Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Nicole G. v. Braithwaite (Cal. Ct. App. - June 3, 2020)

It's a domestic violence case with competing requests for protective orders.  Nicole and Warren begin dating in 2011 while Warren was married to someone else.  "Warren found a one-bedroom apartment for Nicole, with high monthly rent that 'fit his taste'; he insisted Nicole move to this new apartment because he did not like where Nicole lived. He co-signed for the apartment, paid the rent, and paid for new furnishings and electronic devices."  Shortly thereafter, Warren gets arrested for trafficking in drugs, and spends five years in prison.

Warren and Nicole rekindle their relationship after Warren's released from prison, and suffice it to say, it's an unhappy relationship.  Both parties claim that the other is abusive.  Among other things, there's a lot of evidence that Warren repeatedly stalked Nicole; on Warren's side, there's that picture that Nicole admittedly sent him of her holding an AK-47.  Ultimately, the trial court finds in favor of Nicole, enters a protective order on her behalf, and kicks Warren out of the apartment.  Warren says the ownership of the property should be decided in a civil action, not as part of a domestic violence case, but both the trial court and the Court of Appeal hold otherwise.

What I thought most interesting about the opinion was that Nicole is listed in the opinion as "Nicole G." but Warren is listed (both in the caption and in the text) with his full name.  I understand that in the context of a plaintiff who files for a restraining order, but in the context of mutually requested restraining orders, I wonder if the better practice isn't to omit the last names of both sides.  Imagine, for example, that the trial court had denied Nicole's requested order and found that Warren was the actual victim.  It'd be crazy to just use the petitioner's initials just because s/he filed first, no?  I also doubt that the rule is (or should be) that we only use the initials of the party who prevailed below.  After all, what if the case gets reversed on appeal?  What if the Court of Appeal finds that the real victim is the one who lost below?  Crazy, again, to use the full name of the victim but use initials for the person ultimately found to have committed the abuse.

Plus, the decision here is sort of strange because when the opinion was initially rendered, it was unpublished, but used Nicole's full last name, both in the caption and in the text.  Plus, on the docket sheet -- which is publicly accessible online -- Nicole's full last name again repeatedly appears (no initials).  And as far as I can tell from the docket sheet, there was never a request to change the opinion to delete the last name from either the caption or the text, nor any posted amendment; there was just the decision to publish, with no formal amendment of the opinion (and yet a change to the use of initials).

I understand quite well the reason why one might want to keep the names of domestic violence victims out of appellate opinions.  As well as why one might want to keep the names of domestic violence abusers in the opinion.

It's just hard to do that consistently -- or rationally -- in the context of mutually conflicting requests for domestic violence restraining orders.  You can't presume that the person who filed first is the one entitled to privacy.  And you can't necessarily presume that the person who prevailed below is the one entitled to privacy either (or, at least, the only one).

Another tough call as regards who stays anonymous and who gets outed in public appellate decisions.