AUGUST 19, 2004  |  FAMILY  
Man Fights Depublication of Case
By Susan McRae
Daily Journal Staff Writer
        LOS ANGELES - A man who overturned an order that forced him to pay to support children he didn't father has filed papers fighting efforts to depublish a court ruling that would make it easier for others falsely accused in paternity actions to clear their names.
        Depublication would not affect Manuel Navarro, the Whittier man who managed to have a default judgment accusing him of fathering twins reversed. But it would prevent others from citing the landmark ruling. County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, 2004 DJDAR 8069 (Cal. App. 2nd Dist. June 30, 2004).
        "Navarro offers relief to countless citizens and inhabitants of California who are unjustly, even fraudulently, charged with paternity," Navarro's attorney, Linda Ferrer, wrote Tuesday on his behalf to the state Supreme Court.
        "Therefore, it seems imprudent to allow a judgment that is demonstrably false to stand, when the truth should be the best result."
        The letter was in response to the Aug. 9 request from the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department to depublish the 2nd District Court of Appeal's ruling. The panel reversed a default child-support order against Navarro, who had missed the deadline to challenge a paternity judgment but had undisputed genetic evidence he was not the father.
        In its published opinion, the three-judge panel said it would not "sully its hands" by upholding an unjust decision that was unsupported by the facts.
        Los Angeles child-support officials said they wouldn't appeal the judgment. Instead, they filed a letter requesting depublication so the decision would not serve as a legal precedent for other men.
        Philip Browning, Los Angeles Child Support Services director, said the agency felt attorneys were citing the ruling in situations the office didn't consider applicable.
        The appellate committee of the California Child Support Directors' Association has filed an amicus letter supporting Los Angeles County's depublication position.
        The letters say the decision would wreak legal havoc in the courts because it doesn't establish clear guidelines. Instead, they say, the remedy for false paternity claims should come from the Legislature.
        A bill that would offer relief, AB252, by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, passed the Senate Wednesday 36-0, and is headed back to the Assembly for a final vote before being sent to the governor. The bipartisan measure would give men who claim to have been falsely named in default paternity judgments a two-year amnesty to appeal . In addition, the bill would allow men two years, rather than the current six months, after they are notified of a default judgment to challenge it.
        While Ferrer said she supports the bill, it doesn't change her position that the Navarro decision should stand. The bill, she said, would be limited to a two-year amnesty, whereas the appellate ruling has no time constraints.
        "If the goal of our system is that justice should be done, it would be fair to say that it creates great difficulty to expect attorneys to practice in courts where truth doesn't matter, as well as to expect the public to trust and respect our legal system where truth doesn't matter," Ferrer wrote.
        Navarro's troubles began in March 1996, when Los Angeles County officials filed a complaint to establish the paternity and child-support obligations of "Manuel Nava," named as father of two boys receiving public assistance. Based on information provided by the mother, officials filed a complaint against Navarro.
        County officials made substitute service of the complaint by leaving a copy of the summons with "Jane Doe," identified as "sister" and "co-tenant." Another copy was sent by first-class mail. Under state law, a respondent has six months to challenge the claim.
        Navarro failed to reply and a judge entered a default judgment establishing paternity and ordering Navarro to pay $247 in monthly support.
        Five years later, Navarro filed a motion to dismiss the judgment. He cited genetic blood tests proving he was not the father. He also claimed never to have received the summons and complaint or notice of default judgment.
        He then sued the county, arguing the six-month rule should not apply because the boys' mother committed "extrinsic" fraud" in asserting he was the father.