Award winning journalists have arrived on the scene to expose issues involving California Judges acting in the state’s family court cases. An article published on Sunday October 16 2016 in the Eastbay Times by award winning investigative journalists Thomas Peele and Nate Gartrell may have opened the floodgates as mainstream media exposes the grave injustices found in California’s family court cases.
For decades family courts have faced criticism from people trapped in divorces who describe unfair support orders, legal alienation from their children and outright dismissal of property and First Amendment Rights . Courts dismiss those who complain as disgruntled litigants, but the complaints show something far more sinister.
Sacramento County was the first to speak up about family court matters – and investigative reporters, bloggers, activists and social media specialists began to expose the darker side of family court judges and proceedings.
Ultimately, many of the most vocal critics were involved in the production of Divorce Corp, a popular, Netflix documentary. Sadly, many parents featured in the film never fully recovered from the losses the family courts had imposed in what should have been routine and equitable divorce cases.
Most egregious is the blatant use of judicial immunity that has allowed family court judges the power and ability to jail parents for missing support payments, or for posting online comments critical of a former spouse, family courts, judges or lawyers.
People have lost their children, their property and their freedom for speaking up during family court proceedings and courts appear willing to dismiss divorce litigant’s First Amendment Rights as a matter of routine. Additionally many judges are reported to be privately investigating people speaking up against them, and then using the system to retaliate and silence their critics.
Judicial retaliation against those who speak out is outrageous, and the most blatant involves the divorce case of Joe Sweeney, in Contra Costa County. After experiencing a rather unfair divorce proceeding, Joe formed Court Reform, LLC. In early 2016 Court Reform LLC published a report critical of the Commission of Judicial Performance, the state agency that is supposed to address judicial misconduct to protect citizens involved in legal matters. Many say Joe Sweeney’s report was “singlehandedly” responsible for causing the state legislature to order an audit of the CJP, for the first time in 50 years.
For Joe’s work aimed at protecting Californians embroiled in divorces, Judge Mills, of Contra Costa County, used blatant bias , retaliation and even violation of the law, to put Joe in jail.
Judge Mills was able to abuse his power by dressing up a contempt order that blamed Joe for posting publically available information online during a divorce proceeding. Judge Austin, Contra Costa County’s presiding judge had plenty of complaints and warnings against Judge Mills before Joe was jailed, and Judge Austin ignored those complaints, in violation of his own obligation to California’s Judicial Code of Ethics. Insiders say Judge Austin acted to make sure a “message ” was sent to Joe and other whistleblowers.
The DA in Contra Costa County will now have to decide if he will break with rank and finally begin to investigate complaints filed against judges arising from family law cases. Media exposure and public outrage may assist him in that decision.
Highly experienced family lawyers have also been speaking out over the misconduct of their peers , and judges . Most lawyers and judges believe misconduct serves to poison the well that is intended to provide citizens with a fair legal system, but few lawyers have felt free to speak out , or file the complaints necessary to stop the toxic behavior,despite rules and laws that require them to do just that.
Floyd Abrams, one of the country’s foremost First Amendment experts commented for the article written by Peele and Gartrell. Abrams clearly recognizes the dangers that exist when free speech and right to petition are quashed in family law cases, where the most fundamental rights of individuals reside.
The East Bay Times article clearly shows free speech experts and academics, including Martin Garbus, understand the impact on everyday citizens when family courts restrict the most fundamental of rights.
In Contra Costa County Joe Sweeney went to jail for speaking up . In Santa Clara County Michael Lazarin lost the right to say his own child’s name after he reported legal alienation during his custody case and Susan Bassi was evicted from two homes she had owned for over twenty years, after she reported two highly regarded family law attorneys, Nat Halesand Brad Baugh, to the State Bar and two judges, Mary Ann Grilli and James Towery , to the Santa Clara County presiding judge, Rise Pichon, who did nothing about the judges clearly retaliating in a divorce case.
Many family court cases involving violations of the First Amendment have worked their way up to the court of appeals, but social media has worked them out to the public’s attention faster. Social media assisted by public outrage over judge rulings , including the ruling of Judge Persky, in the Stanford rape case, has caused the public to take note, and demand change.
Judges are worried. At the annual meeting for the Judges’ Association, insiders report that the San Diego late summer meeting filled corridors and hallways with side meetings where judges expressed concern that their images are being blasted throughout social media, forcing their judicial rulings to be more widely scrutinized where such scrutiny is outside the control and protection of the court system,
On Monday, October 17, 2016 the biological father of Audrie Pott will address his First Amendment Rights in yet another Santa Clara County Courtroom. The county, still reeling from the attention brought during the Stanford rape case, combined with the issues now being exposed in Contra Costa County, is reported to be ground zero for an investigation on judicial misconduct.
As for rats bailing from the sinking court ship, citizens in Santa Clara County are well aware that the timing of Court CEO David Yamasaki’s departure from the county’s highest court management positon , is a bit more suspect , than routine. Yamasaki may be bailing as rumors related to misappropriation of state funds, and conduct involving the reporting of good lawyers to the State Bar, in an effort to protect misconduct of judges, is about to be exposed.