Famed Attorneys Daniel Horowitz and Ivan Golde take on the sexist
Contra Costa County Courts
by Virginia McCullough

Thirty-three years ago a fragile young girl of 14 was referred to a 40-year-old therapist who was supposed to help her get through her parent's divorce and the traumatic years of puberty.  The patient was Susan Bolling whose youthful beauty enchanted Frank Felix Polk, the married psychologist who was the father of a son and daughter.  According to Susan's diaries by the time she was 16, she and her therapist were engaged in a sexual affair.

When Susan's mother, Helen Bolling, became aware of the affair it was too late to divert Susan's attention to young men of her own age and goals.  The intense affair continued and culminated when Felix Polk left his wife and children and married Susan Bolling in 1982.  The fifty-year-old psychologist claimed his former patient, 25 year old Susan Bolling Polk as his wife.  According to family members the young woman had rejected all efforts to wean her away from Felix Polk and interest her in people her own age.  The man she had found to replace her father took over her whole life and became her psychologist, her lover, her father, her husband.  And ultimately he became the father of her three sons, Adam, Eli and Gabriel.

When their sons were in their teen age years the marriage of Susan and Felix Polk began to crumble.  In the years that it took the marriage to dissolve Susan Polk became increasingly independent often traveling with one or more of their sons to far away places like Paris, Hawaii, Thailand and Big Sky, Montana.  At home in California Felix Polk occupied his time between his 12-hour days treating patients and his teaching responsibilities.  Not much had changed for the well known psychologist and everything had changed. Having built his reputation on rebuilding relationships and helping children, therapist Polk was now fielding questions about his fading marriage and his troubled children.  Still Felix Polk continued to support his wife who received $6,500 a month from her husband.

Financial problems were now added to the personal marital conflicts and the growing custody disputes over the children.

In February of 2002 Felix Polk's lawyer filed a order to show cause against Susan requesting a vocational evaluation and implying that Susan seek work.  The husband was now approaching 70 and the young girl who had been his patient was 44-years-old.  The husband's attorney pointed out that Susan Polk was "healthy and well educated [and that] there is absolutely no reason she cannot work."

By September 2002 the Polks had put their $1.85 million home in Orinda on the market.  The final preparations for the end of a twenty year marriage were underway.

On October 6, 2005 when Susan Polk was in Montana, Felix Polk phoned a friend and former client Barry Morris.  Polk told Morris that he believed Susan wanted to kill him and that he could not stop his wife from doing so.  Felix suggested that Susan had told him that she was going to get a shotgun and kill him.

Around this same time Polk also requested the police stop by their house because his wife was going to pick up her belongings.

Susan returned from Montana to their Orinda home on Thursday, October 10, 2002.  Susan had terminated the services of her divorce attorney on about October 6, 2002.  She did not know that Felix had file an ex parte application for custody and possession of their home on Miner Road, Orinda.  On October 10, 2002 Contra Costa County Commissioner Joanna Bercow awarded Felix possession of their home and gave him custody of their minor child Gabriel, then 15 years old.  Felix's monthly payments to Susan were also reduced to $1,700 a month.

Shortly after these events Felix Polk called his adult son and daughter by his first wife and stated that he was afraid that Susan was going to shoot him.

Susan Polk said she was afraid for her life before the night of Felix's death according to an ABC News report dated August 25, 2005.  Susan continued, "When I finally did take the position that I want a divorce, he said that he would kill me. He said it in front of Gabriel and Eli."

The fatal event took place October 14, 2002 in the cabana cottage by the pool at the family estate on Miner Road in Orinda.  Susan went to the cottage to talk to Felix and she said he attacked her with a knife, punched her in the face and grabbed her by her hair.  ABC News reported that Susan stated in a jail house interview that she wrestled the knife from him and then stabbed him in the side.

"At the end he stood up and he said, "Oh my God, I think I'm dead," she said.

The Polk's youngest son, Gabriel who was 15, at the time, found his father's body later that evening.  The oldest boy, Adam, now 20-years-old was a college student and was not present at the time of the confrontation.  Eli, 17, was in juvenile detention for a fist fight at the time of his father's death.

Even though the Polk's son Gabriel said that he heard gun shots that evening, no gun was found.  The autopsy result determined that Felix Polk died from "multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma" but suffered no gun shots.  No gun was found but police took a knife into evidence believing it to be the murder weapon.

Since her arrest Susan Polk has been in and out of jail awaiting trial.  She has been through three attorneys who would not base her case on self defense.  For awhile she represented herself pro per stating that representing herself in court is worth the consequences because "In this case, I wasn't going to get the defense I wanted. If I'm going to lose when represented by counsel, I might as well represent myself.  At least I'll give them a fight." according to an article in the Contra Costa Times by Bruce Gerstman on August 21, 2005.

Women, however, who choose to represent themselves in Contra Costa County Courts are severely handicapped.  If they are housed in the West County Jail in Richmond, California, they are not allowed to use the "Male Only" law library and therefore cannot adequately prepare their case to competently represent themselves.  Defendants facing charges from felonies to murder have filed extensive administrative complaints pointing out the blatant unfairness of this policy.  Female judges who claim that the fact that they are female will help eliminate gender bias on the bench are the very ones who uphold this antiquated policy.  Former prosecutors such as Judge Mary Ann O'Malley and Judge Laurel Brady consistently uphold the side of law enforcement and the District Attorney.

Judge Laurel Lindenbaum Brady, appointed to the Contra Costa Municipal Court in Richmond by Governor Pete Wilson in October 1996 will hear the case of Susan Polk.  Judge Brady was previously a prosecutor with both the Contra Costa District Attorney's office and the Solano County District Attorney's office.  According to a Daily Journal profile by Mark Blumberg published on April 10, 1998, "(Lindenbaum) Brady took nothing but murder cases during a time when Solano County was experiencing a record number of homicides.  It was a job that gave (Lindenbaum) Brady a sense that she was making an important impact in the community."  Brady continued by saying, "I would like to think I gave some sense of finality to families of victims or victims of crime."

Judge Brady is married to Larry D. Brady who retired on December 30, 2002 after 26 years with the Richmond Police Department.

At the request of Susan Polk, presiding judge Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Thomas Maddock, appointed well known Oakland attorney Daniel Horowitz who in turn requested his co-counsel be Ivan Golde.  Judge Maddock granted that request stating that the county would, however, only pay Horowitz's fee.

Polk had also requested that Judge Laurel Brady be recused using her preemptory challenge. Judge Maddock denied that request stating that Polk had filed it too late.  So Laurel Brady will hear the Susan Polk murder trial.

Daniel Horowitz. interviewed on Good Morning America on August 25, 2005 stated that Susan is not going for an insanity defense or a "battered woman/burning bed" syndrome.  Instead, they intend to argue this was strictly self-defense by a woman who has been attacked and bullied by her husband in the past and had every reason to believe her husband intended to kill her.

On Monday, August 29, 2005, a day that had been scheduled for jury selection, Judge Brady cited her extensive calendar as a reason for continuance.  Deputy District Attorney Tom O'Connor and newly appointed defense attorney Daniel Horowitz agreed to a trial continuance. The trial commences on September 19, 2005 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 20.  Discovery motions will be heard on September 6 and motions in limine will be heard on September 12.

The upcoming months will reveal how Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Tom O'Connor measures up against Daniel Horowitz and Ivan Golde.  It will be up to Judge Laurel Brady to answer the old question circulating among lawyers -- is she a prosecutor in a black robe or is she a judge?

Virginia McCullough © August 30, 2005