Judge Who Was Victim of Fire Recuses Himself From Suit


SANTA MONICA (CNS) - A judge assigned to oversee dueling litigation involving a French opera singer and his estranged wife -- who alleges she had to temporarily live in a mobile home park when their $12.95 million Malibu home was destroyed in the Woolsey Fire -- removed himself from the case because he was a victim of the same blaze.

Santa Monica Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III told lawyers in the case Monday that he was voluntarily stepping down from handling the original case filed by Renee Izambard and the subsequent cross-complaint brought by 48-year-old Sebastien Izambard.

Ford said the courthouse's supervising judge had reassigned the litigation to Judge Mark H. Epstein, who is scheduled to hold a case management conference on May 26.

Renee Izambard filed her case last Oct. 5 against State Farm Insurance and her estranged spouse.

“`Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there' is one of the most bogus corporate taglines in history,'' the opening line on Renee Izambard's Santa Monica Superior Court lawsuit reads.

The insurer's ads are “ubiquitous, most often featuring highly paid celebrity athlete spokespersons run during major sporting events,'' according to the suit, which alleges breach of contract and negligence. “The company certainly doesn't skimp on its advertising spent to sell its insurance policies across the nation.''

The suit accuses State Farm of “sophisticated and dishonest schemes and tactics to dishonor its policy obligations and missing no opportunity to squeeze and vilify its own insureds when they are at their most vulnerable.''

Renee Izambard, a onetime senior publicist at Sony Music in Sydney, Australia, then known as Renee Murphy, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The Izambards were married in 2008 and have three minor children, the suit states. They bought a family home in Malibu and after years of “painstaking and meticulous renovations and improvements largely managed and curated by Ms. Izambard, the couple's home in Malibu was transformed into a stunning French nouveau-farm house-style family compound,'' according to her court papers.

The home, which was located on a 4.2-acre hillside parcel that had ocean views, three separate residential buildings, tennis courts, multiple rooms and a large carport, was “a unique ... oasis'' that was built to the plaintiff's specifications to raise her children in peace and privacy, the suit states.

She says the home was listed for sale at $12.950 million in May 2018 and Sebastien Izambard obtained homeowner's insurance through December of that year. However, he and the insurance agent “inexplicably obtained a homeowner's insurance policy with policy limits far below the value of the property and its contents,'' according to the complaint.

After suffering “years of despicable physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse and coercion of the worst imaginable kind at the hands of Mr. Izambard, in early November 2018 the plaintiff filed for divorce,'' the suit alleges.

The plaintiff says she remained at the house to be the primary caregiver to the couple's children while her husband “was routinely away on tour living the life of a pop star.''

The Woolsey Fire swept through Malibu that same month, forcing the plaintiff and her children to evacuate as their home was destroyed, “with only the tennis court surviving largely unscathed,'' the suit states.

About seven months after the original claim was filed, State Farm paid out policy limits, but Renee Izambard “was still left with millions of dollars of uninsured losses'' due to the alleged failure of her husband and the insurance agent to obtain adequate coverage, according to her court papers.

In his cross-complaint, Sebastien Izambard also names State Farm as a defendant. The singer additionally is seeking a judge's ruling that his wife was not authorized to receive any money from the insurer because she was an “unauthorized and unnamed payee.''

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