06 February 2013

Sacramento County Superior Court Misconduct: Family Court Appeals Unit Unlawfully Refusing Appeals by Indigent, Pro Per Litigants

Family Court Appeals Unit Illegally Rejecting Appeals By Unrepresented, Financially Disadvantaged Litigants

Color of Law: The Conspiracy to End Pro Per Appeals
A Sacramento Family Court News Exclusive Investigative Report. Part 3
Sacramento Federal Court Eastern District of California – United States Courts, US District Court Sacramento, Judge William B. Shubb, Judge Edmund F. Brennan, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr, Judge Carolyn K. Delaney, Judge Morrison C. England Jr, Judge Gregory G. Hollows, Judge John A. Mendez, Judge Kendall J. Newman, Judge Troy L. Nunley, Judge Allison Claire, Judge Dale A. Drozd, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -3rd District Court of Appeal – Sacramento -Justice Vance W. Raye - Justice Cole Blease – Justice Ronald B. Robie – Justice William J. Murray Jr. – Justice George Nicolson – Justice M. Kathleen Butz – Justice Elena J. Duarte – Justice Harry E. Hull Jr. – Justice Louis Mauro – Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch – Third District Court of Appeal California - Family Relations Courthouse, Sacramento Superior Court, Appeals Unit, Notice of Appeal, Judge Laurie M. Earl Presiding Judge County of Sacramento: Superior Court, William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse -Benjamin B. Wagner – Melinda Haag – Jayne Kim – Victoria B. Henley – Elaine M. Howle - Judge Kevin R. Culhane – Hon. Kevin R Culhane – Judge Kevin Culhane -
This actual notice of appeal was filed by an unrepresented, indigent family court litigant and then unlawfully unfiled by a family court clerk. The clerk's conduct violates state law and constitutes unlawful interference with court of appeal proceedings. Click here to view the full image.  
Sacramento County Family Court clerks are unlawfully refusing to file appeals by unrepresented, financially disadvantaged family court litigants, according to a family court whistleblower. The policy constitutes an unlawful interference with court of appeal proceedings under California Rules of Court rule 8.23. 

The rejection occurs when a pro per party attempts to file a notice of appeal for child custody, support and other immediately appealable orders more than 60-days after order after hearing paperwork is filed. By law, the time frame to take an appeal from the orders is 180-days.The longer time frame applies because in family court cases, the court clerk must give the parties notice of entry of judgment using the Judicial Council FL-190 Notice of Entry of Judgment form. 

As policy, Sacramento Family Court does not issue the FL-190 form for appealable orders from motion and OSC hearings. When the form is not issued, the appeal time frame is 180-days. When the form is issued, the appeal time frame is 60-days. In Sacramento Family Court, all appealable motion and OSC orders are appealable for 180-days, yet court clerks are illegally rejecting the appeals after 60-days.  

To continue reading Part 3 of our series Color of Law, click Read more >> below. 


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 -3rd District Court of Appeal – Sacramento -Justice Vance W. Raye - Justice Cole Blease – Justice Ronald B. Robie – Justice William J. Murray Jr. – Justice George Nicolson – Justice M. Kathleen Butz – Justice Elena J. Duarte – Justice Harry E. Hull Jr. – Justice Louis Mauro – Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch – Third District Court of Appeal California - Benjamin B. Wagner – Melinda Haag – Jayne Kim – Victoria B. Henley – Elaine M. Howle - 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 Kevin R. Culhane – Hon. Kevin R Culhane – Judge Kevin Culhane -
Unrepresented Sacramento Family Court litigants report that the second floor "appeals unit" at the Family Relations Courthouse is an unfriendly place. Sacramento Family Court News audits of several pro per appeals reveal that appeals unit employees routinely do not follow state laws governing appeals. 

As Sacramento Family Court News documented in parts one and two of our Color of Law series, court administrators - including Supervising Family Law Facilitator Lollie Roberts - have directed subordinate employees to ignore state law requiring the FL-190 Notice of Entry of Judgment form be filed and served for all appealable orders issued at motion and OSC hearings. Click here to read part one and here to read part two. The FL-190 form notifies the parties of appeal rights and contains an important clerk's certificate of mailing which determines the time frame for an appeal, according to state law, including a 2007 California Supreme Court decision.  

When the FL-190 form is correctly issued, the 60-day appeal time frame applies and begins to run when the clerk's certificate of mailing is completed and the form is served by the court on all parties. When the form is not issued, the appeal time frame is 180-days. Sacramento Family Court clerks both do not issue the FL-190 form, and still apply the shorter 60-day notice of appeal filing window using the filing date of order after hearing paperwork filed by attorneys

Court records leaked by a whistleblower include a letter from a court clerk "unfiling" a valid notice of appeal. In the letter, under penalty of perjury the clerk misstates the law, and notifies the unrepresented party that the previously filed appeal has been "unfiled." Attached to the letter is the litigants original filed notice of appeal with a red "X" scrawled over the original filing stamp, along with the notation "unfiled" and "SH," the initials of the clerk. SFCN has verified the authenticity of the documents by inspecting the original court file. The documents leaked to SFCN are identical to those in the file.
  
Click here to view the original filed, and then unfiled notice of appeal. 
Click here to view the letter from the court clerk.
Sacramento Federal Court Eastern District of California – United States Courts, US District Court Sacramento, Judge William B. Shubb, Judge Edmund F. Brennan, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr, Judge Carolyn K. Delaney, Judge Morrison C. England Jr, Judge Gregory G. Hollows, Judge John A. Mendez, Judge Kendall J. Newman, Judge Troy L. Nunley, Judge Allison Claire, Judge Dale A. Drozd, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -Superior Court: County of Sacramento - Family Relations Courthouse Appeals Unit - Family Court Manager Colleen McDonagh - Sacramento Superior Court Supervising Family Law Facilitator Lollie Roberts, California Rules of Court, - Family Court: Sacramento Superior Court - Family and Children - Family Court Services - Sacramento Superior Court - Child Custody Recommending Counseling, Family Court Services, Confidential Mediation, and Evaluation - Family Court Self-Help Center: Sacramento Superior Court - Self-Help Center - Family Law Facilitator - Family Court Records: Sacramento Superior Court - Order a File and Records - Family Court Resource Referral Program: Sacramento Superior Court - Resource Referral Program - E-Correspondence (Family Law Self-Help Assistance) - Family Law Facilitator - Divorce / Legal Separation / Annulment: Sacramento Superior Court - Divorce / Legal Separation / Annulment - Family Law - Court Appearances: Sacramento Superior Court - Court Hearings and Orders - Child Custody / Visitation: Sacramento Superior Court - Child Custody / Visitation - Family Relations Courthouse: Sacramento Superior Court - William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse - Public Case Document Search - Sacramento Superior Court - Civil Motions and Hearings General: Sacramento Superior Court - Complex Case Calendar: Sacramento Superior Court - Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse: Sacramento Superior Court –Benjamin B. Wagner – Melinda Haag – Jayne Kim – Victoria B. Henley – Elaine M. Howle - Judge Kevin R. Culhane – Hon. Kevin R Culhane – Judge Kevin Culhane -
Shortly after filing a notice of appeal, this indigent, unrepresented family court litigant received this letter from Deputy Clerk Stephanie Hinman "unfiling" the appeal. Hinman misstated the law, and signed the letter under penalty of perjury. Click here to view the full letter. 

"A Deception That Is Demonstrably False"

To justify the 60-day time frame used to reject the appeal, the letter from the court clerk refers to "a Judgment (sic)...filed and signed on May 18, 2012," and that the litigant was "noticed via mail with said judgment on May 25, 2012." The original court file from the case shows that the May 18 "judgment" referred to by the clerk was not a judgment. The May 18 document is a "findings and order after hearing" filed by the opposing attorney. Click here to view the complete May 18 document. The May 25 notice referred to by the clerk is a proof of service filed by the opposing attorney for the findings and order after hearing document.

The clerks rejection of the appeal is based on applying a 60-day appeal window using the May 25 date, making July 25, 2012 the deadline for filing the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal was filed on August 8, 2012, beyond the incorrect date used by the clerk, but well within the 180-day lawful time frame. The 60-day time frame is only applicable when an FL-190 is filed and served by the court clerk. The court file does not contain an FL-190

A findings and order after hearing filed and served by an opposing attorney is not a substitute for an FL-190, and does not result in a 60-day appeal time frame, according to state law and the family law references used by family court judges and attorneys, including California Practice Guide: Family Law, published by The Rutter Group. Click here to view the legal authority that applies to the connection between the FL-190 and the 180-day time frame. 

And in Alan v. American Honda Motor Co., the state Supreme Court pointed out that the title of the FL-190 and the clerk's certificate of mailing at the bottom of the form are specifically designed to eliminate disputes about the time frame for an appeal in family law cases. The alleged motive of the clerk's letter is to deceive a self-represented litigant with limited knowledge of family law, according to the whistleblower.  
"The letter from the clerk is designed to confuse the unrepresented party, and make them believe the appeal was untimely," the whistleblower explained. "A typical pro per unfamiliar with the law would fall for this deception. But it is exactly that - a deception - and a deception that is demonstrably false, and illegal under [California Rules of Court] rule 8.23. It is an unlawful interference with court of appeal proceedings."  
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 -Sacramento Bee Andy Furillo Reporter – Sacramento County courts - Sacramento Bee - Joyce Terhaar Editor and Senior Vice President – Deb Anderluh Senior Editor for Investigations and Enterprise – Sacramento Bee - Marjie Lundstrum Reporter-Investigations – Ken Chavez Senior Editor-Local News – Maury Macht Team Leader II-Local News – Kim Minugh Reporter-Crime – Charles Piller Reporter-Investigations – Cynthia Hubert Reporter-Social Services – Sacramento Bee – Tom Knudson Reporter-Investigaions – Denny Walsh Reporter-Federal/State Supreme Courts – Phillip Reese Reporter-Investigations – Anthony Sorci Team Leader-Local News – Steuart Leavenworth Editorial Page Editor – Gary Reed Forum Editor – Dan Morain Senior Editor – Sacramento Bee – Ginger Rutland Associate Editor – Foon Rhee Associate Editor – Brian Blomster Online News Editor - 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,
The clerk's certificate of mailing is a critical part of the mandatory FL-190 form because it determines the time fame within which a family case appeal can be taken, according to the California Supreme Court in Alan v. American Honda Motor Co. 
The Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento also confirms that any appealable order is considered a judgment, and therefore requires filing and service of the FL-190 form. Without the form, the 180-day appeal time frame applies. The information is provided in a Self-Help Manual [pdf] for self-represented litigants published by the appellate court. Page 10 of the Self-Help Manual includes:
"Note that the same rules about an appeal from a judgment apply to an appeal from an appealable order, as the rules of court dealing with appeals define 'judgment' as including an order that may be appealed. (CRC 8.10(4).)" Click here to view this excerpt from the Self-Help Manual.
Sacramento Federal Court Eastern District of California – United States Courts, US District Court Sacramento, Judge William B. Shubb, Judge Edmund F. Brennan, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr, Judge Carolyn K. Delaney, Judge Morrison C. England Jr, Judge Gregory G. Hollows, Judge John A. Mendez, Judge Kendall J. Newman, Judge Troy L. Nunley, Judge Allison Claire, Judge Dale A. Drozd, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Judge Robert Hight – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Tami Bogert – Judge James Mize – Vance Raye - Victoria Henley CJP - Judge Thadd Blizzard -Andy Furillo Sacramento Bee - Supreme Court of California – Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye – Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan – Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard – Associate Justie Kathryn M. Werdegar – Associate Justice Ming W. Chin – Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter – Associate Justice Goodwin Liu - Judge Kevin R. Culhane – Hon. Kevin R Culhane – Judge Kevin Culhane -
The notice of appeal filed by the pro per specifically notified the Sacramento Family Court appeals unit clerk that no entry of judgment was filed for the orders being appealed. Under state law, the time frame for the appeal was 180 days. Click here to view the complete notice.







Oversight and Accountability

Family court watchdogs and whistleblowers have long asserted, and documented, that family court judges and employees appear to be immune from oversight and accountability for misconduct. More than five months after the egregious error by Deputy Clerk Stephanie Hinman in rejecting a valid notice of appeal, the error remains uncorrected and, it is self-evident, no discipline has taken place. 

The refusal to file a lawful appeal constitutes unlawful interference with appellate court proceedings - a violation of California Rules of Court rule 8.23. "Misbehavior in office, or other willful neglect or violation of duty" by a clerk is punishable as contempt under Code of Civil Procedure  §1209(a)(3). Under Canon 3C of the Code of Judicial Ethics, a judge's administrative responsibilities include ensuring staff and court personnel under the judge's direction and control observe "appropriate standards of conduct." 

As of 2011, the failure by Judicial Branch employees to comply with any state court rule is a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, and constitutes government misconduct in the same category as corruption, malfeasance, bribery, theft of government property, fraud, coercion and similar types of misconduct. Employee conduct that is economically wasteful, involves gross misconduct, incompetency or inefficiency is also covered by the act. 

The act is enforced by the California State Auditor. Court employees who violate court rules and other laws also violate Tenet Five of the California Court Employee Code of Ethics. At the local level, Sacramento County Superior Court policies and administrative procedures provide a discipline process for court employees who violate court rules, cause discredit to the court, or engage in discriminatory, dishonest, discourteous or unbecoming behavior. Click here to read the court's discipline policy. 
"It is understood that the Court has a critical role to play in the County's justice system. It is vital that the public maintain its trust in the Court system. As a result, trial court employees will be held to a higher standard of conduct than employees of other organizations," reads the policy introduction.  
Yet from the local court to the state auditor, all of these rules, laws and policies have been ignored and gone unenforced. 

Taxpayer Liability Exposure and Criminal Laws

Depriving unrepresented, financially disadvantaged litigants of civil or constitutional rights may expose court employees, supervisors, and taxpayers to financial liability in a civil lawsuit. Federal criminal statutes may also apply. Federal criminal law prohibits conspiracy against civil rights and deprivation of rights under color of law. Sacramento Family Court receives federal funding, and court users have a federally protected right to honest services. Court employees, managers and administrators who fail to provide honest services may be subject to criminal prosecution under federal law

The constitutional rights of due process, equal protection and access to the courts apply to everyone, irrespective of wealth.




In Part 4 of our report Color of Law: The Conspiracy to End Pro Per Appeals, a court clerk files for a judge pro tem attorney a faux notice of entry of judgment designed to unlawfully invoke a 60-day appeal time frame. 

Sacramento Family Court News acknowledges the confidential source who provided us with the information and documentation for this article. We appreciate the tip. To send us your anonymous tip by email, use our Contact Page. All communications are protected by the reporter's privilege and the California Shield Law. For further details about our confidentiality policy, see our About Page and our Terms & Conditions Page.

Related posts:
  • Click here for articles about family court employee misconduct. 
  • Click here for reporting on judicial misconduct. 
  • Click here for posts about the Family Law Facilitator.
  • Click here for family court whistleblower articles. 
  • Click here for family court watchdog coverage. 
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