From the PacificSun:
Groups protest destruction of family court documentsCivic Center demonstrators call for criminal investigation
October 12, 2010
by Jason Walsh
While the Marin Family Court awaits the results of a state-ordered audit of its family law processes, local court watchdog groups gathered outside the Marin County Civic Center today to protest the court’s destruction of child-custody files in autumn of 2009.
The shredding of the files—which contained such things as images of children’s injuries, illustrations drawn by children, witness statements, police reports and more—were allegedly ordered by court administrator Kim Turner about three months after state Legislators, including Marin Senator Marc Leno, called for an audit of the Marin and Sacramento family courts.
Court detractors have for years accused the Marin Family Court of bias and negligence. “We are unaware of any other instance where top state court leadership has openly admitted to destroying evidence in the middle of a state investigation and ongoing litigation,” said family law attorney Robin Yeamans.
An investigation conducted by the Administrative Office of the Court was called for by presiding Judge Terrence Boren in July after a court transcript revealed that a family law mediator had destroyed files on the order of her supervisors. Boren has said the move to destroy the files was done to preserve storage space and that the AOC had prior knowledge of the decision.
The AOC ruled that the shredded documents were not official court documents but, rather, notes and reports prepared by child-custody mediators and other advocates. The protesters at the Civic Center are calling for a criminal investigation into the matter.
“This document destruction strikes at the very heart of our Constitutional system of checks and balances,” attorney and Marin Family Court critic Barbara Kauffman said. “Top members of our California court system have endangered children and undermined the due process rights of parents who are now forced to defend against child custody recommendations that were made by historically problematic court employees whose files have now conveniently been destroyed.”
To counter the charges levied by today’s demonstrators, Marin County Superior Court officials were on hand to answer questions and hand out information packets about family mediation services.
Among the info on the fact sheets was: “Family mediator working files are NOT official court records. There are no California laws or other rules that require trial courts to retain family mediator working files. In fact, the law is silent on these records because they are not considered official court documents.”