I just got out of court where I was to be sentenced for contempt of court. The charges were dropped, and I have not been jailed.
We were scheduled to appear before Judge Heather D. Morse at 10:30. There was one case going on at the time, with a mom and dad both represented by lawyers. The facts were not in dispute. The court keeps sending them to mediation with Mellissa Berrenge, who then recommends a plan that they both accept. But then the mom reneges on the plan, and they end up back in court.
Judge Morse did not seem to get it, and sent them back to Berrenge again, and said that they should agree on a plan. The dad's lawyer explained again that this did not work before, and asked that Berrenge's recommendation become the order of the court. The mom's lawyer did not object. Judge Morse continued to say that they ought to agree on what Berrenge says. Finally, the dad's lawyer offered to write up the order. Again, the mom's lawyer did not object. It is not clear to me that the judge really ruled in his favor, but since he gets to write up the order, I guess that it is going to work out that way.
No one mentioned the underlying legal problem, which was that California law prohibits a family court judge from delegating a decision to a private shrink like Berrenge. Berrenge would make a horrible judge, and there is no due process for whatever she may decide in her private office. So maybe that is why Judge Morse did not explicitly say that she was delegating the decision to Berrenge.
This was really a simple case. If the parents are really agreeable to letting Berrenge dictate their plan, then all they have to do is to bring the plan back to court and get it ordered. Judge Morse seemed incapable of doing the obvious.
My case started at 11:00. Judge Morse noticed that my ex-wife, Julie Travers, was sitting on the opposite side from the plaintiff's side where she usually sits. Judge Morse said that I faced sentencing on two counts, unless they were cured.
The first count was money, where I contested two amounts. Julie wanted to pay for her half of Ken Perlmutter's evaluation, and for half of our daughter's orthodontic treatment. At the contempt trial in August, Judge Morse said that I was never ordered to pay her half of the evaluation, and I did not have to pay that. I only had to pay my half of the $19,000 evaluation, and pay all of his $9,000 in witness fees. The judge also said that I had not been ordered to pay orthodontic fees, but that she would order it if Julie produced evidence that the treatment was necessary. Julie produced a bad xerox of dental xrays, and Judge Morse announced halfway thru the contempt trial that she could see that my daughter had too many teeth, and ordered me to pay for the treatment. Two hours later, she found me in contempt for not paying. I still don't see how I could be in contempt for not paying something that was never ordered until the contempt trial, but that is what happened.
Today, I said that I paid the money. Julie agreed that I paid it, altho she refused to admit that it was for orthodontic treatment. I don't know why she said that, as that was the only issue she won on. But she agreed that I paid, and the judge said that count was purged.
Next, Judge Morse said the much more complicated issue was count no. 2, as that involved posted personally identifying info about our daughters on the web, such as pictures, and that had to be weighed against my free speech rights. Julie explained that info about the kids was not at issue. She said that her only concern was a report by Connie Jo Neustadter that said that I was an excellent father and that strongly recommended joint custody, and a posting on this blog that briefly quoted a Ken Perlmutter report on how Julie got temporary sole legal custody of our kids. As she explained at the contempt trial, she did not like the Neustadter report because I had pointed out that the report was done to comply with an order of the court and she did not like there to be anything online to suggest that the court had found me to be a good father. She did not like the Perlmutter quote because it proves that she lied to Perlmutter about having already gotten sole legal custody when she had not, and because it shows that he was either incompetent or corrupt.
I have a regular commenter who talks about finding a smoking gun for incompetence or corruption. This quote is a smoking gun, and I was ordered to remove it from the blog.
Judge Morse acknowledged at the August contempt trial that I had not been ordered to remove these items before the trial, but she found me in contempt at the end of the trial for not having removed them.
Today, Julie acknowledged that I had removed the two things that she had complained about, and Judge Morse purged that contempt count also.
Before dismissing us, Judge Morse asked us how the visits were going, and that opened a can of worms. Julie said that I was getting two supervised visits a week, one for each kid separately, except that she canceled yesterday's visit on account of the kid playing basketball. I said that I was going to bring a motion to improve the situation, and then we got into an argument about whether I was prohibited from bringing motions for two years. I said that we only had temporary custody orders, and that even if there were a permanent custody order in effect, I would not be prohibited from bringing a motion. Julie said that I was prohibited. Judge Morse said that she wanted to protect the kids from litigation, and see how much progress we make on our own. She said that maybe we could go to mediation, but that it was entirely at Julie's discretion. Judge Morse also said that the kids need to work out their feelings in counseling. I pointed out that they were not in counseling, but she said that the supervised visits were like counseling. They are nothing like counseling. In the last couple of visits, the supervisor just read a book for two hours and never said a word beyond hello at the beginning and goodbye at the end. For that, she gets $100 each visit.
As a practical matter, I believe that the clerk will let me file a motion, but if it goes before Judge Morse, she will surely refuse it. I think that I will file a motion anyway. On my way out I asked Julie if she were willing to discuss unsupervised visits, and she said that it was out of the question.