Sacramento Family Court Judge Conducts Improper Investigation, Forensic Analysis on Allegedly Drunken Signature - Ruling Gets Reversed
|Judge Matthew Gary's decision in the Seaton case was overturned on appeal.|
The black eye comes two and a half years after the judge botched a criminal case requiring the Third District Court of Appeal to reverse the conviction of Daniel Ray Maier. The Maier decision, People v. Maier, was unpublished, but can be viewed at Google Scholar.
The 3rd District decision in Seaton indicates that Gary sought to harshly punish Patricia Seaton for what the judge perceived to be credibility, if not morality issues. The reviewing court noted that Gary's credibility determinations were unrelated to the facts and law relevant to deciding the legal issues in the case. Gary also assumed the role of expert witness and advocate in a unilateral determination that signatures on a 1988 marriage license were not made by a person who was drunk.
The order issued by Gary nullified the 17-year marriage of Patricia and Jeffrey Seaton on the ground that Patricia was married to another man at the time of her marriage to Jeffrey. Gary also denied Patricia's claim that she was a de facto, or putative spouse. The rulings stripped Patricia of all property, support, attorney fees/costs and other rights associated with a marriage or domestic partnership.
Gary's order awarded Jeffrey all assets and property that, had the marriage been valid, would have been community property. According to the judge, the lengthy marriage was void - as if it never happened.
The 3rd District disagrees: To continue reading, click Read more >> below:
|Judge Matthew Gary's evangelical background |
appeared to play a role in his decision in Seaton.
The Third District Court of Appeal overturned the ruling on the grounds that the legal reasoning Gary used to justify the order was incorrect.
For the legal basis of his order, Gary used superfluous dicta from a 2004 Nevada Supreme Court decision, and misapplied the law applicable to personal jurisdiction.
The reviewing court wrote that Gary's reliance on the idea that a void marriage never existed was a long-abandoned "legal fiction" in both California and Nevada.
"For more than 17 years, Jeffrey believed his marriage to Patricia was valid and he wanted his marriage to Patricia to be valid.Although we do not condone Patricia's conduct, controlling law compels the conclusion that her marriage to Jeffrey was valid," 3rd District Justice Louis Mauro wrote.
Judge Personally Conducts Forensic Analysis On 25-Year Old Signature
The judge deduced that neither "appeared to be the signature of an extremely intoxicated person, contradicting her assertion that she and her sister were heavily intoxicated at the time of the marriage."
|Patricia Seaton admitted she |
was buzzed at her 1988 nuptials.
The authentication of handwriting requires the testimony of a witness sufficiently familiar with the handwriting of the person in question, and sworn testimony using a three-step process, according to veteran family law attorney Stephen James Wagner.
The Evidence Code specifically limits a judge or jury to make only handwriting comparisons. Gary's determination that two signatures were made by sober, and not by intoxicated signatories is beyond the role of a judge, according to judicial ethics rules.
And in any event - as the 3rd District decision pointed out - Gary's credibility determinations were all but irrelevant to the question of law regarding the validity of the marriage.
Abandoning Judicial Role To Investigate Facts Of Case Violates Code of Judicial Ethics
|Judge Matthew Gary may be subject to discipline by the Commission on Judicial Performance for his investigation into the facts of the Seaton case. |
Source: California Judicial Conduct Handbook
In 1981, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerrold L. Wenger was removed from office for multiple violations of the California Code of Judicial Ethics [pdf]. The charges against Wenger included abandoning his role as a judge and unilaterally investigating the facts of a case.
"By undertaking a collateral investigation he abdicated his responsibility for deciding the parties' dispute on pleadings and evidence properly brought before him," the California Supreme Court noted in 1981. Abandoning the neutral judicial role and acting as an advocate for a party by investigating facts, or engaging in other one-sided conduct is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Ethics and multiple disciplinary decisions by the CJP. Click here.
Judge Matthew Gary is paid $169,289 per year.