Judge bows out of family court
By Scott Winokur

Target of Marin recall drive cites ill health

A controversial Marin County judge at the center of a recall drive by angry parents says he will leave his post three months early, citing work-related stress and a heart condition.

According to a statement issued Friday by the office of the court executive in San Rafael, Superior Court Judge Michael Dufficy, 61, will immediately stop presiding in family law cases, many of which involve hotly disputed child custody and support matters.

"This decision was necessitated after ..... (a) physician instructed him to reduce work-related stress and avoid further complicating" a heart condition, the statement said.

Dufficy had been scheduled for reassignment out of family law in January 2001, but the switch will be advanced to Sept. 5, said court executive officer John Montgomery.

Until then, Dufficy will continue to preside over pending family law settlement cases, probate cases and juvenile drug matters.

The judge did not return calls Friday.

With two other Marin family law jurists, Dufficy was targeted for recall in April. A signature-gathering drive was launched, with the earliest date for a possible vote likely to be April 2001, according to the Marin registrar of voters.

Dufficy, the other judges and an appointed family law commissioner who cannot be recalled have been singled out for harsh criticism by a small group of parents and other Marin residents, some of whom said they also complained to the FBI, alleging gross misconduct in the county courts.

The judges and the commissioner were accused of favoring a small group of lawyers and consultants, showing bias toward wealthy litigants and rendering decisions unfairly affecting poorer parents and their children.

Dufficy, Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro-Pritchard and the two other judges targeted for recall -- Lynn Duryee and Terrence Boren -- have denied misconduct.  In a written response to the recall filed with the registrar, Dufficy described the people behind the effort as "parents ..... unhappy with my decisions,"
which he said had been upheld on appeal.

Annegret Topel of San Rafael, a retired lawyer among the family law bench's most prominent critics, said she was "happy that he is leaving the family law bench because he made bad decisions over the years." ...... Sharon Shea of San Rafael, said reassignment wasn't enough. "I would have liked to see him retire," she said, adding that the recall drive will continue.

©2000 San Francisco Examiner  

Remarks by:  - As we have already previously been informed, the judges are looking for any way they can to counter this recall effort. That, the judges have confirmed. Here appears to be the ploy. Disarm the recall effort by stating the judge is going to retire early. Everyone reasonably asks, "Why recall a judge who is leaving anyway?" While time to gather signatures lapses away, the judge suddenly has a "speedy recovery" from his illness and changes his mind about retirement, and plans to retain his seat. We are told, "...(a) physician instructed him to reduce work-related stress and avoid further complicating a heart condition." Now if he is under stress on the bench under the pressure of a recall, why complicate his heart condition further by remaining for an additional three months? Isn't life itself worth more than an extra three month's of stress on the bench? Time will tell if there is anything to this theory. What's your guess?  
-Ron Branson.