By Robert Hansen
(Editor’s Note: The Vanguard is not using the real names of the parties in this story to protect the anonymity of children)
ORANGE COUNTY, CA – An Orange County mother was due in Orange County Superior Court via Zoom for a status conference with Judge Sandy Leal on June 15, 2021, just a few months after witnesses said her ex-husband chased her and her children down a city block.
In March, her ex-husband had been, according to court records, withholding their two children for days after they were supposed to be with their mother, something the Orange County District Attorney and/or the court has not acknowledged.
There was an emergency hearing scheduled for the next day because of the March incident, the records show.
But, about two years ago as indicated, minutes after Judge Leal had appeared to confirm the mother’s Zoom appearance, the mother’s screen went dark. Then there was a bang at the door.
“We’re here to serve a warrant,” the officer said when she opened the door. Newport Beach police and OCDA officials came in and took the two children, who were still asleep.
The court issued a warrant when the mother withheld the children, which she rarely did, due to an incident on March 13, 2021, when the father allegedly assaulted his ex-wife and their children while chasing them over a city block.
The father had not returned their children at the designated time, withholding the children for three days leading up to the March 13 incident, according to the custody order.
A warrant was never issued to get the kids from their father before the March 13 incident or the several other times the father has withheld the children.
Brian Baron, the mother’s attorney at the time, told the court how troubled he was over the minutes after authorities took the children from the mother, charging “I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I’ve probably had over 10,000 custody hearings. I have never seen a situation unfold this way,” Baron said.
According to court transcripts, Baron said he has worked with the child abduction unit previously on many occasions, noting, “That’s when children are abducted. They’re taken from a parent. My client has sole legal custody, and the children remain in and have always remained at her home,” Baron said. “I understand that there are allegations and my client may not be adhering to the custody orders, but that’s not abduction.”
Baron didn’t know what allegations were made by the district attorney’s office that got them to have Judge Leal sign a warrant.
“It greatly troubles me that the district attorney, knowing that we had this hearing this morning and that I spoke to her yesterday—because we had inadvertently discovered the warrant that had been issued yesterday,” Baron said.
Baron explained to the deputy district attorney the kids are at home with their mother; they haven’t fled the jurisdiction and there was a hearing for the next day. That hearing didn’t take place until that November.
“And she (deputy prosecutor) would send her detectives over to the house this morning during the hearing time to go pick up children with police officers?” Baron said.
The mother’s attorney told the court that what they did was extremely traumatic for the children, unnecessary, unwarranted and shocking.
“Why go try to serve that warrant this morning?” Baron said. “Why is the district attorney involving themselves in this case when child protective services have been doing an investigation?”
Baron was also surprised by the detectives that have been involved in this case who appear to have been involved in this case previously.
“I’m looking at correspondence and involvement that is highly suspect and unusual in this case,” Baron said.
Screenshot of Orange County election records. (Graphic by Robert J Hansen)
The mother sued the Irvine Company in 2018 because she said there was mold and asbestos in her apartment which was owned by the Irvine Company. The Irvine Company settled the lawsuit in 2021.
The Irvine Company’s attorneys called her ex-husband, who never lived at the apartment, as a witness against her.
The mother’s attorney in that case, Omar Siddiqui, suggested that because her ex-husband was a witness and because of the “circus” it would have caused, that she should settle.
Siddiqui convinced her to settle rather than going to trial even though he told her they probably would have won.
Her attorney also told her the difficulties she was facing in family court and with the district attorney, who was directly related to the lawsuit against The Irvine Company, which has donated thousands of dollars to District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s campaigns, according to county election records.
Several attempts to contact Siddiqui were made but could not be reached to confirm this.
Orange County Superior Court on Friday, March 5, 2023. (Photo by Robert J. Hansen)
The mother had full custody of her two children since she divorced their father in 2012 until last November after Orange County Judge James Waltz reversed the custody order last November, only having been assigned to the case for a month.
Since their divorce, she has had a protective restraining order against her ex-husband which he has violated over a dozen times between 2014 and 2021, according to court records. The father has withheld their two children several times, the mother states.
In 2015, the court granted the mother a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO), finding that the father had committed acts of domestic violence against her, according to court records.
That same ruling ordered the father to address his “obsessive behavior with mother” and attend therapy with a licensed psychiatrist for anxiety and obsessive behavior.
The DVRO was renewed in 2019.
The courts accused the mother of parental alienation after she raised allegations of abuse relating to the March 13, 2021 incident captured on video.
That March, the father was allowed one night a week with their children but failed to return them. After three days, the mother and her adult son went to bring them home.
The two children started to run for their mother and brother when they saw them outside in the parking lot. The father started to chase after them after they broke free, the video shows.
An anonymous 911 caller said she saw the mother running down the street being chased by the ex-husband, who was “grabbing” at them.
“This guy was walking, or I guess kind of running after them and grabbing them,” the caller said. “The kids were still screaming and before I knew it the older kid was beating the guy to get him off of them because he was grabbing them. I called because the kids were screaming.”
When Costa Mesa police arrived, they questioned everyone but no arrests were made.
The mother went to see Dr. Carlos Sobral after the March 2021 incident.
In Sobral’s report, the mom was assessed with a contusion of the lower back and left posterior hip and a lower back sprain.
The doctor said that the kids suffered child abuse by their father, finding a bruise on their daughter’s face and their son suffered a neck sprain and upper arm contusion, according to the medical report.
Despite the evidence, Judge Waltz vacated the restraining order, claiming the mother was “alienating” the children from their father and completely disrupting the children’s established routine.
The mother now only gets one supervised visit a week for three hours with her children and the father was given full custody. She has not seen her children in weeks because she is no longer able to afford the cost of the visitation supervisor.
“I feel like my heart has been ripped out of me,” the mother said. “It makes no sense.”
A Dr. Katibloo, family therapist, wrote in a letter in August 2021, that the father’s emails and phone calls have become very aggressive and threatening over time.
“Because of what the children have shared with me during their therapy sessions, which were remote and in person, it is not in the children’s best interest for her to share the content of my sessions or any records with the mother,” Katibloo wrote.
“It is my recommendation that it is not safe or in their best interest to have in-person visitation with the mother at this time,” Katibloo wrote.
Katibloo wrote in an email that the daughter has indicated that she doesn’t like visiting with her dad because he is mean to her brother and hit their mom when they were running away from him.
Both children have told mediators about the abuse they experienced from their father and that their preference is to live with their mother. Judge Waltz has so far ignored those preferences.
The children told minor’s counsel Tracy Willis repeatedly about the abuse they endure from their father, yet she failed to report that to the court.
The mother also has been denied the opportunity to file contempt on child support arrears of nearly $80,000, according to California Child Support.
Orange County records showing the ex-husband owes the mother $80,000 in child support. (Screenshot by Robert J. Hansen)
The mother began speaking at Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings, telling them that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has not kept her or her children safe from her ex-husband.
“In addition to this … the DA’s office not protecting us physically, not enforcing restraining order violations, they blocked me from making restraining order violations,” the mother said.
Adding that when she wrote to the district attorney’s office for help, someone from that office came to her home and intimidated her while her minor children were there.
“We found out later that he was a DA investigator who yelled and screamed at my children and me for over two hours,” the mom said. “I’ve experienced an extreme amount of harassment … by the Costa Mesa police department, Newport Beach police department and district attorney’s office.”
In a 2020 audio recording, a Newport Beach police officer tells the mother the district attorney’s office instructed the police department to not file any police reports about her ex-husband’s alleged restraining order violations.
“You’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you,” the officer said to the mother. “The new DA has said everything that you’re talking about, there will be no police report. This is not my decision.”