A month long document purge in Marin's family law court has prompted an investigation by the state judiciary, but the county's top judge says it appears no laws were broken.
Presiding Judge Terrence Boren requested an investigation last month by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the state court system, amid allegations that court administrator Kim Turner ordered child-custody mediators to destroy their work files in divorce cases last fall.

The allegations were raised by San Rafael lawyer Barbara Kauffman, a persistent critic of Marin's family law court who obtained a transcript from a court hearing in which a county court mediator testified that her supervisors directed her to destroy her files.

The directive was issued in late September - less than three months after state legislators ordered an audit of the family courts of Marin and Sacramento counties. The legislative audit, which is expected to be completed in December, is examining claims of systemic incompetence, bias and misconduct among mediators, therapists and other family-law advisers.

Under the California Government Code, public officials can face up to four years in prison for removing or destroying court records, or permitting someone else to. But Boren, who received the preliminary results of the AOC investigation on Friday, said the documents in question were not official court files but the raw notes and work files generated by mediators while preparing their final reports.

"The overall conclusion of that investigation ... is there was nothing illegal done by the court in the destruction of the mediator working files," Boren said Friday. "The 'court record' is a specific kind of thing and it doesn't include the mediator's file notes or the working files."

Boren said the document destruction was part of an effort to preserve the court's limited storage space, and that Turner had vetted the document destruction with the AOC beforehand. Nevertheless, the policy was terminated in mid-October over concerns about how a document purge might look in the midst of the closely-watched legislative audit of the family court.

"I think it was stopped because of that possibility," said Boren, who was not presiding judge at the time. "If we had it to do over, we probably wouldn't have done it that way."

Boren said he did not know how many documents were destroyed while the policy was in place. He said none of the mediators' final custody reports were destroyed, nor were any official court files.

The AOC's formal investigative report is expected to be released next week.

Philip Carrizosa, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the office conducts about 15 "financial and/or operational audits" a year.

The discovery of the document dump, and Boren's request for an outside investigation, had Marin's family law critics smelling blood and firing off press releases. Critics have long complained that the Marin family court is polluted by incompetent mediators and well-connected fee-sucking consultants.

"We want answers to the relevant questions: who gave the orders, who knew about the orders and who destroyed the records? Exactly which records were destroyed, when and why?" Kauffman said in a statement released by the Center for Judicial Excellence, a family-court reform organization based in Marin.

"Let's make sure that the AOC obtains and reports truthful answers to these critical questions and then takes appropriate disciplinary action against those involved."

Turner declined to comment on the investigation until the final report is released.

Turner has been the top administrator in Marin Superior Court since 2005, when she was named to succeed John Montgomery after a conflict-of-interest scandal. Montgomery pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges after authorizing a $100-an-hour court consulting gig for his girlfriend, with whom he owned real estate.

It was Turner who blew the whistle on the arrangement, prompting Boren, then the presiding judge, to ask the AOC for an investigation.

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