Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Court of Appeal:
No Reversal Based on Judge’s Misstatement of Law
Presiding Justice Gilbert Says Error as to Standard for Issuing Civil Harassment Restraining Order Is Overlooked Where It Is Clear From the Evidence That the Correct Standard Was Met
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge’s statement reflecting an erroneous view of the applicable legal standard does not necessitate reversal where the order is supportable under the correct standard, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday in an opinion affirming the issuance of a civil harassment restraining order.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of Div. Six wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication. It rejects contentions put forth by defendant Cezar Catalin Puica who, according to testimony by his neighbor, plaintiff, Steven Betancourt, on July 14, 2015 admonished him:
“Your kids will not play in the street and you will get a new gardener. This is your first and final warning,” adding:
“Choose life or choose death.”
The gardener testified that the previous day, Puica held what looked like a rifle and declared “[I’m] going to shoot you in the head.”
Puica sought reversal of the order—which was not issued until April 6, 2018 based on a series of continuances stemming from pending criminal charges against Puica—on the ground that Ventura Superior Court Judge Roger L. Lund revealed during the hearing a misconception as to the showing that is required to obtain the sort of order that was sought. He said, with respect to the applicable statute, Code of Civil Procedure §527.6:
“I don’t believe there’s any future likelihood requirement, as I look at this statute.”
The statute provides:
“If the judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that unlawful harassment exists, an order shall issue prohibiting the harassment.”
However, the First District Court of Appeal in 2003 held in an opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Carol Corrigan (now a justice of the state Supreme Court) in Russell v. Douvan that a literal interpretation of that statute “is inconsistent with the purpose of injunctive relief,” declaring:
“An injunction is authorized only when it appears that wrongful acts are likely to recur.”
Rejecting Puica’s contention that Lund’s misstatement requires reversal, Gilbert said:
“On appeal, the trial court’s ultimate findings are reviewed. A court’s incorrect oral remarks or offhand comments made earlier do not invalidate an otherwise properly issued judgment.”
He noted that other comments by Lund reflected a conclusion that future wrongful acts by Puica, unless restrained, were likely to occur.
Gilbert saw no merit in Puica’s argument that the 2015 incidents were too stale to support the 2018 order. He pointed out that only two months earlier, according to testimony, Puica followed Betancourt to a park and filmed his children.
Evidence as to other insulting conduct was recited including Puica calling Betancourt’s children “monkeys” and at times declaring that “they are going to deport all the Mexicans.”
“A trier of fact could reasonably infer that there was a likelihood of future harassment and a necessity for this injunction given the course of conduct about which Betancourt testified, the high number of incidents, the death threat, the degree of animosity Puica had for Betancourt, the violation of previous restraining orders, the proximity of these neighbors, and this recent incident.”
Continuance Properly Denied
Lane erred, Puica asserted, in denying a continuance of the April 6, 2018 hearing in light of his attorney presenting a letter from a doctor saying that the patient was undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
Finding no abuse of discretion, Gilbert said:
“There is a need for a prompt resolution of this type of injunction….That goal is undermined by extensive delays. Betancourt claimed that his family was subjected to long-standing and recent harassment by Puica. As the trial court correctly noted, ‘[A]t some point, justice delayed is justice denied.’ ”
The case is Betancourt v. Puica, B289771.
Manhattan Beach attorney Corey Evan Parker represented Puica and Ventura lawyer Christina Vanarelli acted for Betancourt.
Puica, a mechanical engineer, has posted on Facebook:
“STOP inducing in error the public using the term ‘immigrants’ instead of ‘ILLEGALS’!
“There is a huge difference; for example: I am an immigrant AND an U.S. Citizen, NOT an ‘ILLEGAL’!!
“I did not cross the border illegally, but invited into U.S. to design the JSF F-35 Landing Gear; so stop intentionally confusing the public by calling ‘immigrants’ instead of ‘ILLEGALS’!”
He is a citizen of the United States, Canada, and the European Union, according to his resume.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company