California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal Rules in Favor of Pro bono Client, Removing Improperly Imposed Restraining Order
Jenner & Block represented a pro bono client in removing an improperly imposed restraining order against her. Our client, M. C., had presented evidence to a judge in Tulare County Superior Court that her ex-husband had a history of inflicting serious, and in some cases life-threatening, physical abuse on her. The trial court nevertheless granted mutual restraining orders against both M.C. and her ex-husband, based on an April 2017 incident in which M.C. went to her ex-husband’s home to pick up their two minor children. The encounter became violent; M.C.’s ex-husband grabbed her by the neck and tried to drag her around the house, until she bit him and broke free. As she fled the house, she threw a lamp that she had picked up inside at an unoccupied car in the driveway. Finding that both parties “acted primarily as aggressor,” judge imposed mutual restraining orders against both parties. Despite finding that acts of abuse had occurred, the trial court also maintained a joint custody order of the parties’ two children.
But on September 26, 2018, the Fifth District Court of Appeal lifted the restraining order against M.C. and reversed the joint custody order. In the opinion authored by Justice Jennifer R. S. Detjen, the Court of Appeal noted that M.C. violated no order in going to her ex-husband’s home and that there was no finding that she placed him in fear or otherwise harassed him. The Court of Appeal further found that her conduct was a direct response to abuse at the hands of her ex-husband and occurred because she was fleeing the location where that abuse occurred. Additionally, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court had failed to apply the presumption against granting an abuser joint custody of the children as required by law.
The team representing M.C. included Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira and Associates AnnaMarie A. Van Hoesen, who argued the case in front of the appellate court, and Elizabeth H. Capel. Our firm was co-counsel with Anya Emerson, Jennafer Dorfman Wagner, Cory D. Hernandez and Erin C. Smith of the Family Violence Appellate Project and Jeneé Barnes of Central California Legal Services.
Firm’s Pro Bono Client Featured in Four-Part Sun Times Series
Jesse Webster, the firm’s pro bono client who was granted executive clemency after serving 20 years of a life sentence on charges related to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, is the subject of a four-part series by Chicago Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell. The series chronicles Mr. Webster’s run-in with the law at age 26 and how he had been in prison for 14 years and lost several appeals when he “crossed paths” with Partner Jessica Ring Amunson. A federal appeals court appointed the firm in 2009 to represent Webster in his last, and final, appeal. Ms. Amunson is photographed and quoted throughout the series, telling Ms. Mitchell that, “I was honest about how much odds were against” clemency. “But I decided to take on his clemency case because I could not understand why someone like Jesse would be spending the rest of his life in jail for a non-violent drug offense. It just made no sense to me that our criminal justice system would work that way.”
On March 30, 2016, President Obama granted executive clemency to Mr. Webster and 60 other individuals “serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” according to the White House. The series tells of Mr. Webster’s work to re-integrate himself in society since his release, including getting a job at Catholic Charities. It also describes Mr. Webster’s first face-to-face meeting with Ms. Amunson, in October at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. “It wasn’t like I was meeting her for the first time,” Mr. Webster says. “I felt like I knew her.” Ms. Amunson is quoted saying, “It was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of helping someone spend the rest of their life with their family, rather than spending the rest of their life in prison.”
In addition to Ms. Amunson, Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Caroline DeCell worked on the case. The team’s efforts included petitioning Capitol Hill and sharing Mr. Webster’s story with major media outlets such as the New York Times. Ms. Mitchell also wrote several columns about Mr. Webster in the past and published Mr. Webster’s open letter to youth. “It took a lot of caring people to get Webster back home safely,” the series concludes. “Without them, he would still be wasting away behind bars.”