In yet another symptom of the diseased San Diego Family Law courts and State of California, an illness on the bench is causing months of delays in trials and hearings. Judge Lorna Alksne is filling in for an ill judge in El Cajon (East County) court from Tuesday to Thursday, leaving only Monday and Friday for her to hear her own cases. The result is that hearings and trials are being pushed back, sometimes for months. In today’s broken courts, it’s not unusual for San Diego divorces to take more than two years of legal warfare. It’s a far cry from anybody’s concept of a “fair and speedy trial”. Sometimes, it is more like government-assisted child abuse.
Retired Judges No Longer Employed Extensively for Backfill
Previously, it was common for San Diego Superior Court to temporarily rehire retired judges to fill in for absences and to handle case overload. This makes sense from a cost perspective as there are no more retirement contributions being paid in for temporary rehires.
But today, the state government’s fiscal house is not only out of order but is figuratively burning to the ground due in part to government overspending and waste. Funds to pay for more cost-efficient handling of court staff absences and shortages are absent. Particularly hard hit are the family law courts. The result is a growing backlog of court cases, leading to unjust delays for many families.
Divorce Case of the Moores, Outgoing Padres Owners
Among the families affected by these delays are the Moores, the outgoing owners of the San Diego Padres. Their battles are primarily about money and the discovery process to find assets. The affair John Moores had with a former San Diego gynecologist Dianne Rosenberg apparently was the impetus for Rebecca Moores to file for divorce in case SDSC D507634  on January 30, 2008. Alksne has delayed the start of their trials for months, now pushing it out from December 3, 2009 to March 15, 2010. While the delays in this case may be upsetting to the participants as it stretches beyond two years of litigation, there are no minor children involved.
Children Deprived of Parents
Sadly, the children of divorcing parents are often among the worst affected parties by the delays in Alksne’s family law courts. Rather than focusing on child custody issues first, the courts mix custody and financial issues and thereby delay correcting custody imbalances for months. They further build hostility and resentment on the part of unfairly aggrieved parents who are being blocked from reasonable time with their children. Such reactions to the injustices perpetrated by these courts are entirely reasonable.
Parents who have obtained interim sole or majority custody are given incentive to drag out trials for as long as possible, harming both the children and the other parent. The court allows this to happen, even encourages it. Alksne’s courts further enable parental alienation, financial victimization, and other abuses and crimes against children and parents by vindictive parties who are unwilling to cooperate sharing custody. They and their attorneys resort to stunts such as false abuse allegations, repeated use of continuances, delaying psychological evaluations by nonpayment of fees and claiming they are “preparing more evidence” for which the evaluator must wait months, and other tricks to falsely obtain custody and then retain it through years of delays.
Further aggravating these problems, judges who appoint minor’s counsel often fail to supervise these attorneys and allow them to drag out for years cases that should be resolved in weeks. They allow them to financially victimize the public and/or parents who are paying their bills and to emotionally abuse the children and/or parents by failing to do an adequate job. Frequently, minor’s counsel attorneys never even meet their supposed clients. In many cases, these attorneys often take the side of one parent against the other based upon identifying with their gender or some other illegitimate reason. This amounts to government-endorsed sexism, parental alienation, and emotional child abuse, often with the victimized parent paying for half or more of it.
By the time the courts rule on such cases, children, parents, and extended families have been wronged for years. They are often then wronged again when judges deny restoration of equal shared custody on the basis that the children are not used to living with the victimized parent. Crime pays in San Diego family law courts, courtesy of shoddy judges and a corrupt family law system presided over by Judge Lorna Alksne.
Support Payments: Pay Your Abuser Or Else!
Adding insult to tragic injury, the courts also frequently impose child and/or spousal support orders upon victimized spouses. These people are being extorted by the courts to pay for the abuse being inflicted upon them, often while they are paying literally thousands of dollars per month for a few hours per week with their children under “supervised visitation” programs which the San Diego courts frequently require even in the absence of any due process evaluation, simply based upon allegations by a malicious parent.
Protective Measures, 50/50 Splits, and Fast Interim Child Custody Decisions
If Alksne is truly committed to improving her courts as she claims by her participation in the Elkins Task Force, she should modify local court rules to start fixing these injustices:
- Default child custody is 50/50 split unless the parents agree otherwise or a background check on the parents show criminal convictions (not simply allegations as they are a frequently used tool of alienating parents) or incarceration involving violence, drug, or alcohol abuse within the previous five years.
- If child custody is contested, a parental coordinator shall be immediately assigned to work with the parents at a 50/50 cost split with the county picking up the cost for parents who are below the poverty line. Exchanges shall be done at protected neutral locations. These include both schools that have not aligned with one parent and professional supervised exchanges. If both parents agree to the school, then it can be used by simply assigning the school to enforce who picks up the child on which days and to call the police and parental coordinator if the other parent shows up. If the parents cannot agree on a neutral exchange site that can be used with only one parent present for pick-up, then they must use professional supervised exchanges to be paid for 50/50 with the county picking up the cost for parents below the poverty line. These two measures can help to avert a lot of very expensive and damaging problems that will drain court resources and harm the children.
- When a child custody evaluation is recommended by Family Court Services, require that child custody evaluations result in an interim report within two months of their start.
- If a child custody evaluation is not recommended by Family Court Services but requested by one or both parents, require that such child custody evaluations result in an interim report within one month of their start.
- Severely sanction any parties who impede completion of an interim child custody evaluation report without “good cause” to be limited to unpredictable severe circumstances such as a death or medical crisis in the family. Sanctions are to be paid into the county fund that pays for the parental coordinators and protected exchanges described above.
- Order that both interim and “final” child custody evaluations be released to the court upon completion, regardless of payment status. Any evaluator who will not comply with this order should be permanently barred from child custody evaluations and sanctioned for the full amount of the fees paid with the sanctions to be paid into the county fund that pays for the parental coordinators and protected exchanges described above.
- Require that any action taken to remove or alter custody without written agreement of both parents result in a hearing within 2 court days.
- Require minor’s counsel attorneys, when used, to meet with the children and each of the parents at least twice prior to trial and to have the first meeting within two weeks and the second within the following two months.
- Suspension or termination of parent/child contact is NEVER allowed without meeting criminal standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. At a minimum, supervised visitation should always be allowed at least once per week three hours per visit unless a shorter duration is recommended by 3/4 majority of at least three mental health therapists with at least one therapist representing each of the parents and children. If a parent is below the poverty line, the county should pay the cost.
This is just a start to needed improvements, most of which are not addressed in any sensible fashion by the Elkins Task Force recommendations. There are far more needed. If Alksne can’t push at least these minimal improvements through into effect in San Diego County, she should be recalled and replaced by a judge committed to reforming the San Diego family law courts who can actually get some results.