Family Court Appeals Unit Illegally Rejecting Appeals By Unrepresented, Financially Disadvantaged LitigantsColor of Law: The Conspiracy to End Pro Per Appeals
A Sacramento Family Court News Exclusive Investigative Report. Part 3
|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.|
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.
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.
|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."
|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.|
"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.
|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 AccountabilityFamily 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 LawsDepriving 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.
- 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.
For additional reporting on the people and issues in this post, click the corresponding labels below.