Wednesday, January 26, 2005
C.A. Upholds Injunction Keeping Teenager Away From Boyfriend
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A Superior Court judge did not violate the constitutional rights of a teenage boy by enjoining him from seeing his 16-year-old girlfriend or going near her family after he wrote a letter suggesting her parents ought to be killed so that they could be togethr, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
“Utterly without merit are defendant’s claims that the injunction violates his constitutional rights,” Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland wrote. “His speech—which was used to annoy, ridicule, and threaten plaintiff—was entitled to no protection because it was between purely private parties, about purely private parties, and on matters of purely private interest.”
There is no constitutional right to associate with a minor child over her parents’ objection, Scotland declared. “And the right of privacy does not entitle [the defendant] to interfere with plaintiff’s exercise of her fundamental right as a parent to direct and control her daughter’s activities,” he explained.
Beverly Brekke filed a Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 527.6 harassment complaint in El Dorado Superior Court in response to “a parent’s nightmare come true,” the presiding justice explained. She alleged that after her daughter Danielle, then 16, became involved with 15-year-old Dean Wills, she began misbehaving at home, skipping school, and failing classes.
Fearing that her daughter was using drugs, Brekke said, she searched Danielle’s room and found letters written by Dean, urging her to retaliate against her parents for the restrictions they had imposed. Brekke said she then became convinced that her relationship with Dean was the cause of Danielle’s misbehavior and told the two they could no longer see each other.
Dean responded with three letters described by Scotland as “vile and vitriolic.” Among other things, the presiding justice wrote, they established “that defendant’s favorite word is ‘f—-‘ “ and that he wanted Danielle to provoke her parents into an act of violence that would enable him to sue them for money that would enable him and Danielle to be together.
The letters, which were apparently intended to be discovered by Brekke, suggested that he intended to date Danielle because “I like the way she tastes,’ that Brekke was a “psychotic f——ing whore,” and that he and Danielle ought to kill her parents so “there will be no trace” of them and the young lovers could “go hang out.”
Wills responded to the complaint by appearing in court with counsel “to defend what appears to be indefensible.” He claimed that the letters were intended as “a joke” to prove that Brekke was searching Danielle’s room.
But retired Judge Thomas A. Smith, sitting on assignment, said he was “shocked” by the content of the letters, including one in which Dean laid out a fantastic scheme in which Brekke and her husband would be tied to a tree surrounded by starving, rabid dogs and Dean and Danielle would fly over in a plane and drop bloody meat on them before the dogs were released.
Brekke testified that she took the threat “very seriously” because Dean was “imbalanced” and “irrational.” She added that Danielle was doing much better at home and in school since she had been out of contact with Dean.
Dean’s parents testified that while they were disturbed by the letters, they were sure their son would not hurt anyone and that they felt the parents should work with the children rather than keeping them completely apart. Dean’s father said he was fearful as to how his son would react to an injunction, saying it “would end up like a Romeo and Juliet situation.”
But Smith said it was “not a typical Romeo and Juliet case because at least Romeo was respectful to Mrs. Capulet.” Suggesting the Willses were unwilling to deal with the potential for something akin to the Columbine High School shooting and that their son was unwilling to “take responsibility,” Smith ordered that Dean remain 20 feet away from Danielle at school, that he remain 100 feet away from her and her family at all other times and places, and that there be no contact between them.
‘The trial judge acted within his discretion, Scotland concluded, calling it “absurd” for the defendant’s counsel to argue that a minor has associational or privacy rights that supersede a parent’s right to control who his or her children associates with.
Nor is there a constitutional right to send threatening letters or “to ridicule and annoy, Scotland wrote, nor did Dean have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of “minor girlfriend who was subject to the supervision and control of parents entitled to search her room and possessions in hopes of finding out†why she was misbehaving” or a right to communicate with Danielle over her parents’ objections.
The only error committed by the trial judge, Scotland went on to say, was with respect to the expiration date of the order.
Under Sec. 527.6, the appellate jurist explained, an order expires three years from the date of issuance unless an earlier date is specified. In this case, however, the three-year period would extend past June of this year, when Danielle turns 18 and becomes legally responsible for her own decisions, the presiding justice pointed out.
The court modified the injunction so as to allow Danielle to associate with Dean, if she chooses, once she is of the age of majority.
The case is Brekke v. Wills, C044810.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company