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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

July, 2007



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LEGAL ALERT
Marin's Family Court Mediators Are Not Following The Law

To my colleagues:
Most of you know me, I am a family law attorney in Marin County. I am passing along what I believe to be very important information for all family law practitioners in Marin, for all Marin parents in the family law system, and for our Marin County Bar Association President. I believe serious action is needed to fix the following problems:
Various of our Marin County Family Court Services mediators are not following the mandatory standards of mediation practice set forth in California Rules of Court 5.210 and 5.215. They are not reading the court files (as required by 5.210 and 5.215), properly responding to complaints, or properly handling domestic violence cases as required by 5.215.


What they are doing is getting the moving party's custody motion from the court clerk when it's filed, maybe meeting with the parents for an hour or two, and then making custody and visitation recommendations that are very heavily relied-upon by the courts. What they are not doing is reading the court file, or even the responsive pleadings of the non-moving party. They are not checking for prior restraining orders or emergency protective orders. They also are not following, at all, the mediation complaint procedure mandated by local rules.

I was able to cross-examine Family Court Services mediation supervisor Leo Terbeiten and mediator Gloria Wu for 3 hours about these issues (their testimony is unbelievable) on May 21, 2007. As of today the transcript is a matter of public record. A copy can be obtained from the court reporter (Court Reporter Sue Fitzsimmons--re FL995107--her number is 473-6073) or it can be viewed by checking out the file. The document you will want is called "Respondent's Documents Filed Re Marin Family Court Services", filed June 19, 2007, and it has the transcript, the applicable Rules of Court about which Terbeiten and Wu were examined, and our colleague Bob Cleek's correspondence with the court in the last month about problems with Family Court Services (including a terrific legal brief on the issues of excluding attorneys from mediation and charging $250 to cross-examine mediators).

As we all know, the courts almost always adopt the FCS recommendation. To make matters worse, FCS has taken a uniform position that lawyers are never allowed to attend mediation with their clients (despite Family Code section 3182, which indicates it should be the exception rather than the rule to exclude attorneys), so we have no idea what the mediators are aware of, or what they are talking about or reviewing with our clients.

To make matters even worse, our family court presiding judges and administration are knowingly allowing all of this to happen, so the mediators are, of course, continuing to ignore the law.

If you spot a problem with a recommendation, it is therefore very important to cross-examine the mediators, look at their case files, and make a record. The fact is, our Marin mediators are essentially passing out children like playing cards in their recommendations, with no idea about the background facts of the case.

That brings up the next problem, which is that our local rules require payment of $250 for the "privilege" of cross-examining the mediators. That is prohibitive for many parents, especially pro pers (most of whom wouldn't know how to subpoena and cross-examine the mediators anyway).

I hope you can use this information to protect your clients and their children. Regards, Barbara Kauffman (6/19/2007)


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