Letter to the Editor:
A courthouse critic was dumped from an advisory panel appointed by the Marin Superior Court after officials said she became an advocate on a pending case.
Kathleen Russell, 41, of San Rafael was notified by e-mail Monday that the court believed she was trying to influence the outcome of a family law court case when she spoke and sent electronic messages to other committee members. The communications included references and testimony from the case.
Russell said Tuesday she specifically told colleagues on the 15-member committee she was not speaking on behalf of a particular attorney or plaintiff.
"I was looking at systemic issues," said Russell, a founder of the Center for Judicial Excellence, a local group that has been critical of Marin County courts. "I wanted the court's response to where the checks and balances are."
Court Executive Officer Kim Turner, who sent the e-mail and a certified letter dated Sept. 28 to Russell, said the court made it clear to committee members that pending cases were out of bounds.
The committee was formed in June to inform Marin residents about the work of the courts and to seek ideas for making the legal system more open and accessible.
"The purpose of the committee was not to review judges' rulings," Turner said. "She is trying to advocate on a pending case."
Turner cited two instances in which Russell violated fundamental directives that were given to the committee.
While on a tour of the courthouse with committee members on Sept. 20, Russell asked a staff member of Family Court Services about the pending case.
Russell said the committee had met once at that point and few rules had been stated. She understood that she could not speak about a pending case but said she was asking what the procedures were for litigants in the family court to question a judge's decisions.
On Sept. 24, Russell sent the e-mail to committee members with numerous attachments, questioning the testimony of a family court services mediator.
Turner said dissatisfied litigants can use a variety of court and appellate processes to question rulings.
Of the 15 committee members, only two could be reached for comment.
Larkspur resident George Davidson said he did not read Russell's e-mail because it struck him immediately as inappropriate.
"I didn't want to get into issues surrounding a particular case," Davidson said. "We were all told at the meeting that we were not to try to have any affect on judicial cases."
Perry Newman of Corte Madera also found the e-mail out of line.
"She used a specific case and she lobbied, and that's not what this committee is about," Newman said.
Contact Nancy Isles Nation via e-mail at