Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Altafulla v. Ervin (Cal. Ct. App. - July 7, 2015)

It's not that I don't like published opinions.  I do.  A lot.  The more reasoned precedent the better, I figure.

It's also not like this opinion isn't worthy of publication.  It is.  Justice Benke says a lot in her opinion that's worth saying.  And worth letting everyone know.  Like the fact that an email campaign against a domestic partner, especially when combined with an apparent attempt to traumatize her children, can properly give rise to a domestic violence protective order.  As well as the fact that it's not necessarily a valid defense to such an order to say that the things you were saying as part of those campaigns were true.

All that's worth mentioning.

The problem is this:  There's a lot -- and I mean, a lot -- of detail in the opinion.

Now, normally, that's a good thing.  But here, when I say "detail", I also mean "dirt".  We learn from this published opinion that the victim here essentially admitted to having an affair.  We learn who the affair was probably with:  "someone associated with a client of her employer."  We learn not only that there appear to be pictures of the affair and a surveillance report, but also that the affair may have involved "oral copulation".  We learn that when the perpetrator described in excruciating detail what a "blowjob" entailed to the victim's daughters -- one of whom was nine years old -- and the perpetrator's belief that there was "a risk they could contract sexually transmitted diseases from towels their mother might use," the elder daughter was so traumatized that she required inpatient care at a mental health facility.  We even learn that following one of the trips she took with her lover, the victim experienced a yeast infection.

There's a reason, of course, that Justice Benke includes all of these details in the opinion.  They provide not only color, but they're relevant to the legal claims at issue in the appeal.

So I'm not critiquing their inclusion.

But the thing is:  the opinion uses the victim's real name.  Not her initials.  Not "Carolina A." or something like that.  Her full, complete name.

And it's not a common one.  There's exactly one person in the entire United States with that name.  And the fact that we know that she lives in San Diego -- and all the other details about her in the opinion -- make it crystal clear who she is.

Which means we know not only all the gory details about her personal life that are in the opinion, but can take a gander at her Twitter posts, find out where she works from her LinkedIn page, and even check out the stuff she likes on Pinterest.

Remember:  We're talking about the victim here.

It's bad enough to include her name in an "unpublished" -- but still available -- opinion.  But to include it in a published opinion, for all posterity?  I think that's bad form.  She was victimized enough by having her former domestic partner e-mail her employer and their mutual friends and letting them all know the sordid details.  If there's anything she doesn't need, I imagine, it's to have those same details disseminated to the remainder of the universe.

Now, admittedly, it doesn't appear that the victim ever attempted to get the matter sealed, or to truncate her name.  But she also didn't necessarily know that the opinion would be (1) published, and (2) feel the need to disclose every dirty little secret that might potentially be relevant to the disposition.  It also bears mention that it wasn't the victim who requested publication:  it was the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists.

Particularly given what gave rise to the underlying protective order -- e.g., the public dissemination of private facts about a victim -- I think that Justice Benke's opinion could be improved with a simple change.  Get rid of the full name.  Leave some tiny shred of anonymity for cases like this.  And make sure that when future employers Google the victim's name, the first thing they see isn't an opinion that contains intimate details like her affair, her yeast infection, and her particular (alleged) sexual practices.

P.S. - FWIW, I don't feel the same about the perpetrator and appellant, John Ervin. Particularly given the number of lawsuits to which he's a party (feel free to do an internet search for a sample of those), I think his anonymity is pretty much out the window at this point.