For Immediate Release:
July 2, 2009

Kathleen Russell 415-250-1180                     
Steve Burdo 415-261-4784
Legislature Passes Historic Audit of California Family Court System
Stories of court-ordered child abuse inspire unanimous support
After 17 months of delays and procedural hurdles, California's Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) yesterday unanimously passed a request by Senator Mark Leno and numerous co-authors to audit the California Family Court system with respect to the use of court appointees in child custody disputes.
"We applaud Senator Leno's leadership in rectifying this critical miscarriage of justice, since court appointees have profited off of these tragic cases for far too long with virtually no oversight or accountability," said the Center for Judicial Excellence's Kathleen Russell.
The request was prompted by ongoing complaints from across the state that children are routinely being forced by family courts to live with parents they've accused of physical or sexual abuse.
"For many years litigants from Family Court have argued that the system needs improvement and does not adequately serve the needs of California's children and families," said Senator Leno. "After personally meeting with litigants and hearing their stories, I am convinced an audit would bring clarity to these concerns and identify any issues the Legislature may need to address."
Lawmakers from both parties lined up in unanimous support for the audit, with testimony from co-authors Assemblyman Jim Beall (D- San Jose) and Republican Caucus Chair Cameron Smyth (R- Santa Clarita). Supporters of the audit packed the hearing room, many who have battled for years to protect their children from court-ordered abuse.
"A young girl was taken from her mother and given to her father who was a convicted drug felon and domestic violence abuser," said AssemblymemberBeall. "The 14-year-old girl's body was found two years after she disappeared, buried in the backyard of the father's home, having been raped and murdered."
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth praised the vote, saying, "I'm proud of the support for this audit from members on both sides of the aisle. Children's lives are being impacted every day in our family court system, and I think we all recognize the importance of making sure that the process of appointing mediators is fair, consistent and in the best interests of our kids."
The approved request mandates that the State Auditor investigate and report on family courts in the counties of Marin and Sacramento, and the work is scheduled to begin immediately, according to JLAC staff.

Clink on the following link to view the Marin Independent Journal's coverage of this emerging story:

Click here to watch video footage of the 24-minute hearing from the California Channel, which begins at 46:33 mins:
Kathleen Russell, Consultant
Center for Judicial Excellence
1206 Third Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
415.250.1180 cell