Archive for Attorneys

California Holds Facebook Rants In Custody Case Are ‘Free Speech’

facebook angerIt has been a long standing belief in family law: parents should not subject their kids to rants about a custody battle.

Judges have long constrained speech that would unnecessarily expose kids to the nastiness and details of the battle over who gets custody of the children between their  parents.

However, a new case issued by California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) seems to set a new boundary around what kind of speech the court can constrain.  It is particularly interesting given the new era of social media communication we live with today.

The case is Molinaro v. Molinaro 19 DJDAR 2709 (2-26-19) (DCA 2), certified for publication on March 28, 2019.

In this matter, a rather nasty Mr. Molinaro earned the privilege of receiving a domestic violence restraining order under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA).  The list of his hideous behavior included blocking his wife’s car in the driveway, threatening to throw a chair through the window if she didn’t unlock the door, and threatening to euthanize the dog.  A real charmer.

Mr. Molinaro also endeared himself to the court by arguing with the judge, calling him ‘insane.’  He was so hostile at court, bailiffs had to repeatedly admonish him to calm down.

Mr. Molinaro posting rants about his ‘unfair’ treatment in the case on his Facebook page. Among other things, he posted “about the divorce, about everything that’s happening.” His soon to be ex-wife testified he “posted to Facebook that [she] stole $250,000 from [their] home equity line, that [she] used it all and ran away with it.”  She testified, “He says that I am crazy and having hallucinations.”

Court orders parties not to post on Facebook about their case

To protect the children from being exposed to their father’s Facebook rants about the case, the trial court ordered “Neither party is to discuss any aspect of the case with the minor children until further order of the court-including Facebook posting [about the] subject case matter.”

Granting the wife’s application for a restraining order, the court ordered her then-husband not “to post anything on Facebook … in regards to this action … ”  In an attachment to the restraining order, the court ordered the parties “not to post anything about the case on Facebook” and “not to discuss the case with the children.”

Mr. Molinaro appealed the trial court’s order.

Facebook posts considered to be “free speech” per the court ruling

The appellate court upheld all of the provisions of the restraining order, except for the restraint on Facebook posting, finding it to be an overbroad and impermissible infringement on free speech.

The court held:

“Although we have found the evidence sufficient to support the court’s issuance of a domestic violence restraining order, we conclude the part of the order prohibiting Michael from posting ‘anything about the case on Facebook’ is overbroad and impermissibly infringes upon his constitutionally protected right of free speech.”

The court further argued:

“’It is certainly in the best interests of the children of divorce that adults in their lives act in a mature and courteous manner’ [citation]; however, where a restraint on the freedom of speech is concerned, the restriction must be necessary and narrowly tailored to promoting those interests.  The part of the restraining order prohibiting Michael from posting about the case on Facebook does not meet this test.  We conclude it is overbroad, constituting an invalid prior restraint, and must be stricken from the domestic violence restraining order.”

So, to sum it up, Mr. Molinaro is still a jerk.  But he can talk about it on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Don’t be a pig! Gender bias against a judge will not be tolerated

Cartoon sad pig lawyer animal character in grey costume isolated in white background.

In case you were unsure, it’s probably not a good idea to call your judge a succubus.

succubus

Mythological Female Demon Succubus

An interesting case came down from the California Court of Appeal Fourth Appellate District.  It should serve as a warning to any attorney practicing in California.  The underlying case had to do with an appeal of a trial court’s order relating to an employment dispute.  The case is Martinez v. O’Hara, No. G054840 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th. App. Dist. Feb 28, 2019).   The portion of the opinion of most interest to family law attorneys is the section regarding attorney misconduct.

The lesson?  Don’t include gender bias against a judicial officer in your pleadings.

Any manifestation of gender bias on the part of an attorney is misconduct and can get that attorney reported to the bar for discipline.

It’s unusual for me to learn new vocabulary words when I read an appellate opinion.  In this case, the plaintiff’s lawyer used some strange words.  Perhaps it’s time to pull out a dictionary.succubus word in a dictionary. succubus concept.

Apparently, the Notice of Appeal signed by the plaintiff’s attorney contained the obscure word, “succubustic.”  The Court of Appeal provided the definition of “succubus.”  It’s defined as a “demon assuming female form which has sexual intercourse with men in their sleep.” Nice.

Said the Court, “We publish this portion of the opinion to make the point that gender bias by an attorney appearing before us will not be tolerated, period.”  To illustrate their point, the Appellate court reported the offending lawyer to the State Bar.

The Court zeroed in on the following passage in the notice of appeal as particularly offensive:

“Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1 et seq., Plaintiff Fernando Martinez hereby appeals from the lower court’s disgraceful order dated November 30, 2016, as incorporated into a reported judgment dated Febryary 21, 2017, and [as] such, technically appeals from that judgment.  The ruling’s succubustic adoption of the defense position, and resulting validation of the defendant’s pseudohermaphroditic misconduct, prompt one to reverse peristalsis unto its four corners.”

[Emphasis added.]

Pomposity in legal writing is not particularly persuasive

Aside from being horribly written, this statement is just stupid. I wonder if counsel even knew what the words “succubustic” or “pseudohermaphroditic” mean. Surely, attorneys ought to know the exact meanings of their big words. Not only did this passage offend the sensibilities of the Court as a demonstration of bias, prejudice or harassment based on gender, but it is simply bad writing.

The court also found that statements in plaintiff’s briefs accusing the “trial court of intentionally refusing to follow the law” and suggesting that the “trial court tried to prevent plaintiff from receiving notice of the signed judgment in an effort to thwart appellate review” were made without any support in the record. As such, these statements also constituted reportable misconduct.

The appellate court aptly wrote in conclusion,

“We further note that many of the words and phrases in the notice of appeal have no place in a court filing.  We cannot understand why plaintiff’s counsel thought it wise, much less persuasive, to include the words ‘disgraceful,’ ‘pseudohermaphroditic misconduct,’ or ‘reverse peristalsis’ in the notice of appeal.”

The moral of the story? Don’t be a sexist pig

Be careful what you write in your briefs. Insult a judge at your peril. If your pleadings contain words demonstrating gender bias against a judicial officer, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a State Bar ethical complaint.

Read also:

New Case – Watch out if asking question in a deposition about a custody evaluation

San Diego City Council Honors Jennifer Lee and Pan Asian Lawyers

Jennifer Lee, associate attorney with Weber Dispute Resolution, joined her colleagues from the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego (PALSD) at the San Diego City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 15. San Diego City Councilmember Chris Cate presented the group’s representatives with a proclamation declaring May 2018 as ‘Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

Lee is currently serving on the Board of Directors of PALSD as treasurer.

View video from the presentation here.

Jennifer Lee receives congratulations from San Diego City Councilmember Chris Cate.

Jennifer Lee receives congratulations from San Diego City Councilmember Chris Cate.

Jennifer Lee has been a part of the Weber Dispute Resolution team since October 2015. She practices the “Dolphin Lawyering” philosophy. Jennifer strives to help clients reach a settlement out of court, but she is a capable litigator when necessary. She specializes in providing clients with the practical knowledge they need to make the right decisions for their family.

Jennifer understands every family is unique, using her skills to reach creative solutions and provide pragmatic representation for her clients. She brings patience, kindness, reason, and humility to every interaction. As a result, clients can trust they will be seen, heard, understood, and supported.

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Jennifer speaks Mandarin Chinese and in addition to her role with the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego, she is an active member of the San Diego County Bar Association, San Diego Family Law Bar Association, and San Diego Chinese Attorneys Association.

 

Early intervention: Why mediation early in a family law case can save a fortune in fees and stress.

high conflict divorce litigation, family court scene, divorcing couple at a settlement conference

As a certified family law specialist (CLS-F)[i], I have been involved in divorce mediation and alternate dispute resolution (ADR) for more than 15 years.  I regularly serve as a pro tem settlement judge on the Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) Panel with the San Diego County Superior Court.  While I enjoy helping folks through their MSCs, the help is simply too little too late for many people.  Often preparation for the MSC is nearly as stressful and costly as preparing for the trial.  In addition, lawyers need to certify that discovery is complete and prepare elaborate briefs.  Waiting until the very end of a case to attempt mediation does the parties and the professionals a great disservice.  I see this in the pained and stressed-out expressions on parties and counsel at the MSCs I facilitate.

There are many options at the beginning of the case to settle issues, manage discovery concerns and resolve unnecessary conflict.  Even (and especially) high conflict cases can benefit from earlier intervention with a mediator to short circuit the conflict.  Attorneys benefit from early mediation because it helps them settle the cases that can settle.  That frees them up to focus on trials for cases that won’t settle.

Here are some ideas for how you can engage the ADR services of a mediator early in your family law case:

Meet and Confer on Steroids.

Every family law attorney is aware of the requirement for the “meet and confer” conference. Too often it’s simply given lip service by a short phone call to opposing counsel without discussing the issues.  Because lawyers sometimes give less attention to what needs to happen to settle, the case stalls.  Why not have a facilitated meet and confer settlement conference to identify the issues and formulate a plan for a swift conclusion?

Discovery Management.

Often the most expensive part of a case is the discovery, which involves elaborate and arcane procedures to gather as much evidence as possible. Sometimes this is whether the case needs the information or not.  The adversarial process spurs less and not more cooperation in discovery.  This can lead to months or even years of discovery wars.  Why not use a mediator to help “referee” the discovery? Most discovery can be provided informally with much less cost.  A mediator can help facilitate the discovery process to specifically target discovery needs and conclude the case with much less rancor and headache for the lawyers and cost to the parties.

Managing the High Conflict Case.

There is a common misconception that people cannot mediate high conflict cases.  That’s simply not true.  Most high conflict behavior in divorce cases is based on fear and hurt.  So, engaging a good mediator early in the process reduces conflict by managing the fight-or-flight response.  Court tends to exacerbate and actually encourage high conflict pathologies.  Rather than encouraging discord with a fight at court, consider short-circuiting conflict with a mediator experienced in high conflict.  Consequently, if parties learn early how to interact productively, it makes the rest of the case go more smoothly.

Use Early Mediation to Resolve Interim Issues.

The terribly backlogged Family Courts sometimes take months to hear even the most routine (and sometimes pressing) interim motions.   I can usually help as a mediator to resolve interim questions like support and custody in a fraction of the time and cost compared to filing a Request for Order.  Because a mediated settlement conference efficiently resolves interim issues, the parties can relax a little more and focus on concluding the case rather than reacting to interim problems.

Consider a Court-Ordered Family Resolution Plan and Use of ADR  Pursuant to Family Code Section 2451.

One little-known provision of the Family Code involves the use of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) as part of a court-ordered family centered case resolution plan as described in Family Code section 2451California Rule of Court 5.83 describes how the plan can be implemented.  Parties can appoint a case manager as part of the plan and can also apply Code of Civil Procedure section 639 to appoint the case manager as a discovery referee.  Further, Family Code section 2451(a)(3) gives protection to attorneys who follow any discovery plans adopted as part of a court-ordered family resolution plan as follows:

“Limitations on discovery, including temporary suspension pending exploration of settlement. There is a rebuttable presumption that an attorney who carries out discovery as provided in a family centered case resolution plan has fulfilled his or her duty of care to the client as to the existence of community property.”

I have used this procedure to great effect.  It can do a lot to reduce costs and keep the case moving quickly towards settlement.

 

Let Us Move Your Case Past Stuck.

ADR mediation conflict resolution skillsBecause there are many ADR options beyond an end-of-case settlement conference where a mediator can make a huge difference, the key is to start early.  At Weber Dispute Resolution, we have the training, skills, and experience to get your family law case past stuck.  That’s because our approach serves to support existing relationships with legal counsel and will not waste family wealth by exacerbating family conflict.  Experience first-hand the difference a dolphin lawyer can make.

 

Want to get your case past stuck?
Consider a mediated
Settlement Conference with
Weber Dispute Resolution.
Call us at 858-410-0144
to start settling your case.

 

[i] Certified Specialist – Family Law, The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.

 

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce

miserable divorce

Looking for a miserable divorce?  Here’s how!

Under the best of circumstances, a divorce can be an awful experience.  But there are some things you can do right now to make sure that you have a completely horrible, miserable divorce.  Here are some tips:

1.  Hire the cheapest attorney.

You get what you pay for and an attorney can be the difference in having a good divorce or a miserable divorce.  So by all means, hire the cheapest attorney in the phone book.

2.  Find a shark to represent you.

Make sure that you find the toughest and meanest attorney you can find.  Make sure she is very expensive.  Look for the largest ad in the phone book and find the picture of the attorney with the angriest face.  This is a sure way to increase the conflict in your divorce and make things completely awful.  A shark attorney will do a good job of running up the clock and the billable hours, but generally won’t care about you at all.  The shark will unnecessarily increase the conflict so that he can increase his billable hours.  What little relationship you have left with your soon to be ex will be out the window and you will have years of anger and hatred to look forward to.  When the case is over, you will probably have to declare bankruptcy because the definition of victory for a shark is that you have $2, your spouse gets $1 and the lawyers get the rest.  Best of all, you will spend your kids’ college funds and probably put your lawyer’s kids through school instead.

3. Whatever you do, don’t get a therapist.

You don’t want a therapist to help you with the emotional turmoil you are experiencing now.  You want to be plagued by depression, anger, guilt, and anxiety.  A therapist can help with all of those things, so to truly have a miserable divorce, you want to avoid any mental health professional.  Try to deal with it yourself and let your emotions blossom into a full blown temporary psychosis.

4. Use your children as pawns.

One important key to having a miserable divorce is to destroy your kids in the process.  Studies have shown that the conflict of divorce does more to harm kids than the divorce itself.  So go out of your way to increase the conflict between you and your ex.  Make sure that the kids are in the middle of the conflict.  Use them as messengers for adult business.  Tell them about how horrible your ex is.  Make sure that you fight for every minute with your kids that you can.  Be sure to have a lot of shouting and swearing when you exchange the kids.  That’s a sure way to make sure that your children grow up to have depression, relationship problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders and drug addictions.  Best of all, your children will grow to resent you, which would truly make for a miserable divorce.

5. Demand justice.

There is no such thing as justice in Family Court.  That’s why to have a miserable divorce you should demand it!  It’s a sure way to spend a lot of time, money and energy only to be disappointed.  Don’t compromise unless it meets your perfect definition of justice and fairness.  Because your spouse probably has a different opinion of what “fair” means, this technique is particularly effective at disappointing you.

These are my top five.  Do you have any others?  Comment below and share with me your tips for a miserable divorce.

See Also:

Forgiveness During Divorce: https://weberdisputeresolution.com/forgiveness-during-divorce/

How much does it cost to go to divorce mediation? https://weberdisputeresolution.com/divorce-mediation-cost/

Mediating Your Divorce When the Other Party Is a Bully

San Diego Divorce Mediation when the other party is a bully, Shawn Weber

I will often receive a call from a potential client interested in a San Diego divorce mediation, but who is a little apprehensive because their spouse has had a history of coercion, manipulation and bullying.  The question then arises as to whether mediation is really the appropriate venue to resolve the case.  Many of my peers may disagree with me, but a good mediator can successfully resolve almost any case.  Here are some points to consider for a successful divorce mediation when your spouse is a bully:

Check to make sure you have a well-trained mediator.

Mediating a case where there is a history of coercion or manipulation is advanced work and not for the faint of heart.  You need to make sure that your mediator has the skill, background and personality to ensure a level playing field.  It may be a good idea to bring up your concerns in a  caucus session so that the mediator is aware.

Make sure you consult with an attorney.

Mediation is actually without risk because the mediator makes no decisions in your case.  She can only help facilitate the discussion.  Nothing becomes binding until you sign the marital settlement agreement.  You would be wise, however, to work with advising counsel throughout the mediation process.  Come to mediation sessions armed with knowledge of your rights and what the law may or may not provide.  Under no circumstances should you ever feel pressure to sign any documents without first having had the opportunity to review it with your attorney.  If you continue to feel uncomfortable, you may want your attorney to attend mediation with you.

Consider hiring a divorce coach or a therapist.

You need to bring your best self to the mediation sessions.  To avoid falling into the same old patterns where you may have been manipulated or coerced in the past, it is wise to meet with a mental health professional knowledgable in divorce issues to prepare you for the sessions so that you can avoid getting your buttons pushed.  You can find divorce coaches by looking up your local Collaborative Practice group.  In San Diego, you can go here: http://www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com.

Demand Full Financial Disclosure.

In successful mediation, disclosure is essential.  Make no decisions without having had the opportunity to thoroughly review all material financial information.  A financial disclosure should also include back-up statements and documents.  Like in the cold war, it’s “Trust but Verify.”  You may consider having a financial professional such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) review the disclosures to uncover any “red flags” deserving additional investigation.

Stand Your Ground.

Bullies often bluster and threaten.  More often than not, the threats are empty.  If you prepare yourself, you need not be intimidated.  Often times, abusive relationship involve a sort of abuse dance.  You don’t have to dance anymore.  You are getting divorced.  You are intelligent.  You are certainly not stupid.  Stand on your own two feet and rely on your support system to be strong.

If there is physical intimate partner violence, think twice.

It is one thing to be a bit of a blowhard and a verbal bully.  It’s entirely different when the situation involved physical violence.  Do not trifle with domestic violence.  If that is happening, mediation is very difficult.  However, even in such situations, mediation can be appropriate with safeguards in place.  For instance, you can be in separate rooms at all times or you can demand anger management counseling.  In any case, make sure you have trained professionals who know what they are doing.  If for one moment, you do not feel safe, you can withdraw.  However, as a general rule, physical intimate partner violence presents a huge red flag.

San Diego Divorce Mediation, San Diego Divorce Mediator, San Diego Divorce Mediation, Solana Beach, Shawn Weber, San Diego Divorce Attorney