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In re Harley C.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

July 15, 2019

In re HARLEY C., et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
MARIA O., Defendant and Appellant.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. 17LJJP00093B-C Nancy Ramirez, Judge. Reversed.

          Christopher R. Booth, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, Kristine P. Miles, Assistant County Counsel, and Stephen P. Watson, Deputy County Counsel for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          ZELON, ACTING P. J.

         In a juvenile dependency matter set for a contested dispositional hearing, the juvenile court refused to permit mother Maria O. to testify or to call witnesses because her counsel had not filed a joint trial statement as required by a local rule. We conclude that the local rule is invalid and reverse the dispositional orders.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         At the July 19, 2018, jurisdictional hearing on a juvenile dependency petition with respect to Mother's children, Harley C., and S.C., Mother waived her right to a trial and submitted on the reports. The juvenile court found that the children came within the court's jurisdiction pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b) [failure to protect] and (j) [abuse of sibling].

         Mother requested a contested dispositional hearing. Mother sought placement of the children with her, [1] while the Department of Children and Family Services recommended that jurisdiction be terminated with a family law order granting the children's father sole physical custody and joint legal custody, with monitored visitation for Mother. Minors' counsel recommended that the case remain open and that Mother be offered reunification services.

         The juvenile court released the children to their father pending the dispositional hearing. The court set a date for the contested hearing, and, at Mother's request, ordered that DCFS provide a supplemental report concerning Mother's visitation and progress in her case plan. The court waived the minors' presence at the dispositional hearing because Mother did not anticipate calling them to testify.

         When the contested dispositional hearing took place on September 26, 2018, DCFS continued to recommend termination of jurisdiction. The minors' position had changed, however: they now requested termination of jurisdiction with legal and physical custody of the children to their father and unmonitored visits in a public setting for Mother.

         After admitting DCFS's exhibits into evidence without objection, the juvenile court asked, “Are any witnesses to be called?”

         Mother's counsel said, “Your Honor, I actually would like S[.C.] to testify briefly as to a report that we have received.” S.C. was present in court that day.

         Minors' counsel objected on the ground that Mother had not filed any document with the court “so that we would be... able to inform my client that this was going to occur. It is inappropriate for this to be asked for on the morning of the trial.” Minors' counsel acknowledged that Mother was likely making this request because Minors' counsel had changed position on the requested disposition, but she objected nonetheless, stating, “This information is in the report. I believe it's [Evidence Code section] 352.”

         The court ruled, “Court notes that the adjudication was set on July 19th. Court has procedures in place when contests are set and that's for a joint trial exhibit to be provided indicating what witnesses are to be called. Court has not received a trial statement, and the court is denying the request-the last-minute request for S[.C.] to testify today.”

         Mother's counsel responded, “Your Honor, that would be over Mother's objection. I would note that Minors were in-were in agreement with Mother's position to at least keep the case open. [¶] As we walked in the door, [Minors' counsel] told me that she is no longer in that position. The joint trial statement policies were not instituted until mid-August. This case was set before that. [¶] There was also no date set for joint trial statements when this matter was set for contest.”

         “That is not the court's responsibility, ” said the juvenile court. “Counsel knows what the procedures are and they are to follow the court's procedures.”

         Mother's counsel explained that the reason for her last-minute request that S.C. testify was Minor's counsel's last minute change in her recommended disposition. Mother's counsel asked for a continuance if the court would not permit S.C. to testify that day because no statement had been filed, “so I can prepare a joint trial statement and then all parties will be noticed that I would be asking for S[.C.] to testify. [¶] I think my client is put at a disadvantage for this last-minute information and change in position. I'm ready to proceed and Minor is here.”

         “Court is denying the request, ” the court answered. “We will proceed to argument if no witnesses are going to be called.”

         After consulting with Mother, Mother's counsel said, “My client would like to testify.”

         The court refused. “As the court stated earlier, unless the court and counsel were given prior notice through the statement of what witnesses will be called and what they will be called to testify to. That was not done so court's not going to allow any witnesses to be called at disposition.”

         “Well, the court just requested any witnesses to be called, ” Mother's counsel replied. “My client would like to testify in this matter. I believe she has a right to testify. [¶] If the court is denying her right to testify in her own defense for the disposition, then that would be over her objection.”

         “So noted, ” the court said, and proceeded to hear argument.

         Mother's counsel asked for both children to be returned to her, but indicated that Mother was particularly seeking placement of S[.C.] in her care. She argued that Mother was more able to meet S.C.'s medical needs than S.C.'s father was, citing several medical issues that had arisen while S.C. was in her father's custody. Mother's counsel cited Mother's compliance with the case plan: She previously had documented her completion of 19 of 21 domestic violence group sessions, and had since completed the rest; she was attending individual counseling; and she had completed a parenting class. Mother had also taken an anger management class although she had not been ordered to do so.

         “[A]lthough my client was not allowed by the court to testify, ” Mother's counsel argued, “she would absolutely deny any allegations that she remains in a relationship with [her male companion with whom domestic violence had occurred]. She is no longer in a relationship with him.” Mother's counsel said that had the court permitted her to examine S.C., “we would be cross-examining her on her statements” in a report from the previous month.

         “Based on my client's active participation in her case plan and the-she does have her proof of completion certificate with her, I would ask that the court allow S[.C.], at the very least, to return home of parent Mother and/or order for home of parents for both children, and the court could perhaps have a primary residence of Harley with the father and S.[C.] with the Mother.” If the court was inclined to terminate jurisdiction, she requested either a contested hearing on the terms of the family law order or shared legal and physical custody of the children, with primary custody of S.C. and Harley with Mother unless Harley preferred to reside primarily with his father.

         The juvenile court terminated jurisdiction and awarded sole physical and joint legal custody to the children's father. As Minors' counsel had recommended, the court ordered visitation for Mother with the children, with visits to be monitored if the visit took place in a private setting and unmonitored if it occurred in public. Mother appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Authority and Procedures for Adopting Local Rules

         A. Scope of Power to Establish Local Rules

         The authority of California courts to promulgate local rules is beyond dispute. “[T]rial courts possess inherent rulemaking authority as well as rulemaking authority granted by statute. (Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 953, 967, 67 Cal.Rptr.2d 16, 941 P.2d 1203 (Rutherford); Code Civ. Proc., §§ 128, 177, 575.1; Gov. Code, § 68070.) ‘It is... well established that courts have fundamental inherent equity, supervisory, and administrative powers, as well as inherent power to control litigation before them. [Citation.]... “... That inherent power entitles trial courts to exercise reasonable control over all proceedings connected with pending litigation... in order to insure the orderly administration of justice. [Citation.]”' [Citation.]” (Elkins v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1337, 1351-1352 (Elkins).)

         The Legislature has constrained this authority by enacting Government Code section 68070, which provides that courts may institute only those local rules that are “not inconsistent with law or with the rules adopted and prescribed by the Judicial Council.” (Gov. Code, § 68070, subd. (a).) As a result, “[a] trial court is without authority to adopt local rules or procedures that conflict with statutes or with rules of court adopted by the Judicial Council, or that are inconsistent with the Constitution or case law.” (Elkins, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 1351.) This limitation applies whether the court's directive is characterized as a local rule or as a court policy. (Jameson v. Desta (2018) 5 Cal.5th 594, ...


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