The Northern California-based advocacy group the Center for Judicial Excellence is one of Fathers and Families’ main legislative opponents. This increasingly powerful and well-funded group has been the prime mover behind California AB 612, a bill that would exclude evidence of Parental Alienation from family law proceedings and prevent target parents of Parental Alienation from raising PA as an issue in their cases. Last year Fathers and Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson helped build a professional coalition to scuttle AB 612.
The CJE claims that there’s a “crisis” in family courts, and that courts are handing over custody of children to physically and sexually abusive fathers. They promote reforms which will make it easier to deny parents shared custody or visitation rights based on unsubstantiated abuse claims.
Recently Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr. (D-San Jose), a close ally of the CJE’s who sponsored AB 612, did a gut and amend of AB 2475. The amended bill added Section 43.94 to the Civil Code to remove quasi-judicial immunity from court-appointed practitioners such as custody evaluators, parenting coordinators, therapists, minor’s counsels, special masters, and others. The amended bill, which was sponsored by the CJE, was done in response to a perceived problem of evaluators supposedly recommending to judges that they place children with physically and sexually abusive parents.
As we’ve noted before, there is no empirical basis supporting this claim. The vast majority of the cases that groups like the CJE put forward as alleged examples of this “crisis” of abusive fathers winning child custody are being badly misrepresented.
For example, in April Kathleen Russell of the CJE went on The Dr. Phil Show with a case where she claimed that a Northern California court had capriciously handed over custody of a 6-year-old girl to a molesting father. As we explained in Did Dr. Phil Unwittingly Promote False Accusations on His Recent ‘Crisis in Family Court’ Show?, in that case social services and the family court devoted an enormous amount of time and care to examining the sexual abuse allegations and the evidence in general. In fact, five separate sexual abuse examinations failed to find any support for the molestation accusations.
Under AB 2475, custody evaluators, etc. could have been sued by embittered litigants without even the protection of a statute of limitations. In other words, a 20-year-old who concludes (or is manipulated into concluding) that a custody evaluator erred in recommending joint custody when he was 8-years-old could have gone back and sued the evaluator for their decision. Few custody evaluators would practice under those conditions, and the field would have been devastated. Moreover, licensing boards already have the authority to revoke the licenses of evaluators who violate professional ethics. AB 2475 would have undermined years of well-established case law, including Howard v. Drapkin (1990) (222 Cal.App.3d 843).
Fortunately, Fathers and Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson and the representatives of numerous professional associations, including the Family Law Section of the State Bar of California, the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, the California Judges Association, the California Psychological Association, and the Administrative Office of the Courts, worked to defeat this destructive, misguided bill.
Robinson and the bill’s other opponents were able to force Beall to accept numerous committee amendments in order to get the bill out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. These amendments took out most of the CJE’s language, and instead inserted some reasonable recommendations from the Elkins Task Force about streamlining the complaint progress for litigants. The bill then died a quiet death in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week. The Judiciary Committee’s analysis of the Beall/CJE bill, which is quite critical of it, can be seen here.
The events surrounding AB 2475 and AB 612 are further validation of Fathers and Families’ emphasis on the need for the family court reform movement to employ full-time legislative representatives and engage in the political process on a professional level. We congratulate Robinson and the professional associations for their fine work on AB 2475.
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Together with you in the love of our children,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Chair of the Board