10 May 2011

Divorce and Family Law Attorney Paula Salinger Granted Judge Pro Tem Qualifications Waiver By Presiding Judge Steve White

Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner & Salinger Attorney Granted Early Temporary Judge Status as Payback for McBrien Help, Claims Watchdog

Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -Family Court Sacramento - Chris Volkers Court Executive Officer - Family Court Sacramento – Director of Operations Julie Setzer – Supervising Family Law Facilitator Lollie Roberts – Family Court Manager Colleen McDonagh – Supervising Courtroom Clerk Denise Richards – Supervising Family Law and Probate Judge Jaime R. Roman - Hon. Matthew J. Gary - Sacramento Superior Court-Sacramento Family Court News - Paula Dawn Salinger Temporary Judge - Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner and Salinger - order permitting attorney to serve as temporary judge -
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.
(updated below)

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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Hon. Robert C. Hight – Hon. Bunmi O. Awoniyi – Hon. Steven M. Gevercer – Hon. Tami R. Bogert – Hon. James M. Mize – Vance Raye - CJP Victoria B. Henley – Hon. Thadd A. Blizzard -Judge Steve White-Paula D. Salinger-Attorney-Woodruff O'Hair Posner & Salinger-Judge Pro Tem-Sacramento County Superior Court-family court sacramento -Victoria B. Henley Director Chief Counsel Commission on Judicial Performance – Janice M. Brickley Legal Advisor to Commissioners Commission on Judicial Performance – Bradford L. Battson Senior Attorney III Commission on Judicial Performance – Sei Shimoguchi Senior Attorney III Commission on Judicial Performance- Janice M. Brickley Legal Advisor to Commissioners Commission on Judicial Performance
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 Judges

The 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:
In family court, judge pro tem attorneys preside over the Family Law Settlement Conference Program at the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse. Click here for the Sacramento Superior Court website description of the program. 

Office of Temporary Judge Benefits

When 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 Performancethe 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

Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -Woodruff O'Hair Posner & Salinger, Sacramento Family Court, Family Law, Robert J. O'Hair, Judge Peter McBrien, CJP, Character Witness, - Elaine M. Howle State Auditor Bureau of State Audits – Phillip J. Jelicich Principal Auditor Bureau of State Audits – Doug D. Cordiner Chief Deputy State Auditor Bureau of State Audits – Donna L. Neville Staff Counsel IV Bureau of State Audits
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

Hon. Robert C. Hight – Hon. Bunmi O. Awoniyi – Hon. Steven M. Gevercer – Hon. Tami R. Bogert – Hon. James M. Mize – Vance Raye - CJP Victoria B. Henley – Hon. Thadd A. Blizzard -Steven Jahr Administrative Director of the Courts – Judicial Council and Court Leadership Services Division Jody Patel Chief of Staff – Judicial and Court Operations Services Division Curtis L. Child Chief Operating Officer – Judicial and Court Administrative Services Division Curt Soderlund Chief Adminstrative Officer – - Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner and Salinger - Sacramento County Superior Court - Summary Adjudication - Sacramento Family Court - Family Law
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.
When Judge White signed the waiver authorizing Salinger to assume the Office of Temporary Judge, Salinger and O'Hair's firm was embroiled in a long-running legal malpractice case. Filed in 2004, the case named the firm, and another partner, D. Thomas Woodruff, as defendants. Click here to view the complaint for legal malpractice against Thomas Woodruff and Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner and Salinger. Last year, Woodruff and the firm unsuccessfully attempted to get the case dismissed. Click here to read the points and authorities filed by the firm and Woodruff in support of their motion for summary adjudication. Click here for the points and authorities filed by the plaintiff in opposition to the motion. In a detailed, 12-page ruling Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David I. Brown denied the motion for summary adjudication filed by D. Thomas Woodruff and Woodruff, O'Hair, Posner and SalingerClick here to read the decision by Judge Brown. The case is ongoing. 

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. 
Sacramento Family Court News has continuing coverage of issues involving judge pro tem attorneys. For a list of all posts about temporary judges, click here. Our special, independent Judge Pro Tems Page is at this link. Specific issues with direct links include:

  • A variety of illegal tactics used by court employees, judges, the Family Law Facilitator Office and judge pro tem attorneys to obstruct family court appeals by unrepresented, financially disadvantaged litigants.Click here.
  • Full-time family court judges failure to disclose judge pro tem conflicts of interest to opposing parties and attorneys. Click here.
  • Judge pro tem attorneys promoted a software program sold by the wife of a family court judge. Click here.  
  • Court administrators concealing from the public judge pro tem attorney misconduct, including sexual battery against clients. Click here 
  • Illegal use of California vexatious litigant law by family court judges. Click here
  • Waiver of judge pro tem qualification standards. Click here
  • Failure to adequately train family court judges. Click here
  • Allowing courtroom clerks to issue incomplete, useless fee waiver orders which prevent indigent and financially disadvantaged litigants from serving and filing documents. Click here
  • Preferential treatment provided to judge pro tem attorneys by family court judges, administrators, and employees. Click here.
  • Unfair competition and monopolistic practices by family court judges and attorneys who also hold the Office of Temporary Judge which may violate state unfair competition laws. Click here
  • Judges cherry-pick state law and court rules to rewrite established law to reach a predetermined result to benefit judge pro tem attorneys. Click here
  • The waste of scarce court resources and taxpayer funds caused by unnecessary appeals and other court proceedings. Click here and here.  
  • Allowing judges with a documented history of misconduct and mistreatment of unrepresented litigants to remain in family court. Click here.
  • Concealing from the public but disclosing to the family law bar the demotion of problem judges. Click here 
  • Failing to enforce the Code of Judicial Ethics provisions applicable to temporary judges. Click here
  • Allowing court clerks to commit perjury without apparent consequences. Click here
  • Permitting Family Law Facilitator Office staff to dispense false information to unrepresented, financially disadvantaged litigants. Click here. 
For additional reporting on the people and issues in this post, click the corresponding labels below: