Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger Attorney Granted Early Temporary Judge Status as Payback for McBrien Help, Claims Watchdog
|Paula D. Salinger, an attorney with Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger received from Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steve White a waiver of the requirements to assume the Office of Temporary Judge. Click here to view the full order.|
Internal Sacramento County Superior Court records obtained by Sacramento Family Court News reveal that Judge Steve White has on April 28 signed a court order waiving the minimum qualification requirements for a private attorney to act as a temporary judge in family court. White's order authorizes family law attorney Paula D. Salinger to become a judge pro tem even though she has not been a member of the State Bar for at least ten years, one requirement to become a temporary judge under California Rules of Court rule 2.812. Salinger is a partner at the prominent family law firm Woodruff, O’Hair, Posner and Salinger. With Salinger's waiver, all four attorneys at the firm now hold the Office of Temporary Judge. Many attorneys use the title - which implies influential, insider status at the courthouse - as a marketing tool to attract new clients. The title also gives family court lawyers preferential treatment in setting trials for paying clients. A family court watchdog alleges that the waiver is the return of a favor owed to Robert O’Hair, a senior partner at the firm. O’Hair testified as a character witness for veteran family court Judge Peter J. McBrien when the ethically-challenged judge was fighting misconduct charges and facing removal from the bench in 2009.
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|Paula D. Salinger, an attorney with the prominent family law firm Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger, signed this oath and certification on May 5 to assume the Office of Temporary Judge. Click here to view the full document.|
Qualifications for Temporary JudgesThe requirements for an attorney to be appointed a judge pro tem are outlined in California Rules of Court, rule 2.812 and at the Sacramento County Superior Court website. One requirement is being a member of the State Bar for ten years:
"The presiding judge may not appoint an attorney to serve as a temporary judge unless the attorney has been admitted to practice as a member of the State Bar of California for at least 10 years before the appointment. However, for good cause, the presiding judge may permit an attorney who has been admitted to practice for at least 5 years to serve as a temporary judge," according to rule 2.812.State Bar records show that Paula Salinger was admitted to the Bar on December 3, 2002, making her eligible to serve as a temporary judge after December 2, 2012. Sacramento County Superior Court records obtained by SFCN show that Salinger initiated the process to become a judge pro tem in November, 2010, over two years before she was eligible under rule 2.812. Presiding Judge Steve White issued the order making Salinger a temporary judge in April, 2012. The chronology leading to the order indicates that five months before White's order was issued, the attorney was confident she would be granted a waiver of the 10-year Bar membership requirement:
- Nov. 19, 2010: Salinger submitted an "Attorney Certification of Family Law Training To Satisfy Temporary Judge Substantive Matter Training Requirements." Click here to view the certification.
- December 10, 2010: Salinger received a "Certificate of Completion" for temporary judge training. Click here to view the certificate.
- April 28, 2011: Presiding Judge Steve White signed an "Order Permitting Attorney To Serve As Temporary Judge." The order notes that Salinger does not meet the 10-year State Bar membership requirement, but that "good cause being shown" Salinger is appointed to serve as a temporary judge. The grounds justifying "good cause" are not provided. Click here to view the order.
- May 5, 2011: Both Salinger and White signed an "Oath/Certification/Order of Appointment: Court-Appointed Temporary Judge." Click here to view the document.
Office of Temporary Judge BenefitsWhen representing clients in family court, attorneys who also serve as temporary judges receive preferential treatment in scheduling trials, according to sworn testimony by Judge Peter J. McBrien. "This is why attorneys are anxious to 'volunteer' for the temporary judge program," said family court watchdog Ulf Carlsson. "Once they're designated a judge pro tem, full-time family court judges will let them use trial scheduling to gain a litigation advantage for their clients. They essentially can force a trial before the opposing party is ready, as judge pro tem attorney Charlotte Keeley did in my case." In a landmark 2008 published appellate opinion, the Third District Court of Appeal chastised Judge Peter J. McBrien for terminating Carlsson's family court trial before his attorney had finished presenting his case. The reviewing court reversed McBrien's judgment in full and ordered a new trial.
[2012 UPDATE: Family court watchdogs point out that despite Judge McBrien's sworn testimony to the contrary, the Carlsson case, McBrien's CJP disciplinary records [pdf], and other evidence indicating that Salinger and other family law attorneys are anxious to "volunteer" for judge pro tem service so they can obtain the preferential treatment afforded temporary judges, in response to a public records request Sacramento Superior Court Public Information Officer Ginger Sylvester asserts that "Temporary Judges do not receive any compensation or benefits and as such we do not have records responsive to this request." Click here to view Sylvester's written statement.]
For his conduct in the Carlsson case, McBrien was nearly removed from the bench by the Commission on Judicial Performance, the state agency responsible for oversight of California judges. In 2010, the CJP imposed a "severe public censure" against the judge. Click here [pdf] to read the CJP decision. McBrien was allowed to keep his job due to his "long and respected tenure on the bench," according to the CJP. At his disciplinary hearing, several local family law attorneys testified as character witnesses for McBrien, who needed the help because in 2002 the judge also was disciplined by the CJP in connection with his criminal case for cutting down trees in Carmichael Park. Click here [pdf] to read the 2002 CJP discipline order. One of the attorneys who testified to McBrien's "long and respected tenure" was Robert O'Hair, a partner at Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger and a judge pro tem. Carlsson, the court watchdog, asserts that the waiver enabling Salinger to become a judge pro tem was arranged to repay O'Hair for his testimony at McBrien's CJP prosecution.
Robert O'Hair's Testimony for Judge Peter J. McBrien
|Robert O'Hair, an attorney with the family law firm Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger in April, 2009 testified as a character witness for family court Judge Peter J. McBrien. Click here to view the full transcript.|
Carlsson acquired the court reporter transcripts from the hearings held by the CJP in disciplining McBrien, and believes the O'Hair testimony helped McBrien keep his job. "Based on the CJP disciplinary hearing transcripts, I don't think there's any question that the McBrien character witness testimony influenced the three judges assigned by CJP to decide McBrien's fate," Carlsson said. At the time of his testimony in support of McBrien, O'Hair was a sworn temporary judge and aware of McBrien's misconduct in the Carlsson case - made explicitly clear in the 3rd District published opinion. As a judge pro tem, under the Code of Judicial Ethics O'Hair was required to take or initiate appropriate corrective action with respect to McBrien's conduct, a critical self-policing component of the Code. Click here to view a Judicial Council directive about the duty to take corrective action, and the types of corrective action required. It is unclear how O'Hair justified instead becoming an advocate for the full-time judge. To read the official transcript of O'Hair's testimony, click here. "[Presiding Judge] Steve White and Peter McBrien go way back, and this waiver was probably sanctioned without a word spoken," Carlsson said. "Both judges started out in the attorney general's office and both were active in the California District Attorney's Association. They come from a law enforcement culture where you cover for your own, and you reward or promote those who toe the line."
Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger Battling Legal Malpractice Lawsuit
|Thomas Woodruff and Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger received this order denying their motion for summary adjudication in a legal malpractice case. The case is ongoing. Click here to read the full order.|
Related articles and updates:
- Click here for articles about Judge Steve White.
- Click here for coverage of Judge Peter J. McBrien.
- Click here for posts about family court watchdog Ulf Carlsson.
- Click here for articles about Judge Pro Tem Paula Salinger.
- Click here for our coverage of law firm Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger.
For additional reporting on the people and issues in this post, click the corresponding labels below: