Divorce Attorneys Seek Remote Hearing Due to Mass Shooting Threat at Courthouse

Divorce attorney Keith Dolnick (far right) outside Orange County Family Courthouse in 2017. Photo by Susan Bassi

By Susan Bassi

Late Wednesday afternoon, divorce attorneys Angel Camino and Swati Desai  urgently requested a remote appearance for a hearing scheduled before Orange County Superior Court Judge Adrianne Marshack.  The attorneys’ request is rooted in claims of an imminent mass shooting threat targeting the courthouse and set to occur this Friday when their client, FBI informant Max Black, is expected to appear for a hearing to defend against allegations of domestic violence brought by his former wife.

Camino and Desai are fervently advocating for their own safety as their client, Mr. Black, who is living in Texas with his new family, has been appearing remotely for hearings connected to his personal divorce case for years. Mr. Black’s former wife is representing herself and is seeking protection from the family court. This case has been litigated for years and took a significant twist after Mr. Black’s previous attorney, Keith Dolnick, withdrew after seeking a court order to sell the house that had been awarded as separate property to the wife early on. Dolnick was requesting the sale of the property to assure payment of the fees Mr. Black reportedly owed him.

Dolnick, who has a controversial track record, once represented Tracy Haward in a widely publicized private judge case. More recently, Dolnick’s conduct, particularly with female clients, has raised eyebrows. Former clients have alleged that Dolnick frequently loses cases when representing women in Orange County’s high-asset divorce cases. Especially when those cases are before private judge David Wienberg, a former court commissioner, known for taking cases conflicted from moving to JAMS, the prominent private judging business headquartered in Orange County.

Providing a reassuring statement in light of the mass shooting warning brought forward by the concerned divorce attorneys, Court Public Information Officer (PIO) Kostas Kalaitzidis shared this formal statement with the Vanguard:

 “Thank you for reaching out. We are aware of the threats and are collaborating closely with our law enforcement partners to implement stringent security measures. Our primary goal is to ensure the safety and security of our judicial officers, employees, and the members of our community who visit our courthouses.”

The anxiety among those scheduled to appear in person at the Orange County family courthouse today and tomorrow is palpable. The fact that licensed attorneys representing FBI informants are reluctant to attend in person due to fear further accentuates the gravity of the situation.

Last Friday, on October 6, the local bar and the court jointly hosted an in-person “Town Hall” meeting in the court’s jury assembly room. The event brought together hundreds of family law attorneys, court staff, and nearly all the court’s family court and presiding judges. Regrettably, this event was not open to self-represented litigants or the general public, despite being free to attend and taking place during the court’s normal business hours.

Attendees reported a conspicuous police presence at the event. Prominent figures, including the court’s presiding judges Maria Hernandez, Cheri Pham, and Julie Palafox, as well as David Yamasaki, the court’s CEO, and Judge Marshack, were present and spoke to family law attorneys at the event. It is unclear if the threats of mass shootings at the courthouse were discussed. The Vanguard has requested records from the event.

Orange County’s legal landscape has not been without its share of controversy. The region is infamous for its “Jailhouse Snitch” and “Traffic Court” schemes. More recently, the court made headlines when Judge Jeffrey Ferguson sent a text message to his bailiff and court clerk, notifying them that he had shot his wife and wouldn’t be coming to work the following day. Ferguson was subsequently arrested in connection with his wife’s tragic murder, but he currently remains out of custody on $1 million bail.

The looming specter of a mass shooting threat has unnerved those scheduled to appear at the Orange County family courthouse. One woman who wished to remain off record expressed frustration over the prolonged court delays in family court cases, suggesting that the system appears designed to benefit divorce lawyers financially. She remarked, “Most of the time, we would be better off handling these family law issues ourselves, out of court. Now, in addition to the challenges inside the court, we have to worry about mass shootings when we attend in-person hearings.”

The Vanguard is committed to expanding coverage of the state’s family courts. Please subscribe and donate to support this important reporting on judge decisions, attorneys and law enforcement connected to modern day divorce and custody cases.  

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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