California Coalition for Families and Children Delivers Letters to U.S. Representatives Requesting Assistance in Combating Familiy Court Fraud and Abuse
January 31, 2014—San Diego, CA—Today California Coalition for Families and Children delivered letters to United States representatives requesting assistance in the investigation and arrest of San Diego Divorce Industry professionals accused of illegally defrauding California Families. The letters delivered to Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman Susan Davis, and Congressman Duncan Hunter, Juan Vargas, Scott Peters, and Darrell Issa detail the ongoing criminal violations of federal civil rights and racketeering laws among the San Diego divorce industry. [More…]
California Coalition Delivers Demand Letter and Evidence to FBI, Demands Arrest of Family Court Officials
January 30, 2014–SAN DIEGO, CA–Today California Coalition for Families and Children calls for an investigation and arrest of San Diego Divorce Industry leaders. The Coalition delivered their demand letter to Ms. Daphne Hearn, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Ms. Laura Duffy, United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, detailing the San Diego Family Court racketeering allegations, and providing thousands of pages of evidence. The letter identifies numerous violations of federal laws including 18 U.S.C. §§ 242, 241, and 371 (civil rights and fraud against the United States government) as well as racketeering charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1962 for mail and wire fraud, honest services fraud, extortion, bribery, and obstruction of justice by divorce lawyers, the City Attorney’s Office, and the Family Courts.
“The crimes we’ve uncovered are very serious, and include violations of equal protection of the laws against parents and children by predatory divorce lawyers and their co-conspirators in the City Attorney’s Office and Family Court.” Says Colbern Stuart, President of the California Coalition. “We’ve been in contact with Ms. Hearn and Ms. Duffy previously on similar matters. This demand package contains evidence and allegations which they had previously indicated was missing.” California Coalition is calling for an investigation and arrest of the accused defendants.
Divorce Industry “Honest Services Fraud”: Kickbacks, Referrals, Bribery, and Extortion. California Coalition’s Expanded Racketeering Complaint Details the Crimes
Last week California Coalition for Families and Children filed its
Amended Racketeering and Civil Rights complaint in federal court, adding City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Assistant City Attorney Emily Garson, Judge Michael Groch, San Diego Superior Court Counsel Kristine Nesthus, and adding charges for obstruction of justice against a group of Superior Court judges led by the San Diego County Bar Association and its insurer, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, in thwarting California Coalitions’ Complaint in this action. It alleges numerous felonies under state and federal law, including extortion, bribery, fraud, false arrest, and civil rights crimes under 18 U.S.C. §§ 242, 241, 371—which are federal felonies by themselves.
The complaint also expanded on the details of the “honest services fraud” schemes operated by divorce lawyers. These schemes, which involve illegal kickback and behind the scenes dealing between attorneys, service providers, psychologists, and judges, are illegal under the federal criminal code, 18 U.S.C. § 1346.
“Many people think that fraud is a one-on-one transaction, such as when a consumer purchases counterfeit goods. But under federal law, fraud is defined much more broadly, to include any transaction in which the seller is somehow benefited from providing dishonest services.” Says Colbern Stuart, President of California Coalition.
Honest Services Fraud under Federal Law
“Honest Services Fraud” includes transactions in which a seller is receiving a behind-the-scene “kickback”, or compensation of any kind for a referral that wrongfully influences the referrer.
If Company A sells you goods or services, then refers you to company B, you expect that referral to be unbiased—in essence Company A is representing to you that they’re recommending company B solely because Company B is a good company. However, if Company B is paying Company A for the referral, or offering something else of value–a “kickback”—as happens very often today—Company A must disclose that relationship to you as the buyer. If they don’t, they’ve committed fraud, and if you’re harmed by Company B, company A may be liable to you.
“These referral networks are vast and well-entrenched in the divorce industry.” Says Stuart. Because the industry is a ‘closed society’, competition by outsiders is artificially limited by referrals from lawyers to preferred accountants, to psychologists, to mediators. “The network is as vast as the divorce litigant’s bank account.” “Litigants usually don’t realize the services they’re being sold are entirely unnecessary or outright fraudulent until it’s too late. They come to a divorce lawyer angry at a spouse, greedy, or frightened—whatever blinding emotion at hand.” Says Stuart. For such litigants, the divorce lawyer remedy may be more deadly than the disease. “Divorce lawyers know litigants are vulnerable, but rather than save them, they walk them into the trap. It’s outrageous and its plainly fraud, but it happens every day.” Says Stuart.
California Coalition’s First Amended Complaint sets forth the Domestic Dispute Industry Honest Services Fraud in its Racketeering Counts. “You may recognize this pattern of referrals and “you scratch my back” cooperation—sometimes even between the adverse attorneys working to disadvantage their clients. If you do, you may have a racketeering claim against your attorney, your ex-spouse’s attorney, and maybe even your ex.” Says Stuart. “We suggest that divorce litigants check to see if these types of scenarios are happening to them-is your divorce lawyer telling you things like “that’s how it’s done” in divorce court, or “there’s nothing you can do?” Is he or she telling you the Constitution doesn’t apply?” Is she suggesting you go to a paid service provider for something you can get in court for free? If so, you’re in danger of being defrauded, and once you’re in it, there’s no easy way out.” Says Stuart.
“Black Hat” Operatives in the Domestic Dispute Industry Criminal Enterprise
On the other end many divorce lawyers promote themselves as ‘black hat’ operatives—those who can use the dysfunction to your advantage. “These are the bad guys we’re in process of exterminating.” Says Stuart. Hiring an attorney to sue for revenge or out
of any emotion including fear is extremely dangerous. “Backfire is common and always harmful, even deadly. Sadly, attorneys simply won’t stop you from hurting yourself, and you won’t know that you’re doing so until it’s too late.” Say Stuart. “We’re going to balance that equation out. As we move forward anyone, who has signed up a client to use illegal tactics that fall into our gun-sights, that lawyer just signed his own death warrant.” Says Stuart.
“Courts, institutions, and prosecutors have tolerated this illegal behavior for far too long. RICO empowers victims of fraud to fend for themselves, and offers enhanced damages of three times actual loss, plus costs and attorneys fees. We put those extraordinarily powerful statutes to work against bad lawyers and evil clients.” Says Stuart.
“These are crimes. These people belong in prison. The U.S. Attorney for this District Laura Duffy won’t do her job to enforce the criminal law. The District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis won’t do her job to enforce the criminal law. In my opinion, they probably belong in prison for tolerating such widespread and outrageous behavior damaging kids and families, but that’s not my business. They won’t put the industry under, we will. And with RICO’s injunctive remedies, we can. If we can recover some hardship money for parents and kids who’ve been injured along the way, even better. ” Says Stuart.
If your attorney is recommending to do things you know are illegal—such as lie under oath, fabricate evidence, or exaggeration, you may be committing racketeering by cooperating. “We have a client whose lawyer advised ‘if you don’t do it to them, they’ll do it to you.’ That sadly is not uncommon, and the likelihood often begins the cycle that leads to a “messy divorce” and personal destruction. Nobody on the inside has the spine to stop it. We do.” Say Stuart. “We’re establishing precedents that enable clients who’ve been duped by their own attorneys or their spouse’s attorneys to fire back—with thermonuclear weaponry of federal law racketeering mail fraud, extortion, bribery, and honest services fraud charges. With the precedents established, other litigants can follow our path and use them to combat fraud in other jurisdictions. We hope the herculean efforts we’re undertaking in San Diego will benefit parents and divorce industry litigants nationwide.” Says Stuart.
California Coalition’s complaint details how the industry is entrenched, with government lawyers, prosecutors, and judges squarely in the divorce industry’s pocket. “We don’t expect to see real change industry-wide until heads roll. But that’s the kind of battle we enjoy most. We’re blessed to have capable minds, eager hands, and some extremely powerful federal laws to keep wind in our sails.”
RACKETEERING COUNT 2
18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c), (d)
Honest Services Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1346
Against All RICO Defendants
1031. This is a Count asserting numerous Claims for relief under RICO section 1962 (c) and (d), based upon predicate crimes actionable under 18 U.S.C. § 1346 for Honest Services Fraud, against defendants as identified per Claim in this Count.
1032. All prior paragraphs are re-alleged and incorporated as if set forth in full.
General Allegations to Racketeering Count 2
1033. Defendants engaged in one or more SAD by and in conjunction with the ENTERPRISES to deprive Plaintiffs of the intangible right of honest services.
1034. On information and belief, Defendants, and each of them, support and promote one another in perpetrating each SAD actionable fraud, bribery and/or kickbacks, wherein a quid pro quo (monetary, preferential referral, business referral, and/or some other form of benefit) is provided to or from each RICO defendant, and including such benefits to or from persons unknown to Plaintiffs, to assure that Plaintiffs in their PUBLIC BENEFIT ACTIVITIES would be effectively punished, silenced, discredited, and rendered ineffective as an effectively competing alternative vehicle offering reasonable and realistic forms of professional quality services to counsel and advise individual parents and guardians addressing family law, child custody, and domestic relations issues.
1035. In the case of DOYNE and BLANCHET, these quid-pro-quo exchanges are backed up with use of one or another SAD, such as “that’s just how it is” or extortion such as “if you ever want to see your son again ….” which are enabled by the abuse of process tools of The Pit and DDIJO abstention/enforcement of illegal DVILS ORDERS. In STUART’S case, additional muscle was provided by SDCBA’S security guards, and ultimately the familial relationships between STUART ASSAULT COORDINATORS and CITY ATTORNEY DEFENDANTS.
1036. The fraudulent quid-pro-quo ignores ethical PROFESSIONAL DUTIES of loyalty and zealous advocacy among putative opponent lawyers, and judicial officials who disregard their ethical duties enforce law. In doing so, Defendants effectively re-define their opponents to be their own clients, take those who should be their opponents as collaborators, and pursue the collaborators’ joint interests above their clients’.
1037. DDICE operatives do so by collaborating with opposing counsel and state interests under color of law to extort, defraud, and abuse their own clients, whom they refer to as “Litigants Behaving Badly” in a grotesque and reprehensible criminal enterprise conducted with full knowledge, consent, and contribution from public and private servants alike.
1038. Such conduct constitutes the deprivation of the intangible personal property right to receive ‘honest-services’ for purposes of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, and 1346.
1039. As an actual and proximate result, Plaintiffs have been damaged or injured in a nature and amount to be proven at trial.
The “Honest Services Fraud Scheme” of Sharon Blanchet, Ashworth Blanchet Christenson & Kalemkiarian, Jeff Fritz of Basie and Fritz, and Dr. Stephen Doyne
The kickback and extortion scheme between Sharon Blanchet, Ashworth Blanchet Christenson & Kalemkiarian, Jeff Fritz of Basie and Fritz, and Dr. Stephen Doyne is described elsewhere in the complaint:
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Cal. Const. art. I, § 26
Against DOYNE, DOYNE, INC., BLANCHET, ABC&K,
808. This is a Count alleging breach of contract, fraud, extortion, bribery and abuse of process centered on the actions of Defendants DOYNE (DOYNE TERRORISM) acting under color of law, and related deprivations of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Cal. Const. art. I, § 26 against DOYNE, DOYNE, INC., BLANCHET, ABC&K, WOHLFEIL, and SCHALL (DOYNE TERRORISM Defendants).
809. On or about April 10, 2008, Defendant WOHFEIL recommended and offered to oversee Defendant DOYNE to “mediate” custody issues in the Stuart Dissolution.
810. Concurrent with WOHLFEIL’S recommendation, BLANCHET also made representations and warranties regarding DOYNE and DOYNE INC. as set forth in Exhibit 14 and incorporated herein by reference.
811. Collectively, WOLFEIL and BLANCHET’S recommendations and referral communicated to STUART that DOYNE and DOYNE INC. DOYNE INC. was a trustworthy, competent mediator.
812. Based upon WOHLFEIL’S recommendation and agreement to oversee, and BLANCHET’S representations and warranties, STUART contacted DOYNE INC.
813. Between about April, 2008 and September 12, 2008, STUART and DOYNE, INC. conducted oral negotiations, entered agreements, and executed a written contract (STUART- DOYNE CONTRACTS).
814. During these negotiations and agreements, DOYNE and DOYNE, INC. made representations, promises, and warranties to STUART as follows:
A. That DOYNE was only authorized and would only act to “mediate”, and could not perform a custody evaluation, therapy, “forensic investigation” “analysis” or “evaluation” or act as a witness in court;
B. That DOYNE would not permit ex parte contact, and would take no action or recommendation except as authorized by the court or the parties;
C. That DOYNE would base his reasoning and actions on actual evidence and law;
D. That all parties would be afforded notice and opportunity to be heard before DOYNE took any action or made any recommendations regarding the matter;
E. That DOYNE INC. was an alternative to court and governmental intervention, safer, more private, and less expensive than court, but with the same procedural safeguards;
F. That DOYNE would “quickly” work toward 50/50 custody, that it would only take “a few sessions”, and that his fees and expenses would not exceed the initial $5,000 retainer;
G. That the DOYNE INC. mediation process would be completed in “a month or two”;
H. That DOYNE’s contact with the court would be in the form of a written report which both parties would have an opportunity to review, comment on, contest, supplement, and collaborate over before submission to the court;
I. That DOYNE’S had no authority to take actions or make judgments, but only to work toward cooperative solutions;
J. That DOYNE would not recommend any solution that would harm, burden, or obstruct any party, and that he was “honest, fair, and completely competent” to perform mediation services.
815. These representations were false when made.
816. As described more fully in Exhibits 22 and 23, DOYNE INC breached the contracts and representations by committing extortion, abuse of process, and by failing to abide by each of the above referenced promises, his PROFESSIONAL DUTIES, including duties of disclosure, loyalty, honesty, and good faith, as well as breaching one or more provision of the written contract.
A. DOYNE extended the mediation for months, insisting on weekly sessions to address issues he had not been authorized to “mediate”;
B. DOYNE was not only unable to resolve even minor issues successfully, he welcomed and encouraged both parties to bring up new issues unrelated to child custody, effectively attempting to insert himself as an arbiter for all disputes—real or imagined—between the parties; and by otherwise extended the mediation to increase his fees;
C. DOYNE refused to investigate STUART’s Claims and evidence that MS. STUART was abusing their son, Croix Stuart.
D. DOYNE exceeded his authority in filing false and misleading reports with San Diego County child protective services alleging that Plaintiff had “held his son upside down over a balcony” when DOYNE in fact knew and later admitted, that claim was untrue;
E. That San Diego County Child Protective Services had performed an investigation of DOYNE’s allegations against Plaintiff and found DOYNE’s allegation to be false;
F. Because of DOYNE’s false and misleading letters and report to San Diego Child Protective Services, DOYNE caused the removal of Plaintiff’s son Croix Stuart from Plaintiff’s shared custody and awarded sole custody to Petitioner Ms. Stuart;
G. That DOYNE repeatedly ignored or failed to follow up on Plaintiff’s concerns that Croix Stuart was being abused, manipulated, and alienated by Petitioner Ms. Stuart;
H. That DOYNE was forcing Plaintiff to pay for services of DOYNE which Plaintiff objected to, did not request, and were wasteful and unnecessary; and
I. That DOYNE effectively held Stuart’s son hostage, dangling his custody decisions between the couple, increasing adversarial hostilities, strife, and conflict, in order increase his fees in the case;
J. That DOYNE was in fact unauthorized to perform any work on the matter as he was ineligible, unqualified, and had failed to establish his eligibility by appropriate procedure; and
K. Further breaches of each representation elsewhere identified.
DOYNE, DOYNE, INC. Terrorism
818. In response to these breaches, in February or March 1, 2009, STUART terminated DOYNE’S services.
819. In addition to complaining to and firing DOYNE, Plaintiff also filed formal complaints with DOYNE’s landlord, Scripps Memorial Hospital, the State of California Board of Psychology, the FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS in the DUE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE and FFRRESA. On information and belief DOYNE knew of these complaints.
820. A true and correct copy letters to and concerning DOYNE relating to these allegations are referenced as Exhibits 22-23.
821. In response to STUART’S objections and reports detailed above, DOYNE INC. retaliated against STUART by committing the following acts against STUART:
A. Committing perjury in a hearing relating to the STUART’S son, Croix Stuart;
B. Continuing to file false reports and encourage the (false) investigation of his initial report against STUART;
C. Continuing to demand STUART pay DOYNE and DONE INC. for services not rendered or fraudulently rendered;
D. Attempting to intimidate, distress, harm, defraud, extort, and rob Stuart;
E. Requesting a bribe; and
F. Participating in the STUART ASSAULT.
DOYNE’S Attempted Bribery and Extortion
822. In May, 2009, DOYNE telephoned STUART at home requesting that STUART pay DOYNE for services he falsely claimed to have provided.
823. DOYNE advised STUART that he had sent STUART several invoices which STUART had not paid; STUART had advised DOYNE previously that he would no longer pay DOYNE, INC.’S services or invoices.
824. DOYNE advised STUART that he “should come current” and that if he did so, DOYNE would “work with you” to “get more time with your son.”
825. Given DOYNE’S pattern and history of professional incompetence, fraud, breach of contract, deprivation of rights, false CPS report, overbilling, and other CULPABLE conduct as alleged herein, STUART was horrified at what he regarded as predatory behavior and an extortive threat to commit further acts of perjury, abuse of process, and manipulation regarding custody of STUART’s son if STUART did not “come current.”
826. He was further extremely distressed that DOYNE then maintained a relationship with his Croix Stuart and Lynn Stuart as a therapist, and would inflict further harm or commit further facilitation of Ms. Stuart’s child abuse if STUART did not comply with DOYNE’s demand for a bribe.
827. STUART refused to pay DOYNE further, but was horrified, traumatized, and severely distressed as a result of DOYNE’S behavior.
828. Understanding that DOYNE remained as a witness in STUART’S family law matter, and based upon his past history of abuse of process, false testimony, and abuse of process, he could easily retaliate against STUART for any action he took regarding his conduct, STUART was intimidated, terrified, oppressed and under duress, prohibiting him from taking formal action on such conduct, constituting duress, fraud, and undue influence.
829. STUART was also defrauded by DOYNE and BLANCHET as elsewhere alleged in understanding the nature and extent of the enterprise and conspiratorial relationships between DOYNE, DOYNE, INC. and BLANCHET, CITY ATTORNEY DEFENDANTS, and each STUART ASSAULT COORDINATOR, and their successive duress and undue influence also elsewhere alleged.
830. As a result of such fraud, duress, undue influence, breach of fiduciary and other PROFESSIONAL DUTIES, STUART has been oppressed, deterred, and unwillingly delayed to initiate this Action until August 20, 2013.
San Diego Divorce Attorneys Conduct the Orchestra
Sadly, the ringleaders of the show are the divorce attorneys—those who have the closest relationship to the clients. The sad fact is clients in divorce court are often not the sharpest tools in the shed. Add to that blinding emotion, and you have easy targets for mediocre lawyers to send their kids to Berkley. “It’s a reaper’s field for every Aesop’s fable you’ve ever heard. This is what Sunday School was supposed to prepare you for. Sadly, most people must not have been listening.” Say Stuart.
“The solution is easier than most people realize.” Says Stuart. “But for some it’s tough. It starts with a big dose of humility. We sow the seeds of our own destruction by enabling the deadly sins—avarice, pride, greed, animus—it sounds old fashioned but its even more relevant today. If you come to divorce court with the intent of getting rich by duping someone, or ruining someone’s life, your evil motives are just as likely to destroy you.” “Divorce litigants are blind to the costs of the process—they regularly pay thousands of dollars for some “control” victory. If you’re the aggressor here, you’re the problem, and soon enough your problem will devour you.” Say Stuart. “Once you start with your own fallibility, you can forgive others–including your ex-spouse. Once you forgive, you clear your head from much of the emotion, and can hopefully make better decisions by avoiding the deadly sins that lead to your demise, and divorce lawyer riches.”
Federal Court in Ciavarella “Kids For Cash” Case Issues Groundbreaking Ruling: State Court Judge’s Acts Not Immune from Conspiracy and RICO
January 13, 2014–A Federal District Court Judge in Pennsylvania ruled last Friday that “Kids for Cash” Pennsylvania State Juvenile Court Judge Mark Ciavarella’s actions in causing juveniles to be sentenced under a “zero tolerance” policy to further a civil conspiracy are not protected by judicial immunity. United States District Judge A. Richard Caputo on Thursday issued a decision in favor of plaintiffs in that case, holding that Judge Mark Ciavarella’s acts in participating in a conspiracy to deprive children of a right to a fair trial in order to send the children to juvenile detention facilities which Ciavarella helped develop are not “judicial acts” entitled to judicial immunity.
What It Means for Parents and Children
“This decision will profoundly impact parents’ ability to pursue Family Court judges for civil rights violations based on judicial conduct occurring outside of the courtroom, which causes injury inside the courtroom.” says Colbern Stuart, President of California Coalition for Families and Children. “Every parent should take a close look at the judge, psychologist, and attorneys in their cases to see if they were involved in any out-of-court activity such as court policy-making committees, legal or judicial professional organizations, “CLE” for judges or attorneys, “think tanks” and “technical assistance” organizations that influence judicial behavior and the administration of justice. Those activities are now clearly suspect if they result in constitutional injury.” Says Stuart. “Illegal policies or guidance, and unethical conduct and business dealings that lead to a decision inside of court that deprives a litigant or their family of civil rights can be the basis for civil liability that is not immunized by the in-court act.” “If a parent or child has been deprived of civil rights or otherwise damaged by such policies or illegal dealings, they may have recourse against the Family Court judge, psychologist, or attorney acting illegally outside of court.” Says Stuart.
California Coalition’s DDICE RICO Lawsuit
California Coalition has sued San Diego Family Court judges for conspiring with attorneys, psychologists, and the county bar association to deprive families of civil rights. “This is exactly the type of conduct we’ve found in San Diego. Judges and private professionals self-dealing for private advantage, making policy to stoke that advantage, then working the policy in court to fuel their private fire with parents’ and children’s college funds. It’s now clear those judges may be liable despite the fact that part of the transaction occurred in court. Parents in every state should closely re-examine their cases to see if similar facts exist in their case.”
From Judge Caputo’s January 9, 2014 Memorandum in the Ciavarella case:
Ciavarella is not entitled to judicial immunity for his role in closing the River Street facility. That is, appearing on television urging a shutdown of a county-run detention facility and facilitating hiring decisions for a private detention facility are not functions “normally performed by a judge.” Wallace, 2009 WL 4051974, at *7 (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362, 98 S. Ct. 1099, 55 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1978)). During Ciavarella’s criminal trial, he acknowledged that he was not performing any official duties when he took part in the television interview. (Plfs.’ SMF, ¶ 74.) Moreover, aiding PACC in staffing its facility with employees of the River Street facility also falls outside the traditional role of a judge. Cf. Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229, 108 S. Ct. 538, 98 L. Ed. 2d 555 (1988) (“personnel decisions made by judges[ ] are often crucial to the efficient operation of public institutions (some of which are at least as important as the courts), yet no one suggests that they give rise to absolute immunity from liability in damages under § 1983.”).
b. Zero Tolerance Policy
Second, Plaintiffs argue that the enactment of a zero tolerance policy was not a judicial act. While Ciavarella served as judge of the juvenile court, he enacted an administrative policy that dictated instances in which probation officers had to file charges against and detain juveniles in Luzerne County. (Plfs.’ SMF, ¶¶ 79-82.) Ciavarella expanded his zero tolerance policy in February 2003, the same month PACC opened, to require that children on probation be violated and detained for any violation of their probation, including zero tolerance for drug and alcohol violations, not attending school, not attending appointments, or violating curfew. (Id. at ¶ 80.) Under this policy which was distributed to all juvenile probation officers on February 20, 2003, (id. at ¶ 82), Ciavarella eliminated juvenile probation officers’ discretion to informally adjust juveniles’ charges. (Id. at ¶ 79.)
Ciavarella’s enactment and expansion of a zero tolerance policy dictating how probation officers were to handle violations of probation and other charging decisions fall outside the scope of judicial action. “Administrative decisions, even though they may be essential to the very functioning of the courts, have not similarly been regarded as judicial acts.” Forrester, 484 U.S. at 228, 108 S. Ct. 538. Under Pennsylvania law, probation officers have the authority to informally adjust allegations before a delinquency petition is filed. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6323; Pa. R. Juv. Ct. P. 312 (“At any time prior to the filing of a petition, the juvenile probation officer may informally adjust the allegation(s) if it appears: (1) an adjudication would not be in the best interest of the public and the juvenile; (2) the juvenile and the juvenile’s guardian consent to informal adjustment with knowledge that consent is not obligatory; and (3) the admitted facts bring the case within the jurisdiction of the court.”). Moreover, “coercing probation officers to change their recommendations is outside the role of a judicial officer. Probation officers are to advise the court, not the other way round, on sentencing matters.” Wallace, 2009 WL 4051974, at *8. In adopting the zero tolerance policy, Ciavarella was acting in an administrative capacity, and acts such as that which involve “supervising court employees and overseeing the efficient operation of a court- may have been quite important in providing the necessary conditions of a sound adjudicative system. The decision[ ] at issue, however, [was] not [itself] judicial or adjudicative.” Forrester, 484 U.S. at 229, 108 S. Ct. 538. Because Ciavarella’s enactment and expansion of the zero tolerance policy were non-judicial acts, judicial immunity does not shield this conduct.
c. Additional Out-of-Court Actions
Finally, Ciavarella is not sheltered from liability for his out-of-court conduct that was not judicial in nature. Ciavarella initiated the plan by approaching Conahan and suggesting that they bring together a team that had the financial ability to construct a new detention facility. (Plfs.’ SMF, ¶¶ 23-26.) Ciavarella also connected Powell and Mericle. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Ciavarella’s failure to disclose the payments he received from Mericle and Vision Holdings also furthered the conspiracy. Specifically, Ciavarella took steps to conceal the more than $2,700,000 he and Conahan received from Mericle and Powell starting in 2003. (Id. at ¶ 66.) Indeed, Ciavarella sought to conceal the payments because knew that it would not look good that he was receiving payments from Powell while sending juveniles to his detention facility. (Id. at ¶ 67.) In that regard, Ciavarella instructed Mericle where to send the second and third payments. (Id. at ¶ 58.) This out-of-court conduct was not judicial in nature, and, as such, is not protected by judicial immunity.
Lastly, Plaintiffs must establish that Ciavarella “caused the complained of injury.” Elmore, 399 F.3d at 281. I previously indicated that the “setting in motion” theory of causation would be applied to individual Defendants in this case. See Wallace, 2012 WL 2590150, at *11. This standard provides:
“”A person ‘subjects’ another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if [that person] does an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which [that person] is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made. Indeed, the requisite causal connection can be established not only by some kind of direct personal participation in the deprivation, but also by setting in motion a series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury.””
Id. (quoting Pilchesky v. Miller, No. 05–2074, 2006 WL 2884445, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct.10, 2006). While the Third Circuit has not squarely addressed the issue of causation in § 1983 cases, see, e.g., Burnsworth v. PC Lab., 364 F. App’x 772, 775 (3d Cir. 2010), the “setting in motion” theory has been accepted by multiple Circuit Courts of Appeals. See, e.g., Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011); Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, 590 F.3d 31, 51 (1st Cir. 2009); Morris v. Dearborne, 181 F.3d 657, 672 (5th Cir. 1999); Sales v. Grant, 158 F.3d 768, 776 (4th Cir. 1998); Waddell v. Forney, 108 F.3d 889, 894 (8th Cir. 1997); Conner v. Reinhard, 847 F.2d 384, 396-97 (7th Cir. 1988).
The undisputed facts establish that Ciavarella caused the violation of Plaintiffs’ right to an impartial tribunal through the receipt and concealment, by himself and Conahan, of payments from and through other Defendants. In particular, Ciavarella knew he had a duty to disclose information relevant to his ability to engage in impartial decision-making, that he violated that duty, and that he never informed any juveniles that he was receiving payments from PACC, WPACC, or Powell. (Plfs.’ SMF, ¶¶ 69-70.) The undisputed facts conclusively establish that Ciavarella knew that, as a result of his conduct, Plaintiffs would be deprived of their right to appear before an impartial tribunal.
Ciavarella’s role in closing the River Street facility set the conspiracy in motion.
Significantly, knowing that he stood to profit from the completion of the PACC facility, Ciavarella took steps to close the old facility and ensure that it would not re-open, resulting in PACC being the only detention facility in Luzerne County where a child could be detained. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-42, 73-77.) Yet, despite his financial stake in closing the River Street facility, he never disclosed this interest. (Id. at ¶¶ 44, 69-72.) Thus, the undisputed material facts establish that Ciavarella knew, or he should have known, that his role in the closure of the River Street facility and his concealment of his interest in its closure (and the resulting opening of the PACC facility while he served as judge of the juvenile court) would deprive Plaintiffs of an impartial tribunal.
The zero tolerance policy adopted by Ciavarella also furthered the conspiracy and caused the deprivation of Plaintiffs’ right to an impartial tribunal. In 2003 when Ciavarella knew he had a financial interest in PACC, he expanded the zero tolerance policy, which increased the number of juveniles that would appear before him and be detained. As a result of the expansion of this policy, more juveniles appeared before him and were subject to adjudication by a biased tribunal. And, as detailed above, Ciavarella’s out-of-court conduct which set the conspiracy in motion, and which concealed the existence and the nature of the conspiracy, as well as the corresponding payments, all furthered the goals of the conspiracy. As the undisputed facts establish that Ciavarella knew or should have known that, as a result of his out-of-court conduct, Plaintiffs would not appear before an impartial tribunal when they were in his courtroom, the causation element of Plaintiffs’ § 1983 impartial tribunal claims against Ciavarella is satisfied.
Therefore, for Ciavarella’s conduct which is not protected by judicial immunity, i.e., his non-judicial acts, Ciavarella is liable to Plaintiffs on their § 1983 impartial tribunal claims. In particular, Ciavarella’s non-judicial acts detailed above set in motion and/or caused the deprivation of Plaintiffs’ right to an impartial tribunal as he initiated the scheme to construct a new detention facility, he assisted in closing the River Street facility, and he expanded a policy which increased the number of juveniles that appeared before him. And, these acts were all taken without Ciavarella ever disclosing, and, in fact, while he took affirmative steps to conceal his financial interest in the success of PACC and WPACC. Accordingly, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Ciavarella subjected Plaintiffs to a deprivation of their constitutional right to an impartial tribunal. For the conduct which Ciavarella is not shielded by judicial immunity, he is liable to Plaintiffs on their § 1983 impartial tribunal claims.
Family Court Implications
Judge Caputo’s decision is a significant development for parents and children victims of Family Court. First, it clarifies the existing law that out-of-court actions by a judge are not protected by judicial immunity. This was pre-existing law, but in some cases has been challenged by those asserting immunity, especially where an in-court act is involved in the chain of causation or pieces of the conspiracy leading to injury. Parents should examine closely their family court judges out-of-court activities such as bar association meetings, business dealings, political activity, and other behavior not conducted inside the courtroom, but which may impact judicial behavior nonetheless.
Administrative and Policy-Making Decisions Not Immune
Second, the decision clarifies that administrative “supervisory” and “policy-making” acts by a judge, even those deemed essential to operation of the court, are administrative, and not judicial, and therefore not entitled to absolute judicial immunity. Administrative actions include oversight of other justice system officials such as court administrative staff or law enforcement, and may include direct “supervisory” oversight such as instructing law enforcement or staff, or from policy-making roles such as setting rules for how staff or employees treat litigants. In the Ciavarella case, this included direct oversight of juvenile system probation officers and detention facility personnel, and setting a “zero tolerance” policy for law enforcement apprehending juvenile offenders assuring that more offenders would end up in court.
In the family court context, judicial officers have many such roles, including overseeing law enforcement for illegal “pro-arrest” or “zero tolerance removal” policies in domestic violence cases, equal protection violations against domestic couples, families, or a gender, guiding attorneys and custody evaluators in how to manage litigants, and guidance over the “forensic psychologists”, supervisors, and other court-related personnel who, though “essential” to the business of the court, are not judicial officers. Because these functions are administrative, the judge’s role in them is not protected by judicial immunity. Social workers, too, will not be shielded from such liability.
Parents should be suspicious of any statement by an attorney, supervisor, social worker, child services worker, court staff, law-enforcement, or other government official claiming to act under a “policy,” judicial instruction, or “that’s how we do things in Family Court.” Such “policies”, if not consistent with valid law, may be illegal, and may give rise to a judicial or other government official’s liability. Judicial officers (or any other government official’s) role in enacting such “policies” are not protected by judicial immunity.
Judges Liable for In-Court Injury
Perhaps most earth-shaking, the Pennsylvania District Court explicitly found Judge Ciavarella liable for acts outside his courtroom which “set in motion” acts inside his courtroom which caused deprivation of civil rights. Some have argued that acts by a judge outside the courtroom are protected by immunity when the “direct act” causing the constitutional injury occurs inside the courtroom—such as a judge’s depriving juveniles of a fair trial.
“This decision establishes that reasoning is wrong.” Says Stuart. “Judge Caputo held that a judge performing a non-judicial act outside the courtroom which “sets in motion” a judicial act causing injury inside the courtroom is not protected simply because the second act occurred inside the courtroom.” California families in Family Court often face similar scenarios, though they or their attorneys may not be aware of it. Family Court judges, like judge Ciavarella, regularly establish policies and practices outside of courtrooms which cause injury inside the courtroom. This ruling makes clear that the judge may still be liable for those “outside the courtroom” illegal acts “setting in motion” judicial acts inside the courtroom. The Pennsylvania court relied on a recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which has jurisdiction over California State Court judicial officers, making the case directly relevant to California state court judges.
A judge engaging in “out-of-court” activities that would impact his impartiality, breach duties of disclosure and create conflicts of interest may be subject to liability if those acts lead to injury inside the courtroom. Policies relating to use of unqualified, biased, or unethical custody evaluators, guardians, or other experts fall into this category. Even activity which would otherwise be legal—such as business dealings, professional activities with attorneys, activities on rule or lawmaking bodies, or other indirectly related legal, professional, or business activity—may be problematic in the context of a judge’s duties under the judicial code of ethics, fiduciary duties, oaths of office, or constitutional restrictions on judicial behavior. If such activity leads to in-court injury, the judge may face liability even though the litigant’s harm was inflicted in court.
“This is huge.” says Stuart. “Judges previously thought themselves insulated from all liability so long as the injury occurred inside the courtroom. That’s no longer a safe bet.”
California Coalition’s DDICE RICO lawsuit engages several family court judges on precisely these theories. “The case is a vindication of what we’ve been telling parents, judges, and family law attorneys all along—illegal acts are illegal no matter where they occur or who performs them. Judge Caputo’s decision makes it clear that such acts are not shielded by immunity just because they cause injury inside a courtroom. A judge, social worker, psychologist, attorney—all may be held liable civilly as well as criminally for their illegal acts outside of court leading to injury anywhere” says Stuart.
California Coalition filed its First Amended Complaint on similar theories on January 9, 2014. A Case Management Conference is scheduled for February 26, 2014 in United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
We Loved It! DivorceCorp Documentary Shows Why Parents Knew What They Were Talking About All Along–Finally!
Major thanks and congratulations to Director Joe Sorge, Producers Philip Sternberg and James Scurlock, and the rest of the DivorceCorp production team for an outstanding premier of DivorceCorp last night. “They’ve said for parents and children what has been ignored for decades. They system is very, very broken, and the fault lies squarely at the feet of judges, attorneys, and psychologists who profit from it.” Says Cole Stuart, President of California Coalition. “We’re grateful that Mr. Joe Sorge and his talented team lent their skill, intelligence, and credibility to a cause of those who’ve been maligned for doing nothing more abnormal than experiencing a rough breakup. We’re hopeful that now finally the message of parents and children will be heard.”
The film tackles an immensely complicated social pestilence, woven by strands of intensely-personal human drama, with what seems like ease. The film poignantly captures the individual building blocks of personal tragedies by those cast into the maze of horrors that is divorce court, and constructs them for us to prove the true culprit–an edifice of institutionalized sin. From the perspective Sorge and his team provide, we can “step back” from the personal experience to see that the source of our and our family’s and friends’ personal tragedies goes far deeper than a crooked divorce attorney or two, or a “mom vs. dad” “he said/she said” or “feminists vs. father’s rights” conflict, but a very well-executed plan designed by lawyers, judges, and erstwhile psychologists driven by greed, power, and a stunningly blind arrogance.
DivoreCorp explains how litigants fall prey to that system by buying into those stereotypes; how, by seeking to “win” a divorce, litigants guarantee their own failure, and usually the failure of those around them–except of course those who dug the pits and provided the tools of foolish self-destruction. It’s been said that a couple in divorce, “either wins together or loses together. There is no in between” DivorceCorp shows why, and, and how our own human faults feed a larger system geared to devour those who exhibit them. DivorceCorp is at once a relentlessly entertaining first-class documentary, and bone-chillingly real B-Movie horror film.
Congratulations to the DivorceCorp team for putting the powerful medium of film up to a task for which it is far too-infrequently used, and filling movie theaters with horror, laughter, tears, understanding, and a message, for a critically important, and very non-fiction, cause.
Family Court Racketeering Suit Expands to Name San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for Use of City Prosecutors to Protect Local Divorce Industry Abuse
January 9, 2014—San Diego, CA—Today California Coalition for Families and Children expands their Racketeering lawsuit in federal court to detail San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s use of City Attorney’s Office’s resources to prosecute critics of the divorce industry. The federal complaint details Goldsmith’s and Assistant City Attorney Emily Garson’s misconduct in criminal proceedings against the Coalition and it’s President, Colbern Stuart, jailing him on false charges.
Assistant City Attorney Garson’s behavior is simply criminal-far beyond what prosecutors are permitted. The City’s own documents show she manufactured evidence and testimony.” Says Coalition President Colbern Stuart. Stuart was arrested while protesting with other parent members of the Coalition at an April, 2010 family law seminar hosted by the San Diego County Bar Association.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is a former Family Court judge, and his wife, Christine Goldsmith, is a sitting judge and Defendant in the Coalition lawsuit. “Goldsmith’s prosecution of the case reeks of conflict of interest. He staffed the case with a young prosecutor who apparently didn’t understand the depth of the illegal conduct she was being asked to perform. Obstruction of justice by a prosecutor is a serious felony—a clear and egregious violation of law and ethics rules.” says Stuart. “There’s no excuse for such behavior. She’s breaking the law to protect ravenous divorce lawyers. It’s simply disgraceful.”
“At the very least, it shows extremely poor judgment, but more accurately widespread disregard for the law among those sworn to up hold the law in the City Attorney’s Office. God save us when this egregious misconduct becomes tolerable behavior.” says Stuart.
From the Amended Complaint:
GROCH’S Order and GARSON’S numerous acts of punishment and prosecution of protected speech commentary against the City Attorney, and GARSON’S perjury and subornation of perjury constitute deprivations of STUART’S rights secured under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and related provisions of the Constitution of the State of California. Whether shielded from civil accountability or otherwise, the felonies represent a deplorable pattern of contempt of law. They are also RICO predicate crimes under 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(A) and (B), as detailed below.
GARSON lacked probable cause to initiate the People v. Stuart matter. Her sworn declarations as a complaining witness in doing so are crimes—felonies under federal law—several and severe. STUART has endured years in persecution as a result of such outrageous behavior. He re-appears today to redress those acts for himself and, he prays, thousands of others who have suffered similar and even more outrageous insults, violations, deprivations, and injuries under the indecency of those who today occupy offices of honor, yet who regularly debase those offices while driven by motives no one, perhaps not even they themselves, could honor.
That failure, combined with [The Commission on Judicial Performance’s] impotence to swiftly punish the same in deterrence, makes the act of entrusting a complaint to BATTSON and SIMI at outrageous risk of constitutional injury by county judicial officers behaving as a steerage-fare gallery of feckless petit-tyran, perversely immunized under the honor of patriots to indulge frolic, whimsy, and caprice. What shame a profession of reason today endures.
Under BATTSON and SIMI’S habituated tolerance for judicial misconduct, disregard of ethical canons and constitutional restrictions on abuse of authority, the mere act of identifying a litigant in an investigation subjects her to jeopardy by officer complained of or the officer’s colleagues acting in lockstep sympathy.
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