Trials & Litigation

Lawyer’s conduct must be ‘seriously’ annoying to warrant restraining order, appeals court says

Updated: A lawyer who accused another attorney of yelling and glaring at her, ranting “in an unintelligible manner” and serving her with bogus documents is not entitled to a permanent restraining order, a California appeals court has ruled.

In a July 1 unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal’s Fourth Appellate District ruled against Dawn Saenz, who sought the order against Patrick D. Martinez based on his alleged behavior on the phone, at the courthouse and at her office.

Law360 has the story.

A trial judge in Riverside County, California, had found Saenz’s evidence to be credible while finding much of Martinez’s evidence not credible.

The trial judge nonetheless dissolved a temporary restraining order and refused to grant a permanent order.

The judge found that Martinez’s behavior was “annoying,” but it did not rise to the level of harassment. According to the judge, Martinez “skirted that line just enough.”

Saenz had alleged that the problems began in August 2022 when she called an opposing counsel to schedule a deposition. Martinez, who shared office space with the opposing counsel, took over the call and yelled at Saenz’s staff, she had alleged. On Sept. 1, 2022, at the courthouse, Saenz allegedly glared at Saenz and yelled that she “always gives bad advice.”

Martinez allegedly screamed in another phone call and courthouse encounter. In yet another courthouse meeting, Saenz alleged, Martinez started raising his voice while saying “unintelligible things.” As she walked away, Martinez allegedly “escalated to screaming” as he “continued to rant in an unintelligible manner.”

Martinez later showed up at Saenz’s office, where he handed “void” and “made-up” documents to the office manager, Saenz alleged.

California courts are authorized to issue restraining orders for harassment, which is defined as “a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys or harasses the person and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

Under that standard, the trial judge didn’t have to issue a restraining order, the appeals court said.

“At a minimum, Martinez’s behavior had to be ‘seriously’ annoying for it to qualify as harassment,” the appeals court said. “Saenz does not cite, nor can we find, any authority that suggests merely ‘annoying’ behavior suffices.”

Martinez provided Law360 with an emailed statement.

“This was a restraining order that was filed to prevent me, an attorney, from being counsel on a case. Ms. Saenz did not want to have to litigate a case with me as opposing counsel,” Martinez told Law360. “The temporary restraining order should have never been granted to begin with.”

Martinez told the ABA Journal that the court of appeal “rightfully ruled” and suggested that Saenz tried to intimidate others.

As for the trial judge’s findings that much of his evidence wasn’t credible, Martinez says, the transcripts would suggest otherwise. A lot of information was misquoted, and some evidence wasn’t allowed, he says.

“The restraining order is over,” Martinez says. “The ramifications of the restraining order are not over. I have lots of legal remedies.”

A lawyer for Saenz, Joshua Hanks of Grech & Packer, said he and his client are disappointed by the court’s decision. He also responded to Martinez’s comments on the case.

Hanks said the idea that anyone would be afraid to try a case against Martinez is “laughable” because he is a fairly new attorney.

“The defense that he is offering now is the same defense that he offered in court,” Hanks said. “It is the same defense that the judge found not credible, not believable.”

Updated July 3 at 12:25 p.m. to add the comments by Joshua Hanks of Grech & Packer.

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