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NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS ISSUES REPORT ON MARIN COUNTY FAMILY COURT

THE REPORT CITES THE NEED FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGATIONS OF BIAS AND INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR BY JUDICIAL OFFICERS

ASKS FOR "FAMILY LAW SELECT COMMITTEE" AND PUBLIC INPUT

The National Center for State Courts Operational Review of  Marin County Family Court issued in February of 2002, noted that "...during the course of the operational review, issues concerning specific individuals were raised. There appeared to be a serious split in the legal community and citizens of Marin County about the existence of bias, cronyism and favoritism in the past on the part of some judicial officers.

The report calls for:  "The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of Marin County form a Family Law Select Committee, comprised of judges, commissioners, lawyers and appropriate members of the Marin County community to advise the court regarding implementing systemic changes..."  and that "The court find some way for the public to give its input during the process of  rule revision..."

"In order to determine whether there was bias in the system or in a particular case, a far more extensive investigation would need to be performed, an investigation that would include the opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses and not have to rely solely on the beliefs of dissatisfied litigants and their attorneys."

The NCSC raised three questions regarding allegations of bias and inappropriate conduct:

"Whether appointments of experts made by certain judges in the Marin County's Family Law Division reflected judicial bias and personal favoritism."

"Whether some family law bench officers behaved in an inappropriately informal manner in terms of courtroom procedures, engaged in inappropriately informal interactions with some attorneys during court procedures, and exhibited a demeaning attitude toward some litigants and lawyers"

"Whether some members of the bench of the Family Law Division of the Superior Court of Marin County exhibited bias in favor of certain attorneys with whom they were friends or social acquaintances."

In detailing the limits of their operational review, the  NCSC report specifically noted:  "Determining the existence of judicial bias was beyond the scope of this operational review" and that  "The existence of inappropriate behavior on the part of individual judicial officers was beyond the scope of this operational review. "

The only way to determine there was bias or inappropriate behavior by judicial officers, the report noted "a far more extensive investigation would need to be performed, an investigation that would include the opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses..."