Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Re Arthur M. (Cal. Ct. App. - April 10, 2007)

This is a nightmare.

The question is whether the father gets any say in whether the mother can give up their child for adoption. About the only thing that's undisputed is that the biological father is a 17-year old high school senior who had intercourse once with the mother, a 16-year old from another high school.

You read the first seven pages of Justice Ikola's opinon and you come away with the conclusion that the father -- who's name is Paul -- is not only a bunghole, but an epic and unprecedented bunghole. Every paragraph is literally worse than the last. And there are a dozen of them.

Here's the first paragraph, which gives you a tenor of how Paul -- according to the mother -- dealt with the pregnancy:

"Meghan testified that in mid-May, after she had twice missed her menstrual period, she took a home pregnancy test, with a positive result. She called Paul before the end of May and told him about the pregnancy. Paul remained silent during the phone conversation as Meghan said she would have the baby and give it up for adoption. He did not deny paternity, nor did he ask Meghan if she needed anything. He did not offer to take her to the doctor. He did not offer to pay for medical care or otherwise help out financially. At the end of the phone call, he told Meghan, 'Well, good luck with that.'"

Wow. But, remember. Each paragraph is worse than the last. Here's the next one:

"Meghan said she and Paul did not speak again for a few weeks, although at some point, Paul left a message on Meghan’s cell phone, asking her to have an abortion. Then, according to Meghan’s testimony, on June 17, 2005, Paul came to her house, grabbed her by arm when she answered the door, and tried to pull her outside. She resisted, but agreed to speak to him, and they went to the back patio of the house, where Paul confronted her gruffly when she refused to have an abortion. Meghan explained 'due to personal convictions that I had that I did not feel comfortable with [abortion] and it was not a decision that I wanted to make,' and Paul then 'went on a little tirade,' sprinkled with profanities, inter alia, calling Meghan a bitch and a slut and using the 'f' word. He did not ask Meghan about how the pregnancy was going, although she
volunteered to him that she had been 'extremely nauseous and . . . vomiting excessively.' He did not ask her whether she needed help of any kind. The conversation ended when Paul left, saying, 'Get an abortion or else.'"

Wow. And, again, remember, it gets even worse. For ten more paragraphs. It's the same sort of stuff, but you've got to read it to believe it. Two words. Epic. Bunghole.

But then read the subsequent five pages. And you get a totally different story; i.e., Paul's. He tells a story that's so radically dissimilar that it's hard to believe; and, yet, there's at least some evidence to support it, and it's internally consistent (and plausible), so you can't totally discount it as the obvious fabrication of someone who we've already decided is an E.B. Plus, remember, the whole point of the project -- of the $67,000-plus this 17-year old has spent on litigation -- is so that he can have visitation and some contact with his biological child. Which is consistent with his current testimony that he wanted the child (and hence that his version of the story is at least plausible).

In the end, I leave the case not having much of an idea at all at who to believe; and, regardless, thinking that there's a real risk that whichever way the case gets decided, there's a distinct and very real possibility that the court has done a monstrous injustice against an innocent party. It is the type of case that makes for incredibly difficult decisions; or, at least, when reading a cold record on appeal, where it's extremely difficult -- for me, anyway -- to figure out on which side "justice" lies.

Not, of course, that "justice" is always dispositive; often, there's law that compels you to do one thing or another, and that's sometimes the easy way out. But, here, there was surely leeway to grant the father what he wanted or, conversely, to grant the mother what she wanted. And to a large degree it depends upon who one believes.

Fortunately (maybe, anyway), Justice Ikola has an easy way out, and is able to say that there's at least substantial evidence to support the trial court's view (and surely there is), and on that basis affirms. Which seems right; again, the law sometimes allows one to not have to make an extremely difficult call on the merits.

Nonetheless, cases like this worry me. Two radically different -- but supported -- versions of the facts. Something critical that stands in the balance. The very real risk that, whichever way the decision goes, you've taken critical parental rights out of the hands of those to whom they rightfully belong -- and given them instead to the more persuasive perjurer.

Not something that allows one to sleep especially well at night, I imagine. At least if you've got a sense of your own, human, fallability. Sure, someone's got to make the call, and it might as well be a neutral and concerned party like yourself. Still. You could be wrong. Even with your best and most conscientious efforts. And you're probably not doing your job correctly if that doesn't concern you even the tiniest bit.