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Name: In re Harley C.
Case #: B293323
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 07/15/2019

Juvenile court erred when it prohibited mother from testifying as a sanction for violation of a local rule regarding joint trial statements. At a jurisdictional hearing on a dependency petition, mother waived her right to a hearing and submitted on the social worker’s reports. The court sustained jurisdiction. Mother sought sole physical custody of the children, while the Department recommended termination of jurisdiction, with custody to father. At the disposition hearing, minor’s counsel changed its position and aligned with the Department’s recommendation. Mother requested to testify, but the court denied the request because mother had not filed a joint trial statement as was required by a local rule. Mother explained that the reason for her last minute request was minor’s counsel’s last minute change in recommended position. Mother also requested a continuance to file a joint trial statement. The court denied that request as well, and proceeded with the hearing, terminating jurisdiction with physical custody of the minor to father. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new disposition hearing. Courts may apply only those local rules that are not inconsistent with the rules adopted and prescribed by the Judicial Council. Here, the local rule conflicted with California law. It promoted judicial efficiency over the policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits. The juvenile court mechanically applied the local rule to preclude mother from presenting relevant evidence on the question of the proper disposition of the children. Although the local rule itself was silent as to sanctions for violation of the courthouse rules, here the court applied the rule to prevent mother from presenting relevant evidence, which was a disproportionate sanction.