by Virginia McCullough

A small group of determined men and women armed with signs and flyers gathered at the entrance to the Marin County Courthouse to protest the continuing injustices of the Family Law Courts on Wednesday, September 28, 2005.

Billed as a kickoff of the "Domestic Violence Awareness Month of October", similar gatherings took place across the United States.  While the courthouses varied from historical to modern to the Marin County courthouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, complaints about The Family Law Industry were almost identical city to city and state to state.  The Marin County Superior Court in San Rafael, California is an excellent example of the high cost, quid pro quo cronyism, falsified and missing paperwork, emotional devastation and obstruction of justice that typifies the Family Law Courts across this nation.

Most citizens are blissfully unaware that their taxes pay a high price for this corrupt billion dollar a year industry that forever destroys the lives of parents and grandparents and continually places children in harm's way.

Decades ago parents would separate, divorce, divide property and decide themselves upon how best to raise their children.  The divorced parents would usually appear in court to briefly testify in an initial petition for divorce and then later pick up their final decree.  The parents would assume the responsibility for determining what would be in the best interest of their children by arranging between themselves where and with whom the children would continue to live.  Only when there could be no agreement reached by the two adults in the family would the parents resort to a court to resolve family issues.  If child support was agreed upon or ordered that support was paid to the custodial parent directly by the non-custodial parent.  When the government decided to oversee child support payments and impose draconian penalties for the non-payment of such support, a cottage industry was created consisting of qualified and unqualified people who flocked to the Family Law Courts to fill the bureaucratic positions that just kept multiplying.

That cottage industry is now a multi-billion industry living off of the tragedy of broken families and damaged children.  Currently the job titles working under the Family Law Courts could fill an entire chapter in a book.  There are visitation supervisors, marriage and family counselors, sociologists, child protective services employees, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, mediators, special masters, public defenders, prosecutors, juvenile officers, probation officers, sheriff deputies, commissioners, judges pro tem, visiting judges, dependency court judges, family law judges and supporting employees such as executive officers of the courts and their staff who in turn employ computer technicians and consultants.  These people are extremely well paid by comparative standards in private industry.

While taxpayers foot the majority of the cost, parents and children who appear before the Family Law Courts are also charged horrendous fees for the "use" of the Family Law Courts and the long list of "expert" employees.  Individual judges maintain a relatively short list of favorite "experts" that they depend upon to make their jobs and their decisions easier.  The parents and the children appearing before the black robed ones are delegated to an observer's position as their future is determined by these "experts".

The Family Law Courts are an incestuous community that promotes and rewards cronyism. Longtime Family Law Judge Michael Buck Dufficy is the perfect model for a man of such power and arrogance that he can destroy families and never look back or apologize for his actions. Dufficy, appointed to the Marin County Court in 1990, soon generated complaints about his conduct on the bench.  In 1997 the Marin County Grand Jury voted 19-0 to investigate Superior County Judge Dufficy.  The Marin County Counsel effectively shut down that investigation by telling the Grand Jury members that they had no right to investigate court matters.

On February 28, 2000 the privately funded Karen Winner Report called for the immediate suspension of both Judge Michael Dufficy and Family Law Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro who had also been repeatedly criticized by those appearing before her for her obvious bias and her intemperate behavior.  During these same critical years there were rumors of an on-again, off-again FBI investigation.  The Winner Report urged the continuation of the federal investigations into the Family Law Courts in Marin County.

On May 26, 2000 Judge Dufficy faced a recall drive to remove him and Judge Lynn Duryee and Judge Terrence Boren from office.  He responded by issuing a statement that he would immediately stop presiding over family law cases.  The recall drive failed but Dufficy's arrogant cronyism and resulting negative publicity continued.  Judge Duryee responded to the negative attention of the recall effort by writing in one of her columns, "Oh, come on - we didn't lie, steal, cheat, or have sex with a White House intern! We just decided an emotional case." It is another example of judges who just don't get it.

On October 18, 2000 an article by Matt Isaacs entitled Odor! Odor in the Court! quoted Larkspur family law lawyer Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd who depicted Dufficy cavorting naked under his robes at alcohol-sodden parties with his attorney buddies called FLEAS (Family Law Elite Attorneys) who were favored in his courtroom.

On May 3, 2001 ran an article called Sheep Ranch, California: Where the Marin Bar Bellies Up to Judge Michael Buck Dufficy's Bar at His Pioneer Hotel.  This article detailed the history of Judge Dufficy's tenure on the bench and the antics of his quid pro quo cronies. (Click.)

The media also revealed that Judge Dufficy received two private reprimands from the Judicial Council of California for his misconduct on the bench.

While Judge Dufficy's activities might appear radical to many, it is a sad commentary that he was re-elected after all of these revelations.  It is also a sad commentary that his actions are typical of many Family Law judges across the nation.

The people in charge of maintaining an accurate and honest filing system to support the Family Law Judges, attorneys and litigants are called the Court Executive Officers.

Until March 31, 2005 John Montgomery held the Court Executive Officer's position in Marin County since 1996, drawing a salary of more than $154,000 a year plus benefits.  It was Montgomery's job to make certain that the litigants' files were up-to-date and well maintained.

In Marin County litigants on the wrong side of the judge's favor have long complained that documents and exhibits supporting their position were either missing from their files or  that falsified paperwork they had never seen had been introduced into their files.  Another common complaint is that files of high-profile litigants were withheld from public access because they were usually being held in the judge's chambers. One of the mothers demonstrating in Wednesday's demonstration, Jonea Rogers (Case No. FL12003), now finds herself in that position.  She is unable to access her most current files in order to properly prepare for her upcoming trial.  When this reporter attempted to review these files the clerk told me that Judge Lynn Duryee had them in her chambers and would not release them because she was preparing an order. The clerk was not certain when they would be made available.

Infighting within John Montgomery's office resulted in disclosures about Montgomery's private life that clearly spelled out a conflict of interest that affected not only his job performance but also brought into question the manner in which he handled the Marin Court's budget.  An employee within Montgomery's office, Kim Turner, initiated the investigation into Montgomery's conflict of interest.  Turner discovered that Montgomery had purchased two houses together with a contract employee, Linda Lau, who Montgomery employed on contracts for computer consulting for the Marin County court that totaled $674,022 over a three-year period.  Turner presented the matter to presiding Judge Terrence Boren on January 27, 2005 and Montgomery resigned with two days notice to the court on March 31, 2005.  Also in question were Montgomery's travel expenses and the distribution of more then $2 million in fine reimbursements collected in Marin's jurisdiction that the court is responsible to distribute to county and local municipalities.

In April 2005 the Administrative Office of the Judicial Courts issued an 86-page audit report on the Marin County Courts requested by Judge Terrence Boren.  Kim Turner is the current acting Court Executive Officer.

Protective parents are finding it difficult to understand how, even though money is missing and files are inaccurate and withheld, individuals like John Montgomery are protected and they and their children are sacrificed on the altar of the Family Law Courts.

The emotional devastation heaped upon parents and children who become entangled in the web of intrigue that constitutes this playground for lawyers, judges and social workers, will forever impact their lives. The Family Law Courts are a money machine that continues to operate under the disguise of dealing out justice.  The Family Law Courts will only change if taxpayers begin to wake up and realize that their taxes are paying for this pathetic game and the players who enjoy it.  What exists at the current time in the courthouses across this nation is simply obstruction of justice that has absolutely nothing to do with "the best interest of the child."

So the women like Kelli Hill (Nunez), Valerie Nixon, and Jonea Rogers who have been jailed in the defense of their children and who were present at the September 28, 2005 demonstration in front of the Marin County Courthouse are courageous warriors seeking to change an outdated and corrupt system.

Virginia McCullough © 9/29/05