People are often dismayed upon finding out that their conception as to what transpires in family court crashes upon the shoals of reality. As I repeat as often as possible, the reality is that California Judges are hard-working, intelligent people who deserve our admiration, not our scorn, and do not deserve to be constantly the target of vicious personal attacks upon their character. The fact that half the people who come in front of them literally must lose creates a dynamic in which such criticism is inevitable. It is also, for the most part, totally undeserved.
That being said, we must differentiate between situations where a court is operating on the same set of principles that we are. If you believe that the truth is ultimately the most important thing, that being open-minded and receptive to the truth, and reading through the files with a critical eye is the way it’s supposed to work, then you and I are in full agreement.
If, on the other hand, you believe that courts should make rulings based on prior rulings of other judges without bothering to determine whether such rulings are just or appropriate, that rulings should never ignore damning evidence sitting there in the court file (and I mean relevant, admissible evidence, not what most people think of as “proof”) then you will find yourself disappointed more often than you think.
Courts make these kinds of rulings for unclear reasons. It is the job of a judge to administer justice to everyone who comes through the court. When one party takes up too much time, at a certain point, some judges decide to use their broad discretion to cut off the rights of such litigants, making rulings that, while absurd from every standpoint, will probably stand up to an appeal, since the standards for an appeal in California is the “abuse of discretion” standard, translated as “Judge, you have to be out of your mind”.
The appellate courts often then function as little more than a rubber-stamp committee, simply repeating the false facts, the incorrect interpretations of the law, and telling us “The judge can do that-because he/she is a judge.”
In one case, a judge with no background in family law oversaw a trial on custody that lasted for ten days. The court refused to allow evidence of domestic violence, refused expert testimony, suppressed psychological evaluations and ultimately simply adopted a statement of decision written by the father’s counsel, without virtually any changes, which contained, among other things, a diagnosis of mental illness (without any support) and adopted factual statements in direct contradiction to the video evidence and findings made by other agencies.
The Superior Court of that County then held on to the appellate record, and as of yet has not released it two years later, making the case unappealable, while subsequent judges then made rulings based upon this order that was under appeal and using the reasoning contained in the statement of decision.
At one point in the proceedings, the other party agreed to sign a form that would produce documentation, then changed his mind. What resulted was an entire year of hearings which ultimately forced him to sign the form. The information received was partial, so we asked for the form to be executed again.
Instead, the court angrily denounced me, pointing to the various hearings (which I prevailed upon) and somehow believing these hearings were evidence of my intransigence. Among the shocking moments in my career, this is probably one of the top three. She made the ruling in such a way that I could not respond. She let me argue, let the other attorney argue, let me reply, and then simply repeated the false narrative the other side created without any indication that she understood any of what was happening, nor that she cared. Her condescending tone conveyed absolute contempt for me, and her decision created a line of demarcation that I have rarely seen in my career. It clearly did not matter what the facts were. She was going to decide against me no matter what.
Only in the family court can you be holding an apple and be told it’s an orange.