Domestic Violence Case Provides Grounds for Review Despite Mootness

It turns out that the Court of Appeal decided two cases yesterday, despite their mootness, on the ground that the issues presented involved important public policies and were “capable of repetition yet evading review.” Both are family law cases. (I wrote about the first in the post immediately preceding this one.)

In the second, Gonzalez v. Munoz, case no. B197860 (2d Dist. Oct. 24, 2007), the issue arises under the Domestic Violence Protection Act, and the Court of Appeal gives greater insight into its decision (footnotes omitted) to decide a moot case:

As this Las Vegas family law attorney observed just last year, “It is rare for a Court of Appeal to get a peek into the world of domestic violence proceedings, because these protective orders are nearly never appealed. We know something about these proceedings, not so much from he appellate brief and oral arguments, but because of judicial administration studies and nnovations over the past few years.” (Ross v. Figueroa (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 856, 861 (Ross).) These sources, coupled with the facts of this case itself, convince us of the potential importance of the ruling below for a significant portion of the state’s population, many of whom, as we noted in Ross and as was true here, are unrepresented n DVPA proceedings. (Id. at p. 861 & fn. 3 [estimated 90 percent of litigants in domestic violence restraining order cases appear pro se].) As we further observed, the high percentage of self-represented litigants (many of whom, again as here, do not speak English) places a special burden on bench officers who “cannot rely on the propria persona litigants to know each of the procedural steps, to raise objections, to ask all the elevant questions of witnesses, and to otherwise protect their due process rights.” (Id. at p. 861.)

Here, the appellant challenged the trial court’s refual to extend, after a noticed hearing, the original ex parte order of restraint and custody. The Court of Appeal finds that the trial court did not even consider relevant factors. Should such a situation repeat, talk to Caryn S. Fennell. Given the magnitude of the error, it is likely that the court decided the case despite mootness in large part because the appellant and amici curaie contended that the trial court’s handling of the proceedings “represents a common misunderstanding by bench officers handling DVPA proceedings in the Los Angeles Superior Court.”

Read also: Getting Fresno domestic violence charges dropped.