In late 2014, a public watchdog group began investigating Santa Clara Family Courts, after a large number of complaints to the county, the Commission on Judicial Performance and the State Bar involving the same judges and lawyers began to emerge and as several children came forward to report abuse and harassment inflicted by a court appointed children's lawyer, Brad Baugh, when their parents divorced in Santa Clara County.
Preliminary results reveal systemic and wide spread abuse that shows misuse of public money and Judges abusing the bench to chill the First Amendment Rights of Santa Clara County citizens embroiled in divorce and probate cases.
The investigation has not only uncovered abusive and inflated billing practices imposed by fiduciaries in probate matters, it has revealed systemic breakdowns where lawyers and judges are exceeding their jurisdiction and misusing public funds to strip local citizens of custody, property and their most fundamental constitutional rights during long drawn out divorce proceedings. Most alarming is that some lawyers and judges have engaged in abuse of power to harm children.
Public records further show that certain judges are engaging in judicial retaliation, where they may be mismanaging court staff and resources, to chill the rights of others to speak out . Large settlements with abused children are reminiscent of the Catholic Church trying to quash rumors early on in that scandal.
The county’s practice involving vexatious litigant designations in family law cases is especially alarming. While extremely rare to have someone declared vexatious in a family law case, 4% of the total designated vexatious litigants in Santa Clara stem from family law cases and 90% of those are connected to lawyer Brad Baugh and judges Mary Ann Grilli and James Towery. In one of those cases, Baugh acted as the lawyer for a couple’s children and additionally obtained a 50 year restraining order against the father, a period clearly long past when the court would have jurisdiction to make such order.
Another disturbing trend is a few lawyers are falsely accusing opposing parties of connections to watchdog “ groups” critical of the county's courts and judges, such accusations act as a veiled threat for any litigant who dares speak out or affiliate with groups critical of family courts and clearly is an effort to chill free speech, even when unsubstantiated.
In a review of cases before Mary Ann Grilli, the county’s most experienced family law jurist, one lawyer, John Henry Perrott, claimed an opposing ADA litigant was associated with anonymous blogs and emails, to discredit the mother . Months earlier, in another case, also before Grilli, Nat Hales, Jr. and vocational examiner Tim Harper made the same accusations against a different mother. Reports indicate Grilli, rumored to be struggling with early stage dementia, may be either biased, or ill prepared to remember such conduct to disclose attorneys before her, as Judicial Cannon 3D(2) mandates she does.
Ironically as these claims were made in the family courts, Santa Clara County Superior court filed a motion in a civil case against the county to strike the use of anonymous emails and blogs in a suit filed against the county for court related corruption and discrimination.
Complaints against Judge Grilli for mismanagement of her caseload also appear to have skyrocketed in recent years, as rumors of her physical and mental competence on the bench circle the family law corridors.
Grilli is so out of control, that the Department of Child Support Services and other state agencies have noted her mismanagement has cost state and county tax payers millions of dollars.
Recently, investigative reporters have uncovered information that shows that for over 20 years Grilli may have been filing false salary affidavits, underreporting the decisional delays in many family law cases before her and unlawfully collecting her salary , paid by Santa Clara County tax payers, when such salary is required to be suspended until residents are assured she has done her job. If Grilli is found to have violated the law, or misused public funds, it would be grounds for immediate removal.