Karen’s Investigations & Cases In The Press

New York Law Journal (2015)  citing Karen Winner’s case below, for succeeding past initial phase on rare “fraud on the court” claim
  •  Lauder v. Goldhamer, 122 A.D.3d 908 (2d Dept. 2014)    http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ad2/calendar/webcal/decisions/2014/D43498.pdf
The Defendants’ motion to dismiss went up to the Appellate Court, which upheld Winner’s disqualification of attorney Barry Kantrowitz, under the lawyer-as-witness rule; Kantrowitz is a lawyer who was representing defendants, is also a partner in the defendants’ law firm, and is a witness in the legal malpractice case; upheld cause of actions against  defendant/ partner Paul Goldhamer, individually and personally; upheld cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty; upheld fraud-against-the-court claim, and all the other claims alleged in the plaintiff’s second amended complaint.
New York Times  story on May 5, 1993 – Divorce Lawyers Assailed in Study by Albany Panel about “Women in Divorce” Report issued by NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs, authored by Karen Winner
San Francisco Examiner  notes Karen Winner’s Investigation on Judge and Commissioner in Marin County, that prompts Judicial recall efforts in California: May 7, 2000 – Judging Family-Law Jurists Recall Effort Targets Trio on Marin Bench for Alleged Favoritism
The Westsider —  Former Reporter Judges the Judges  about Karen Winner’s investigations into cases for her book, Divorced From Justice
Karen’s report, “Findings on Judge Michael Dufficy, Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro, & Court-appointees in Marin County’s Superior Court in California” causes political turmoil in the San Francisco Bay area 
The National Law Journal (November 13, 2000)

RARIN’ MAD IN MARIN: Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in California are poking around Marin County Superior Court, apparently investigating allegations that Judge Michael Dufficy favored family law attorneys he repeatedly invited to his home in the town of Sheepranch. In February, New York watchdog Karen Winner issued an extensive report slamming him. An epic story in the SF Weekly newspaper detailed the judge’s parties in Sheepranch. One of those reminiscing publicly was lawyer Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd, who recounted that Judge Dufficy once walked around in a judicial robe but nothing else. Ms. Shepherd says that she has been grilled by the FBI. The judge’s son, businessman Kevin Dufficy, phoned too, asking Ms. Shepherd’s paralegal to tell her, according to a sworn declaration, that she is the biggest bitch I have ever known, and if I ever see her, I will kick her ass and her husband’s. He admits saying bitch but denies threatening harm, says his lawyer. He called instead to complain that the row has aggravated his pop’s heart. The county district attorney now has the case. The judge did not return a call for comment.


(full story below)


These are tense times in the Marin County court system.

Not since 1970 when five people, including a judge, died during an armed attempt to free jailed activist Angela Davis have the courts in one of the state’s most affluent counties been the focus of so much turmoil.

Three family court judges and the county’s district attorney face a potential recall. Charges of cronyism and corruption have been raised. Fears abound about mob rule jeopardizing an independent judiciary. Shouting erupted in one courtroom recently during a perjury trial, and the judge received a black-robed Barbie doll with a threatening note.

The FBI allegedly has been sniffing around, and the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance was asked to get involved, but quietly declined.

It’s not the scene you’d expect in oh-so-polite Marin County, and while it hasn’t really changed day-to-day operations, it’s shaken the normal collegiality of the system and put everyone on alert.

That kind of stuff certainly doesn’t make people around the courthouse comfortable, says Marin County Superior Court executive officer John Montgomery, referring to the doll mailed to Superior Court Judge Verna Adams. When you’ve made history with the Angela Davis thing, you’ve got that on the back of your mind.

A certain amount of political chaos has reigned since February, when New York author and investigator Karen Winner issued a searing, 53-page report, alleging unethical activities by family court Judge Michael Dufficy and Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro. Among Winner’s accusations were that Dufficy denied justice to some litigants and favored certain lawyers with whom he allegedly had hidden personal and financial ties.

Dufficy, who did not return telephone calls for this article, has denied all allegations in other published reports. Despite the denials, the report — commissioned and paid for by a cadre of angry Marin residents — set off a firestorm of criticism.

A recall movement was born and has grown to include not only Dufficy, but also Superior Court judges Terrence Boren and M. Lynn Duryee and District Attorney Paula Kamena. Signatures are being gathered to put the issue on next year’s ballot.

Complaints have also been forwarded to the attorney general’s office, as well as to the State Bar and the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance, which last month declined to intervene, saying there were no grounds for proceeding further.

Several residents say the FBI has questioned them, purportedly to decide whether the judges have been exchanging decisions for financial favors or handing out paid court assignments to friends.

Meanwhile, a defense fund — managed by San Francisco political consultant Donald Solem’s company — has been organized on behalf of the judges in case they face recall. In addition, a commission has been appointed by the superior court and the county bar association to investigate the allegations, the bar president said. And a group of attorneys who feel they were accused of being treated favorably by the judges has issued its own report, rebutting the Winner report case by case, and blaming the recall effort on disgruntled litigants who lost their court cases.

Winner, who says she has investigated corrupt court systems from coast to coast, was incensed by the lawyers’ document.

The rebuttal is a hoax on the public, she says. The attorneys are totally misrepresenting what I wrote.

For example, she says, the report claims she accuses some Marin lawyers of lining their pockets at clients’ expense. It’s not in there, Winner says, and I’m considering suing them for libel and slander.

The real points of her report, Winner says, are being ignored — to wit, whether litigants get fair trials in Dufficy’s and Shapiro’s courtrooms and whether it was unethical for Dufficy’s wife, Penelope, to be working as a legal secretary for Adams & Dornan while then-partner and current judge Verna Adams appeared before Dufficy in court.

It’s not about disgruntled litigants, contrary to what [critics] proclaim, Winner says.

All in all, it’s not a pretty situation in Marin County, and it has embittered some lawyers who see the accusers as sore losers.

These are the walking wounded of our society, says San Rafael attorney C. Clay Greene, who believes he’s one of the lawyers who’s been indirectly accused of getting preferential treatment.

These are people who have their own emotional problems and are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own problems, the Greene & Mayer partner says. They blame the judiciary.

Peter Romanowsky, one of the recall leaders, didn’t return telephone and e-mail messages. But retired schoolteacher Jean Taylor — among those who financed the Winner report — says poorer litigants in family court are facing daily injustices. Change, she says, is necessary.

What we want is real reform, she says, where people in Marin County who have problems get a fair trial and fair judgment. And that’s not happening. If you go up against a certain cadre of lawyers, you don’t have a chance.

Taylor joined with others, including retired lawyer Annegret Topel and retired businessman Martin Silverman, in commissioning Winner’s report.

All three San Rafael residents say they were spurred on by negative personal experiences with the Marin family court — Taylor as an advocate for the poor, Silverman as vice chairman of the county Grand Jury in 1997 and Topel while handling custody and divorce cases for vacationing lawyer friends.

It opened my eyes to all kinds of things that I wasn’t aware of, Topel says, that children basically have no rights here, that the discretion of family court judges can be devastating and destroy families.

Critics, though, say the judges and DA are being victimized by people with an ax to grind.

These are aggrieved litigants who have had their day in court and now they are going after the people who they believe are responsible for their losses, says San Rafael solo practitioner Terence Colyer, a family lawyer for 26 years. They’ve got people who have money to support them, and they’ve enlisted community do-gooders, who have been sold a bill of goods.

He calls Winner a pen for hire and says, as do some others, that she talked to only one side — the side that paid her — in researching her report.

I talked to her about whether she had talked to people on the other side, opposing counsel, and she said, no,D says Marin County Bar Association president C. Royda Crosland, a partner in Mill Valley’s Parker & Crosland. She said she had left messages for at least one or more of the judges and the attorneys and they didn’t call back. But I know she left a message for Judge Dufficy, and his secretary called her back.

Winner has plenty of support. Backers point to her credentials, which include critical looks at family courts nationwide, including Santa Clara County, and her 1996 book, Divorced From Justice, which exposed unethical practices in courtrooms countrywide.

For one, Kathryn Ballentine-Shepherd, a solo in Larkspur who specializes in family law, says Winner’s report was on the mark in pointing out local cronyism.

In Marin County, it’s sort of known that there is an A list [of attorneys] and there are fleas, she says. Times changed for Marin County, the population changed, but the institute of government didn’t change.

Because of the alleged old-boy system, it took an outsider like Winner to shake up things, Taylor, Topel and Silverman say. Dufficy and others, they add, had established fiefdoms under which certain lawyers and their clients flourished.

Evidence that change is under way, they add, is apparent in that Shapiro has been reassigned, and Dufficy has announced that he’s ending his seven-year stint on the family court bench on Sept. 5, opting for another assignment within the court.

Court officials say the movements are part of a natural rotation system that would have occurred even without the political tumult.

Those involved in the recall effort would like to think they are having a significant impact on our operations, court executive officer Montgomery notes. But they aren’t other than the distraction.

He even points out that while recusal motions for judges are up slightly from the normal 10 to 12 a year, seven of them came from one defendant, Carol Mardeusz, a 44-year-old Novato woman who was convicted Friday of attempted child abduction, perjury and contempt of court for using a falsified court order to try to take custody of her daughter.

The three-week trial, around which recall organizers rallied their cause, was marked by bizarre incidents, such as the doll mailed to Judge Adams and an outburst by one defense lawyer who last week shouted whore at both the judge and prosecutor.

Ironically, Taylor, Silverman and Topel have distanced themselves from the recall effort.

What we call it is the lunatic fringe, Topel says, and I wholeheartedly disagree with it. There was no reason to go after Judges Shapiro, Duryee and Boren.

Even attempting to recall Dufficy is over the top, she says.

But she is critical of the commission established to investigate the allegations.

I would have preferred to see a commission that is not made up of insiders to really look at the complaints that are quite legitimate, Topel says. But [the committee that was appointed] is made up of total insiders — the fox guarding the henhouse. In fact, she and others point out that one member of the committee, Madeleine Simborg — a partner in Corte Madera’s Diamond, Bennington & Simborg who’s the current president of the Northern California chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers — is currently raising money for the judges’ defense.

Topel, Silverman and Taylor say they hope the Winner report is taken seriously by some official agency, including the AG’s office or the State Bar. If they don’t say something, Topel says, we’ll take it up to Sacramento.

Crosland, president of the Marin County Bar Association, says the furor has consumed her presidency.

I believe it would be in everybody’s best interests if we would all calm down and the recall petition would go away, she says. I’m hoping that sort of dies on the vine.

Don’t bet on it, though. Winner points out that it took nearly two years after her report on Santa Clara County for reforms to begin being enacted. Time will tell, she says.

It is really sad that a group of Marin residents had to go out of their way to find an outsider who would report on abuses that are rampant in Marin courts and that their complaints to all officials fell on deaf ears for years, she says. It takes a lot of persistence on the part of the public to force the administration to do the right thing, and a lot of times [they have] to embarrass them into doing the right thing.


Due to a reporting error, a story Tuesday about Marin County family court erroneously stated that a 1970 courtroom shoot-out in San Rafael occurred during an attempt to free activist Angela Davis.

In fact, the shoot-out took place when Jonathan Jackson tried to free his brother, George, one of the militant Soledad Brothers, using a gun registered to Davis. Davis was later charged with conspiracy and murder but was acquitted.

We regret the error. Correction-Date: July 27, 2000