October 21, 2014
I confess: I haven’t updated this site for months. I’m rewriting it today after receiving the following email from a mother headed to Nevada County Family Court:
I found the reformers website today, and I am headed into mediation. Do you have any idea if the courts have been reformed at all? Do I need to be concerned about the court not taking the father of my sons criminal record seriously?
I am going to be strong and stand up for what I believe to be the best interest of my son. But now that it is in the courts hands I am a little fearful that they will give the father more rights than he deserves immediately. i want to take it slow.
Any help appreciated!
Here’s my response:
Things have improved in the court. The most dramatic improvement has been the new judge, Scott Thomsen. The mediators (now called child custody recommending counselors) are still problematic. Marilyn Stahl is the best of the bunch…you could try requesting her. If there’s been any history of domestic violence in your relationship, you can (and probably should) request separate mediation sessions. Don’t agree to anything you don’t feel completely comfortable signing. If the mediators write a recommendation you don’t agree with, you’ll have an opportunity to explain why you don’t agree with it to the judge (and he is very competent).
Good luck, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.
P.S. If you have any proof of your son’s father’s criminal history (i.e. newspaper articles or a criminal report), it’s a good idea to include it in your filing. If not, insist that the court looks it up!
I am heartened by the improvements I’ve seen in the Nevada County Family Court. I think Judge Thomsen is conscientious and ethical. I continue to hear unflattering feedback about the mediation (child custody recommending counseling) part of the process, but Judge Thomsen is willing to override recommendations he doesn’t find reasonable. My main concern about Nevada County Family Court at this point in time is that there is still no good procedure for filing complaints against the mediators. Without a solid complaint protocol, mediators are not held accountable for the quality of their work. The only time anyone outside of Family Court Services sees any client complaint is if the complaint is about the director, Paul Jaffe. Unfortunately, the only person who reviews the complaint is CEO Sean Metroka. Metroka has no experience as a mediator, attorney, or judge. He is unfit to review mediation complaints. I have spoken to Judge Thomsen and Presiding Judge Heidleberger about this problem. I appreciated the judges making the mediation complaint form available to the public on the court’s website. The next step would be to appoint a trained professional to review all mediation complaints (not only the ones involving Paul Jaffe). If that happened, I might go into reformer retirement.
If you are headed to family court or mediation, please read the “5 Essential Tips” page before you go. If there’s something I can do to help you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
October 29, 2014
QUESTION: Hey Emily, if Nevada County Family Court is so awesome, why did you speak to the Judicial Council a few days ago about the need for greater oversight of the judicial system?
ANSWER: Although I am impressed with Judge Thomsen’s family courtroom, I cannot say the same for the mediation department. About a year ago, I went to court as a domestic support person for my client. The Family Court Services Director sent my client out into the hallway to try to mediate her own agreement with her domestic violence perpetrator. My client filed a complaint about what had occurred, and CEO Sean Metroka reviewed it. Metroka sent a response stating that her case had been handled appropriately. It is this kind of malpractice that inspires me to keep fighting for outside oversight of the courts.
I also find it unacceptable that the average family court litigant’s experience in 2014 is so vastly different from what it was in 2010 (when Judge McManus was on the bench). There are good, solid laws on the books that are designed to keep the family court process fair and even somewhat standardized. Unfortunately, there is little consequence for judicial employees who elect to disregard the law.
An absence of outside oversight leads to sloppiness and arrogance in many different settings. I have learned that the problems I thought were unique to Nevada County are actually of statewide concern. I will continue my collaboration with the Center for Judicial Excellence to address the judicial accountability gap.
P.S. I want to thank Don Bessee (who faithfully handed out fliers on the courthouse steps for a year and a half) and Brenda Lara (who supported countless family law litigants that reached out to the Reformers for help). I couldn’t have persisted without you. I am also grateful for Linda Eckerman and Ellen Owen, for their faith in me, and for their quiet support through every awful day of my trial.
The information found on this website is NOT intended to replace legal advice and is NOT a substitute for specific advice concerning individual situations. YOU SHOULD NOT RELY ON ANY INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE AS FORMAL LEGAL ADVICE. This website nor Nevada County Reformers shall be responsible for any loss or damage arising from your reliance on any information provided on this website.