by Guy Ashley © 2000 Marin Independent 5/9/00

The Marin district attorney's office is investigating whether a former county grand juror breached an oath of conduct by hiring an investigator who was deeply critical of decisions made by Marin's family law judges.

District Attorney Paula Kamena confirmed yesterday that her office is investigating the actions of Martin Silverman of San Rafael, one of a group of citizens who commissioned a report by New York investigator Karen Winner that blasted decisions by Marin's two longtime family law jurists, Judge Michael Dufficy and Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro.

Kamena would not comment on the nature of the probe, but Silverman said an investigator from the district attorney's office told him the inquiry is focusing on whether he breached the vow he took to keep his activities as a grand juror confidential.

News of the investigation provides an intriguing new angle on the uproar created by Winner's report, and a recent recall effort launched against Dufficy and two other Marin judges.

To some, it also smacks of the kind of cronyism within the local justice system that Winner said was at play in several controversial family law decisions.

Silverman said he is troubled by the probe but is confident he stayed true to the vows he took as a grand juror.

"I'm annoyed that I've had to retain an attorney and spend a few hundred dollars,'' he said. "But I'm confident I divulged nothing of a confidential nature.''

With all the assertions of wrongdoing by judges in her inch-thick report, Winner said yesterday she is alarmed local authorities found the one thing needing investigation is Silverman's activities as a former grand juror.

The investigation reflects "possible allegiances between the judges and people in the DA's office,'' Winner said. "It's very odd to me that they're trying to kill the messenger by focusing attention on a concerned citizen who served his county well.''

District Attorney Kamena said nothing is underhanded about the probe by her office. The investigation, she said, was launched after a person she would not name raised questions about Silverman's actions and formally requested an inquiry.

"The referral has nothing to do with the judges,'' she said. "When someone makes a referral to our office, it's our duty to take it seriously and investigate."

"To not do so would be inappropriate.''

None of the allegations made in Winner's report have been referred to the district attorney's office, Kamea said. In addition, she said she has read much of the report and has not found any criminal violations warranting review by her office.

Silverman served on the county's civil grand jury in 1997, and has acknowledged receiving complaints about family law decisions during his time on the panel.

At a press conference in February announcing Winner's report, Silverman said the grand jury - which is charged with reviewing the operation of local government and conduct of public officials - made inquiries about family court matters in Marin but was informed it had no jurisdiction over the conduct of local judges because they are state, not county, employees.

Silverman said he continued to hear complaints about family law decisions after his year long service on the grand jury ended. The criticism continued to the point where he felt hiring an outside investigator was warranted.

Silverman and a half dozen other citizens said they paid $12,000 for Winner to produce her report.

The report said rulings by judges Dufficy and Shapiro were consistently contrary to the evidence and favored clients of a select group of attorneys frequently seen in the family courts.

It also set off a second wave of criticism that resulted in a petition drive to recall Dufficy and two other judges, Lynn Duryee and Terrence Boren, at the polls.

Before serving on the grand jury, Silverman took an oath to "not disclose any evidence brought before the grand jury, nor anything which I or any other grand juror may have voted on.'' Winner said Silverman did not violate his oath.

"I interviewed him and I couldn't get anything out of him,'' she said. "He refused to talk about anything involving the grand jury. I was an unhappy reporter.''

Asked why he thinks he's being investigated, Silverman said: "Either they really believe I revealed privileged information or they're trying to intimidate me.

"My conscience is clear.''


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