Although Judge Ichikawa has retired and no longer serves on the bench, it’s still important for litigants to understand the rulings Solano Court Family Law Judges routinely made, that put victims of domestic violence at risk. Much discussion regarding the alleged “biased” judges has been disregarded as gossip and conjecture. We are here to put the pieces together.
In a landmark ruling, Judge Garry Ichikawa was overturned on appeal in a family law case regarding custody and domestic violence. Appeals in Family Law are rare and expensive to litigate.
Christina L. v. Chauncey B., 229 Cal.App.4th 731 (2014)
The two children were born in 2000 and 2002. It appears that Mother and Father’s relationship was marred by domestic violence on Father’s part, and by 2004, they were no longer living together.
Mother obtained a temporary restraining order against Father in 2004, based on her assertions that he committed abuse, including pulling her hair and squeezing her hand so hard as she held car keys that her hand bled, bending the car keys, and that he grabbed the steering wheel of the car in which she was driving with the children, threw her, punched her, strangled her, and kicked and “stomped” her. Mother obtained another temporary restraining order against Father in 2005, after he pushed and grabbed her and refused to let her see the children after he picked them up from daycare. The court granted another temporary restraining order in 2006, after Father went into Mother’s backyard, watched her through the window, and later told her what he had seen. Also in 2006, Mother was granted sole legal and physical custody of the children; Father was granted visitation at Mother’s discretion.
The trial court issued a three-year domestic violence restraining order against Father in 2008 prohibiting him from, inter alia, harassing, striking, threatening, stalking, or contacting Mother. Father was granted two hours of supervised visitation a month.
In August 2011, the court entered an order awarding Mother sole legal and physical custody of the children, with supervised visitation for Father. The order acknowledged that a criminal protective order was in effect.
The court granted another temporary restraining order in August 2011, based on Mother’s statements that Father kept showing up at her place of work, parked by her car, and confronted her in front of her manager and customers. At a September 2011 hearing, Mother testified that Father had approached her while she was working in a store and told her repeatedly that she needed to answer her phone. Father had also been waiting in his car, parked near hers, when she left work. Mother also testified that father had been physically violent to her in the past. The trial court granted a domestic violence protective order for a period of two years.
*735 Father petitioned the court to terminate the restraining order in January 2013, asserting that Mother had visited his home and had spent time with him at holiday events. The trial court denied the request, but modified the orders to allow **181 brief and peaceful contact as required for court-ordered visitation.
Father also made a request to modify the custody order in January 2013. In the request, he acknowledged that a domestic violence order was in effect. He alleged that Mother had violated the restraining orders and made false accusations against him in order to separate him from his children.
At the hearing on the motion, Father stated that he wanted O.L. to be able to visit whenever O.L. wished. He also stated that since November 2012, he had had part-time custody of a daughter by another relationship, who was then six years old. He wanted A.L. to have the same visitation schedule as his younger daughter so the two sisters could get to know each other.
Father testified that he had not seen O.L. or A.L. for three months, because Mother did not drop them off at his house, and that he had not contacted her about the issue. Mother testified that she no longer took the children to Father’s house, that Father had failed to show up for visitation at a neutral site, and that he had had very little contact with the children for the previous five years.
The trial court issued a written order. The court found Mother had raised issues regarding a history of abuse or neglect by Father, but that she had not adduced sufficient evidence for the court to find it must make a decision based on the children’s health, safety, and welfare. The court also found the children would benefit from spending time with their half sister. The court ordered Mother and Father to share joint legal and physical custody of the children, and established a schedule under which they would spend each weekend with Father. 2 Mother has appealed this order.
This was the critical error Judge Ichikawa made. He awarded joint custody to a male litigant with a finding of Domestic Violence. With the help of the Family Violence Appellate project, this ruling was appealed.
A. Effect of Domestic Violence Restraining Order Mother contends the trial court erred by not applying a rebuttable presumption under Family Code, 3 section 3044 that Father should not have custody because of his history of domestic violence, as shown by the 2011 restraining order issued pursuant to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (§ 6200 et seq. (DVPA)).
*736 Section 3044, subdivision (a), provides in pertinent part: “Upon a finding by the court that a party seeking custody of a child has perpetrated domestic violence against the other party seeking custody of the child … within the previous five years, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of sole or joint physical or legal custody of a child to a person who has perpetrated domestic violence is detrimental to the best interest of the child, pursuant to Section 3011. This presumption may only be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.” Subdivision (c) of section 3044 provides that “a person has ‘perpetrated domestic violence’ when he or she is found by the court … to have engaged in any behavior involving, but not limited to, threatening, striking, harassing, destroying personal property or disturbing the peace of another, for which a court may issue an ex parte order pursuant to **182 Section 6320 to protect the other party seeking custody of the child….
  “Because a DVPA restraining order must be based on a finding that the party being restrained committed one or more acts of domestic abuse, a finding of domestic abuse sufficient to support a DVPA restraining order necessarily triggers the presumption in section 3044.” (S.M. v. E.P. (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1267, [109 Cal.Rptr.3d 792].) This presumption changes the burden of persuasion, but “may be overcome by a preponderance of the evidence showing that it is in the child’s best interest to grant joint or sole custody to the offending parent.” (Keith R. v. Superior Court (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1047, 1055, [96 Cal.Rptr.3d 298]; see § 3020, subd. (a).)
Read the full document here: http://www.fvaplaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/christina_l_fvap_published_decision.pdf
Here’s what’s even more telling about this:
On top of teaching, volunteering and countless hours of civic service over the years, Ichikawa was the driving force behind Solano County’s Dependency Drug Court, a collaborative court designed to remove obstacles for parents determined to stay sober and reunite with their children. Established in 2006, the program has served as a model for other Solano County specialty courts, including its unique new Integrated Domestic Violence Court, an effort Ichikawa is now spearheading.
Read the full article here: http://www.calbarjournal.com/July2015/TopHeadlines/TH1.aspx
Ichikawa spearheaded an initiate for an Integrated Domestic Violence Court while ruling against family law codes designed to protect victims of domestic violence, and to protect children from being exposed to domestic violence.
Also, Ichikawa is the same judge who accused a victim of domestic violence of “photoshopping” her evidentiary photographs, and ordered the destruction of evidence (documents) in the case.