract. The pivotal appellate issue was that the Talent Agencies Act did not require a personal manager to be licensed for the purpose of obtaining compensation in exchange for negotiating a recording agreement for an artist (which was solely the compensation for which Howard had brought suit). Howard contended that even if he were not entitled to recover compensation deriving from his services in obtaining personal performance engagements for Paul in nightclubs and concert halls, he was only seeking compensation with respect to the sale of record product that derived from a record contract he negotiated for the artist, with respect to which Howard did not need a license. Howard specifically relied upon Civil Code § 1599 which provides that, "Where a contract has several distinct objects, of which one at least is lawful, and one at least is unlawful, in whole or in part, the contract IS void as to the latter and valid as to the rest.." (Emphasis added).

In rejecting Howard's argument, the appellate court reasoned that if negotiating the subject recording agreement were the only employment procurement Howard had engaged in for Paul, the case would have to be decided differently, because as Howard pointed out, procuring recording contracts does not require a talent agency license. However, because Howard also engaged in employment procurement activities that did require a license, those activities served to void the entire personal management agreement from its inception, thereby depriving Howard of any contract under which to claim compensation with respect to sale of the record product.

With respect to Civil Code § 1599, the court held that the section merely authorized the court to sever the illegal object of a contract from the legal, but did not require the court to do so, stating at 1105: "The decision of whether to sever the illegal term of a contract is informed by equitable considerations," holding that in applying such considerations, the public policy underlying the Talent Agencies Act is best effectuated by denying all recovery, even for activities which did not require a talent agency license.

Criticism of Court's Opinion
Respectfully, the court's interpretation of CC § 1159 violated the most fundamental rule of statutory interpretation: "In construction of a statute or instrument, the office of a Judge is simply to ascertain and declare what is in the terms or in substance contained therein, not to insert what has been omitted, or to omit what has been inserted." CCP § 1858. In CC § 1159, the Legislature expressly declared that whenever a contract has an unlawful object and a lawful object, the lawful object IS valid. The court in Wolf, in effect, impermissibly omitted certain words and inserted additional words into section 1159, interpreting it as if it provided: "Where a contract has several distinct objects, of which one at least is lawful, and one at least is unlawful, in whole or in part, a court may exercise equitable discretion to determine whether or not to declare the lawful object valid." In so doing, the court abused the separation of powers as between legislature and judiciary, arrogating judicial discretion to itself when there is no language in the legislative statute that even hints at any such discretion.

Discerning Justice
In Re Heather B. (2001) 2001 WL 1250145 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (unpublished opinion) was a juvenile case in which Terran represented the minor defendant/appellant in both the Juvenile Court trial, and the appeal. Vaino Spencer, mentioned above under Hutzpa on the Bench, was one of the majority Justices on the judgment of reversal.

The minor was accused of having made a death threat to one of the adult neighbors living in her apartment building. The alleged victim testified that the minor's mother had threatened to kill her on June 22, 2000. There were no corroborating witnesses. The alleged victim caused the minor's mother to be arrested for making a terrorist threat. The alleged victim further testified that the same day, the minor, upset over her mother's arrest, also made a death threat to the neighbor. Again, there were no corroborating witnesses. The defense called a third-party witness who testified that she was at the scene of the mother's alleged threat to the neighbor, and that the mother did not threaten the alleged victim. When the defense called the minor's mother to testify that she had not made the alleged death threat, the trial court ruled that the mother's testimony was cumulative and excluded it. The defense also produced testimony of another neighbor who was present during the incident at which the minor was alleged to have made the death threat, who gave testimony that materially contradicted that of the alleged victim as to the sequence of events, casting substantial doubt on the alleged victim's credibility. Nonetheless, the judge, sitting without a jury, found the alleged victim's testimony to be credible, judging the minor to be guilty as charged.

Based upon his personal knowledge of the minor's family, having thoroughly interviewed and cross-examined the mother and daughter as well as their corroborating witnesses about the entire scenario, and having cross-examined the alleged victim in open court, Terran was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor was not guilty, but that the alleged victim had fabricated the death threat stories against both the mother and the daughter. Incensed by the false finding of guilt rendered by the judge, and risking being held in contempt, Terran orally confronted the judge on the record, criticizing his ruling as being palpably in error, remarking that the judge should consider resigning from the bench because he certainly was not capable of performing his duties correctly. The judge responded that Terran's remarks were rude, to which Terran replied, what is truly rude is a judge's finding an innocent person guilty of a crime she did not commit.

Believing in the actual innocence of his client, Terran was overjoyed at the appellate court's reversal of the unjust judgment of the trial court Frankly speaking, however, the grounds of reversal where admittedly thin, as the dissenting opinion stridently contended, because a trial court's ruling to exclude evidence can be deemed to constitute reversible error only where the appellate court determines that the ruling constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion. Terran speculates that the two justices that concurred in the reversal were moved by the sincerity of Terran's risky comments to the trial judge at the conclusion of the trial (which were part of the record on appeal), and were able to glean from the record that the minor was truly innocent, and the trial judge simply made an unwise finding of guilt. Since an appellate court is required to give non-reviewable deference to a trial court's credibility findings, the appellate court was relegated to finding another plausible ground of reversal so that justice would be served. Thank God for discerning justices with courage and compassion . . . Vaino Spencer (this time with a colleague) to the rescue again!

Death and Taxes
There is a proverbial saying that the only two things which are certain in life are death and taxes! Steinhart v. County of Los Angeles involved both.

In that case, Terran represented his aunt Lorraine Steinhart as a taxpayer in a real estate property tax dispute under Proposition 13. The taxpayer brought an action against the County seeking a refund of property taxes paid on a life estate which the taxpayer had received in the house of her sister, Esther, when Esther died and her revocable trust became non-revocable. Pursuant to the terms of the trust, Lorraine received a present interest life estate in the house, with a future interest remainder to other relatives to vest upon Lorraine's death. The County reassessed the property for tax purposes as of the date of Esther's death, resulting in raising the annual property tax on the house by 500%!

The taxpayer asserted that the transfer of the life estate interest did not constitute a "change in ownership" for tax assessment purposes under Proposition 13, pursuant to Rev. & Taxation Code § 60, et seq., which were enacted to provide a statutory definition for the term "change in ownership" which was used, but not defined, in Proposition 13. The County filed a demurrer which the trial court sustained, dismissing the action. The taxpayer appealed. On appeal before the Court of Appeal, Steinhart v. County of Los Angeles (2007) 155 CA4th1082, a unanimous three-Justice panel reversed the judgment per a published opinion authored by Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, the Presiding Justice of Division 3. Amongst her many achievements and contributions to society, Justice Klein was the co-founder with Justice Vaino Spencer of the National Association of Women Judges, and its first president. The opinion held that: (1) as to the contention that Steinhart had failed to exhaust administrative remedies within the County, administrative review of the County's denial of the taxpayer's request for a refund would have been futile, such that the taxpayer was not required to exhaust administrative remedies, because the County (which would have been both the judge and defendant in the administrative proceeding) demonstrated by its vigorous opposition to plaintiff in the trial and appellate courts, that it simply did not agree with the taxpayer's position on the "change in ownership" issue and thus would have ruled against her; and (2) conveyance of a life estate to a taxpayer was not the transfer of a present interest that was substantially equal to the value of the fee interest so as to satisfy the third prong of the statutory test for a "change in ownership."

Because substantial statewide county tax revenues were at stake if the court ruled in favor of the taxpayer on the subject issue, the California State Association of Counties, in which all 58 counties are enrolled, filed an amicus brief and obtained permission for their own counsel to participate in the oral argument. Various other amicus briefs were also filed, including one by the three-member majority of the State Board of Equalization (the State agency that administers the property tax regulations), which was in favor of the County of Los Angeles, and an amicus brief by the two-member minority of the State Board of Equalization, which was in favor of the taxpayer. This was a highly public, hotly-contested case, to say the least!

The California Supreme Court granted a petition for review filed by the County of Los Angeles. Multiple amicus briefs were filed in that venue as well, and counsel for the California State Association of Counties was permitted to participate in oral argument before the Supreme Court. After the matter was fully briefed before the Court, it took a year and a half to set oral argument. The Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the County, holding that: (1) the taxpayer had failed to exhaust administrative remedies, ruling that the futility exception to the administrative exhaustion requirement did not apply; (2) that although in the County's letter giving notice to the taxpayer that it had denied her claim for refund, the taxpayer was advised that she had six months in which to commence a Superior Court action to review the administrative action, and mentioned nothing about further administrative review, those statements did not constitute an estoppel against the County; and (3) the transfer of a life estate upon the death of the trustor of a living trust constituted a "change in ownership" for tax assessment purposes.

Rev.& Tax. Code § 60 provides: "A 'change in ownership' means transfer of a [1] present interest in property, including the [2] beneficial use thereof, [3] the value of which is substantial equal to the value of the fee interest." (Emphasis added). Present and future interests in real property relate to when the right to possession of the property vests. A present interest vests immediately in the present. A future interest vests in the future. Beneficial use refers to the right to possess and use the property, as differentiated from the interest of a trustee, which holds legal title for the beneficial use of another.

On appeal, Steinhart conceded that the transfer of a life estate to her in Esther's house satisfied the first two criteria of section 60: the life estate constituted a present interest; and that as beneficiary of the trust, Steinhart received the beneficial use. The sole "change in ownership" issue disputed in the briefs of the parties was whether the value of the transferred present life estate interest was substantially equal to the value of the fee interest. Steinhart relied on dictum in a prior California Supreme Court case, Pacific Southwest Realty Co. v. County of Los Angeles (1991) 1 C4th 155, 164, that observed that when a property owner reserves a life estate in himself and transfers a remainder interest to a third party, the third prong substantial equivalency criteria is not satisfied because neither of the divided interests in the property (life estate nor remainder) would approach the value of the fee interest, because: 1) a life estate is of questionable value because it is an ephemeral estate subject to complete defeasance at an unknown time, and rare is the lender that will loan on the security of a life estate; and 2) the value of the remainder would also be reduced because its time of vesting would be uncertain, and depending on the provisions of the instrument of conveyance, there could be intervening conveyances, creditor's demands, etc. The Court of Appeal adopted Steinhart's argument, finding the Pacific Southwest dictum to be logically persuasive.

The fascinating aspect of the Supreme Court's opinion is that without disapproving the logic of its aforesaid analysis in Pacific Southwest, it departed from that analysis by making a novel interpretation of Rev. & Tax. Code § 60 that violates its clear language and was not discussed in the briefs of the parties, nor mentioned during oral argument. The Court held that Steinhart's comparison of the value of the transferred present interest life estate to the value of the fee interest was incorrect, because when Esther's trust became non-revocable at her death, the entire interest in the house was transferred [albeit split between a present interest life estate and a future interest remainder]; and the proper comparison of value was as between 1) the combined value of the life estate and remainder, on the one hand, and 2) the value of the fee, on the other. It then curiously concluded, without analysis, that those two values were obviously substantially equal.

Criticism of Court's Opinion
Terran has substantial criticism of the Court's holding regarding the exhaustion of administrative remedy issue. However, he will refer the reader to his brief and petition for rehearing before the Supreme Court on that issue, both of which are available in the Compendium. Terran is taking this tack because the Proposition 13 issue is the issue of moment in the case, and also because the County asked the Court to decide the Proposition 13 issue regardless of its ruling on the exhaustion of administrative remedy issue. As a necessary predicate, it is important to know that it was not disputed by the parties nor the Supreme Court that "value" in Section 60 means market value. In the interpretation of the meaning of the third prong/value equivalency criteria of Rev. & Tax. Code § 60, one must ascertain to what antecedent the phrase "the value of which" refers: "A 'change in ownership' means [1] transfer of a [2] present interest in property, including the [3] beneficial use thereof, [4] the value of which is substantially equal to the value of the [5] fee interest." (Emphasis added). Steinhart contended that the antecedent of "the value of which" is "present interest." The Supreme Court held that the antecedent is "transfer." A third possibility would be that the antecedent is "beneficial use," which neither the Court nor Steinhart contended, so we will remove it from practical consideration.

Using Steinhart's antecedent, section 60 would read:
"A 'change in ownership' means transfer of a present interest in property, including the beneficial use thereof, the value of which [present interest] is substantially equal to the value of the fee interest." Using the Court's antecedent, section 60 would read: "A 'change in ownership' means transfer of a present interest in property, including the beneficial use thereof, the value of which [transfer] is substantially equal to the value of the fee interest."

The Court in Steinhart conceded that Steinhart's proposed interpretation was linguistically possible. That was an obvious concession since that was the interpretation adopted by respondent County of Los Angeles, the unanimous Court of Appeal opinion in Steinhart v. Los Angeles County (2007) 154 CA4th 1082, and even the contrary Court of Appeal opinion in Leckie v. County of Orange (1998) 65 CA4th 334, 339. The only dispute between the County and taxpayer joined on appeal was whether the value of the present interest life estate was substantially equal to the value of the fee. The County contended it was substantially equal, and the taxpayer contended it was not.

Respectfully, the interpretation adopted by the Supreme Court is not linguistically possible. As used in section 60, "interest in property" is a noun, modified by the adjective "present." "Transfer" is either a verb ("to cause to pass from one person to another"), or a noun ("an act of transferring" or "the fact of being transferred"). It is plausible that the antecedent of "the value of which" would be the noun, "present interest," because it is being compared to the value of the noun "fee interest". The market value of a "present interest"(other than a fee) in property can be measured, as can the market value of a "fee interest" interest in property, and those two values can be compared to determine if they are substantially equal.

However, it is not plausible that the antecedent of "the value of which" is "transfer," because:
1) if "transfer" is used as a verb, one cannot compare the market value of a verb to that of a noun; and 2) if "transfer" is used as a noun ("an act of transferring" or "the fact of being transferred"), that genre of noun does not have a measurable market value.
Clearly, in using the verbiage drafted into Section 60, the Legislature denoted that the value of the transferred "present interest" was to be compared to the value of the "fee interest." The Legislature denoted comparing interest with interest, not interest with transfer.

Even assuming, purely for the sake of argument, that section 60 provides that the value of the fee interest in the property is to be compared to the combined values of all present and future interests simultaneously transferred, it is incorrect, as the Steinhart Court concluded, without analysis, that the combined values of those two interests are obviously substantially equal to the value of the fee interest. Assume in alternative #1: A transfers his entire fee interest in Blackacre with a life estate to B and a remainder to C. Assume in alternative #2: A maintains ownership of his fee interest in Blackacre. Assume that D wants to purchase the entire fee interest in Blackacre in each alternative.

Rhetorically, if (in alternative #2) A owned the fee and decided to sell to D, would that price be the same as the combined price for which D could buy the respective interests of B and C (in alternative #1) if B owned the life estate interest and C owned the remainder interest? According to the Supreme Court's persuasive market analysis in Pacific Southwest, discussed above, D could negotiate a much lower combined price in alternative #1 by negotiating separately with B and C, than the price D could negotiate in alternative #2, negotiating with A as the sole fee owner. This is because of the uncertainty of when B's present interest life estate will terminate, and conversely, the uncertainty of when D's future interest remainder will become a present interest. Because of such uncertainty, in negotiating separately with D, B and C would necessarily have to discount their respective sales prices. According to Pacific Southwest, in all probability the combined prices at which B and C would sell to D would not be substantially equal the price at which A would sell his fee interest to D. Market value is, of course, the price at which a willing buyer and seller will transact the sale of a piece of property. Therefore, the Court in Steinhart, which cited the analysis in Pacific Southwest without criticism, was demonstrably incorrect in concluding, without analysis, that the combined value of the life estate and remainder interests would obviously be substantially equal to the value of the fee interest.

As noted above, the Court's interpretation in Steinhart was a novel interpretation that had not been discussed in the briefs of the parties. Government Code § 68081 provides that if an appellate court renders a decision based upon an issue which was not proposed or briefed by any party, the court must afford the parties an opportunity to present their views on the matter through supplemental briefing; and if the court fails to afford the opportunity, a rehearing "shall be ordered" upon timely petition of any party. Steinhart timely file a petition for rehearing on this ground, which the Court summarily denied.

One can only speculate as to what prompted the Supreme Court to issue a unanimous opinion in favor of the County of Los Angeles (and in favor of all other California counties) on a linguistically-strained, novel interpretation of the applicable statute, and then refuse to afford the taxpayer an opportunity to respond to that interpretation by granting a rehearing. Respectfully, this was a denial of the fundamental due process right of a party to receive notice of the allegations against his interests, and be given a fair opportunity to respond to those allegations. Perhaps the specter of 58 insolvency-challenged counties up and down the State of California during troubled economic times was an influence . . . .

Binding or Nonbinding?
Glaser, Weil, etc. v. Goff (2011) 194 CA4th 423 involves the issue of the scope of judicial review of an arbitrator's decision on whether or not the parties agreed in writing to binding arbitration. The Goffs retained the law firm of Christensen, Weil, etc., now Glaser, Weil, etc. ("Firm") to represent them in an arbitration in regard to a contractual dispute between the Goffs and famous artist Thomas Kinkade. During the Goff - Kinkade arbitration proceeding, the Goffs ran out of money, so they and the Firm entered into a written modification of their fee agreement that modified the terms of payment. A dispute arose as to the correct interpretation of the modification agreement, as to whether it obligated the Goffs to pay the balance immediately, or whether it provided that they were only obligated to pay the balance out of a percentage of the proceeds they hoped to recognize in the future from their commercial exploitation of certain Kinkade art property rights that the Goffs owned.

In response to the Firm's filing a lawsuit to collect $650,000 in fees, the Goffs commenced a fee dispute arbitration under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, offering in their petition for arbitration to proceed by binding arbitration. In the Firm's response, the Firm rejected the binding arbitration offer. After the arbitration panel was appointed, the Firm notified the arbitration panel that it would agree to proceed by binding arbitration. By that juncture, the Goffs had decided that they did not want to proceed by binding arbitration and so notified the arbitration panel. Pursuant to the Bar Association arbitration rules, the arbitration panel had jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction, and an arbitration would be nonbinding unless both the attorney and client agreed in writing to binding arbitration. The arbitration panel determined that the parties had agreed in writing to binding arbitration, ruling that although the Firm had originally rejected the Goff's written offer for binding arbitration, it later accepted that offer in writing, thereby forming a written contract for binding arbitration between the parties.

After the evidentiary arbitration hearing on the merits of the fee dispute, the arbitration panel issued a binding award in favor of the Firm. The Firm filed a petition to confirm the award, and the Goffs filed a response seeking to vacate the award on the ground that the arbitration panel exceeded its jurisdiction in ruling that the parties had agreed in writing to binding arbitration.

The trial court entered judgment for the Firm confirming the arbitration award in the amount of $838,000 (including accrued interest and attorney fees). The Court of Appeal issued a published opinion in favor of the Goffs, holding that even if an arbitrator has power to determine whether or not the parties agreed to binding arbitration, his ruling on that issue is independently reviewable by the court since it constitutes a fundamental, structural aspect of the arbitration, as differentiated from an arbitrator's ruling on factual or legal issues involved in deciding the merits of the arbitrated dispute, which rulings are not independently reviewable by the court. The Court then held that the when the Firm initially rejected the Goffs written offer for binding arbitration, pursuant to hornbook contract law, the Goff's offer was canceled, such that the Firm could not thereafter accept the offer; therefore, the parties had not formed an agreement in writing to binding arbitration.

This case is intriguing for several reasons: 1) its holding will have broad affect because of the popularity of arbitration, and the fact that attorney-client fee dispute arbitrations are mandatory on the attorney at the option of the client; 2) it involves an underlying dispute concerning world-famous artist, Thomas Kinkade; 3) it also involves a bad day at the office for the high profile 110-attorney law firm of Glaser, Weil, the partners of which include Robert Shapiro, one of the attorneys for O.J. Simpson in his criminal trial; and 4) it vacates an arbitration award, which is an extremely rare occurrence.

Community Contributions

  • Judge Pro Tem, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles Municipal Courts
  • Arbitrator for attorney - client fee disputes, Los Angeles County Bar Association
  • Arbitrator and mediator, Christian Conciliation Service
  • Member, Los Angeles County Bar Association
  • Delegate to California State Bar Convention Conference of Delegates, Beverly Hills Bar Association
  • Member of International Ethics Committee, Full Gospel Business Mens Fellowship International, a Christian laymen's organization
  • Co-founder, member of original Board of Directors, and original secretary of Business Mens Fellowship USA, a Christian laymen's organization
  • Co-founder, member of original Board of Directors, Vice President and Secretary, member of pro bone panel, Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles
  • Member of Board of Directors and President, Christian Legal Society of Los Angeles
  • Member of Board of Directors and Deacon, West Los Angeles Living Word Christian Center, a Bible church
  • President, Pico-Fairfax Good Neighbors Association

Compendium: Briefs & Opinions of Reversal

The following list contains information on each appeal in which Terran won a judgement of reversal on behalf of an appellant, with links to copies of the court opinions and Terran's briefs where available. Where copies of unpublished opinions are unavailable, links to copies of the disposition listing of the case on the Appellate Court website are provided.

People v. McDonald (1972) 27 CA3d 508 (criminal case; judgment of reversal)
   • Published opinion

Troy v. Village Green (1983) 149 CA3d 135 (personal injury case; judgment of reversal)
   • Published opinion, subsequently de-published per review in Supreme Court

Fran T. v. Village Green (1986) 43 C3d 490 (personal injury case; judgment of reversal)
   • Published opinion

Irene v. Gemfab B023449 - Second Appellate District, Div. 5 (1989) (business case, judgment of reversal)
   • Second District Court of Appeal, Disposition entry

Columbia v. Hot Wax (9th Cir. 1992) 966 F2d 515 (entertainment business case, judgment of reversal)
   • Published opinion

Shabashov v. Estate of Nettie Shabashov - B071221 - Second Appellate District, Div. 5 (probate case; judgment of partial reversal)
Second District Court of Appeal,Disposition entry

Wolf v. Robi - B123665 - Second Appellate District, Div. 7 (entertainment business case, judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Cross-respondent's Brief and Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Second District Court of Appeal, Disposition entry

In Re Heather B.- 2001 WL 1250145 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (juvenile case, judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Unpublished opinion

Lee v. Hospital of the Good Samaritan - 2005 WL 91256 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (personal injury case, judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Unpublished opinion

Robianes v. County of LA - 2005 WL 256361 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.)(personal injury case, judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Unpublished opinion

Yoo v Robi (2005) 126 CA4th 1089 (entertainment business case, judgment of affirmance)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Petition for Rehearing
   • Petition for Review
   • Published opinion

People v. Leal (2006) 1-05-AP-000303 (criminal case, judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Unpublished opinion

Steinhart v. County of Los Angeles (2007) 155 CA4th 1082 (tax/proposition 13 case; judgment)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Appellant's Brief in Reply to Amicus Briefs
   • Published opinion, subsequently de-published per review
     in Supreme Court

Hur v. Lee 2009 WL 2872692 (Cal.App. 2 Dist) (business case; judgment of partial reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Petition for Rehearing
   • Petition for Review
   • Unpublished opinion

Steinhart v. County of Los Angeles (2010) 47 C4th 1298 (tax/proposition 13 case; judgment of affirmance)
   • Answer Brief on the Merits
   • Petition for Rehearing
   • Published opinion

Glaser v. Goff (2011) 194 CA4th 423. (business case, arbitration; judgment of reversal)
   • Appellant's Opening Brief
   • Appellant's Reply Brief
   • Published opinion

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