Despite Documented Ethics Violations, Sacramento County Judges Maintain Pristine Records with Commission on Judicial Performance
|Sacramento County Family Court watchdogs assert that |
JudgeThadd Blizzard punished court reform activist Robert
Saunders for his 1st Amendment-protected protest activities.
A leaked court reporter transcript obtained by California Supreme Court News reveals that Sacramento County Judge Thadd Blizzard last November retroactively endorsed an unlawful out-of-state "move away" and child abduction at the request of local judge pro tem attorney Richard Sokol.
The unprecedented ruling went against San Francisco constitutional law attorney Archibald Cunningham, who the transcript reflects was dumbfounded by the decision. The complete transcript is embedded at the end of this post.
The bizarre chain-of-events began in June 2013 after Cunningham's pro bono client, Robert Saunders, filed paperwork seeking child visitation under an existing temporary custody order. After the visitation paperwork was lodged, Sokol's client, April Berger, abruptly moved to Hawaii with the parents' twin daughters. Berger did not obtain court permission prior to the move.
Under state law, a parent may not take children and relocate out-of-state without court approval before the move, especially under a temporary custody order. A parent seeking to relocate must by law first seek court approval for the move, and "the noncustodial parent still has standing to oppose the relocation" in court, according to California Practice Guide: Family Law, the gold standard family law legal reference used by judges and attorneys.
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Without prior court approval, an out-of-state move away is considered criminal child abduction if it maliciously "deprives a person of a right to visitation," according to Penal Code § 278.5(a). The criminal statute also specifies that the retroactive, after-the-fact order issued by Blizzard for Sokol "does not constitute a defense" to the crime.
|State law, including California criminal jury instructions, indicate that Judge Thadd Blizzard and judge pro tem attorney Richard Sokol may have been accessories after the fact to a criminal child abduction.|
Sacramento Superior Court "Hometowning" HistoryCunningham's reaction to the outcome was similar to that of Stephen R. Gianelli, another San Francisco attorney who previously was "hometowned" in Sacramento Family Court. Hometowning refers to local judges giving preferential treatment to favored local attorneys. Click here for Gianelli's account of his experience as an "outsider" attorney. Hometowning is considered unethical and is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Ethics, according to retired judge David Rothman, author of the California Judicial Conduct Handbook.
Sacramento Family Court reform advocates have documented that judge pro tem attorneys often receive kickbacks in the form of "rubber-stamped" orders, and other forms of favorable treatment when representing clients in court in exchange for operating the court's settlement conference program. Click here for coverage of temporary judge controversies at Sacramento Family Court News.
The transcript, case records, and a second transcript from a related, previous hearing also indicate that Blizzard manipulated the proceedings through intentional misstatements and omissions of material fact in order to achieve the outcome demanded by Sokol, conduct prohibited by the Code of Judicial Ethics. Family court watchdogs assert that the collusion between full-time judges and judge pro tem attorneys deprives the public of the federally protected right to honest government services, a racketeering crime under 18 USC 1346.
Watchdogs Charge Supreme Court Connection Insulates Sacramento Judges from CJP Oversight
|Former Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Tani |
Cantil-Sakauye is now chief justice of the California
Controversial Sacramento Superior Court judge, and fellow Sacramento native Matthew Gary also approved without consequences a nearly identical illegal child abduction for the partner of judge pro tem attorney Scott Buchanan. The opposing party, Susan Ferris, is an indigent, disabled single parent. The abduction incident is one component of a still-pending landmark appeal filed by a team of prominent attorneys who took the case pro bono. Despite a long, established history of serial violations of state law, court rules, and the Code of Judicial Ethics, Gary maintains an unblemished record with the CJP.
The Robert Saunders-April Berger case is one of four Sacramento County Family Court cases included in the 2014 documentary film Divorce Corp. The movie "exposes the corrupt and collusive industry of family law in the United States," and portrays the Sacramento court system - and judges - as the most corrupt in the country. Yet only one judge, the notorious Peter McBrien, has ever been publicly disciplined by the CJP. McBrien was disciplined twice by the Commission, in 2002 and 2010, a year before Cantil-Sakauye was elevated to the high court. McBrien remains on the bench to this day.
"These textbook criminal child abduction incidents provide more proof that Cantil-Sakauye's former coworkers on the Sacramento County bench are immune from accountability, even when they aid and abet, or act as an accessory to criminal conduct by judge pro tem attorneys and their clients," said long-time court watchdog Ulf Carlsson whose Sacramento Family Court case takes a central role in Divorce Corp. "The rule of law is nonexistent, and there is now overwhelming evidence that the Sacramento Family Court system is a Kids-for-Cash-style, organized criminal enterprise, Carlsson added.
"The common denominator in virtually all of these controversial child custody cases is a wealthy parent represented by a temporary judge lawyer against a financially disadvantaged parent. And guess who ends up with the kids?"
Sacramento County Family Court watchdog Ulf Carlsson tells his gut-wrenching story in the 2014 documentary film Divorce Corp.
For continuing coverage of Divorce Corp at Sacramento Family Court News, click here.
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