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Horvitz & Levy is a solutions-based firm focused on appellate success. We are distinguished by our commitment to responsive service and on-going innovation in the areas of civil appellate litigation, amicus curiae support, and trial strategy consultation.

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Horvitz & Levy LLP represented petitioner Santos M. in this pro bono matter. Santos is a minor from El Salvador who has never known his father’s identity or whereabouts. Santos’s mother immigrated to the United States when he was young in order to earn money to support him, leaving him in the care of his grandparents. Santos eventually immigrated to the United States, unaccompanied, when his grandparents grew too old to care for him and gang warfare ravaged his small town. Congress created a humanitarian relief program called Special Immigrant Juvenile Stats (SIJS) for children like Santos who had been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent. Children who are granted SIJS relief can become naturalized citizens after five years. To apply for SIJS relief, Santos filed a custody action seeking to have his sole custody awarded to his mother and to have the trial court make the factual findings necessary to establish SIJS eligibility: that a court had awarded custody of Santos to an individual; that reunification with one of Santos’s parents was not viable because of abandonment; and that it is not in Santos’s best interests to be returned to his previous country. The trial court denied Santos’s requests, on the basis that neither custody nor the SIJS findings could be decided without first determining the parentage of the alleged father, which would in turn require personal jurisdiction over and joinder of the alleged father in the proceeding.

Horvitz & Levy petitioned the Court of Appeal on Santos’s behalf, seeking a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to change its ruling. We argued that regardless of whether it is desirable, as a general matter, to establish paternity and join a father who had abandoned his child in this type of proceeding, the family court erred by requiring that here because the father could not be identified or located. The family court’s order here served only to bar Santos from access to the relief that Congress had created for children just like Santos.

In only 7 days, the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Three) issued a notice of intent to grant a peremptory writ of mandate in the first instance. In an unusual step, the Court of Appeal held that because there was no adverse party, it did not need to provide any opportunity for further briefing. The Court of Appeal instead ordered that the trial court had to vacate its order within 20 days or the Court of Appeal would immediately issue a peremptory writ of mandate, without awaiting further briefing, requiring the trial court to comply.