California Judges Quietly Quitting Political Boards While Secreting Conflicts of Interest in Family Court Cases

Judge Amber Rosen (right) leaves the Santa Clara County District Attorney political forum held on the Stanford University Campus May 2, 2022, with her husband, incumbent Santa Clara County District Attorney, Jeff Rosen. Photo by Susan Bassi

By Fred Johnson and Susan Bassi

Judges in Santa Clara County are raising eyebrows over their appointments to political boards and connections to a secret judge club , previously exposed by the Vanguard. Judge Cindy Hendrickson was elected to the bench on June 5, 2018, following the controversial recall of Judge Persky. Before her appointment to the family court bench, Hendrickson had been active in Santa Clara County’s secret judge club, while also sitting on the county’s Domestic Violence Council (DVC) , first while employed as a prosecutor  in the District Attorney’s Office, then as a family court judge ruling on cases involving intimate partner violence, divorce and custody.

According to a Santa Clara County spokesperson, Hendrickson resigned from the DVC on February 1, 2023, citing her court schedules and obligations as the reason for her resignation. On April 3, 2023, Hendrickson resigned from the county’s Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC), where she served with Judge Amber Rosen.

Judge Rosen resigned from the CAPC on April 30, 2023.

Once elected to the bench in 2018, Judge Cindy Hendrickson continued to serve on the DVC with private divorce attorney Nicole Ford, a local attorney frequently appointed as minors counsel and additionally awarded attorneys fees in the county’s  divorce, custody and domestic violence cases.

In addition to her professional and political activities, Cindy Hendrickson and her husband have been long-time supporters of Ruth Patrick Darlene, the founder of the controversial domestic violence nonprofit WomenSV.

As previously reported, county Supervisor Joe Simitian  awarded  $250,000 in taxpayer funds to WomenSV, as the nonprofit was reportedly referring women in Simitian’s district to divorce attorneys as part of an illicit runner and capper scheme. Nicole Ford reported to the Vanguard she had obtained such referrals, as she sat on the DVC with Hendrickson.

Judge Hendrickson’s resigned from the  Child Abuse Prevention Council, after serving on that political board with  Judge Amber Rosen, the wife of Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen. Amber Rosen, a former attorney for the Department of Justice, was appointed to the bench in 2017 by then-Governor Jerry Brown. After becoming a judge, she was appointed to the county’s Child Abuse Prevention Council following the recommendation of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Supervisor Joe Simitian, to be termed out of office in 2024, recently came under fire for his recommendation to grant funds to WomenSV, a nonprofit that has now seen 62 women complain the organization is operating a scheme connected to the local family court. Jim Hoover,  of the Hoover Krepelka law firm, and attorneys connected to the Hoge Fenton law firm reportedly receive the most business referrals from WomenSV.

Online nonprofit news outlet,  San Jose Spotlight , reported Simitian was raising money for his own political activities,  yet had not formally declared a political campaign to which his fundraising activities could be correlated. The Vanguard is actively investigating this matter as there appears to be a number of conflicts of interest that Simitian has concealed from local voters.  Joe Simitian has repeatedly refused to comment on his recommended appointments of judges to political bodies, the grant to WomenSV, and the irregularities in his own political campaign.

When Judge Amber Rosen resigned from the county’s Child Abuse Council, she did not cite the reason for her resignation.  As a family court judge, Judge Rosen was assigned to the county’s Dependency Court until her recent assignment in civil court. She was also a member of the secret judge club with her husband and reporters from the San Jose Mercury News. The Vanguard previously reported on Judge Rosen’s recusal from cases involving the law firm of McManis Faulkner based on a lawsuit filed against her husband, the county’s elected District Attorney, Jeff Rosen.

According to California’s Code of Judicial Ethics, judges are restricted in their participation in political activities. The code aims to maintain the integrity and independence of the judicial branch by limiting judges’ involvement in partisan politics. However, the appointments of judges to various county boards and commissions, such as Public Safety and Justice Committee , Domestic Violence Council, and Child Abuse Protection Council, appear to challenge these ethical guidelines.

Of particular concern is the presence of private lawyers appointed to the same boards and commissions as judges the attorneys appear before in court. This arrangement raises questions about potential conflicts of interest and whether these judges can maintain impartiality when dealing with cases involving individuals who serve on the same boards they do.

Following the Vanguard’s reporting on WomenSV, a group of grandparents organized and began court watching family court proceedings in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. According to the group’s spokesperson, Lexi Logan, court watchers in Santa Clara note they did not find Judge Hendrickson disclosing conflicts created by her association with WomenSV, BBMP, or the county’s political boards when such conflicts clearly exist.

According to a 2013 decision by California’s Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics (CJEO), judges are required to disclose their conflicts of interest, including conflicts created by social, professional, and financial relationships with lawyers appearing in a case. Specifically, these disclosures are required to be on the record.

The recent resignations have sparked a broader conversation about the need to review and potentially revise the process of appointing judges to local political boards and commissions. Critics argue that such appointments in local government should be barred in order to assure the independence and integrity of the judiciary, such that judges can perform their duties without compromising their ethical obligations.

The Vanguard continues to expand reporting on  family courts and the judges who preside over divorce, custody, and domestic violence cases. To support this important work, please subscribe to the Vanguard’s newsletter and donate to support our expanded coverage of California’s family courts.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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