Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Tainted Trials, Tarnished Headlines, Stolen Justice Series appearing exclusively in the Davis Vanguard. In the interest of privacy, it is our reporting policy to not name sources and parties involved in family law matters.
By Susan Bassi and Fred Johnson
As the Santa Clara County legal community presented Robert Hoover, founder of Hoover Krepelka law firm, with a Distinguished Service Award, his son and managing partner, James (Jim) Hoover, was embroiled in a malpractice lawsuit. Defense attorneys for Hoover Krepelka (HK) are seeking to move the malpractice case from public court into the private and confidential arbitration process.
In opposition to that effort Hoover’s former client, “KC”, has filed court documents alleging that the retainer agreement containing an arbitration clause was obtained through deceptive business practices and false advertising. KC claims Jim Hoover was further assisted in his misconduct by local nonprofits, divorce coaches, real estate brokers and out-of-area journalists.
Three other women who have experiences with Hoover and the nonprofit WomenSV have come forward with sworn declarations to support KC’s claims in the lawsuit she brought in May of 2023.
(Disclosure: Travis Krepelka of the Hoover Krepelka law firm represented Susan Bassi in her personal divorce in 2013).
Judge Night and Secret BBMP Club Ties to Local Bar
KC’s opposition came days after the Santa Clara County bar hosted their annual Judge Night, presenting Bob Hoover’s award, and a Lifetime Achievement award to retired Judge James Towery, former co- chair of the secret BBMP judge club.
Additional awards presented during Judge Night ceremonies included Johnathan Kahn, for Court Professional of the Year, BJ Fadem for Professional Lawyer of the Year and Judge Sunil Kulkarni, for Jurist of the Year.
BJ Fadem was on the local bar’s executive team in 2022 and has been frequently appointed as a private judge and minors counsel by the county’s family court judges.
Silicon Valley Ex Wives and Mothers
In addition to the allegations made by Hoover’s former divorce client, KC, three other women have come forward alleging similar experiences with the Hoover Krepelka law firm. The women all declare their cases, lives and finances took a downward turn after they became associated with Hoover and Ruth Patrick Darlene, founder of the nonprofit WomenSV.
Based in Los Altos, California, WomenSV claims their mission is to provide assistance and support for women from high asset areas who make allegations of domestic violence, or child abuse, against a former spouse or intimate partner during a divorce or custody matter.
KC’s lawsuit claims that Hoover and WomenSV operate an underground referral scheme that sends high asset divorce clients to Hoover Krepelka and other divorce lawyers willing to play along.
NL: Real Estate Broker and WomenSV Media Events
In her sworn declaration, “NL” claims she met Ruth Patrick in 2016, as Ruth was seeking funding for WomenSV as a start-up nonprofit. That same year Julia McDowell, of the Hoover Krepelka law firm, represented NL’s former husband in their divorce case.
A related civil case addresses the division of NL’s and her former husband’s real estate rental income and property ownership. The civil matter is pending before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Socrates Manoukian, who is also the judge determining if KC’s lawsuit will remain in public court, or be moved into the secretive arbitration process.
In previous interviews with the Vanguard, NL reported Ruth Patrick Darlene, accompanied NL to private meetings with her divorce lawyer, Brad Baugh in 2016. Additionally, Ruth attended NL’s confidential JAMS mediation sessions before mediator Jamie Jacob-May, in and around 2017. She was also present for two domestic violence trials, where NL was represented by Elise Mitchell, Mark Erickson and John Hannon, in and around 2018.
As Ruth claimed to be acting as NL’s advocate, she was referring WomenSV clients to Hoover Krepelka and praising him in group meetings. When NL tried to warn others in the group about Hoover, Ruth stated, “you just didn’t get the best lawyer”.
In her declaration, NL recounts that from 2016 to 2021, she attended WomenSV meetings, group sessions and fundraising events. Ruth Patrick Darlene asked NL to support WomenSV’s and media exposure. Support that included attending Bay Area news interviews and nationally televised Megyn Kelly Today Talk Show.
When Ruth was sued by her former husband for defamation in connection with the Megyn Kelly interviews, Ruth asked NL, and other clients of WomenSV, to support by court watching the civil proceedings.
On August 12, 2020, NL was present when Jim Hoover made a presentation to WomenSV clients, as it was announced he was being appointed to WomenSV’s Advisory Board.
On May 26, 2021, NL was present when Hoover gave a presentation to the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors, “SILVAR,” where NL is a real estate broker member.
When NL complained about the Hoover Krepelka law firm, describing what they had done to her, Ruth kicked NL out of the group, in and around 2021.
As a general practice, NL records meetings for notetaking purposes. Those recordings have been transcribed and are attached to the declaration she filed in connection with KC’s malpractice lawsuit filed earlier this year.
Each transcript makes clear that Hoover seemingly used predatory tactics to drum up business for the Hoover Krepelka law firm, using tactics that included targeting victims of domestic violence and their lucrative equity in family homes.
False Statements to Real Estate Brokers and Journalists
In her declaration, NL points to “James Hoover – Inconsistencies,” noting in his presentation to local realtors on May 26, 2021, Hoover allowed Eileen Georgi to introduce him to influential Silicon Valley real estate brokers noting, “he and his partner now lead a group of 36 full-time employees, including a diverse team of 67 family law attorneys who collectively speak eight different languages.”
The transcript from NL’s notes show Hoover immediately began speaking about his mother, Gail Hoover. Jim Hoover did not correct any statement made in the introduction to Silicon Valley realtors.
Months later, on October 28, 2021, Jim Hoover gave an interview to Chere Estrin of Authority Magazine, Medium media. In that interview Hoover claimed to be the partner and owner of Hoover Krepelka, LLP, an “18 attorney, 22 staff family law firm located in San Jose, California.”
NL notes the article was not updated to explain how Hoover’s law firm could have gone from 67 family law attorneys in May of 2021 to just 18 a few months later.
Attorneys and their Elderly, Disabled, and Indigent Clients
In a second sworn declaration, Patty, a 62-year-old disabled mother involved in a 17-year-old custody case involving her only son, is raising two twin daughters from a donor father.
In April 2021, Patty reached out to the nonprofit WomenSV, after reading about the group in her local newspaper, the Los Altos Town Crier, and noting the nonprofit’s website claims its mission is to “empower survivors, trail providers, and educate the community to break the cycle of covert abuse and coercive control in intimate partner relationships.”
Patty alleges she was not represented when she reached out to WomenSV, because she could not afford an attorney. Her son’s father was represented by Laura Taute of the Morgan, Tilgado, Sukhodrev, Azzolino “MSTA” law firm.
Despite being in a family court custody battle for years, Patty was desperate for representation as a court-appointed minors counsel, Arthur Lin, was seeking to have her ordered to pay his fees and was threatening her with loss of custody of her only son. Patty attended group meetings and read materials she was sent via email and information published on WomenSV websites and blogs.
Influenced by Ruth Patrick Darlene’s endorsement and praise of Jim Hoover, Patty undertook a grueling intake process, maxed out her credit cards, and hired the Hoover Krepelka law firm, on May 18, 2021. Patty paid Hoover’s $10,000 retainer fee and expected Jim Hoover would represent her, but was assigned Andrea Justo and Julia McDowell, in what felt like a Bait- and – Switch scheme.
Hoover Krepelka did not object to the court ordering Patty to pay minors counsel Arthur Lin’s fees from the retainer she had paid to HK from advances on her credit cards. Nor did HK seek to have Lin’s fees paid by the county since Patty was legally indigent and supporting two young daughters as the family of three lived on Silicon Valley’s poverty line.
Hoover Krepelka didn’t file a single document on Patty’s behalf. A month after Patty paid HK $10,000, Andrea Justo told Patty that since she could no longer pay their fees, Hoover Krepelka wanted out of the case. Hoover Krepelka’s month-long representation ultimately resulted in Patty losing $10,000 and custody of her only son.
Patty told the Vanguard, “Hoover Krepelka’s law firm dangles hope in front of you, while making you so fearful you become desperate to pay them, without question.”
One Mom’s Battle Divorce Coach and Advocate
A third declaration was submitted in support of KC, by popular One Mom’s Battle (OMB) Divorce Coach, Tina Swithin. OMB is one of the groups largely responsible for the recent passage of Piqui’s Law. A law that prohibits judges from ordering children into reunification camps during their parents’ divorce.
In her declaration, Swithin recounts how the Hoover Krepelka law firm began using her to drum up business as early as 2017. Swithin had been duped into believing Hoover and the attorneys at the Hoover Krepelka law firm were interested in learning more about the issues women often face as it relates to coercive control and domestic violence.
Hoover Krepelka paid Swithin to travel to travel from San Luis Obispo to their offices in San Jose to make formal presentations to their staff and attorneys. The firm bought copies of Swithin’s book and shortly thereafter James Hoover and Travis Krepelka were added to the One Mom’s Battle website under the “Friends of One Mom’s Battle” tab.
Swithin declares that Hoover later asked to add his colleague attorney, Karlina Paredes, to her website. When Tina objected to adding three attorneys from one firm, Jim Hoover asked her to remove Travis Krepelka and put Paredes in his place. Swithin estimates dozens of women were likely referred to Hoover through her popular website during this time.
Then in 2021, Hoover invited her to his firm to give a second presentation. On March 5, 2021, she gave a presentation over Zoom about high conflict individuals in divorce. Shortly thereafter, she began to hear negative reviews about Hoover Krepelka, including from KC. She took down all references to Hoover on her website, blog and social media.
Divorce Attorney Predatory Business Practices and One Mom’s Battle
Frantically seeking to protect her children in a divorce and influenced by WomenSV and One Mom’s Battle, KC met with Jim Hoover on January 8, 2021, at 10:00am to discuss hiring him to represent her in her divorce from a husband whose family was closely connected to Silicon Valley’s legal community, real estate and agriculture.
During their meeting, Hoover did not talk about his connection to local real estate brokers, nor how he used them in connection with the divorce cases he handled. He warned KC that not having an attorney would threaten her young children’s safety. Hoover never mentioned the retainer agreement, or its mandatory arbitration clause, but indicated his office was “very busy,” and he only had the ability to take one case on. KC had to decide to hire him under-the-gun.
At 10:50am that same day, Hoover’s office sent her an email, not mentioning the retainer agreement, but offering up Hoover Krepelka protocols and handling of family law cases with related domestic violence allegations.
In that email, Hoover mentions Ruth Patrick as a possible advocate, witness, or expert three separate times. He also reveals the names of Dr. Michael Kerner, Dr. Nancy Lemon, and Richard Ferry as his go to custody / DV team.
Later that afternoon, Hoover’s office sent over the retainer agreement that contained the arbitration clause presently being addressed in court.
From 2016 to 2018 donors paid over $100,000 to nonprofit WomenSV, and reportedly felt misled about how the funds would be used.
From 2019 to 2021 several complaints were filed with the Santa Clara County District Attorney, about WomenSV and its founder, Ruth Patrick Darlene, but nothing was done.
From 2021 to 2023 numerous complaints of donor fraud were lodged with California Attorney General Rob Bonta who told donors his office was too busy to investigate all complaints filed against California nonprofits.
Case in a Judge’s Backyard
On December 5, 2023, Judge Manoukian will determine if the voices of women alleging harm from WomenSV and the Hoover Krepelka law firm will be heard in open court, or if James Hoover will be allowed to silence those through an arbitration clause the Hoover Krepelka law firm adds to their retainer agreements.
Judge Manoukian is a long time Los Altos resident, the upscale Silicon Valley town where WomenSV is based.