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Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals Appointed Associate Justice To Court Of Appeal. Landmark Medical Workers' Compensation Fraud Case To Be Transferred Tomorrow Morning To A New Judge.
By Lonce Lamonte - January 11, 2018

The Honorable Thomas M. Goethals, Orange County Superior Court judge, who has been presiding over the Landmark Medical workers’ compensation fraud case since 2014, its inception, will be leaving the Superior Court and moving to his new bench as associate justice, Division Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana.  This move is a positive gain for the Court of Appeal, but a definite loss to the Landmark case, as Goethals has learned the case well in over three years.  Starting over with a new judge will be a set-back for all the players involved.

The Landmark case will be heard in Goethals court room, C-45, for the last time tomorrow morning.  Good-byes will be expressed and the case will be assigned to a new judge.

Judge Goethals lost a ruling on an appeal filed by Landmark CEO, Kareem Ahmed’s, attorney Benjamin Gluck.  Goethals had overruled Gluck’s demurrer in late 2015, so Gluck filed a Writ which was decided in his favor on March 10th 2016.  Goethals was an exceptionally good sport about it, even smiling in court when it was brought up later.

Judge Goethals had ruled against Gluck on his demurrer attacking the Indictment pleading because of the way the evidence was presented to the grand jury, and consequently, the way the Indictment was pled.  Goethals repeated his favorite line during that time in late 2015, “California is very forgiving,” but Gluck was not forgiving.  He was ruthless.  He won on the Writ and, consequently, all the counts were dropped against all defendants with the exception of the counts against former Landmark Vice-President Bruce Curnick.  Henceforth, Bruce Curnick is the only defendant left in the Indictment.  All the other defendants have been recharged via Complaints, while new defendants were charged while the prosecution was at it.

Kara Langham (formerly Curnick) wrote to this writer on January 6th and 7th, wondering about her ex-husband, Bruce Curnick; whether he’s dead or alive, incarcerated or out of jail on bond, and what’s happening with his case, “He is dangerous,” she wrote.   “I pray someone will finally put this lifelong criminal behind bars for good so he is not able to hurt anyone else ever!  The fact that he is not behind bars is earth shattering to me and my sons.”  Kara is the mother of two of Bruck Curnick’s three sons. 

Judge Goethals presided over the pre-trial and the trial of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass murderer in Orange County history.  On October 12, 2011, Dekraai stormed into the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach on Pacific Coast Highway and shot and killed seven people, including his ex-wife Michelle Fournier.  He minutes afterwards shot a man who was simply sitting in his car in the parking lot as he left the blood-soaked scene.

Goethals presided over the recusal of the Orange County District Attorney’s office, a ruling he made because of their bungling of evidence and misuse of informants in the jail.  This so called “snitch scandal” rocked the Orange County community.  The California Attorney General’s office, the office of Javier Becerra, took over the case in 2015.  Although the AG's office condoned the death penalty for Dekraai, Goethals refused it because of what he cited as the rule of law. He explained he took the death penalty off the table because of what he ruled as a failure of due process stemming from prosecutorial misconduct. 

At Scott Dekraai’s September 22, 2017 sentencing, friends and family of victims spoke out in court with praise for Judge Goethals.

Paul Caouette, son of the man who was shot in his car, said to Goethals, “I wasn’t going to speak, but I wanted to get up and thank you.  I think you have done a great job.  I think you made the right decision.”

Paul Wilson, the husband of victim Christie Wilson who was his wife for 26 years, said:  “Judge Goethals… I want to thank you for always allowing me to speak and giving me the opportunity to represent Christie. You have presided over this trial with fairness and compassion.  And I feel you always looked at the true facts regardless of public opinion."

Hattie Stretz, who was the only victim shot inside the salon who survived her wounds, said:  “I want to thank you, Judge Goethals, for not only hearing us with your ears, but hearing us with your heart.”

Judge Goethals thanked the speakers, who all spoke according to their rights under Marcy’s law, and then he spoke to Scott Dekraai directly:

 “I have never, in my 15 years as a judge or the 25 years before that that I was a lawyer, encountered crimes or investigative conduct like I have seen here. I want you to know, Mr. Dekraai, before I sentence you this morning that all the hearings in your case and all the rulings I have made have afforded me absolutely no joy.  Quite the contrary.

 “As you undoubtedly know, I was a homicide prosecutor myself for many years before I left the District Attorney's office and went into private practice. I prosecuted capital cases. Three men I prosecuted currently sit on death row.

“People who have not heard all of the evidence that I have heard over the past many years might conclude that for some reason I made the many rulings I have made to benefit you. And, frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. What I said in this courtroom about a month ago now about you and your violent criminal conduct is exactly what I believe.  On October 12th, 2011, for some reason none of us here today will ever understand, the gates of Hell flew open and you emerged as the face of evil in this community. You then inflicted more violence of the people of Seal Beach and all these families than anyone else has ever inflicted in the entire history of Orange County.”

Judge Goethals' presence and force in Orange County Superior Court will be profoundly missed.  His eloquence in finding the right words in addressing an egregious criminal may never be matched.  But fortunately, his gifts will be of benefit to the Court of Appeal. 

His departure is a blow now to the Landmark case.  Three years of his knowledge of the case are lost.  But, tomorrow morning, we shall see to which judge the Landmark case gets transferred.; Lonce Lamonte, journalist; copyright Lonce Lamonte and adjustercom; all rights reserved



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