15 November 2012

Judge Jaime R. Roman Disregards State Law, Issues Vexatious Litigant, Sanctions, 13 Other Orders in Prohibited "Trial by Declaration"

Attorney Sharon Huddle appeared dumbfounded when Judge Jaime Roman abruptly cancelled a court hearing.

In a rambling, unorthodox 20-page statement of decision peppered with 73 footnotes, Sacramento Family Court Judge Jaime Roman designated family court party Andrew Karres a vexatious litigant, ordered Karres to pay $2,500 in attorney fee sanctions, and issued 13 additional orders at a brief court proceeding yesterday. 

All the disputed issues inexplicably were decided without oral argument and without the court hearing mandated by both the vexatious litigant and sanctions statutes. Virtually all rulings were against Karres and in favor of Karres' ex-wife, Mel Rapton Honda heiress Katina Rapton. Rapton is represented by veteran Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section attorney and family court judge pro tem Charlotte Keeley

Judge Roman drafted the lengthy statement of decision in advance of a court hearing calendared for November 14, at which the disputed issues were scheduled to be argued and submitted. But at the start of the proceeding, the judge announced that he was cancelling the hearing because he had already ruled on all matters. 

Roman explained to the parties and attorneys that the day before he had mailed them his statement of decision resolving all issues. At the hearing, the judge issued a minute order which read only "VACATED: COURT STATEMENT OF DECISION." Click here to view the minute order. 

In addition to depriving Karres of his basic due process right to be heard on the sanction and vexatious litigant issues, the vacated hearing also denied the losing litigant his Family Code § 217 and state court rule 5.119 right to present "live, competent and admissible testimony." Family court reform advocates assert that the unlawful, summarily decided proceeding is yet another example of the overt preferential treatment provided by full-time, family court judges to members of the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section who also serve as temporary judges in the same court

"Surreal and Unprecedented" 

From the 20-page statement of decision issued by Judge Roman. 

"It was both surreal and unprecedented," said veteran court watcher Robert Saunders. "I've been attending family court hearings for over five years and have never seen anything like it." Saunders said that in addition to the obvious constitutional-level due process of law breach, Roman's order was a flagrant violation of Family Code sec. 217 and California Rule of Court 5.119

The statute, which became law on January 1, 2011, and the court rule, which took effect on July 1, 2011, guarantee all family court litigants the right to present live testimony at motion and order to show cause hearings. 
"It appears that Judge Roman used reverse engineering to do an end run around the new law," Saunders added. "In other words, he knew how he wanted to rule and from there worked backwards to try and justify an unjustifiable ruling. Unfortunately, the new law and court rule presented an obstacle to the judge. From whole cloth he created a sham legal rationale he claims justifies ignoring the requirements of section 217 and rule 5.119. 
This is yet another example of how brazenly many family court judges will prejudge a case, ignore the law, and manufacture a ruling to fit a predetermined outcome," Saunders charged. With this 20-page order, the other issue that exposes Roman's prejudgment is the vexatious litigant order. With its potential for serious, Constitutional-level collateral consequences, a vexatious litigant proceeding always requires notice and a hearing with oral testimony."

 Failure to Train, Supervise and Discipline

Judge Roman summarily declared Andrew Karres a vexatious litigant without the court hearing required by law.

Saunders said court administrators share the blame for Roman's conduct. "This ruling again exposes a complete failure by court administrators to properly train, supervise and discipline family court judges," he said. In his own family court case in 2010, Saunders successfully obtained an order from a neutral, third-party judge formally disqualifying family court Judge Matthew Gary

The outside judge - from San Joaquin County Superior Court - ordered Gary removed for misconduct, including failing to follow proper contempt of court procedures after having Saunders arrested and forcibly removed from his courtroom by multiple bailiffs. "Court administrators did nothing, even after an independent, outside judge made it clear Gary was a rogue judge with anger-management issues," Saunders said.
"Judge Roman's order is a similar situation, with the added inference that a full-time judge is doing a favor for a part-time judge, Charlotte Keeley," Saunders continued. "I don't know what else would explain such a brazen disregard of established law. The order is unlawful, void on its face, and inevitably will create more, but completely unnecessary litigation in this case in both the trial and appellate courts. Most Family Court judges are either rookies breaking in, or screw-ups spending time in purgatory," Saunders explained.
"They're inherently thin-skinned and rarely admit to mistakes. The odds are slim that Judge Roman will admit to the errors in this 20-page debacle. This proceeding was, and will continue to be a complete waste of taxpayer funds at a time when the courts claim to be starved for funding. And, by the way, we pay Judge Ramon $170,000 per year for work like this."
United States District Court Eastern District of California – Sacramento Federal Court – United States Courts - Judge William Shubb - Judge Edmund Brennan - Judge Garland Burrell Jr - Judge Carolyn Delaney - Judge Morrison England Jr - Judge Gregory Hollows - Judge John Mendez - Judge Kendall Newman - Judge Troy Nunley - Judge Allison Claire - Judge Dale Drozd - Judge Lawrence Karlton - Judge Kimberly Mueller – Office of the United States Attorneys Benjamin B. Wagner Eastern District of California, Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -Supreme Court of California – Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye – Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan – Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard – Associate Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar – Associate Justice Ming W. Chin – Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter – Associate Justice Goodwin Liu – Justice Cantil-Sakauye - Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Jamie Roman
Cal. Rule of Court rule 5.119 requires judges to permit live testimony.
To justify issuing the order without a hearing, at page six of the ruling Roman invoked a local court rule, Code of Civil Procedure section 2009, and Family Code section 210. On page 19, Roman also cited California Rules of Court rule 3.1306(a) "in conjunction with rule 5.21" as his legal rationale for denying the parties their day in court.

"Nice try," Saunders scoffed. "Roman is using antiquated law and a local court rule that all are clearly superseded by [Family Code] Section 217 and Rule 5.119. Both laws give family court litigants the right to present live testimony at a court hearing unless the judge - at the hearing - denies the request based on a finding of good cause. It is self-evident that the right can't be invoked if the judge vacates the hearing and mails out an order filed the day before the hearing."

Ruling May Constitute Improper Governmental Activities and Trigger State Auditor Scrutiny

The violation of Family Code section 217, state court Rule 5.119, and both the statutory and decisional law governing vexatious litigant determinations potentially exposes Judge Roman to an improper governmental activities investigation by the California State Auditor. Sacramento Family Court has been in hot water with the state auditor before. A 2011 audit disclosed problems with training and supervision of family court mediators, custody evaluators and minors counsel.

As SFCN reported last year, violation of a state statute or state court rule is, by law, an improper governmental activity in the same category of offenses as corruption, malfeasance, bribery, theft of government property, fraudulent claims, fraud, coercion, conversion, malicious prosecution, misuse of government property and willful omission to perform duty, according to the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

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 -The Honorable Kathryn M. Werdegar The Honorable Ming W. Chin The Honorable Carol A. Corrigan The Honorable Goodwin Liu - Current California Supreme Court Justices - California Whistleblower Protection Act, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Jaime Ramon - Supreme Court of California – Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye – Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan – Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard – Associate Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar – Associate Justice Ming W. Chin –

However, Saunders pointed out that the chances of Roman being held accountable for the violations are slim-to-none.
"Judges in California are untouchable. Like Roman did in this case, judges can simply flip-the-bird at the law. It is not hyperbole to say they are literally above-the-law. The State Auditor, Commission on Judicial Performance, Judicial Council and local court administrators will all turn a blind eye," Saunders predicted.
"The reason we have an overabundance of incompetent judges is because meaningful oversight of judge misconduct is non-existent in California."
Promising later posts analyzing the 20-page statement of decision, Sacramento County Family Court News in-house legal analyst PelicanBriefed declined to opine on the decision.

"There is so much wrong with this ruling that it will take me several posts to unravel and do justice. I will say that it appears Judge Roman assumed that if he put a lot of footnotes into the ruling, no one would notice his erroneous rationale for not holding a hearing, nor his blatant disregard of the legislative intent behind Family Code section 217 and Rule 5.119. 

And not allowing a hearing before declaring a party a vexatious litigant is unheard of. For now, let's just say that this ruling may be an example of why Judge Roman was passed over for elevation to the Court of Appeal."

For additional reporting on the people and issues in this post, click the corresponding labels below: