of Children Become Pawns in Culture of
Greed and Corruption in California Family Courts
San Diego, CA - Revelations that the San Diego Family Court system’s highest paid psychologists, divorce lawyers and leading administrators may be engaged in multiple levels of corruption, fraud and kick-backs has led the California Coalition for Families and Children (CCFC) to demand a full-scale investigation. What started as a lawsuit filed by one of the state’s leading Psychiatrists – Dr. Emad Tadros, Vice Chief of Behavioral Health at Scripps Mercy Medical Center has rapidly expanded to include law violations by judicial staff, judicial campaign contributions, and hefty “referral” bonuses between lawyers who profit from - and in some cases - encourage conflict and misery among divorcing families.
Top custody evaluator lied on resume and received credentials from “fake” diploma mill
It was only after Dr. Tadros himself went through a family court hearing in early 2007 that he began noticing a pattern questionable psychological reasoning behind the custody recommendations of San Diego’s top family court evaluator - Dr. Steven Doyne. Upon investigating Doyne’s background, Tadros learned Doyne had lied on his resume when seeking court-appointed work, and repeatedly misrepresented his professional certifications to his clients, where he was paid to interview thousands of children in private and make life-altering custody recommendations.
Tadros’ lawsuit notes that not only did faculty at several area colleges deny Doyne taught psychology courses there (as his resume claims), his additional “credentials” were obtained from a “degree mill” run by a convicted felon in Philadelphia. The American Bar Association Journal recently reported that the “degree mill” in question once granted a high-level diploma to a house cat.
Referrals and Paybacks net Doyne millions
According to Coalition spokesperson Cole Stuart, Doyne prefers to make appearances in “high conflict” cases where the parents have lots of money but can’t agree on anything. Doyne often receives referrals from attorneys for these cases, and according to a recent legal brief filed by the Coalition, paybacks for these referrals have included generous finder’s fees and unusual barter agreements. The court itself has also directly appointed Doyne to family law cases. When coupled with referrals, Doyne earns over $1,000,000 a year – far higher than the average family court psychologist salary of $60,000 - $120,000.
A ‘cottage industry” thriving on people’s misery
Kathleen Russell, a cofounder and staff consultant at the Center for Judicial Excellence, a Marin County community-based judicial watchdog organization, says the California family court system has evolved into a “culture of cronyism” from which a “cottage industry” of private evaluators and mediators has grown and thrived.
In Sacramento County, the average rate for a court-ordered evaluation and report is $15,000. In Marin County, evaluators may charge as much as $60,000. “Families are being ruined emotionally and financially by this system,” says Barbara Kauffman, a family law attorney in Marin County.
The Superior Court of San Diego County recently admitted that it does not see itself as responsible for verifying the qualifications of its child custody evaluators. Instead, it has delegated the responsibility for this oversight to the “Public at Large”. However, with limited regulatory oversight and virtually no avenues for members of the public to challenge important evaluator decisions such as child custody, The California Coalition for Families and Children says that an unscrupulous agent can commit incompetent— even criminal— behavior without any fear of accountability. In the case of Doyne, the Coalition contends that his network of referrals and relationships with judges has provided the legal and political cover for him “to remain in the shadows”. Says Coalition spokesperson Stuart: “With layers of people making huge amounts of money off the current system – including judges and administrators themselves – the court has little incentive to make changes.”
Stuart said that the Coalition is requesting the campaign finance records of every elected San Diego Family Court Judge to determine if Doyne and other evaluators are contributors.
Thousands of Cases Could be Affected: as Coalition Calls for Reform
According to the Tadros suit, Doyne was committing fraud each time he certified his “credentials” in custody disputes for decades. This could lead thousands of disenfranchised parents to seek legal damages against the county court and state, and demand that their disputes be reopened.
Says Stuart: “The Coalition is asking the Legislature to immediately audit the San Diego County family court system and reform the way family court evaluators are credentialed and hired. Parents and the public need to regain confidence that custody decisions are being make my competent professionals whose primary motivation is the well-being of the child: as opposed to getting rich.”
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