The criminal case against Eva Ruiz Gomez (People v. Ruiz-Gomez) is now entering its second year, having begun with her arrest on September 28, 2010. Eva was originally charged with felony child abduction, but she is now being charged with deprivation of custody and visitation (not usually a felony crime, but it is in Eva’s case).
With three vague and conflicting court orders in place, each concerning custody and visitation, it is still a mystery to Eva and her counsel which court order she supposedly violated and how. And even after 60+ times in court, no Deputy District Attorney (DDA) assigned to the case nor any judge has been able to clearly articulate that.
Why is the Monterey County District Attorney’s office spending the taxpayers’ money to pursue this prosecution? What’s the story behind this case? An increasing number of community members, calling themselves Friends of Eva, are asking these questions and lots more.
The story goes back to 2000, when Ramon Munoz, the complaining witness in this criminal case, initiated a case in the Monterey County Family Law Court (Munoz v. Ruiz-Gomez), in an effort to claim an improper tax deduction for a child (Eva’s and his son) for whom he was not paying child support.
Though the child did not live with Munoz or receive any type of support from him, Munoz was asking the court for the Social Security number and birth certificate of the child so he could claim him as a dependent. The judge denied his request and instead ordered Munoz to pay monthly child support, half the midwife’s fee, half the child’s medical expenses and Eva’s lawyer’s fees and to provide the child with medical coverage.
The judge’s ruling was meant to make it easier for Eva to care and provide for her child, but instead Eva’s situation only got harder. She was in court 13 times between 2000 and 2003, defending herself against Munoz’s numerous charges and accusations, including kidnapping, deprivation of visitation and “being in hiding”–while she was living in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in the same employee housing where she’d lived on and off since 1989.
Repeatedly Munoz told the court, the District Attorney’s office or the police that he couldn’t find Eva or that she should be “punished”. (March 2001 DA; April and June 2001 Court; August 2001 Court; Jan 2002 asked Police to take matter to DA for prosecution; January 2003 Police; February 2003 Court; Sept and Oct 2003 Police) This does not include the times that Munoz sent the police to Eva’s mother’s house in Seaside to harass her.
Additionally Munoz improperly served Eva for court hearings (May 2000; August 2000; March 2001; April 2001; February 2003), making it difficult for her to respond and prepare for court. Despite the challenges, Eva was always able to clear herself of the charges and accusations. But for each accusation, there was an enormous amount of Eva’s time and energy, as well as expense, involved in her defense—not to mention the toll it took on her physically and emotionally.
In January 2002 Munoz attempted to get a Big Sur State Park ranger to assist him in “enforcing a court order,” but the ranger refused to cooperate and instead went to Eva and warned her to be careful because Munoz’s behavior alarmed him. So Munoz turned to the Monterey police—claiming Eva had been in hiding and was hindering visitation for the past two months. But half that time she was in Mexico with her son (she had Munoz sign papers giving her permission to go) and the other half Munoz was in the Monterey County Jail. He wanted the police to take it tothe District Attorney for prosecution, but instead they arrested Munoz for outstanding warrants against him.
In September and October 2003, Munoz sent police to Eva’s new residence and place of employment in Pebble Beach even though her lawyer had informed him and the court that Eva could have no visitors (especially not police) at the Pebble Beach premises. Munoz had been clearly informed that uninvited visitors would mean Eva immediately losing her job and her family losing their housing.
Meanwhile, Eva had been granted full legal and physical custody of her son, as well as permission from the Family Law Court to move to Mexico. In October 2003, Eva could see that it was time to use that permission and go.
Once Eva and her family had moved to Mexico, Munoz illegally served a notice of a court hearing to a minor and, knowing that Eva was out of the country and most likely unaware of the scheduled proceedings, appeared in court alone in August 2004. Munoz asked for, and was granted, joint custody plus an elaborate visitation schedule (with the Seaside Police Department—where his brother-in-law worked—as the meeting place) so that when Eva didn’t show up with their son, Munoz could file kidnapping charges against her. And that’s precisely what he did.
If Eva had been ordered by the court to contact Munoz (to arrange visitation, or to notify him of when they were returning, etc.) she would have done so. From 2000 to 2003, when Eva and Munoz were both ordered to go to mediation, pay the midwife, pay for investigations, Eva did so. Munoz did not.
Munoz was not deprived of visitation while Eva’s family was living in Mexico—he chose not to pursue it. He often failed to take advantage of visitation when they lived in the same county. Why would he spend the money to go all the way to Mexico? The Family Court case was initiated by Munoz to save money, not spend money.
The judge in criminal court has consistently focused on Eva’s supposed attempts to deprive Munoz of visitation, but where is the proof he tried to visit? In the extensive documentation on this case, there is evidence to prove both that Eva is innocent of the charges and that Munoz routinely tried to “punish” Eva through the court system and avoid paying child support.
When people hear about Eva’s case, some can’t believe that she could go to prison for this. Others, without understanding the consequences, ask why Eva doesn’t just plea bargain, take a misdemeanor and “go on with her life.” But Eva is fully aware that she would have no life. If she were to take a misdemeanor, Eva would be on probation for 3 or 4 or 5 years, or longer. The time could get extended. Conditions for her probation would be set by the very judge who has been hostile towards Eva since he saw that she was going to fight these charges.
If she were on probation, the police harassment that she has endured for years would then be sanctioned by the system. They could come into her house at any moment–night or day–and search her home. They could pull her over when she’s driving, without needing any reason. They could strip-search her–any time, no reason needed.
All that Munoz and his lawyer would need to do is file charges, as they just did with recent contempt charges, and Eva would go straight to jail–no hearing needed.
Eleven days after Eva was arrested in September 2010 and her son was taken away from her by the DA’s investigator and given to Munoz, Judge Wills in Family Court gave Eva her son back (in fact the judge told Munoz he had 3 hours to return the child to her!) But two days later Eva was back in criminal court because Munoz and DDA Amy Patterson were accusing Eva of refusing to give her address and contact information, and they were declaring that she was once again “in hiding” and should be put back in jail immediately.
Had it not been for a family friend and lawyer being there with Eva, who was able to tell the judge that Eva had indeed given all her contact information to the DDA and to Munoz in court two days previously and in front of witnesses, Eva would have indeed gone straight to jail.
That’s exactly what Eva would be looking at all the time if she were to take a misdemeanor and be on probation. She would have no life at all–only constant fear and anxiety–and no way to protect herself from the accusations of Ramon Munoz.
As recently as January 2011 Munoz wrote to DDA Patterson saying Eva was preventing him—against court orders—from calling his son by refusing to give him a current phone number. Eva printed out phone statements to prove he had called, these were shown to the DDA and the issue was dropped. But had Eva been on probation, she would have gone to jail.
The hope for a positive outcome in Eva’s case comes from the fact that she has a hard-working, passionate, intelligent team working tirelessly on her case—fueled by belief in her innocence and determined to fight for her against enormous odds. But there’s a high price to be paid for this—the judges and prosecutors do not look kindly on those who refuse to plead guilty when they are not. Eva is just such a person. The only choice that makes sense to her is to keep fighting.