By Fred Johnson and Susan Bassi
As budgetary challenges leave self-help centers understaffed and courtrooms without court reporters, the Santa Clara County Superior Court spent nearly $70,000 for a “first-of-its-kind” staff training day. According to records obtained by the Vanguard, over 450 court employees spent Indigenous People’s Day being treated to catered meals, gift cards, and team-building activities that included a photo booth managed by one of the court’s top executives, David Walker. Photos of the event posted on the court’s social media, resembled an iPhone product launch for Apple, or an elite client marketing and incentive event common to private businesses and publicly traded companies based in Silicon Valley.
In addition to staff salaries, court administrators spent nearly $70,000 in public funds and grants on the so-called training day. The event was held on a court business day, but managers arranged for phone lines to go unanswered, courtrooms to be closed and e-filing questions to be ignored. Over $50,000 was spent on catering, $1,000 on name tags, and $2,200 for photos and a photo booth fitting a high school Grad Night Party.
Records related to the training day event do not show if court attorneys or administrators obtained consent forms to take, or publish, photos and video of court staff, managers, judges, and court reporters. The Vanguard has requested all photos taken at the event, at public expense. The court has not yet produced the photos, or other responsive records.
Less than a month after the so-called training day, the local bar held its annual Judge Night where a court employee, selected by attorneys from the local bar, was presented with an award. As previously reported by the Vanguard, retired judge and co- chair of the BBMP, James Towery received an award as did attorney Robert Hoover, the founder of the Hoover Krepelka law firm.
During the Judge Night festivities, attorney BJ Fadem was declared “Professional Lawyer of the Year”, and was applauded by local judges, lawyers, court staff, and court reporters, attending the event.
Court reporters are hybrid court employees. They are paid by the court to document the historical record of public court hearings. Additionally, they are privately paid by lawyers and litigants to produce what is commonly known as a transcript. The court reporter owns the copyright for the transcript and can largely determine how to charge for the service of preparing it.
Before 2019, Santa Clara County Superior Court provided court reporters in every family law case. Litigants and lawyers were charged a $60 filing fee when requesting a hearing, and another $30 to assure a court reporter would be present to create a transcript, for an additional fee.
Since that time, courts up and down the state have declared a court reporter shortage. Some court reporters have left public court for lucrative private judge and arbitration businesses. Others retired. The court has blamed the shortage on budget cuts.
A lack of cameras and court reporters in domestic violence and civil harassment cases leave these important cases without a record and also make an appeal nearly impossible, as recently reported by the San Francisco Public Press.
State and federal grants have infused a significant amount of funding into the courts to address restraining order matters. However, an alarming number of these cases show no court reporter assigned, despite the fact these cases are quasi criminal and stand to eliminate Second Amendment rights if granted. More troubling is restraining order cases that appear to be brought to chill speech and First Amendment related issues.
By way of example, controversial divorce attorney BJ Fadem recently requested a permanent restraining order against the aunt of two children Fadem was appointed to represent during their parent’s divorce. Fadem, who is represented by divorce attorney Nicole Ford, is requesting Julie be subject to a permanent restraining order after her Tweets and social media posts were highly critical of him in connection with his minors counsel appointments. Fadem also used as the basis of his request the fact that Julie sought to remotely access a hearing where he was representing one of the parties, claiming such access was harassment.
Neither attorney in the harassment case has ordered a court reporter to assure a historical record of the proceedings will be captured in a transcript.
Of particular interest in the restraining order case is a court filing made by Fadem and Ford related to their process server, Robert Ferris. In his Due Diligence Report, Ferris carefully outlines his efforts to serve Julie with the restraining order lawsuit. Fadem and Ford present this information to the court, seemingly as an effort to discredit Julie and her attorney husband, implying they were trying to dodge service. Ferris signed his declaration under penalty of perjury.
In Julie’s reply, she produces two boarding passes with a declaration noting that at the time Mr. Ferris noted he had tried to serve Julie, she and her husband were out of the country on vacation in Italy. Faced with perjury of their own process server, neither BJ Fadem nor Nicole Ford have made any effort to correct their statements or withdraw what many argue is a frivolous case Fadem and Ford used to chill speech critical of them and others working in the family court system.
And Julie has been critical of Fadem on social media and in court watch groups after noting what Fadem had done to her brother, Jeff, and his young children, Faith and Aidan, during a divorce case that dragged through the courts for over a decade. He was left penniless and without his children in the process largely due to the recommendations and overbilling by Fadem and court appointed therapist, Marcia Clark.
The Vanguard recently reported on a malpractice case related to the Hoover Krepelka law firm and the domestic violence nonprofit, WomenSV. According to court documents, the lawsuit will be amended to include WomenSV as a defendant. James Hoover has been on advisory board of the nonprofit since 2020, as WomenSV referred business to the Hoover Krepelka law firm. BJ Fadem and Nicole Ford reportedly spoke at WomenSV group meetings and were also referred business from Ruth Patrick Darlene, the nonprofit’s founder.
Julia McDowell, of the Hoover Krepelka law firm, withdrew from Jeff’s divorce case shortly after Jim Hoover was appointed to the nonprofit WomenSV advisory board in 2020. Hoover Krepelka charged Jeff nearly $100,000 for less than a year of work and seemingly did no beneficial legal work. A pattern seen in the cases the Vanguard is actively investigating.
BJ Fadem’s restraining order request is set for Thursday, November 21, 2023, before Judge Johanna Thai Van Dat. The Vanguard, and other court watcher groups have made formal media requests to cover the hearing where there will be no court reporter, and therefore no transcript. The request is to be able to record the proceedings.
The Vanguard continues to investigate the influence the BBMP, local bar events and associations have on legal outcomes in family law, criminal and harassment cases.
The Davis Vanguard staff and contributors will not be publishing over the Thanksgiving weekend. Our reporting on family court will continue on social media and will expand more in December. Please remember this reporting is only possible with the help, support, and donations from all of you. For those who have been impacted by the family or criminal court system, we know the holidays can be a difficult time. We continue our work with you in our thoughts as we move to expand our reporting even more in 2024.