As far as a San Jose appeals court is concerned, parents don't need to spare the rod with their children -- ruling Tuesday that using a wooden spoon for a spanking that causes serious bruising should not necessarily translate into a finding of child abuse.
In a ruling designed to establish legal precedent, the 6th District Court of Appeal overturned a trial judge's finding that a South Bay mother should be reported for child abuse for trying to resolve discipline issues with her 12-year-old daughter by spanking her so hard with a wooden spoon it severely bruised her.
The unanimous three-justice panel concluded that while the April 2010 incident may have been on the outer boundaries of parental discipline, the overall circumstances did not warrant a child abuse report. The Santa Clara County Department of Social Services had concluded the mother, Veronica Gonzalez, should be reported to the state Department of Justice for its child abuse database for a "substantiated" incident.
"We cannot say that the use of a wooden spoon to administer a spanking necessarily exceeds the bounds of reasonable parental discipline," Justice Conrad Rushing wrote for the court.
Gonzalez and her husband, according to court papers, had grown increasingly concerned with their daughter's conduct at the time of the incident, citing the fact her schoolwork had deteriorated, she'd become "boy crazy" and was showing "growing interest in gangs."
The parents had turned to spanking if the problems persisted, and the mother resorted to the wooden spoon after the daughter failed to come home until late at night on the April 2010 evening. Court papers show that other relatives later told social workers that spanking was a rarity in the family, and the mother testified she did not know she was causing any physical harm or bruising when she used the spoon.
The appeals court concluded that the mother's motivation for imposing discipline and lack of intent to inflict physical harm were important factors in overturning the child abuse findings.
"Nothing in the record suggests the mother should have known she was inflicting bruises," the 6th District wrote. Noting the family's reasoning for using the wooden spoon, the court added that "the spanking was entirely the product of a genuine and deliberate disciplinary purpose, i.e., to arrest troubling behavior patterns exhibited by the daughter."
Lawyers for the county social services department, and Gonzalez did not respond to requests for comment.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz