California Coalition for Families and Children  is sponsoring a protest against the corruption, misconduct, and abuse of the San Diego family law industry on the evening of April 15, 2010, in front of the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA) . One of the more responsible custody/psychological evaluators in San Diego County has stated “the San Diego family law courts are the most broken they have been in decades.” Much of the blame falls most directly on the shoulders of many unqualified, biased, and even abusive judges who are harming children and families with their decisions in cases with devastating conflicts that are being encouraged by profit-seeking unethical lawyers and divorce industry service providers.
CCFC Started In Response to San Diego Family Court Misconduct
Supervising Judge Lorna Alksne, the most influential jurist as she oversees the family law courts in the county, can be blamed for at least part of the sickening bias, corruption, and misconduct of the family courts under her watch. She bears significant responsibility for the evasiveness, deceit, corruption, and bias being demonstrated by many of the family law judges, including herself. Many parents and families who have been victimized by Alksne’s failed courts and their buddies in the divorce business have banded together to form the California Coalition for Families and Children . Attorney Cole Stuart and Dr. Emad Tadros are two of the founding members. They are fathers who have seen first hand how harmful the current system is. As they have expertise in law and psychiatry, they are in unique positions to understand just how dysfunctional the courts and the frequently used custody and psychological evaluations are in San Diego.
CCFC is certainly not a father’s rights group. While it undeniably has some members who are fathers who have been mistreated in a sexist fashion, many of its members are mothers who have been wronged by the courts. The typical CCFC member comes from a middle or upper-middle class socioeconomic background, wasn’t a target for persecution by courts and law enforcement until their divorce, and has spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars on simply trying to maintain reasonable contact with their children despite the other parent being intent on eliminating them.
One key point many members have observed is that money drives these conflicts. Generally both parents and their families have some money, be it income or assets. The courts and their friends can find ways to take that money for their benefit, often by encouraging a destructive “winner takes all” battle over imperfect but capable parents being able to spend time with their children. As actor and divorce industry critic Alec Baldwin observed, people who have substantial income and assets often get far worse treatment in family law courts than those who have little.
Parents are often willing to do just about anything for their children. The San Diego divorce industry milks this parental goodwill and mutates it into something truly evil to do lasting harm to children and their families in order to pump up revenues. “For the best interest of the children” is the euphemism they use when they truly mean “for our best interests of lining our pockets with your money.”
An excerpt from a flyer  the group has prepared for the SDCBA event may give you a flavor of their positions:
San Diego Family Courts and Professionals are trained and paid to resolve family disputes efficiently. They rarely do. Why?
Courts, attorneys, and service providers are ineffective in assisting families in transition. In fact, they encourage conflict and expense that harms litigants, their children, and your community.
Reducing conflict may seem impossible. But with a few readily available and free alternatives, you can make a difference. Here’s the truth you won’t hear from tonight’s panel by the litigants whom you failed to invite.
You were hired to assist litigants in efficiently transitioning through a family dissolution.
Litigants come to you hurt, angry, and fearful about an uncertain future for the most important things in their lives: their children, family, and financial security. Unmanaged, that uncertainty and fear leads to conflict.
Your duty to your client and community is to end conflict, end fear, and let them move on.
Yet Family Courts presently offer few tools to calm emotions, while providing abundant tools to make them even more destructive. Courts and evaluators sit in passive judgment, yet rarely render guidance. Evaluators are scientifically incapable of identifying the “better” parent — yet earns millions from desperate parents by pretending they can. Attorneys rarely end conflict, but regularly use courts to encourage litigation, absorb resources, and harm their clients, children, and community.
Up To Parents
Members of the CCFC group are particularly fond of the work being done by website Up To Parents  which advocates for parents to end their conflict and work together for the benefit of their children by reducing conflict and staying out of court. They invited Charlie and Barbara Asher who run the website to speak at a meeting in January 2010 in Del Mar, California . Having attended that presentation, I was impressed that the Ashers really do want to help fix the family court disaster and are spending their time and money to put together free resources to help parents handle divorces with less conflict.
Charlie Asher came to be interested in helping broken families mend as he noticed in his work as a criminal attorney that so many people with trouble with the law have histories of conflict due to failed marriages that went very wrong. His wife, Barbara Asher, is a retired psychologist who had noticed similar patterns of long-term problems being caused by difficult divorces.
It was very clear to the audience that the courts in Indiana, their home, are nowhere near as destructive as the courts in San Diego County. The many stories told by CCFC members, men and women, of atrocities they have faced at the hands of the San Diego courts and government were shocking even to an experienced criminal attorney like Charlie Asher.
The protest will be held outside the San Diego County Bar Association during a seminar entitled Litigants Behaving Badly: Do Court Ordered Services Work?  that is being held from 6pm to 9pm.
View Larger Map 
San Diego County
1333 Seventh Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
6:00pm to 9:00pm
early to set up
Many parents who have experienced “court ordered services” in San Diego County know that they really do work (sarcasm intended), just not the way a responsible and rational person should want them to work. They are highly effective at increasing conflict, abusing children and parents, and thereby siphoning financial resources from parents and families into the pockets of those who run the divorce industry in the county. This includes judges, Family Court Services (FCS) mediators, therapists, custody and psychology evaluators, supervised exchange services, supervised visitation centers, and perhaps most importantly the many family law attorneys who engage in unethical and dishonest tactics designed to “win” child custody on behalf of dishonest and abusive parents who hire them. It also includes the county CPS and child support agencies. These people all have a financial interest in seeing the present corrupt and abusive system stay the way it is or to expand its power and control even further. While some of the professionals in the divorce industry who really do want to help families and children are outraged by the abuses they see, they cannot afford to speak up against them for fear of destroying their careers by losing lucrative referrals.
If you’re interested in participating in this protest, please show up before the seminar starts at 6pm. You may want to print and carry posters  as some of the protesters are planning to do.
Speakers at the event include:
Judge Christine Goldsmith
Commissioner Jeannie Lowe
Judge Edlene McKenzie
Judge Joel Wohlfeil
Judge William McAdam
Attorney Laury Baldwin, CLS-F
Attorney Terry Chucas
Larry Corrigan, M.S.W.
Stephen Doyne, Ph.D.
Susan Griffin, M.S.
Attorney William Hargreaves, CLS-F
Attorney Meredith Levin, CLS-F
Lori Love, Ph.D.
Robert Simon, Ph.D.
Attorney Janis Stocks, CLS-F
Some of our readers may recognize these names from the thousands of those who profit from family law misconduct and abuse in San Diego County. We’d like to point out that while some of them are quite disreputable, perhaps even corrupt and abusive, not all are. Some on the list may be trying to do their jobs to help families and are maligned in part for their association with the San Diego Family Law Courts.
To give you an idea of the mix of people presenting at this seminar, below I’ll give brief write-ups on four of them and the types of roles they play in the system.
Stephen Doyne , the ill-reputed section 730 custody/psychology evaluator, is probably the most infamous name on the list. Doyne would not have been selected as a speaker at an event like this if there was truly any intent to provide education on resolving conflicts and helping families. While being tasked with conducting a custody or psychological evaluation means that even a competent and fair evaluator is going to have some disgruntled clients, the level of distrust and animosity Doyne has succeeded at building with his clients is far beyond that of most evaluators.
I’ve met some of the parents aggrieved by Doyne and find they seem balanced in their views. Some of them with particularly bad experiences even go so far as to point out how they endured multiple psychological evaluations and found that earlier ones were essentially fair even though they were criticized for their own flaws. Doyne’s reports, on the other hand, did not strike them as fair or accurate. Many also pointed to financial conflicts and how Doyne’s attitude towards them changed when they had trouble paying for skyrocketing bills. They consistently expressed that Doyne was unprofessional, biased, exhibited conflicts of interests, and caused serious damage to their children, families, and finances. That SDCBA has chosen Doyne as a speaker says volumes about how this organization is not committed to anything but finding ways to make money for its members and their friends, even at the cost of abusing children and ruining parents.
In my previous article Stephen Doyne and San Diego Family Law Courts Under Fire , I outlined the nature of a fraud lawsuit against Doyne and the many complaints from parents whose families have been harmed by his conduct. That article contained many links to information on Doyne’s allegedly fraudulent credentials and coverage by San Diego television news and the San Diego Reader so it’s a good place to start if you want to understand more about how harmful psychological evaluators like Doyne can be.
Susan Griffin from Hannah’s House  has been attacked by many because her child exchange and supervised visitation center earns revenue for “providing services” (the euphemism used by the divorce industry to refer to their pattern of abusing families and pillaging their assets and income) to many parents and children who are abused by the San Diego courts. While there is no doubt reason for some parents to dislike this organization, it may be that she and Hannah’s House are really not so bad as they are made out to be. The organization differs from the judges, attorneys, CPS, and psychological evaluators in that they didn’t request or order parents and children to be forced to use their services.
While they may have opinions that there is no need for supervised visitation for a falsely accused parent, they are not in the position to do much about it other than to try to accurately portray their observations in reports they write and to help defuse conflicts between parents. Even when they write glowing reports on a parent wrongly required to use supervised visitation services and point out the lies being promulgated by a trouble-making parent, it may still take many months or even years for the courts to wake up and stop the mistreatment. It is hard to see how Hannah’s House can be blamed for this, but also understandable that a parent shelling out thousands of dollars per month for a few hours per week with their children at Hannah’s House would be understandably upset at the cost and the injustice.
Judge Christine Goldsmith
Judge Goldsmith is reportedly upset about candidates other than the incumbents running in this year’s judicial elections. Judges in the county are used to running unopposed. Some like Goldsmith apparently believe it is their right to do so. She has reportedly complained about the judges in the county being attacked (presumably by groups and individuals these judges have mistreated) and has been trying to rally up support for “judges under fire” from friendly family lawyers. Given her politically inclined words and actions, it raises questions of a conflict of interest as it implies she’s aligning with lawyers who are friendly to her positions and are willing to support them. Goldsmith and judges like her are undermining the legitimacy of the courts and the public should be deeply concerned.
You might think that a judge violating the code of ethics would be held accountable. Think again. Judge Lisa Schall was implicated in similar types of unethical behavior.
Improper Involvement in Political Activities
Judges are supposed to stay out of politics to avoid the creation of a perception of bias. Even at the start of her judicial career when you might think she’d be keen on playing by the rules, Schall didn’t stay uninvolved. Attorney Michael Aguirre filed a complaint against Schall for her involvement in the re-election campaign of Governor George Deukmejian in what appears to be a possible violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This is the same person who appointed her to San Diego Municipal Court in 1985 and then to San Diego Superior Court in 1989.
(from Lawyer Seeks Probe of Forum Speech by Judge )
A San Diego lawyer has requested that a state panel investigate whether Municipal Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall violated judicial ethics guidelines when she appeared on behalf of Gov. George Deukmejian at a candidates’ forum last week.
In a complaint filed with the California Commission on Judicial Performance, Michael Aguirre charged that Guy-Schall’s appearance at the forum violated a judicial conduct rule stating that judges should not take active roles in political campaigns. The commission is likely to decide whether to investigate the incident at its meeting Oct. 23 and 24, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Yet despite this, a drunk driving conviction, and reprimands for abusive conduct against litigants, she is still a judge in San Diego family law courts. It’s no wonder why San Diego family law judges have a reputation for being incompetent and unethical bottom-feeders.
I’ve been told by one experienced 730 evaluator that Terence Chucas often serves as minor’s counsel in difficult child custody cases. The evaluator expressed the opinion that Chucas is probably better than many such attorneys as he at least will talk with the kids and write required reports. Other people, however, claim he’s involved in covering up child sexual abuse . What is true? I can’t say with any certainty, but can see it is possible both viewpoints could be somewhat accurate given the miserable performance of many minor’s counsel attorneys. It wouldn’t take much effort for one to seem better than many others.
Too many minor’s counsel attorneys view their positions as being for their own interests of making money via court-coerced and sometimes taxpayer-financed money streams being paid to them supposedly for services they provide to “protect children’s interests.” Yet many of these minor’s counsel attorneys do little if anything to truly serve the interests of the children. At the same time, there is no effective oversight for these attorneys. The courts appoint them, then do nothing effective to supervise them. As a result, they are essentially unaccountable yet have government coercion ready to help force parents to pay them. Some even are paid by the government itself, apparently with no evaluation of whether the billing is even accurate or appropriate. In our previous story Eileen Lasher on San Diego CPS/Family Law Court Misconduct , we reported on victimized San Diego parent Eileen Lasher who revealed that the county pays these attorneys without any accountability to the public, or even the parents of the children, as to the hours they worked and the services they provided. Lasher was particularly critical of the failure to submit itemized billing and other games the minor’s counsel attorney played to pump up fees by creating and continuing conflict.
Appearance of Collusion
Putting aside the particular pros and cons of each of the people discussed above, consider their roles in the family law system. A judge can appoint a minor’s counsel attorney (or even one per child as in the Cindy Dumas v. Eric Moelter  case which has employed three minor’s counsel attorneys, one for each child, for years) and a supervised visitation monitor. The minor’s counsel attorney(s) can insist supervised visitation is needed and name somebody preferred if the judge hasn’t already. The minor’s counsel attorney(s) can also recommend a psychological evaluation is needed and suggest a party to do it. The Court’s Family Court Services mediators can do the same things with regards to recommending these services are needed, but they may stay away from naming names to keep up an appearance of impartiality. The supervised visitation monitor can write somewhat objective reports that try to avoid offending anybody, but in the process don’t make it clear that the parent being supervised is just fine and the one not being supervised is an aggressive nutcase. Consequently, the minor’s counsel attorney(s), one of the parents and his or her attorney, and court want to keep the supervised visitation in place for longer, often saying they want to wait for the psychological evaluation. The psychological evaluator can take a year or more to do his or her job, then issues a report that often recommends therapists, supervised exchange and visitation centers, and other service providers by name. In the meantime, there are many hearings and piles of legal papers and nasty letters flying back and forth between the attorneys, all driving up the costs. Every letter one writes is an opportunity for the others to respond and bill more fees for doing so.
Who pays for all of this? Usually it is the parents, but sometimes taxpayers are picking up the bill at a much reduced rate. Nobody really wants to work at the county rate since it is a tiny fraction of their normal billing rates, so to keep busy they make sure they can identify “revenue sources” (parents with money) and then “recommend services” (help each other get jobs). If they are appointed at county rate, they will try to find some way to keep the job and change the billing rate. Sometimes they simply “neglect” to send invoices for a year or so and then demand payment at a much higher rate, often with the threat of interest accruing even though they never sent a bill previously. If the parents object and cite the court orders listing the county rate, the minor’s counsel attorney can simply lie and state they agreed to the higher rate already and this was communicated via their attorneys. The judge will probably uphold such an arrangement. The judge would rather the parents pay because every dollar shelled out by the county to somebody outside the court is one less dollar available for judges and court employees. Also, the judge doesn’t want to bring any of his or her buddies into disrepute for lying because after all, everybody in the system knows that nobody wants to be known as a liar and getting such a reputation will hurt their abilities to help each other make an income and maintain job security.
Everybody in the system is happy with getting paid well and having little accountability for their work. The only people unhappy with this arrangement are the children and many of the parents. But they are not part of the system, so almost nobody in the system cares about them.
It’s also important to realize that seminars like this one being protested are common. They are held many times per year in San Diego, often sponsored by attorneys, psychological evaluators, and others with a financial interest in keeping the system the way it is now. Cross-referring “professionals” show up at them and get to know each other and find ways to pump up revenues and profits via referrals and “recommending services” for troubled families.
If this whole arrangement strikes you as collusion, even fraud, that’s because it often is. There is big money to be made victimizing parents and children and everybody in the system knows it. While not all of them like it, even those who do not are sucked in to playing this game because the adversarial nature of the process demands they respond to the stunts and manipulations the other parties are playing to “win” or make more money or whatever their motivations may be.
Uncertainty And Inconsistency Incite Conflict, Increase Legal Revenues
One of the major causes driving conflict and therefore expenses and damage (or income and profit as those employed in system view it) is the uncertainty felt by the parents due to the wild inconsistency of the courts. Capable and loving parents are uncertain if they will even be able to see their children any more, whether they will end up labelled as deadbeats, child abusers, or worse. They see some divorces go smoothly and parents getting along and others turning into a microcosmic variant of World War III, complete with nuclear weapons like false sexual abuse allegations that create massive damage for nearly everybody (certainly the falsely accused parent and the children) once they are used. The courts sometimes crack down on this, other times they reward it. It appears like random chance, not a comforting situation when one is being confronted with this Russian Roulette game with the gun pointed straight at one’s family and self. It is terrifying and drives a self-defensive mindset that can increase litigation and conflict even in people who would normally want to stay out of courts and resolve conflicts peacefully. And of course this is a terrific opportunity for the “court experts” like the psychological evaluators to then point out how these parents are obsessive, depressed, and anxiety-ridden and need mental health care and oh, by the way, here are some suggestions who they should hire.
Not-so-good parents see the uncertainty and inconsistency, too. They look at them as opportunities to “win” custody, “win” child support, “win” the argument with the ex, and “winning at any cost” is what many of the worst of these people are all about. Because they know there is a significant chance a child abuse and especially child sexual abuse allegation will result in a judge blocking contact between the children and their hated nemesis parent for months or years with little to no evidence required, they realize that it is almost certainly a short-term “win” and might also be the way to get long-term sole custody. That’s because the courts often try to uphold the status quo and after a year or two of little contact with one parent they will often interpret that as solid grounds for awarding sole custody to the accusing parent. Further, they seldom punish anybody for making false accusations, even very serious and damaging ones that are later shown convincingly to be untrue. So dishonest parents have plenty of incentive to litigate and little disincentive since they often wrongly see themselves as victims who should have the right to do anything to get what they want.
If the courts would consistently require higher evidentiary proof, punish false accusations, and generally stick with 50/50 shared parenting with little to no child support (except in relatively extreme cases such as one parent is in poverty while the other is wealthy) then there would be more certainty and less incentive to litigate over marginal issues. I’m not saying that a parent’s concern about child abuse is never warranted, but sometimes the many bruises and cuts or other injuries can’t be proven to be abusive and it’s best not to litigate over them even though there are serious questions about what is going on.
The courts should also be putting in and enforcing mechanisms to help parents resolve these uncertainties without requiring litigation. Instead, they often make decisions that impede the ability to understand what is going on. The courts often make orders to allow access to medical records, know who the childcare providers are, and to bring kids in a high-conflict divorce to a child therapist. But then one parent refuses to cooperate, gains an advantage by doing do (for instance, hiding the causes of abusive injuries), and is never held accountable by the court for refusing to cooperate. This drives more conflict and litigation as one parent is able to manipulate the system freely and the other is worried about what is happening to the children due in part to the lack of information coupled with problems the children are having with behaviors, physical condition, health, or other issues.
It could be the child is not being abused by a parent but instead is being beaten up at school by a bully. But if the concerned parent can’t even talk with the teachers because they hate him or her due to defamation being spread by a hostile parent then what options do they have? They are likely to bring the issues to court as they often understandably cannot accept that “doing nothing” is a responsible choice when it comes to the health and safety of their children given the concerns they have coupled with the lack of answers.
One option that has met with some success is the role of a parental coordinator with authority to resolve minor disputes. While this is yet another “court ordered service” and therefore should be suspect, paying $50 per parent (assuming 30 minutes at $200 per hour) to quickly resolve a dispute over child custody exchange time is a lot better than having lawyers fire off nasty phone calls and letters for a few days ($200-300 per parent there) and then ending up in court yet again for an ex-parte hearing (another $200-300 per parent) only to have the judge make some random decision that ignores facts that would have been evident to a parental coordinator who was in the trenches with the warring parents.
Parental coordinators are sometimes child psychologists, other times are attorneys. There is no set rule for this. Given the amount of conflict being caused by the broken family law system, it seem evident that if responsible people were running the show that efforts would be made to find ways to resolve conflicts inexpensively and quickly with minimum impact on children and a reduced chance of ending up in court again.
The idea at work here is to use lower-cost and faster ways to resolve small conflicts before they ignite a big battle. A lot of warring parents simply cannot do this on their own. While the popular saying goes “it takes two to fight”, that is entirely untrue in this realm. One parent can write a reasonable e-mail to the other trying to resolve an issue or relay important information and then find himself or herself reported to the police and having a temporary restraining order slapped in place as a response. That drives months more conflict and likely many thousands of dollars in costs. The unreasonable parent is often rewarded for this by having exclusive access to the kids for that duration. Months or years later, when it becomes clear there was no good basis for that parent’s actions, the courts often do nothing to ensure it won’t happen again. Some judges even refuse to put into place a parental coordinator when there is a history of false accusations, court order violations, and communications problems and a psychological evaluator recommended one be employed to help defuse conflicts early.
Because the courts are too slow and usually fail to do anything to stop such abuses, they encourage more of this same conflict. This can go on for the children’s entire lives up until they all become adults. What the courts are doing today is often a recipe for 20 year wars. Even though this is ruinous for the children and parents, it is beneficial to judges, lawyers, and the masses of court ordered service providers who all are getting job security and income out of the war they helped create and perpetuate.
While parental coordinators are yet another such service provider, it’s possible that they plus some tools such as monitored information sharing (children’s calendars, school assignments, medical records, messaging, private chat, etc.) like those offered by Our Family Wizard  and ShareKids  could go a long way towards keeping families out of the ruinous court system. It appears to make a lot of sense to keep the courts out of the typical periodic bickering over when the kids will see each parent while ensuring that there is some accountability that orders will be followed. The idea is still relatively new, however, and implementing it is often impeded by laws that do not allow a court to put such a party in place without agreement from both parents because it is viewed as usurping the court’s responsibility and authority to hear such disputes.
Not all of the people in the San Diego divorce industry are problems. Some really are trying to do their jobs. Unfortunately, they and the parents afflicted by Alksne’s dysfunctional courts cannot stick up for justice without being persecuted for it by the abusive and criminal elements in this system. Consequently, many of the better professionals stay silent about the abuses they know are happening around them because they believe they cannot afford to risk their personal reputations and careers over holding the bad apples accountable and that speaking out will achieve no meaningful change but will ensure they can’t help families who would be a lot worse off working with the many disreputable parties ready to pounce on yet another revenue source they can milk with deception, coercion, and abuse. That’s a sad statement on how little faith they have in the courts and other divorce industry players to do what is right for children and families.
If you have opinions on San Diego divorce industry players, please share your comments. Without visibility into how these people operate, there is no way to hold the abusive, biased, and corrupt ones accountable for their crimes. Comments about competent professionals are also highly valued as families would be far better off working with those who seek to resolve conflicts fairly than those who perpetuate them for their own self-interests.