by Guy Ashley © 2000,  Marin Independent Journal, July 8, 2000

Jury selection began yesterday in the trial of a Novato mother and former City Council candidate charged with attempting to use a falsified court order to take unlawful custody of her young daughter.

The trial of Carol Mardeusz will be closely watched because it is at the center of a petition drive seeking the recall of two top court officials in Marin.

Mardeusz, 44, is charged with two counts of attempted child stealing and three counts of perjury in connection with an incident last year in which she served papers on officials at a Petaluma elementary school that said she had been granted custody of her 9-year-old daughter, Haleigh.

Marin prosecutors say Mardeusz provided false information to obtain the temporary custody order, which was signed and later rescinded by Superior Court Judge Michael Dufficy. They say lawful custody belonged to the girl's father, an ex-boyfriend with whom Mardeusz has been locked in a bitter 5-year custody battle.

Mardeusz says she has been wronged by a myopic court system that refuses to acknowledge her claims that the girl is being abused outside of her care, and that she was denied a fair hearing when a Sonoma County judge granted custody of Haleigh to the ex-boyfriend, Leo Magers.

Her attorney, Nedra Ruiz, said the prosecution of Mardeusz is wrong.

"This is a family law matter and it should be resolved in family law court, not as a criminal matter,'' Ruiz said. "It is also a tragedy, because Carol has not been allowed to see her daughter for several years.'' Such claims have resonated with citizens disenchanted with decisions made in child custody cases in the Marin courts.

The county's two top family law jurists were rapped in a citizens-commissioned report in February that said evidence routinely was overlooked in favor of money and influence in child custody cases.

The report helped galvanize court critics in their current effort to force a recall election next spring that would ask voters to oust three judges - Dufficy, Terrence Boren and Lynn Duryee - as well District Attorney Paula Kamena.

Petitions circulating in Marin cite alleged wrongdoing by Boren and Kamena in the Mardeusz case. Boren had the case for several months, before he passed it on to Superior Court Judge Verna Adams in May because of scheduling conflicts in his courtroom.

The petitions accuse Kamena of committing "wrongful acts against public justice'' by prosecuting Mardeusz and Boren of violating her rights by ruling against her claim that the Marin courts don't have jurisdiction to prosecute her.

The Mardeusz case has become such a hot potato that word raced through the Marin Civic Center this week that Adams, who is scheduled to preside over the trial, would be the next target in the recall campaign.

"I've heard that may be happening, but I'm not really involved,'' Mardeusz said outside the courtroom yesterday.

Opening arguments are expected to begin on Monday.