In 2007 when Gavin Newsom was running for re- election as San Francisco's mayor, he had an affair with his campaign manager, Alex Tourk's , wife, Ruby Rippey- Tourk. When the affair became public, his marriage to Kimberly Guilfoyle ended and Newsom did what any high profile politican would do. He hired a private judge and made sure his divorce case was on a secret docket.
California's Open Proceeding Laws do not provide for cases to be conducted in secret, even before a private judge. California law provides for splitting spouses to hire an private judge to handle their case. These appointments are made under CCP 638 and the person acting as a private judge need not be an attorney, as folks are often told.
Trusted friends or therapists even a local teacher could act as a private judge in a divorce case to help folks settle up a dipute. Fews people understand that a divorce can be worked out at the kitchen table for a gift card and a thank you , if the spouses agree.
Over the past 20 years middle class families have been getting sucked into private judge cases, where they are vastly misinformed that the private judge must be a lawyer. This generates as much as $1500 / hour to even discuss settling up a divorce. In California's wealthiest counties, divorce lawyers charge $500/ hour and so does the private judge. Spouses are often told private judging will be cheaper and faster than family court it is not.
No longer is private judging for the wealthy and powerful. Middle class families are getting dragged into these cases where they can drag on for years. Once spouses agree to use an attorney as a private judge, that attorney has immunity and his bills will be ordered paid, either voluntarily or by the attorney's own orders.
Secret Dockets Protect Criminality
Hundreds of private judge cases have been investigated throughout the state. Some of the wealthies community estates see private judge cases make it to appeal , which can often cost each spouse $100,000 - 200,000 to pay the attorneys fees and costs on appeal. But of all the cases audited, none appeared on the private judge docket that must be posted in every courthouse in the state.
In San Francisco where Newsom's divorce took place, there is no private judge list posted, and the docket for these cases has been effectively secreted from the public.
So Why Does it Matter?
Cases secreted from the public, where there is no media attention, are dangerous. When the public has no access to these proceedings, they are ripe for the worst abuses. Prone to public corruption, private judge cases are the ultimate form of privilege and lawyers are now duping middle class families into these cases where billions of dollars are being made and divided.
In interviews with middle class families, they almost all report being duped into private judging by their own divorce lawyers who tell them it will be cheaper and faster, knowing that it is not. Most of these clients never had informed consent when agreeing to use a private judge.
Private Judges Diseminate Misinformation to the Public
In her comments to reporters at the Sacramento News and Review, former Court of Appeal Justice Shelia Sonenshine specifically stated that she and attorney Saul Gelbart had calculated that public court costs parties $96,000 , while private judging costs only $69,000.
This is misinformation and false advertising for the private judge scam. Sonenshine, who now is contracted with JAMS , charges $650 per hour for her private judge services. In leaked bills and invoices leaked by fomer JAMS employees and contractors, Sonenshine, like other attorneys working as private judges often make $1 million in fees from a case. These fees are only partially billed as payments are also reportedly paid in Bitcoin and property transfers paid by the lawyers whose clients benefit from rigged private judging cases where they get favorable orders.
For middle class families, real estate equity is being used to pay the fees for the private judge. Once a private judge gets appointed in a case, their job is not to preserve the family home, it is to convert the equity to attorney fees for themselves and the lawyers participating in what clearly has become a criminal enterprise acting under the color of law in the family courts.