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District Court of Appeal, Fourth District, California.


Civ. 3899.

Decided: July 10, 1950

Elizabeth Sprague, in propria persona. Jerome B. Kavanaugh, District Attorney, Theo. G. Krumm, Deputy District Attorney, San Bernardino, for respondent.

This is an appeal from an order denying petition for a writ of error coram nobis.

On August 1, 1941, the appellant was adjudged insane by a jury and sent to Patton State Hospital. She was released on parole April 1, 1943, and was discharged as recovered on May 27, 1943. In October, 1947, she filed a coram nobis petition. A hearing thereon was delayed for about a year, largely at her request. In the meantime in another proceeding a jury, on August 26, 1948, found that she ‘is sane at the present time.’

The petition for the writ alleged that there was no real trial before the jury in 1941 since no witnesses were called for her, although some were available; that certain facts with reference to her husband, which occurred in Florida and in Texas in 1939 and 1940, could have been proved; that the opinions of the medical experts who testified were based upon a belief that her expressed fear of her husband was unfounded, and some of them have since changed their minds; and that extrinsic fraud was ‘practiced upon the witnesses for the prosecution in that they were given false and untrue information’ upon which to base their opinion.

The appellant here contends that she actually had no trial at all because of the extrinsic fraud of her attorney, appointed by the court, since he presented no witnesses for her, not even her daughter; since hefailed to cross-examine the witnesses; and since he forced her to seem to verify the testimony against her by allowing her to tell only what had recently occurred, without letting her give the background as to why she had reason to fear her husband.

The transcript of the original hearing, in August, 1941, contains 36 pages. In addition to appellant's testimony, four police officers and another witness testified as to her actions immediately before the proceeding was initiated. Four doctors also testified two of whom had acted on the preliminary commission, and the others having observed her condition during the nine days she had been at Patton. Her attorney asked the appellant to give her version of the incident that led to the filing of the charge. She replied at length, and then answered other questions. The record shows no request or refusal to go into the background, nothing with respect to the availability of other witnesses, and nothing to indicate that further cross-examination would have been of value. There can be no question that the jury's finding was amply supported by the evidence received, including her own testimony.

This is confirmed by the record of the hearing on October 25, 1948, on the application for this writ, the appellant being represented by counsel of her own choice. In addition to numerous affidavits and exhibits, the testimony of the appellant and her daughter takes up 80 pages of the transcript. Their testimony explains the reasons for appellant's condition in 1941, but tends to support, rather than throw doubt upon, the jury's finding at that time. The appellant also testified that the original hearing she did not ask her attorney to bring out anything, as she thought he knew his business. She admitted that she had made no request of him with which he did not comply, although she said that she had previously asked him to call her daughter as a witness. She also admitted that at the time of the hearing she did not ask him about her daughter, and there is no evidence that anyone connected with the hearing knew where the daughter then was.

Written statements, made in 1947 by three of the doctors who testified at the 1941 hearing, were also introduced. Two of these indicate that the writers were then willing to accept some of the appellant's statements about her husband's conduct as being supported by proof she had since produced. The third was to the same effect and further stated that the appellant now conceded that another belief she had expressed, that she had been overcome by gas for which her husband was in some way responsible, could have been caused by her ‘now known condition of adrenal insufficiency.’ While some of the doctors who testified may have changed their minds, with respect to certain factors, it does not follow that the medical testimony at the original trial was based entirely upon mistaken information.

The voluminous evidence introduced at the hearing on this writ was not sufficient to establish the allegations of the petition as to extrinsic fraud or otherwise, and the record discloses neither fraud nor improper conduct on the part of her attorney.

It is further contended that the fact that a jury found her sane in 1948, shows that the first jury would have so found had the facts been fully presented. Her condition in 1948 would in no way prove that a different condition did not exist some years before. The record amply shows that she was mentally ill in 1941, that she needed care and treatment, and that this was successful. The fact that her condition was caused by her husband's previous continued and tragic mistreatment, and the fact that it was later discovered that an adrenal insufficiency was also a cause, could not affect the existence of the condition. While the evidence which she contends should have been produced would have disclosed one of the reasons for that condition, it would merely have emphasized it, and would not have shown that it did not exist.

Fortunately, appellant has recovered and has since held important positions and has looked after herself and her children in a manner deserving the highest commendation. In so doing, she has already cleared her name, her sole purpose in this proceeding in what is not only the best but the only way it could be done. Her former mental illness, the result of causes now known and for which she could not be blamed, is not a disgrace and will not be held against her or her children by right-thinking people. While her desire to change the formal record is understandable, the facts are not sufficient to warrant, or to permit, this to be done.

The order is affirmed.

BARNARD, Presiding Justice.

GRIFFIN and MUSSELL, JJ., concur.

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