Judge Sharon Lueras Held Responsible By Mom In Hatchet Death of Child by Phillip Hernandez
JUDGE ADMITS "I HAD NEVER PRACTICED FAMILY LAW"
UPDATE: A UC Davis graduate student has started a petition at Change.org to ask the California State Auditor and Commission on Judicial Performance to investigate Judge Sharon Lueras for misconduct in connection with the deaths of Ryder Salmen and Matthew Hernandez. To view the petition, click here.
Jessica Rose Hernandez contends that Sacramento Family Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras is responsible for the Feb. 26 hatchet death of her 9-year-old son Matthew by ex-husband Phillip Hernandez, according to media accounts. Jessica went to court last November to request custody of her two children. At a court hearing before Judge Lueras, the mother of two attempted to introduce evidence, including text messages, to support her assertion that her ex-husband was back on drugs, acting irrationally, and posed a threat to their children. Judge Lueras refused to consider the evidence, and denied the custody change request, according to news reports. "I blame her for Matthew's death," Jessica told News10.
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Jessica Hernandez did not have an attorney and represented herself in court. Sacramento Family Court watchdogs have long asserted that the court operates a two-track system of justice where members of the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section and their clients receive preferential treatment from judges, court employees and at court hearings, while indigent, unrepresented litigants are treated as second-class citizens and often prohibited from exercising basic rights, such as introducing or objecting to evidence. Roughly 70 percent of family court users do not have a lawyer, according to state statistics.
"I Had Never Practiced Family Law"
|Judge Sharon A. Lueras refused to consider evidence and denied a custody change request made by Jessica Hernandez, according to a News10 report. Ex-husband Phillip Hernandez (L) later used a hatchet to kill 9-year-old Matthew Hernandez. Source: News10.|
In 2009, Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge James Mize testified that "[i]t's difficult to get [judges] to go into family law. It's difficult to get judges to go there, so that there's a tradition in a lot of counties to have the newest judge, who is excited about just being a judge period, and you send them to family law because they are willing to do anything." Click here to read Mize's testimony.
A month after the Hernandez hearing, in a farewell letter to attorneys from the Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section, Lueras confessed that when she was assigned to the Family Relations Courthouse, she had no knowledge of family law.
"[I] am sure it is no secret that I did not volunteer for my family law assignment," the judge wrote in the Family Law Counselor, a newsletter written by and for the Family Law Bar.
"In fact, when I was first told that my new assignment would be family law, I was a bit stunned. I had never practiced family law, knew nothing about the subject matter, other than the fact that I have been divorced myself - I had never stepped into the family law courthouse...Coming from a primarily criminal law background, I was accustomed to the black letter law where judges are given some discretion. However, I have never seen the broad discretion that is afforded family law judges. To me this was a monumental responsibility. I did not know if I would be up for the task of always making the right decision and doing the right thing."Lueras closed the letter by thanking the lawyers for putting up with her. "Finally, I want to thank all of the individuals I have met in the past two years. You have put up with a new family law judge and presented her with the most challenging issues she has ever faced and because of this have hopefully made her a better judge," she said. Click here to view the letter.
The California Rules of Court include Standards for Judicial Administration which govern courts throughout the state. Recognizing the importance of having experienced family court judges, Standard 5.30, subdivision (a), captioned Judicial Assignments to Family Court, directs that
"In a court with a separate family court, the presiding judge of the superior court should assign judges to the family court to serve for a minimum of three years. In selecting judges for family court assignments, the presiding judge should consider, in addition to rule 10.603(c)(1)(A) of the California Rules of Court, the judges prior experience in family law litigation and mediation, as well as whether the judge prefers to serve in a family law department."Standard 10.12, Judicial Education for Judicial Officers in Particular Judicial Assignments, emphasizes the importance of both basic and continuing education for judges assigned to hear family law matters. Subdivision (c) of Standard 5.30, Family Court Matters, provides
"The supervising judge of family court, in consultation with the presiding judge of the superior court should motivate and educate other judges regarding the significance of family court and work to ensure that sufficient judicial officers, court staff, family law facilitators, child custody mediators and evaluators, interpreters, financial resources, and adequate facilities are assigned to the family law court to allow adequate time to hear and decide the matters before it."The Judicial Council Advisory Committee Comment to Subdivision (c) of Standard 5.30 reads:
"The family court is an integral part of the justice system. Decisions made by family law judges can have significant and lasting impacts on the lives of the parties and their children. The work of the family court has a significant impact on the health of families and ultimately on the strength of the community. The parties deserve to have adequate time to present their cases, and the judges should have the resources they need to enable them to make informed decisions. It is only through the constant exertion of pressure to maintain resources and the continuous education of court-related personnel and administrators that the historic trend to give less priority and provide fewer resources to the family court can be changed."
|Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger|
Before her elevation to the bench, Lueras was lead corporations counsel for the California Department of Corporations (2005-07); deputy district attorney for Yolo County (2001-02); deputy district attorney for Sacramento County (1992-2001), a sole practitioner in Sacramento (1991-92); and an associate at Wilcoxen, Callahan, Montgomery & Harbison in Sacramento (1989-91). Judge Lueras graduated from University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in 1988, and as a judge is paid $169,289 per year.
Click here for additional coverage of Judge Sharon Lueras.
Click here for our full coverage of the Jessica Hernandez case.
Click here for expanded coverage of the Matthew Hernandez memorial at Google+.
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