“Octa-Mom” wins one in court

“Octa-mom” Nadya Suleman became an object of derision when, after fertility-treatment-induced birth to octuplets, people learned she was a cash-strapped single mother who already had six children at home. But it’s her adversary that comes into ridicule in Friday’s decision in Suleman v. Superior Court , case no. G042509 (4th Dist. Jan. 8, 2010).

Paul Peterson filed a petition to appoint a guardian to handle financial affairs for the octuplets. (Peterson asserted that his non-profit organization wanted to ensure that financial compensation received from photos or video of the octuplets was preserved for their majority, which explains why no guardianship was sought for the remaining children.) Suleman moved to dismiss, and petitioned for a writ of mandate after the trial court denied her motion. As unsympathetic a person as Suleman may have been in the press, Peterson looks pretty bad, too:

This is an unprecedented, meritless effort by a stranger to a family to seek appointment of a guardian of the estates of the minor children. The petition‟s allegations are insufficient to infringe on a parent‟s civil rights or to rebut the presumption under California law that a parent is competent to manage the finances of his or her children. There is nothing in the petition that shows that the best interests of the children in the management of their finances are not being served by Suleman.

I always liked the joke “It’s on the internet, so it must be true!” Peterson learns that a court petition is not the time to try to take that whimsical expression seriously:

What information do we have before us? Petersen is not a relative under section 1510, subdivision (a). Petersen has never met and never had any contact with Suleman, her children, or any member of her family. All of the information presented in the petition for appointment of a guardian has come from television or the Internet. Petersen has provided no documentary evidence (much less admissible evidence) that raises a reasonable inference of wrongdoing. The information provided can be summed up as follows: Suleman and her children have appeared on television and the Internet, presumably in exchange for money. No evidence of financial mismanagement on the part of Suleman is offered. Petersen admits he does not know whether Suleman has taken the appropriate steps to ensure that 15 percent of each child‟s portion of any earnings has been placed into a [statutorily mandated] Coogan Trust Account.

(My emphasis, footnote omitted.) Not only does Suleman get the guardianship petition dismissed, she also succeeds in stopping an investigation ordered by the trial court into her family’s finances.

The average person following this on the news probably wrote off Suleman’s chances of prevailing. Lawyers not paying close attention may also have rolled their eyes, in light of the overwhelming odds against having a writ petition heard on the merits, let alone winning. However, Suleman presented a statutory interpretation issue of first impression of great importance — who has standing as “another person on behalf of the minor” under Probate Code section 1510, subdivision (a) to bring a guardianship petition — that not only caught the court’s eye, but actually resulted in a win.

Lights! Camera! Call your first witness! Ninth Circuit opens up district courts to cameras.

Clapper Board

The Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit issued a press release yesterday (PDF) announcing a pilot program allowing use of cameras in district court courtrooms. The release included this comment from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski:

“We hope that being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a better public understanding of our judicial processes and enhanced confidence in the rule of law. The experiment is designed to help us find the right balance between the public’s right to access to the courts and the parties’ right to a fair and dignified proceeding,” Judge Kozinski said.

I’ve heard heavy criticism of the use of cameras in court.  Many criticized the gavel-to-gavel coverage on the O.J. Simpson case because they believed it caused the attorneys (and even the judge) to grandstand, and some felt that it contributed to Judge Ito “losing control” of his courtroom. Assuming the validity of those criticisms, I don’t think one need worry that those problems will be replicated in the federal district courts. Federal judges are hardly known for allowing attorneys to get away with misconduct.

And the question everyone is asking in the wake of this announcement: will the Proposition 8 trial be televised? Here’s the only clue given by the press release:

Cases to be considered for the pilot program will be selected by the chief judge of the district court in consultation with the chief circuit judge. The participating district courts will be asked to evaluate their experiences and report to the Council.

I wonder what “consultation” means in this instance. At one extreme the chief circuit judge would have veto power. At the other, the chief circuit judge would merely advise and leave the final decision to the chief district judge. If I can find more detail about this, I’ll post it.

Judge Kozinski’s “Dirty” Pictures May Not Be So Dirty

Remember the big “to do” about Judge Kozinski having posted material from an obscenity trial on his website?  My prior coverage concentrated mainly on how this could affect his qualification to preside over the trial, and noted the interesting fact that Kozinski, an appellate judge, was presiding over a trial at all.

There is another aspect to the media coverage that I did not give much thought to, and that is the way that the media painted the materials as sexually graphic and/or obscene.  Considering the mischievousness that is usually attributed to Judge Kozinski, I figured that would be water off a duck’s back.  And while it might have been just that for Judge Kozinski, a long-time critic of the Los Angeles Times isn’t taking it so lightly.

Blogger Patterico blasts the Times’s coverage of the Kozinski incident in his round-up of 2008 L.A. Times reporting at Patterico’s Pontifications.  Among his findings is that the source for the article is a man with a long-running feud with Judge Kozisinski.  And to give you an idea of his post, here’s what Patterico describes as one distortion:

The paper also referred to “themes of defecation and urination” — but vastly understated the humorous context of any such themes. Rather than graphic depictions of bodily functions, material with themes of urination turned out to be stuff like this:

womens-bathroom.jpg

Patterico appears to come at the issue as much from the Right as the Times does from the Left, and I didn’t follow all of his links, so I don’t know if his own critique is fair. But anyone who wants to give Judge K a fair shake should probably look at Patterico’s post, which includes many links to prior coverage.  (That link leads to a very long post — you can find the part about Judge Kozinski by searching for his name or scrolling down until you see his picture.)