Local Bar Holiday Party Special: Free Lunch for Judges and Secret Santa Perks for Divorce Attorneys

SCCBA 2023 Holiday Party, December 15, 2023, The GlassHouse in Downtown San Jose. (Photo by Jane Doe62)

By Susan Bassi, Fred Johnson and Luna Violetti

Editor’s Note: Over 70 women have come forward following the Vanguard’s initial reporting on the nonprofit WomenSV and what appears to be a referral scheme benefiting an elite group of divorce attorneys. As our effort to protect the privacy of sources, we will continue to use Jane and John Doe names for sources, whistleblowers and attorneys who wish to remain off record for fear of retaliation.  

As attorneys, judges, court employees and deputy sheriffs filed into San Jose’s upscale The GlassHouse event venue for the annual Santa Clara County Bar Association (SCCBA) Family Law Section  holiday party, several family court watchdogs took positions on the sidewalk to take pictures and video of the attendees.

The watchdogs allege that the holiday event creates social relationships and personal friendships between local divorce attorneys and the judges who hear and decide their cases. The cozy judge-attorney relationships constitute potential conflicts of interest under the state Code of Judicial Ethics, according to the watchdogs. State law requires that a judge with a personal, social, or business relationship with a lawyer who appears in that judge’s court must, at a minimum, disclose that relationship to all parties and attorneys in a case. And in certain situations, a judge must recuse, or remove him or herself from a case where such conflicts exist.

Family court records in hundred cases audited by the watchdog group show that family court judges virtually never disclose their attorney conflicts of interest. Further, the law firms that sponsored the holiday party are known for connections to a referral scheme connected to nonprofit WomenSV and its controversial founder, Ruth Patrick Darlene. Judges who enjoyed free lunches at the holiday party, were also known to have held membership in the county’s secret Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee (BBMP), that has been the subject of extensive reporting in the Vanguard’s Tainted Trials, Tarnished Headlines, Stolen Justice series.

Attorney Perks from Judges: Favorable Rulings, Profitable Minors Counsel Appointments

Using court records, watchdogs found patterns of attorneys socializing with the judges receiving an unusually high percentage of favorable rulings in their divorce cases, especially in cases where the opposing party doesn’t have an attorney and is forced to represent themselves.

In addition, certain attorneys attending the holiday luncheon and party, including Heather Allan, Eva Martelle, Arthur Lin, BJ Fadem and Nicole Ford, also receive a disproportionate number of lucrative assignments—made by judges—to represent the children of divorcing parents, according to public records.  Fees charged by lawyers who act as “minor’s counsel” for these judge assignments can provide attorneys upwards of $100,000 in income in a single year.

Superior court policies and procedures require that judges make minor’s counsel appointments equally from a list of qualified attorneys. However,  the records reveal that judges improperly play favorites for attorneys with whom they have friendships or social relationships.

Lucrative WomenSV Attorney Referrals Fund Local Bar Sponsorships

Several of the attorneys sponsoring the holiday party were also associated with WomenSV, a supposed nonprofit domestic violence victim support organization for women going through or planning a divorce. However, women who sought support from WomenSV discovered that the organization actually acts as an unregistered, illegal attorney referral service. Instead of supporting DV victims, WomenSV instead refers lucrative, high asset divorce clients to a small group of lawyers and law firms connected to the charity group.

“Sponsors” of the holiday party included the law firms Hoover Krepelka and Morgan, Tidalgo, Sukhodrev, and Azzolino (MTSA). Both firms are beneficiaries of the valuable client referrals from WomenSV.

Nicole Ford and BJ Fadem attended the glitzy holiday luncheon gala as BJ Fadem’s wife, Miki Fadem, played red-carpet greeter. Ford and Fadem have historically received a disproportionate number of minors counsel assignments, and additionally profited from WomenSV referral business as they acted as co-chairs for the local bar’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Miki Fadem greets SCCBA Holiday Party Guests on the red-carpet outside The Glasshouse on December 15, 2023. (Photo by Susan Bassi)

Local Bar Association Member Perks and Sponsorships

Months before the holiday party, amidst a backlog of domestic violence, unlawful detainers, custody disputes and criminal cases, divorce attorney BJ Fadem filed a civil harassment lawsuit against the aunt of the children he represents as minors counsel.  Fadem’s lawsuit alleges the aunt’s social media posts and effort to remotely access hearings where Fadem represented a party in a divorce case before Judge Vanessa Zecher required the granting a permanent restraining order.

In opposition to allegations made by Fadem, prominent San Francisco malpractice attorney Paul Frassetto argues Fadem’s lawsuit was brought to chill speech critical of divorce attorneys and modern family court proceedings.

To demonstrate the public importance of his client’s speech, Frassetto notes his client is an active family court watcher who advocates for transparency and fairness in family law cases. To demonstrate the public interest at the center of his client’s speech, Frassetto points to recent news articles about family court,  YELP reviews published by Fadem’s former clients, and declarations signed by court watchers describing legal abuse commonly seen modern day family court proceedings.

Judge Carol Overton, a long-standing member of the secret Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee (BBMP), and local bar event attendee, granted Fadem’s request and issued a temporary restraining order, as Fadem was named SCCBA’s “Professional Lawyer of the Year”.

Divorce attorney BJ Fadem and his attorney, Nicole Ford, outside Santa Clara Superior Court November 21, 2023 filed a civil harassment lawsuit in connection with a divorce case where Fadem acted as minors counsel. (Photo by Stephen James)

The local bar’s (SCCBA) Holiday Party and Judge Night have been a source of controversy for over two decades. Invited family and civil court judges see big law firms paying upwards of $10,000 to sponsor events that provide free meals for the judges and their staff, and opportunities for lawyers to socialize with judges who will rule in their cases. Most of the law firms sponsoring SCCBA events obtained business referrals from the nonprofit WomenSV and its founder, Ruth Patrick over the past decade.

Divorce Attorneys Profit from Dropped Child Abuse Cases

As Jim Hoover’s law firm sponsored local bar association events and collected WomenSV referral business, a malpractice lawsuit claims he was negligent in a divorce case where he represented a mother of a child victimized by alleged abuse first detected the county’s Child Protective Services (CPS), and investigation overseen by Dr. Marlene Strum,  head of the county’s Child Advocacy Center.

The child abuse allegations were heard in dependency court. Judge Amber Rosen (DA Jeff Rosen’s wife) who served on the county’s Child Abuse Council, presided over the case.  However, once the child’s parents’ divorce was filed, all investigations undertaken by CPS, the police, and district attorney came to a grinding halt. As a result, parents were left to have the child abuse allegations addressed by the family court through a civil domestic violence lawsuit where the child’s mother claims to have been overbilled by the Hoover Krepelka (HK) law firm to prosecute the matter.

As previously reported by the Vanguard, Hoover’s former client filed a lawsuit seeking to recover over $350,000 in attorneys fees in connection with the child abuse case. The lawsuit alleges that Hoover Krepelka failed to conduct the most basic discovery related to the child abuse allegations that first arose from a CPS investigation. The lawsuit also contends the business Hoover Krepelka obtains through WomenSV referrals, constitutes unfair and deceptive business practices.

However, given the conflicts of interest created through Hoover Krepelka’s sponsorship of local bar association holiday parties and Judge Night events, court watchers remain concerned over a lack perceived lack of fairness created by judges hearing the case who may have attended the extravagant events sponsored by the Hoover Krepelka law firm.

BJ Fadem’s civil harassment lawsuit alleges social media posts and DMs were harassing, not defamatory.

Civil Harassment v. Defamation Lawsuits  

The civil harassment lawsuit BJ Fadem brought against a court watchdog does not assert that her social media posts labeling him as a child abuser or monster are defamatory; rather, it focuses on harassment. Had Fadem pursued a defamation lawsuit, the case might have resembled similar high-profile defamation cases, such as the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp lawsuit, which saw robust mainstream and social media coverage.

Both civil harassment and defamation lawsuits fall under California’s Anti-SLAPP laws, which allow defendants to challenge lawsuits brought to obstruct a person’s right to petition or free speech as afforded by the First Amendment and the California Constitution in connection with a public issue.  Prevailing parties in an Anti-SLAPP lawsuit are entitled to recover their attorneys fees and cost as a means of discouraging the filing of frivolous lawsuits intended to stifle speech.

WomenSV Defamation Lawsuit Secret Bonus for Dean Rossi

Ironically, in 2018, Ruth Patrick Darlene, founder of the nonprofit WomenSV, successfully utilized California’s Anti-SLAPP laws against her ex-husband, who filed a defamation lawsuit alleging she falsely claimed to be a victim of abuse during an interview with Megyn Kelly.

Ruth Patrick was represented in the defamation case by attorneys paid for by WomenSV’s insurance carrier. Ruth’s ex-husband was represented by Dean Rossi’s law firm in the defamation case.

As Dean Rossi represented Ruth Patrick’s ex-husband, Rossi was represented by James Hoover in his own divorce case. During the time both matters were being litigated, Julia McDowell from the Hoover Krepelka law firm was invited to speak during WomenSV support meetings, and the firm benefited from business referrals made by Ruth Patrick herself.

Specifically, as Dean Rossi was paid to represent Ruth Patrick’s former husband in a defamation lawsuit, the defendant in that lawsuit, Ruth Patrick, was sending lucrative high asset divorce case referrals to the law firm representing Dean Rossi in a personal divorce.

Rossi’s personal divorce was assigned to Judge Lori Pegg, and for a time to Judge James Towery. The court assignment was made despite the fact Towery and Rossi had worked together at the Rossi, Hammerslough, Reischl & Chuck law firm before Towery was appointed to the bench and assigned as a family court judge.

LinkedIn profiles for Dean Rossi and Jim Towery show the financial conflict of interest created through the Rossi, Hammerslough, Reischl & Chuck law firm association in 2011- 2012 before Jim Towery become a family court judge assigned to Dean Rossi’s personal divorce case.

 

Judge Towery removed himself from Dean Rossi’s divorce case but continued to act as co-chair of the secret BBMP judge group with Judge Pegg who had presided over Rossi’s divorce. Both judges were known to frequently attend local bar events sponsored by Rossi’s divorce attorneys at the Hoover Krepelka law firm.

The BBMP was shuttered in 2023 and Jim Towery retired shortly thereafter. However even in retirement, Jim Towery attended local bar events including a 2023 Judge Night where Towery was decorated with SCCBA’s lifetime achievement award. The event was sponsored by the Hoover Krepelka law firm and firms known to have received lucrative business from Towery’s assignment and WomenSV referrals.

After Rossi’s firm lost the defamation case, Santa Clara County Superior Court assigned Rossi’s personal divorce to Judge James Towery as Dean Rossi’s Divorce Lawyer, Jim Hoover sat on the WomenSV advisory board and sponsored local bar events attended by Judge Towery.

BBMP Influence on Media Coverage in Defamation Lawsuit

The defamation lawsuit brought against Ruth Patrick was assigned to Judge Mary Arand who regularly attended SCCBA events sponsored by the Hoover Krepelka law firm. Additionally, she enjoyed membership in the BBMP as Judges Lori Pegg and Jim Towery acted as co-chairs.

Unlike the Depp and Heard defamation case, media coverage of Ruth Patrick’s defamation case was nonexistent. As the case was pending, reporters from NBC and San Jose Mercury News attended secret BBMP meetings with Judges Mary Arand, Lori Pegg and Jim Towery, but did not report on the defamation case, as they had reported favorably on the nonprofit and its founder as Rossi’s divorce and the defamation case were being litigated. Lack of reporting on the defamation lawsuit, and related family law cases, suggest the BBMP strongly influenced, or discouraged, media coverage in some of the county’s most important legal matters.

In the absence of media coverage, Judge Arand ruled in favor of Ruth Patrick, throwing the defamation lawsuit out after WomenSV provided attorneys brought an Anti-SLAPP claim, which entitled them to recover attorneys fees.

In opposition to the WomenSV attorney fee request, Dean Rossi’s law firm filed court documents that exposed Ruth Patrick’s anti-Semitic writings, and the scheme she deployed thought a nonprofit that benefited Dean Rossi’s divorce attorney, Jim Hoover and the Hoover Krepelka law firm.

In August of 2019, as his divorce attorney was benefiting from the WomenSV scheme, Dean Rossi’s law firm filed court documents in the defamation case on behalf of Ruth Patrick’s ex-husband. In what might be considered foreshadowing, Ruth’s ex-husband declared,

“Even if Ruth is providing some rich women comfort during their divorces, the reality is that she is a hateful fraud targeting wealthy men and operating a referral service for the divorce industry. She lies about abuse. She lies about her background and her work experience. She denies her involuntary psychiatric incarceration. She does not take responsibility for her behavior or her mental health.”

Over his objections, Judge Arrand ordered Ruth Patrick’s ex-husband to pay over $92,000 in attorneys fees to the lawyers who successfully brought the Anti-SLAPP lawsuit on behalf of Ruth Patrick and the nonprofit she founded, WomenSV.   

Devil in the Public Court Files

Public court files contained in the records of Ruth Patrick’s personal divorce and defamation case paint a vastly different picture than the one Ruth portrayed as she claimed to valiantly support women and children who suffered from abuse during marriage and divorce.

Of particular concern to the over 70 women who have come forward to expose the nonprofit’s nefarious activities, was the court filing that revealed Kenneth Earle, Ruth Patrick Darlene’s brother, had been arrested on criminal child pornography charges in 2013.

According to Toronto Police and the Toronto Crown Attorney who spoke to the Vanguard in connection with the WomenSV investigation, Kenneth Earle was arrested in December 2013 and released on bail. Two months later he was rearrested when he violated the terms of his bail by accessing an email account known to have been used to view child pornography.  Earle was held in jail until his trial when he was reportedly convicted and sent to prison as Ruth Patrick was launching the nonprofit WomenSV in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The Vanguard continues to investigate if the funds donated to WomenSV and paid to Ruth Patrick Darlne were used to support her brother’s criminal defense or living expenses.

Several women who went to WomenSV for help did so alleging that in addition to domestic violence their children were victims of child abuse. However, instead of getting help from local police, the Santa Clara county district attorney, or the nonprofit, the women report having to pay the lawyers WomenSV referred to address the allegations in family court.

Several women provided the Vanguard with recordings from District Attorney Jeff Rosen speaking to WomenSV support meetings, where Ruth Patrick Darlene told the women to support Rosen during his political campaigns as he would “protect them.”  Rosen was also a frequent supporter of WomenSV fundraisers.

Toronto Police Press Release on arrest of Kenneth Earl, Ruth Patrick’s brother, on Child Pornography charges.

Aftermath of Ruth Patrick’s Defamation Lawsuit and WomenSV Attorney Referral Scheme

Shortly after Dean Rossi’s loss in the defamation case involving Ruth Patrick Darlene, his own divorce attorney, Jim Hoover, was appointed to the WomenSV advisory board where he and attorneys working for the Hoover Krepelka law firm continue to be referred lucrative high asset divorce case business.

In response to a request for comment, Dean Rossi told the Vanguard he had no knowledge of the BBMP, nor of the nonprofit WomenSV. In a phone call he stated James Towery was one of the most ethical attorneys and judges he knew in Silicon Valley. He further praised Jim Hoover and the attorneys with the Hoover Krepelka law firm who he claimed provided a zealous representation during in his personal divorce case.

When asked if the BBMP might have served to taint Judge Arrand’s ruling in the defamation case, Rossi considered it a possibility. However, when asked if the same could be true in connection to his personal divorce case, Rossi strongly denied any possibility of any wrongdoing.

Jame Doe62 reached out to WomenSV for help in a custody case involving child abuse, and was referred to the Hoover Krepelka law firm.  She claims Hoover did nothing to assist her or her child.  When she tried to raise the issues in WomenSV support meetings, she alleged Ruth Patrick cut her off and told her group meetings needed to “remain positive.”

The Vanguard remains committed to reporting on California family law cases. Please provide support in the form of tax-deductible donations and subscriptions to support our ongoing coverage and related investigative reporting.  

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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