16 Nov Are CA family courts declaring pro se parents Vexatious Litigants to force them to hire a lawyer?
Yep! A pro se parent is one who choses to represent himself/herself in a prolonged family court case. The CA vexatious litigant statute (VLS) was designed to stop convicted criminals in jail from complaining about their “inhumane” living conditions but family law attorneys in California quickly realized that it was a very effective tool they could use to force parents, trying to obtain visitation with their minor children, to hire a lawyer instead of being in pro se. A parent declared a vexatious litigant can only proceed in family court if they hire an attorney, regardless of whether or not they are a plaintiff or a defendant. However, the Sixth District Court of Appeals recently ruled that the vexatious litigant filing requirements does not apply to defendants in John v. Superior Court, 63 Cal. 4th 91 (Cal. 2016), and the CA Supreme Court affirmed this, but the CA Judicial Council has yet to issue guidance to the superior courts on how to comply with this case law. Clerks of the CA superior courts still routinely deny vexatious litigant defendants from filing any opposition, even after being sued by a plaintiff.
Family court cases can drag out for years when a young child is involved and many parents run out of resources early on in their case #ResolveConflictQuickly. They essentially have no further options than to represent themselves so they started getting good at it and sharing what they learned. The family law attorneys in California also got smarter and now, instead of just declaring a parent a vexatious litigant, judges add on a cash bonding requirement. A family court judge can force the parent declared a vexatious litigant to upfront the other parent’s legal fees before being able to proceed. Most of these bonds quickly become unconstitutionally unobtainable. For example a homeless dad in Riverside County was assessed a $25,000 bond early on in his case and when the mom relocated to the east coast with their daughter he was helpless to try and get visitation with the child. A high school teacher, a mom, in Santa Clara County, was assessed a $100,000 bond that prevented her from filing a small claims case trying to recover her rental deposit, defending herself against her own attorney who filed suit claiming she owed him $24,000 in fees, and most importantly trying to get visitation between herself and her younger children. The minor siblings were also separated without visitation and the mom had no ability to get the court to require it.
Judge Johnathan E Karesh said this, when asked to add an unconstitutional and unobtainable bond against a California mom, who was a vexatious litigant represented by a lawyer, seeking court ordered visitation for herself and her teenage daughter with her minor son/brother, “This court cannot assess the merits of future litigation that has not yet been filed or even proposed [by this mom] and therefore cannot determine whether there is a likelihood that [this mom] will prevail.” Judge Karesh did not asses the bond against the Mom, which the other side had requested, and the children quickly aged out. Judge Karesh prevented ongoing unwarranted governmental interference, or UGI, #PreventUGI.
There are very few states that have vexatious litigant statutes (VLS) but Texas is one of them. For example, Madeleine Connor is a judge-elect of the Texas 353rd District Court. Connor assumes office on January 1, 2021. She was declared a vexatious litigant regarding some civil matter, instead of a family law matter. This blog has no bearing, whatsoever, regarding people declared vexatious in criminal or civil matters. We are only focusing on family law matters where parents are seeking to maintain a relationship with their own children. In juvenile dependency courts, where the State of California is the one filing against the parents, judges simply terminate the parents’ legal rights to their children and that ends it.
What do other states do to stop parents from continuing to file motions in order to get visitation with their child? Other states refuse to implement a vexatious litigant statute in their family courts. Instead, they simply deny those motions unless the parent can prove a change in circumstances that caused them to lose legal rights to their children or visitation with their children in the first place. They also put temporary blocks for a few months on the parents’ filings if needed to try and calm down the situation. #PreventUGI, #PromoteSettlement.