Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Fight a Restraining Order When the Petitioner is Crazy

One of the inherent problems in restraining order court is that anybody can file a petition against anybody else, at any time.  This often means that the petitioner (the person seeking the protection of a restraining order), is crazy.  He or she may be paranoid, delusional, senile, drug-addled, vindictive, or just plain nuts.

If a crazy person is seeking a restraining order against you, presenting an effective defense can be tricky.  It is not sufficient to simply argue that the petitioner is crazy.  Instead, you must carefully show the judge that your opponent is detached from reality, and that the allegations against you are entirely made up.  The goal here is to prove that the accusations against you are false, not just to prove that the person making the accusations is erratic or afflicted with some mental disease.

This defense strategy can be more complicated and difficult than some people expect.  Even if you have personal knowledge of the petitioner's mental health problems, the rules of evidence will restrict the types of arguments that you're allowed to present in court.  First of all, you may not testify that somebody else told you about the petitioner's diagnosis.  That would be hearsay.  The person who actually made that diagnosis must appear in court to testify.  If that person is the petitioner's doctor, then the rules of confidentiality would prohibit the doctor from revealing the petitioner's medical records.

In some types of restraining order hearings, hearsay is admissible.  Even if this evidence may come in under the hearsay rules, it may still be excluded if you are not qualified to render an opinion on the subject.  Before any evidence is admissible in court, the witness must "lay the foundation" -- that is, you must prove that you possess the knowledge that you're now presenting as fact.  Psychiatric diagnoses are obviously complicated medical issues.  Even if you've personally observed "crazy" behavior by the petitioner, the judge will not allow you to express an opinion about the petitioner's medical condition or mental state because you're simply not qualified to do so.

Remember also that even crazy people have the right to be free from civil harassment and domestic violence.  If your defense is that the petitioner is crazy, you must be careful not to blame the victim for your harassment.  You must be extremely mindful not to argue that the petitioner deserves to be harassed because she is crazy.  Instead, you must argue that you have not harassed anybody.  If the petitioner believes that you have harassed her, you must prove that she is mistaken and that her false beliefs are rooted in delusions.  This is done by effectively cross-examining the witness in court.  A qualified attorney knows how to ask probing questions, drill down on the details, let the witness discuss her false beliefs, and give her enough rope to hang herself.  A lawyer who is experienced in the art of cross-examination will not argue with the witness or become confrontational.  Instead, the witness should have the opportunity to destroy her own credibility.

Last, and most important, is to always consider the relevance of any argument that you want to present.  The big question in restraining order court is always whether or not the petitioner can prove that the respondent has engaged in harassment or domestic violence.  The court is not interested in determining whether or not you're a good person, or whether the opposing party is a bad person, or whether someone has lied about something unrelated in the past, or who was responsible for the breakup, or even if one party suffers from a mental illness.  Those issues might be important to you, and they might be loosely related to something in your case, but the court simply does not care.  It might be tempting, but you must not waste the court's time and your own by focusing on details that are legally irrelevant.

Every piece of evidence that you present as the respondent must support the fact that you have not engaged in conduct that would legally justify the issuance of a restraining order.  If your argument is that the petitioner is crazy, you must prove that the allegations against you are untrue.  The petitioner's mental health issues are not an excuse for your bad behavior.  Instead, those delusions help explain why the petitioner falsely believes that you have done something inappropriate.

If you or a loved one has questions about restraining orders in California, call our office for a free attorney consultation.  714 449 3335.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.