Thursday, November 2, 2005
Order That Spouse Withdraw Domestic Violence Complaint Upheld
Divided C.A. Panel Says Provision in Couple’s Divorce Ageement Did Not Violate Wife’s Free Speech Rights
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A woman who agreed to withdraw a domestic violence complaint to the police as part of a divorce settlement may be ordered to comply with that agreement, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
A divided panel in Div. Two rejected Monica Beale’s claim that the order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert A. Schnider violates the free speech guarantees of the state and federal constitutions.
Justice Kathryn Doi Todd, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, said that any free speech concerns were outweighed by the state’s compelling interest in enforcing valid agreements. The agreement, she added, did not violate public policy.
The Beales were married in 1995 and separated six years later. Two months after they separated, Monica Beale filed a police report claiming that her husband had abused her.
Eight months later, the parties agreed to settle their differences. Monica Beale agreed “to provide whatever assistance or take whatever action is necessary or appropriate to withdraw the police report made [in] July 2001,” and the agreement was incorporated into a stipulated judgment entered in April 2002/
Monica Beale subsequently refused her ex-husband’s request that she sign a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department withdrawing the report. Schnider, following a hearing, rejected her contention that she had fully complied with the stipulated judgment by calling the police department and requesting that no action be taken on the complaint, which she claimed she had done.
Schnider ordered her to sign a letter stating “I hereby withdraw any request for action based [on her report of July 2, 2001,]” rejecting her argument that she was being compelled to speak, contrary to a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that students could not be compelled to salute the flag in violation of their religious beliefs.
Rejecting Beale’s contention on appeal, Doi Todd emphasized that Beale was not being ordered to comment on whether her prior report was true, or on whether her ex-husband should be prosecuted, nor was she claiming that the order violated her religious beliefs, although she did describe it as morally objectionable.
The justice also distinguished In re Marriage of Candiotti (1005) 34 Cal.App.4th 718, which held that the court could not restrain the former wife of onetime major league pitcher Tom Candiotti from making negative comments about his new wife. That case did not involve an agreement that could be construed as a waiver of any rights, Doi Todd noted.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren concurred, while Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst dissented, arguing that the agreement violated the state’s “strong public policy of encouraging victims of domestic violence to file police reports.”
Ordering Monica Beale to sign the letter, the dissenting justice added, would be futile because a complaint has no power over what action, if any, the police take on a domestic violence report.
Attorneys on appeal were Mark McBride for Monica Beale and Loretta Hersh Selinger for John Beale.
The case is Beale v. Beale, B177640.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company