Family courts audit due today

California State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office will release a long-awaited audit of the family courts in Marin and Sacramento Counties on Thursday.

The audit was requested in 2009 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, through the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC). About half of Leno’s district is in Marin.

Advocates for women and children, as well as some fathers’ groups, have long claimed that there is little consistency among family courts in different areas of California, and that in some areas there is a too-cozy relationship between key judges, lawyers and expert witnesses. Family courts usually handle divorce and custody proceedings, and often rely on the testimony of psychiatrists and other professionals.

Many of these advocates have also claimed that Marin and Sacramento were the most problematic, while some judges and attorneys in these courts have portrayed these allegations as the work of disgruntled litigants who didn’t get their way in court.

The effort was a long time in coming. Former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber attempted to push an audit back in 2008. That request would have included eight counties.

The audit has been contentious at times. Last April, Howle’s office threatened to subpoena the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), an arm of the Judicial Council, which is acting as attorney for the Marin and Sacramento family courts, for not turning over numerous court records they said were necessary for the audit. The AOC claimed they needed time to go through the documents in order to protect litigants’ privacy.

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