A Court Can Correct Its Own Errors

Husband [H] is a well-known music producer currently serving prison time for second degree murder. He married Wife [W] while out on bail and awaiting his trial for murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to 19 years to life for his crime.

In 2016, while serving his sentence, H petitioned for divorce from W. W responded and requested the court order H to pay temporary spousal support and attorneys fees until their divorce was finalized.

In February of 2017, W’s request was heard in court and the judge awarded her spousal support beginning March 1, 2017.

A few days later, H’s attorney sent an e-mail to the judge (with a copy to W’s attorney) notifying her that there was an “error in her arithmetic” regarding the amount of spousal support awarded. (Spousal support is awarded based on the need of the spouse requesting support and the other spouse’s ability to pay to maintain the lifestyle they had while married.) The Judge replied to both attorneys stating that she would like to hear arguments as to why the amount was in error. She allowed them to send a five-page brief (written argument) regarding their positions via e-mail, and then she would make her decision.

A series of e-mails were sent between the judge and W’s attorney (with copies to H’s attorney) regarding whether the judge was misinterpreting statutory and constitution law. According to W, since the judge had already made her decision, she had no legal authority to change it without a request from the parties.

The judge disagreed with W, and in her March 23 Order she lowered the amount of spousal support awarded W. The judge also addressed W’s objections as to whether she could change her own order. She cited the California Supreme Court case of Le Francois vs Goel, which “…found that while legislation may limit what matters are brought by parties before the court, it may NOT limit a court’s power to reconsider its rulings on its own.” The judge explained that while there was no math error in the February 2017 Order, there were three other factors she wanted to address. W appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court, stating, “If a court believes one of its prior orders was erroneous, it may correct that error no matter how it came to acquire that belief. It is immaterial what may have triggered a trial court’s insight that an order might be erroneous.”

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