Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In Re Marriage of James M. (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 15, 2008)

I sympathize with the trial court in this one.

It's a marital dissolution proceeding, the ex-wife is proceeding pro per (having failed to pay her lawyer), and she repeatedly demands that the trial date be moved -- even in the midst of trial -- based upon her bipolar disorder. The trial court, Judge Silber (in Orange County), eventually gets frustrated with all of this -- both the apparent judge-shopping as well as the years of resulting litigation (and cost) and denies her final request, and she appeals. And Justice Fybel reverses.

Mind you, Justice Fybel expresses some sympathy with the trial court as well. But I'd have expressed a fair piece more. As well as potentially come out the other way. At some point, justice delayed is justice denied, and I think this repeatedly-delayed trial either comes very close to or crosses the line.

My reaction to this dispute is also probably colored by the particular nature of what I perceive to be the ex-wife's conduct. I have no doubt -- or at least little doubt -- that she did, indeed, feel incredibly stressed, and was indeed a mental "wreck", as the various trial dates approached. But, in part, that's the nature of the beast. Every time a trial date approached, she got a psychologist to say -- accurately, no doubt -- that she was totally stressed and bummed, and so a continuance was justified, and also that a delay might "help". But come on. We all know that the delay is probably only going to "help" until the next trial date. At which point the stress will reappear. At some point, you gotta say: "Sorry. That's the trial date. You gotta be ready at this point." And two years of delay is probably long enough. Or at least darn close. Especially after the ex-wife has said (as she did here) that this would be the last time, no other continuances would be requested, and then, at the latest trial date, surprise surprise, another request -- brought before a different judge -- comes down the pike.

Which is not to say I'm not somewhat sympathetic to the ex-wife. I am. But I'm also sympathetic to the position of the ex-husband. As well as of the trial court, which has to both arrange its schedule and deal with all this stuff. Again, at some point, enough is enough.

And so I might have written this one a tiny bit differently than Justice Fybel. Mind you, I think that Justice Fybel does a good job at the end of saying that there might be additional ways to solve this problem as well (and which I thought of while reading the opinion myself): maybe appointing a guardian ad litem (which had been attempted in the trial court previously) or appointing an attorney. But even apart from such measures, I think that the situation facing the trial court might require a little additional deference as well.

One thing I do know. Unlike Justice Fybel, I definitely wouldn't have awarded costs on appeal to the ex-wife. The interests of justice, in my mind, definitely don't support it. Nor, for sure, would I have awarded her her attorney's fees on appeal. Something that Justice Fybel expressly leaves open.

Even if she's entitled to a new trial, no way I'm giving her those. That only adds insult to injury. And, in my mind, ain't right.