Imagine you’re in a relationship with a guy. Things take a sour turn and he becomes abusive. You do what you’re supposed to do and call the police. The police take a report and issue a TRO – a Temporary Restraining Order. Now you have to wade your way through the legal system and deal with issues you never thought you’d face.
Here’s where it gets tricky, a TRO is only valid temporarily, you now have a court date and a hearing to get a “permanent” restraining order (up to 3 years). If this had been a neighbor, or any other circumstance that didn’t involve a relationship, this would be a civil harassment issue. But because this was your boyfriend, you’re now in Family Court, even though you don’t have children.
You go into the system with all the faith in our Judicial System. After all, this is AMERICA. You get support from your family or friends and prepare for your hearing. As someone self-represented (in pro per) in a case of violence, you think this should be a piece of cake. You have your judge assigned and hearing date and you think you’ll be good.
Only to find that the judge won’t issue permanent restraining order. She says flippant things like “he doesn’t look like he’ll do it again.” You, stunned, and in disbelief begin to freak out. Not only has he been violent, but you have a police report, you may even have witnesses and photos of the abuse, and this judge is sitting right front of you telling you that he doesn’t look like he will do it again.
“What do I do if he hits me again?” you tearfully ask only to hear this response:
“Call the police, that’s what they are there for.”
But that is exactly what you did.
You did exactly as you were supposed to, you called the police, you got a TRO, and a hearing date, and this judge refuses to grant you the protection of the law, instead sending the signal to your ex that violence is okay and will go unpunished.
This system, this AMERICAN system that you thought would protect you has failed to do so, not because the system itself doesn’t work, but because judges like Cynda Riggins-Unger and Christine Carringer exert their biases via the bench and operate with impunity. Because the privilege and power of the judiciary goes uncontested and unchecked and victimizes litigants of low socio-economic status. After all, if you were well-off, you might have consulted an attorney in the beginning and any attorney in Solano County knows to get out of Unger’s courtroom when representing a female litigant. But you can’t do that, because you’ve already had your first hearing.
You are stuck.
When trying to answer the question “how could this happen”, you’ll find out so many things that are too terrible to comprehend. You’ll find out that Solano County Victim Witness Counselors don’t like Unger becuase she has a well-documented history of failing to protect female victims of violence and sexual assault. You’ll find that she was removed from CPS court due to excessive disqualifications due to bias. You’ll find out that Unger’s poor reputation is far-reaching and even other counties’ family law employees know about that “rogue judge in Solano County”. You’ll search online and find out about the recall attempt, and the numerous complaints on The Robing Room. You may even find out about the Commission on Judicial Performance and their sanction of Judge Healey and think you finally have some recourse only to find out that the Commission on Judicial Performance has dozens upon dozens of complaints on Unger and has failed to take any action whatsoever. It’s part of the reason the Commission on Judicial Performance is being audited.
People don’t understand that our judicial system can be so easily corrupted by a rogue judge and her cohorts that protect her position of power. It’s customary for judges to rotate through courts yet Unger has yet to rotate off the Family Court bench. Judge Ichikawa does nothing about the numerous complaints against Unger, and is believed to be a co-conspirator in this bias. The only recourse available to impacted litigants it through using grassroots activism and media attention to shine a light on the failings of the rogue judges in Solano Family Court.
Most of the women victimized are lower and moderate income, less educated and so many are not native English speakers. What you are witnessing is the systemic violation, oppression and degradation of women and children who don’t have the resources, nor the connections, to fight back.
We need you to help us fight. We need you to share our stories. No one wants to get involved in family law cases because they feel it’s too “he said she said” and subjective. But there is one thing we should all be able to agree on: women and children who are victims of violence and sexual abuse and assault should be protected by the family court system, and not hung out to dry by a privileged, wealthy judge who abuses her position of power.
Judges are elected officials (sometimes appointed). They are supposed to uphold the laws of the people. When they fail to do that, the people need to remove them from their lofty position of privilege, power and prestige.