Cristall v. Cristall (CA2 12/2/10)

We just posted Estate of McGathy and already we have to apologize to Justice Hurwitz: his footnotes are nothing compared to what goes on in this opinion.

The parties divorced in California in 1986. Wife tried to domesticate the judgment in Yavapai County in 1996. Husband objected; the trial court overruled the objection and entered judgment. In 2007 Wife, having renewed the judgment, assigned some sort of rights under it to a collection agency. In 2009 she petitioned for supplemental proceedings. Husband responded that the judgment was void and that she was no longer the owner of it, anyway. The trial court ruled for her; he appealed.

Husband argued that the five-year period for renewal of the judgment ran from the date Wife originally filed the California judgment in Yavapai County. Wife argued that it ran from the date of the court’s order domesticating it. The Court of Appeals agreed with Wife since a foreign judgment isn’t enforceable until twenty days after filing or until an objection to it is ruled on.

Primarily in an extended footnote, the court notes Husband’s contention that there could be a long delay between the two dates, causing confusion and prejudice. The court’s answer is that the problem would be “largely resolved if constraints are placed on the period of time in which a judgment debtor may object to the filing.” It then suggests that 12-1704(c) (the slip opinion says 12-1703(c)) – the foreign judgment isn’t enforceable for twenty days – means that the other party has only twenty days to object. In other words, to solve a problem with its own ruling the court, in a footnote, makes a major change in the law and reinterprets a statute to mean something it doesn’t come close to saying but which the court wishes it said about an issue that the parties (as the opinion admits) didn’t even brief. And all of this is entirely unnecessary since this isn’t really a problem; the issue is one of statutory construction and the statutes mean what they mean even if they cause delay.

As for the assignment, Husband produced a letter from the collection agency stating that Wife had assigned her rights. Wife said that she assigned only her “collection rights,” i.e., the right to collect on her behalf the money owed her. That isn’t how collection agencies normally work in our neck of the woods but, heck, this agency was in California. Anyway, the trial judge decided that she must be right because his file didn’t mention the assignment. He then ensured that it wouldn’t by denying Husband’s motion to compel the collection agency to produce records of the assignment. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s findings were not clearly erroneous and that denying Husband’s motion was okay because “we are unable to discern” whether Husband had had a California subpoena issued for the records. There was therefore no “credible issue” regarding the assignment.

So what about the letter from the collection agency, written by an attorney? He “mischaracterized” the nature of the transfer of rights, the court says. How can you decide that he mischaracterized it unless you’ve weighed the evidence? And how can you weigh evidence to determine that there’s no need for evidence because there’s no issue to consider? Well, don’t ask us, we dunno.

Husband also argued that the trial court erred by not giving him as much oral argument as requested. But that’s not error since the Yavapai rules don’t require that he be given any.

(link to opinion)