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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

May, 2007



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Marin Family Court Disgrace
By Valerie D. Nixon

Words cannot describe the feeling of desperation that overcomes a protective parent when facing down a family court judge that has gained a reputation for suspicious, questionably corrupt, behavior in divorce and custody rulings. Marin County has had its fair share of these accusations, from as far back as the mid 90's, naming longtime judges such as Michael Dufficey, John A Sutro, Jr, Sylvia Shapiro, Terence Boren and Vernon Smith.
The accused cronies-in-crime weren't just judges but have also included other county personnel such as DA Paula Kamena, Investigator Patricia Stafford and Court CEO John Montgomery. Most accusations against family court officials have been ignored by the county and grand jury, with only a failed election recall briefly affecting DA Kamena.

In 2002 the grand jury did respond to one request I made for investigation into crimes committed by Judge John A Sutro Jr, but their response was that the Grand Jury NEVER investigates family court officials. It was not known to me at the time that the Grand Jury's overseeing judge was in fact John A Sutro Jr. himself. Was this a fox guarding the henhouse?

Time has not changed the problems in Marin's Family Court; individual cases are just covered up a little better. Paperwork still comes up missing, children are still placed in the sole custody of an abusive parent and justice is a meaningless word that can be purchased with enough money or with the implied promise of favors when the lawyered-up parent informs the judge what kind of business he is in.

On April 19th in New York the ax has fallen on the corruption and bribery in family court. In Brooklyn, State Supreme Court Justice Gerald P Garson was convicted on 3 counts of bribery and accepting rewards for official misconduct, crimes which were captured on a hidden camera wired in his chambers, significant since action was taken on the word of a mother who had received a "bad" ruling in his court. Instead of being labeled as "disgruntled", court officials took her claims seriously enough to investigate and then followed through to clean up their courts instead of covering up the obvious criminal acts. As stated in a recent AP news report by one mother who has continuously followed this case: "Garson is the tip of the iceberg," said one of the women, Esther Yang, calling the former judge a "thug." New York is taking abuse in the courts seriously and is taking action to see justice is done.

Marin County has the ability to clean up its family courts, but it must begin with righting the wrongs instead of covering them up. They must show that truth and justice is the ultimate goal of the court, not just for a few lucky individuals who can afford to pay their way through years and years of litigation, but to every one who enters their halls.

If a protective parent has legitimate concerns of DV or abuse, especially presenting evidence to back it up, an investigation should always take place and sole custody should never be awarded to the abusive parent. When these cases arise, the family court should question the motives of the judge when he rules that the evidence doesn't matter as long as the abusive parent has plenty of money.

When this finally happens in Marin, the shame the county has had to live with for failing to protect the innocent will finally be put aside, until then, shamefully, it is business as usual.

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