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California agency will seek to depublish paternity ruling.

In an unusual, sharply worded opinion, California's Second District Court of Appeals has ruled that a man does not have in pay support for children he did not father, even though he missed the deadline for challenging the judgment against him. (County of Los Angeles v. Navarre, No. B155166 (Cal. Ct. App. June 30, 2004).) And in a controversial aftermath, a state child protection agency is asking the state supreme court to depublish the ruling so it cannot be cited in future "paternity fraud" cases.

The dispute goes back to 1996, when a woman in Los Angeles County filed a claim to establish paternity and request child support, naming Manuel Navarro as the father of bet two sons. After Navarro failed to respond to a summons, the county filed a default judgment requiring him to pay $247 a month.

In 2001, Navarro sued the county, claiming he never had a relationship with the woman. He produced DNA evidence showing he was not the children's father; claimed he had never received notice of the original summons; and pointed out that San Bernardino Country, where the mother had also filed for relief, had dropped its paternity suit against him.

But under California law, the deadline for challenging a paternity judgment is six months, and Navarro had waited almost five years. Noting this, the trial court granted summary judgment to the county, ruling that although Navarro proved his case, by law he was still obligated to make the sup port payments.

The appeals court conceded that under a "narrow, technical reading of the controlling case law and statutes, with their emphasis on the public interest in the finality of judgments," the trial court was correct.

The opinion stated, "Sometimes even more important policies than the finality of judgments are at stake, however. Mistakes do happen, and a profound mistake occurred here when appellant was charged with being the boys' father, an error the county concedes.

Instead of remedying its mistake, the county retreats behind the procedural redoubt offered by the passage of time.... It is this state's policy that when a mistake occurs in a child support action, the county must correct it, not exploit it."

The court concluded, "We will not sully ore hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result. We say no to the county, and we reverse."

Immediately after the ruling was issued, the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department announced that it would request that the case be depublished.

"I never would have dreamed that this would be the outcome," said Linda Ferret of Santa Ana, who represented Navarro. "It is a very fair decision, it is very good law. But if they depublish it, nobody can rely on it.

"They are saying that superior courts will misuse this ruling. What they're saying is, they don't trust judges," she said.

Lawyers for the child support department have argued that the facts of Navarro are too narrow to set precedent. In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, department director Philip Browning said that the decision would cause confusion because it lacked guidelines on how to apply it fairly in different situations.

No legal motions to depublish had been filed at press time. But Ferrer said the fight over Navarro has highlighted a little-known fact about the state's child support agencies: "The problem of paternity fraud is huge. There are thousands of men who have DNA to prove that their judgments are unfair. It goes on far more often than people imagine."
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Author:Sileo, Carmel
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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