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THE BAYCITIES OBSERVER
Virginia McCullough


"Have I missed the  mark, or, like a true archer,  do I strike my mark?
Or am I a prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?"
                                                     
Cassandra, as reported by Agamemnon

SHEEP  RANCH, CALIFORNIA
WHERE  THE  MARIN  BAR  BELLIES  UP  TO
JUDGE  MICHAEL BUCK  DUFFICY'S BAR
AT  HIS  PIONEER  HOTEL

 

Deep in the heart of Northern California, nestled among other small towns in Calaveras County, lies a historical community named Sheep Ranch.  The name of the town was derived from the fact that the town was once encompassed by a massive sheep corral that was surrounded by a large picket fence.  In 1860 croppings of gold ore were discovered in the sheep corral.  The Calaveras County Historical Society pamphlet states "Sheep Ranch is located 9 miles northeast of Murphys on bumpy Sheep Ranch Road.  For over 40 years Sheep Ranch was a bustling gold mining town.  Before the turn of the century there were five flourishing gold mines and one had a ten-stamp mill.  The town also supported 15 saloons."  The town was patented on August 4, 1880 by Judge Ira Hill Read.

According to author Rhoda Dunlap, the gold discovered at the Sheep Ranch Mine occurred at the 300 foot level in an extremely, rich, unusual black quartz.  This quartz took a very high polish and a great deal of it was bought by Schreve and Son of San Francisco for jewelry.  In 1897 owners Fergueson, Wallace and Early sold the Sheep Ranch Mine to partners Haggin, Tevis and Hearst.  George Hearst was the father of William Randolph Hearst and his share of the mine greatly enhanced his fortune.  The last owner of the Sheep Ranch Mine was the St. Joseph Lead Company who continued operations until the mine was shut down by government order in 1942.  Click

In its hey day the town of Sheep Ranch boasted two churches, one Catholic and the other Protestant.  The school employed two teachers until 1907 when the enrollment dwindled to 30 pupils taught by one teacher.  Visitors could stay at one of two hotels, the Eagle Hotel and the Pioneer Hotel.  The Eagle Hotel was destroyed by fire but the historic Pioneer Hotel still stands.

In 1967 three couples from Marin County discovered the old Pioneer Hotel and purchased it for $27,000,  according to co-owner Frederick A. Baker.  The hotel is located at 11025 Main Street [parcel numbers 036-024-004 and 036-024-005].  One third ownership belonged to an enterprising young lawyer, Michael Buck Dufficy, and his wife Penelope.  Fred Baker said that the hotel was in need of repair but still had some of its original furnishings.  Over the years the hotel was restored to its original look.  The couples took turns using the hotel to entertain their personal friends and associates during different times of the year.  The concept was much like the time shares that are so popular today.  Over the years the arrangement worked well, allowing the busy businessmen and their families the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of the bay area to a place where mind and spirit were renewed.  But the times, they are a' changing.

Today Sheep Ranch is a sleepy little town with a population of 32 except during Memorial Day weekends, when Marin lawyers and judges follow their guru, Judge Michael Buck Dufficy, to his Pioneer Hotel .  Then the sleepy town's population nearly doubles when the Marin bar bellies up to the Pioneer bar and Judge Dufficy holds court in Sheep Ranch.  Judge Dufficy and a group of lawyers who appear before him on a regular basis are friends.  They are so close, in fact, that they named their group, the FLEAs, their acronym for Family Law Elite Attorneys.  FLEAs originated in the early 1980s.    Although Judge Dufficy allegedly resigned from the group when he took the bench in 1990, the judge continued to host the same group as they party hardy in the Pioneer Hotel at Sheep Ranch.  Click

According to an article by Matt Isaacs entitled Odor! Odor in the Court  published October 18, 2000,  in the San Francisco Weekly:
 

(Former FLEAs member Attorney Kathryn Ballentine) Shepherd says Dufficy threw an especially wild party the year he was appointed  judge.  He had always wanted to sit on the bench; it was in his blood.  His grandfather had served as a Marin County Superior Court judge at the turn of the century.

That year at Sheep Ranch, Shepherd says, Dufficy passed out T-shirts to all the guests with a picture on the front of a large man smoking a cigar.  "Good Ol' Boy," the T-shirt read.  The back depicted two bald, rotund men in business suits scratching each other's backs.  All  weekend, she says, Dufficy walked around in a judge's robe with nothing underneath.  One night after dinner, all the attorneys got together and sprayed whipped cream on the new judge's bald head, adding a cherry for good measure.

"It was really something like Animal House," Shepherd says, laughing.  "Folks would begin drinking as soon as they got up in the morning.  Beer.  Wine.  At night they'd hit the harder stuff."

Dufficy always played the part of the big man on campus at Sheep Ranch, Shepherd says.  That's what the weekends were really about.  Allowing the judge to pour you a glass of whiskey.  One good ol' boy to another.  Good people taking care of their own.  The judge's friends lapped it up. "Naturally, we were all ecstatic when Mike became a judge," Shepherd says.  "You can't pay for that kind of access." Click

It is easy to forget the growing troubles in Marin County when you are drinking, dinning and clowning around in Calaveras County.  Host Judge Dufficy could ignore the active FBI investigation into his conduct in numerous cases where FLEAs members appeared before him in his courthouse in Marin.  As the lord of the manor entertaining his guests, Judge Dufficy dismissed the cries of conflicts of interest because his wife received her salaries from various FLEAs attorneys.  One must party to turn a deaf ear to the 1997 Marin County Grand Jury that voted 19-0 to investigate Superior County Judge Michael "Buck" Dufficy.

For the next three years the cries for Dufficy's removal from the bench increased until the devastating Winner Report was released in February 2000.  The report reaffirmed litigants' testimony before the grand jury citing serious violations of legal and civil rights as well as violations of the California Code of Civil Procedure and Marin County Local Rules of Court.  The unholy alliance between Judge Dufficy and his  Family Law Elite Attorneys became the impetus for weekly demonstrations in front of the Marin County Courthouse conducted by victims of the abuses of this alliance.  It was becoming harder to shut out the cries of dissent even when the "Good Ol' Boy" held court for his adoring attorneys at the Pioneer.

Finally, facing a recall drive, Judge Michael Dufficy, issued a statement on May 26, 2000 that he would immediately stop presiding over family law cases, many involving hotly disputed child custody cases.  The harsh criticism of Judge Dufficy alleged gross misconduct in his court.  Beside Dufficy the recall effort also named as targets Marin Superior Court judges Lynn Duryee and Terrence Boren as well as the district attorney for Marin County, Paula Kamena.  It was now difficult to dismiss the troubles in Marin from one's mind and it took longer to get in the partying mood when people arrived in Sheep Ranch.  Click

But Judge Dufficy is no quitter.  He and his fellow judges did not want to go quietly into the good night.  They formed  The Committee to Retain an Independent Judiciary and this committee hired political consultant Don Solem of Mill Valley to defend the judges against recall.  Attorney Gary Ragghianti, a member of the Committee said, "The judges intend to defend themselves vigorously."  Attorney Ragghianti was certainly in a position to know because, according to Judge Dufficy's Conflict of Interest filings, his law firm employed the judge's wife, Penelope Thorp Dufficy as a part-time legal secretary.

The Family Law Elite Attorneys were not sitting on their rear ends doing nothing.  They rallied around the judges like pit bulls, issuing a point-by-point critique of the Winner Report titled Rebuttal to Winner Report.  Old friend and frequent guest of Dufficy's Pioneer Hotel, attorney Terence Colyer, said, "Ms. Winner's just a pen for hire."  Colyer shared offices with FLEAs member, Verna Adams, prior to her appointment to the Marin bench in late 1999.   Jackie Leo Colyer had also been a frequent benefactor of Judge Dufficy's largesse during the 7 1/2 years she was with her ex-husband.  However, on January 2, 2000 attorney Colyer had given Jackie Colyer $1500 and thrown her out of their home.  Colyer's fellow "pens for hire" and the judges they appear before rallied to his support, just as they had in supporting Judge Dufficy.   The former Mrs. Colyer discusses her experiences with the Marin Family Law Courts on her internet site called http://www.mrscolyer.com.

Matt Isaacs article Odor! Odor in the Court touches on Verna Adams.  Marin County family law attorney Paul Camera broke with Judge Dufficy and asked the judge to remove himself from a divorce case, on the grounds that the judge was biased in favor of the opposing attorney, Verna Adams.  "She was involved in your campaign when you ran for judge," Camera said.  "She was a close personal friend before and after that... which included invitations which she has accepted to Your Honor's place in Sheep Ranch to spend weekends up there with you... So I am asking you to recuse yourself."  According to the article: Things had gotten so bad, Camera says, that the facts of the case didn't matter in Dufficy's courtroom ... it was all about the attorney.  "We called if the 'Verna Factor,' he says.  "If Verna Adams was representing the opposing side in Dufficy's court, you might as well not show up." Click

On August 2, 2000 Scott Winokur, writing for the San Francisco Examiner, wrote an article detailing alleged racial slurs made by Judge Dufficy, who then sealed the file to prevent public access to the court documents detailing the incident.  This same article revealed that confidential $1,000 donations had been solicited from Marin attorneys to be used by The Committee to Retain an Independent Judiciary to pay for political consultant Don Solem.  Such anonymous contributions would violate California's Political Reform Act.  Lawyers soliciting illegal confidential donations to defend the judges they appear before had collected $12,450 by the time the article was written.  It was announced on August 5, 2000 that Don Solem had been paid $9,000 as of June 30, 2000.

It was almost impossible to get away  from the continuing glare of publicity now.  Every day brought new revelations.  No one seemed to be looking forward to Memorial Day 2001 at Sheep Ranch.  Commenting on the Memorial Day weekend socializing,  an article dated August 21, 2000 in the Marin Independent Journal quoted Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd as saying, "I was a part of the 'in' group.  When the Winner Report came out it caused me to step back and take a second look at my role in the courts and the way I was handling my cases.  And all of a sudden, it just dawned on me: This just looks terrible."  Shepherd continued, for litigants in court for the first time the family law experience in Marin "must have brought home the worst stereotypes out there about lawyers and judges -- this little club."  It seemed as though the FLEAs were falling apart.  Some wondered if the king of  the Pioneer Hotel would have a full house of jesters to memorialize 2001.

The hot August nights only got hotter in Marin County.   On August 8, 2000, the "Verna Factor" was drawn into the debate when Judge Verna Adams was added to the recall effort.   Also in August the recall battle intensified when it was announced that the Reverend Lynnette Shaw of the Medical Marijuana Alliance would join the petition drive to oust District Attorney Paula Kamena.  Shaw also announced that she would enter the recall war with a $15,000 war chest and an army of petition gatherers.  Very little mention was made of the targeted judges.  However, Shaw made it clear that Kamena had angered those who voted for and supported the passage of Proposition 215 in California, the landmark medical marijuana initiative passed by California voters in 1996.  Shaw blamed Kamena for a "100 percent eradication policy" by encouraging  law enforcement officers to confiscate and destroy medical marijuana needed by sick and defenseless citizens who depend upon its usage to relieve their pain.

In October 2000 it was announced that The National Center for State Courts would assign a six-person team to investigate Marin's law courts in the wake of the allegations against Dufficy and favored attorneys.  Then the administrator of the Marin courts, John Montgomery, became the spokesman for the beleaguered judges who choose to remain silent in light of an independent auditor of their conduct.  Montgomery is quoted as stating, "This is not a response to any complaint.  Rather, with the arrival of two new judges in the family law division, we felt it was the perfect time to go about looking at ways we can bring positive change."  The $75,000 cost for the investigation would be covered by sources outside of Marin County.

Momentum continued to build through the end of the year.  Then the meltdown began.  The recall against the judges failed.  Depending upon the sources interviewed, a wide variety of reasons were put forward to explain the failure of the recall against the sitting judges.  The recall petitions against Marin District Attorney Paula Kamena were validated and a recall vote was set for May 22, 2001.  Kamena's main defense was that the recall election would cost the County of Marin $500,000 and she emphasized that her county wide registration policy for medical marijuana use did not undermine or violate California voters approval of Proposition 215.

The issues of abuses in the family law courts of Marin County now took a back seat to the politics of pot.  Lynette Shaw was quoted as saying that District Attorney Paula Kamena was responsible for "100 percent eradication policy" that steers local law enforcement officers to pluck all marijuana plants they come upon, including those later found to have been cultivated for legitimate medical use thereby forcing  those very ill to suffer needlessly.  Kamena responded saying that she could not be held responsible for the actions of local police departments.

The women accused each other of violations of fund raising rules and regulations.  On April 21, 2001 Shaw's supporters, The Marin Alliance Legal Defense Fund Committee, acknowledged raising a total of $9,870.  By this time District Attorney Paula Kamena had raised $79,628, more than eight times the amount generated by recall backers.

As the battle heated to a boiling point, it seemed that all Marin roads lead back to Sheep Ranch, California and its population of 32.  Main Street in this small town is approximately one football field long.  Remember Judge Dufficy's partner in the Pioneer Hotel located at 11025 Main Street? Click   His name is Frederick A. Baker Jr., a former real estate broker from Marin.  Fred Baker had met the Rev. Lynette Shaw when both were interested in preserving the Renaissance Faire at Blackpoint.  Several years ago Fred Baker asked his friend Lynette Shaw if she knew anyone who would be interested in preserving another old building on Main Street.  The old hospital at 11240 Main Street [parcel no. 036-023-001] touched the heart of Shaw and she agreed to become a 50% partner with Fred Baker in the building.

When I spoke with the amicable Fred Baker and ran a bunch of names central to the recall before him, he was familiar with one other name that surfaces - that of writer Phil Graf.  It seems that Baker had sold Graf his ketch, the Xanadu.  It gives new meaning to "It's A Small World After All".

Virginia McCullough © 2001