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Effects of Judges Leaving Family Law Departments: Child Custody Issues in California Divorce

May 23, 2013
Click the photo to visit David's website

Click the photo to visit David’s website

This is the second in a multi-part series by A Better Divorce member David Kuroda, LCSW Division Chief, Mediation and Conciliation Service Superior Court of Los Angeles (ret.) titled CHILD CUSTODY ISSUES: AVOIDING TRIAL, RESPONSES TO THE UNPRECEDENTED REDUCTIONS IN COURT FUNDING – A BILLIONAIRE CHOOSES COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE.  The article is one of 16 in the family reference materials of The Family Law Symposium, the major family law event for attorneys in So. California.   Read Part One Here




A troubling issue raised by the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Family Law Executive Committee, concerns family law bench officers. The exodus of well respected judges and commissioners out of family law continues. This past year, a number of experienced judicial officers have left the family courts; many of them will be available for private mediation and judging; others have sought assignments in civil courtrooms where the demands on them are less burdensome; judges have also left for the dependency courts.

Judge Marjorie Steinberg had predicted the “unsustainable” situation for the courts because of the budget reductions, perhaps resulting in a reduction in the number of court employees by over 1800 in the next two and a half years. A loss of 35 percent of the staff. Unfortunately the cuts were even more severe.  Family Court Services no longer provides regular child custody evaluations. Judge David Rothman and Commissioner Jill Robbins initiated the PACT (Parents and Children Together) in Santa Monica in the early 90’s. This innovative program had been offered in all of the districts. Even though the PACT program is still a requirement, the classes are no longer offered in the courts; litigants take the course online. People have already figured out how to breeze through the online program without doing the necessary study.

The high conflict parenting classes, an outgrowth of the innovative Pre-Contemnor’s Program, developed by Maxine Baker-Jackson, Sherrie Kibler and Ernie Sanchez, and is no longer offered by the court. Court staff are no longer presenters for this highly effective program. In most communities now, there are high conflict classes offered for parents who want to help their children through their separation and divorce.

Besieged by heavy workloads and the emotional pressures of family law, many of our best judges are choosing early retirement, private judging and other assignments in the Superior Court. The number of experienced family law bench officers in the private sector is at an all-time high. Although the judges’ retirement system provides little incentive for judges to remain on the bench for prolonged periods, the attraction of private judging has led to the departure of many excellent judges long before usual retirement ages. Added uncertainty for the judges is the possibility that judges in Los Angeles County could have their yearly salaries reduced by over $50,000. A number of the family law commissioners took buyouts and retired early.

Last year, the Hon. Marjorie Steinberg, Supervising judge of the family law departments, announced her retirement. It was a real loss for the courts. Filling the vacancy, Governor Brown announced that Long Beach Commissioner Lori Behar was Judge Behar.

Some answers may lie in the greater use of methods to resolve cases, leaving only the most difficult cases for the courtroom. This article discusses some of these approaches.


David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.

In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.

He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.

In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.

Always consult a professional in your area.

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