Judge admonished for comments about parents ruining their child, a 'nothing case' and 'everlasting life'

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A California judge has received a public admonishment for making inappropriate remarks about litigious parents and referencing religion during a family law proceeding.

Judge Matthew J. Gary of Sacramento stipulated to the May 14 admonishment, report Law.com and Bloomberg Law. A press release is here, and the decision is here.

Gary’s remarks happened during hearings on a mother’s request to move a minor child to Oregon and a dispute over a summer visitation issue.

Gary accused the parents of damaging their child and wasting their money on the court battle. “How bad do you want to ruin your child?” he asked.

Gary said the dispute was “contrived” and a was “nothing case” that should have settled.

In other comments, Gary said:

• “In my opinion, the case is out of control; the fees are being churned.”

• The child is “going to get divorced. And your grandkid is going to go through the same things she’s going through because this is all she knows.”

• “Once again, we don’t even have an initial starting of your case, and we’re nearing $100,000 in attorney’s fees, with two people who say they don’t have enough money to live on. I’m not buying it. … This is a self-created, self-inflicted wound that I’m ready to give up on. You can bleed out. It’s not my responsibility anymore.”

• “I’m picking sides right now. I know where the problems lie; but I’ll wait to see how it all plays out.”

• “We’re nowhere even near a divorce on a two-year-old marriage, with a 2-year-old child. Way to go. Way to go. I’m done. And good luck to [the child], because it ain’t going to turn out well for her.”

• Reacting to a social worker’s testimony that the child said her father was going to die, and a child doesn’t understand death: “Well, sure. Adults don’t understand death. One of the purposes of religion and culture is because people don’t understand death. … Without bickering with me, isn’t it one of the purposes of religion for adults [sic] everlasting life so that you don’t have to face death? … The Christian religion, you will have everlasting life, John 3:16.”

According to the decision, Gary became “embroiled in the proceedings,” made undignified and discourteous remarks that could be perceived as reflecting bias, failed to promote public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, and created an appearance of lack of impartiality by injecting religion into the proceedings.

“Family law matters can be particularly fraught with emotion,” the decision said. “These situations are when a calm and steady hand, a respectful demeanor and the appearance of neutrality are especially needed. A judge may convey to family law litigants the judge’s concerns about the detrimental effects that high-conflict disputes may have on children but may not do so by telling parents, in harsh terms, that the judge knows how their children will turn out.

“Judges may also express their concerns about counsel’s conduct, but may not do so in a disparaging manner, or in a manner that is likely to interfere with the attorney-client relationship. Judges may also question witnesses but must comply with the canons’ mandates of patience, dignity and courtesy when doing so.”

The decision said Gary had previously received an advisory letter for conduct in two family law matters. In one, he found a mother in contempt and sentenced her to five days in jail without giving her an adequate opportunity to respond. In the second, he treated a mother in a rude manner and appeared to become “embroiled in the proceedings.”

Lawyer James Murphy of San Francisco represented Gary. He told Law.com that the judge acknowledged that he crossed the line, but his actions happened in a litigious custody matter. Gary had commented in attempts to get the case under control, Murphy said.

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