A jury found a Chatsworth woman guilty Friday of filing a criminal complaint that falsely charged her ex-husband with failing to make child-support payments.
Vivica M. Franzen, 36, was found guilty of one count of perjury in Van Nuys Superior Court in what prosecutors described as an attempt to get her former husband arrested during a highly publicized campaign by the county district attorney's office against fathers who failed to pay child support.
As the verdict was read, Franzen sank her face into her folded arms and burst into sobs that continued while each of the eight women and four men on the jury repeated the verdict individually.
Judge Darlene E. Schempp then released Franzen without bail, pending her sentencing Dec. 9.
Could Face 4-Year Term
Prosecutors said they were uncertain what sentence they would seek for the mother of three, the first person known to be charged with perjury for filing false charges in a child-support case. The maximum penalty for perjury is four years in state prison.
However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Katherine K. Mader said she expected that "the sentence will fit the crime."
"This wasn't a residential burglary," Mader said. "I think the verdict was certainly justified, but the sentence requires some careful deliberation."
According to testimony in the three-day trial, Franzen, who is now remarried, filed a sworn affidavit with the district attorney's child-support office in Reseda in September, 1984, alleging that her former husband failed to provide child support for their children from Sept. 17, 1983, to June 30, 1984.
In their 1979 divorce, the former husband, Steven Thomas Boyd, 39, of Newhall, was ordered to pay $300 a month for child support and $200 directly to a private school attended by their two children, now 12 and 14.
Had Proof of Payment
Based on Franzen's complaint, the district attorney's office sent Boyd a letter threatening him with arrest if he failed to appear in court.
In his court appearance in October, 1984, Boyd produced canceled checks for thousands of dollars in payments covering all but three of the months in question, according to the district attorney's office. At the trial, he testified that he had paid the rest in cash at Franzen's request.
Testifying on her own behalf, Franzen did not contest that some child support had been paid but denied that the cash payments were made. She said a county clerk asked her to sign the criminal complaint form before it was filled out and that the clerk mistakenly wrote in nine months.
Her current husband, Dan Franzen, testified that, when she came home from the district attorney's office, she told him she had signed a blank form.
However, the county clerk who took the form from Franzen testified that she would never ask a person to sign a blank form.
Another witness, a man who was married briefly to Franzen after she and Boyd were divorced, testified that, in their September, 1984, divorce proceedings, she also falsely accused him of failing to pay child support for a child born of their marriage.
That husband, Samuel Barnett, said a civil action against him was dropped when he produced canceled checks for the disputed payments.
In closing arguments Thursday, Mader called Franzen a "vindictive" woman who "abused the judicial system in a way that caused an innocent person to be dragged into court."
Mader said Franzen decided she was going to get back at her ex-husband by having him arrested in the crackdown on scofflaw fathers.
Was 'a Mistake'
In closing arguments, defense attorney William G. Cort said that Franzen made "a mistake" and never intentionally lied. She had a rightful claim, but did not articulate it correctly, Cort said.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay said the district attorney's office generally conducts an investigation before sending a letter notifying a father that charges have been filed against him.
The former husband is then allowed to produce evidence to dispute the charges.
However, Livesay said, the affidavit that Franzen filed is similar to those filed against a person accused by another person of a crime.
If there are no witnesses, police are obligated to investigate the allegations and make an arrest unless exonerating evidence is found.
"We do attempt to verify these matters," Livesay said. "In the end, however, a false allegation is possible. It can happen."