A startling courthouse security video leaked by a government whistleblower records the illegal 2009 assault and arrest of indigent, disabled pro per litigant and family court reform activist Robert Saunders.
During a March 9, 2009 court hearing, Judge Matthew Gary ordered the self-represented Saunders arrested and jailed for contempt of court. Two outside, independent judges who later reviewed the incident determined that both the contempt charge and arrest were illegal.
One of the two reviewing judges also issued an order removing Gary from the case for bias and violating state contempt law. The new video leak appears to reinforce the review findings, showing Saunders sitting passively at the courtroom counsel table until a painful "control hold" is applied to his arm by a deputy sheriff.
When Saunders reacts to the pain, a wrestling match ensues until additional deputies arrive to subdue and apply handcuffs to the illegally arrested victim. The pro per is then shuffled off to the county jail through a rear exit in the courtroom. Saunders is 5' 8" tall, weighs 162 pounds, relies on a cane to walk, and, at the time of the arrest, was 57-years-old, according to the police report from the incident.
A right-wing ideologue, Gary also reportedly despises what he refers to as the "entitlement mentality" of indigent court users who obtain fee waiver orders, which allow them to file court documents without paying filing fees. Most pro per litigants rely on fee waivers to ensure their access to the court.
In one case, Gary illegally misused fee waiver law against an indigent, unrepresented domestic violence victim to both obstruct an appeal of his own orders and help a judge pro tem attorney client - and spousal abuse perpetrator - avoid a spousal support obligation. The judge-attorney tag-team strategy left the abuse victim penniless, and homeless.
|Court watchdogs assert that Judge Matthew Gary has|
an unexplained immunity from criminal prosecution and
Commission on Judicial Performance accountability.
As a result of the order, the disabled single parent couldn't pay her rent, was evicted from her home, and became homeless.
In March, a still-pending appeal in the case was the subject of a front page story in the Sacramento Bee. A federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of these and several other Gary victims is rumored to be in the works.
The 2009 Robert Saunders contempt arrest debacle was witnessed by controversial judge pro tem divorce attorneys Richard Sokol, shown in the left foreground of the video, and Elaine Van Beveren, who is off-camera.
As sworn temporary judges who witnessed the incident, both were required by state law - Canon 3D(1) of the California Code of Judicial Ethics - to report Gary's misconduct, or otherwise take some form of corrective action.
Neither attorney did, and in subsequent proceedings last year in the same case before a different judge, lied about the incident, portraying Saunders as being at fault. The ruse apparently fooled Judge Thadd Blizzard, who late last year approved an out-of-state criminal child abduction for Sokol's client - the mother of Saunders' children.
In 2012, Sacramento Family Court News reported on the illegal arrest of Saunders and the later review of the incident by Judges Xapuri B. Villapudua and Richard Gilmour. The original article is excerpted below:
Family Court Judge Matthew J. Gary Disqualified From Case for Bias and Unlawful Arrest of Pro Per
|Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Matthew J. Gary.|
A fellow judge ordered Gary removed from the Robert
Saunders case for abuse of authority and misuse of
Internal court records obtained by Sacramento Family Court news reveal that a San Joaquin County judge in 2010 issued a court order removing Judge Matthew Gary from a Sacramento Family Court case for misconduct and bias against a disabled, unrepresented litigant.
Although Gary contested the removal action and denied the bias and misconduct charges, after reviewing the evidence San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Xapuri B. Villapudua rejected Gary's version of events and ordered the controversial judge disqualified from any further proceedings in the case.
The motion to recuse, or remove, Gary from the case was filed by pro per Robert Saunders. In accordance with state law, the motion was heard and decided by a neutral, outside-the-county judge. At the time the motion was filed, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George assigned Villapudua to decide the case.
In her ruling rejecting Gary's denial and removing the judge from the case, Villapudua made it clear which of the conflicting stories was believable.
"Based on the evidence submitted the court does find that a reasonable person might entertain a doubt that Judge Matthew J. Gary would be able to be impartial. Three separate witnesses stated Judge Gary was impatient and rude to [Saunders]. Three separate witnesses declared the judge appeared biased during the hearing, making snide or rude comments to [Saunders].
From the sworn declarations submitted it appears Judge Gary became embroiled during the hearing on March 9, 2009. Judge Gary appeared to lose his patience with [Saunders]. He did not adhere to the proper procedure for contempt and had [Saunders] arrested and forcibly removed from his courtroom by multiple bailiffs," Villapudua wrote in the court order ending Gary's jurisdiction over the case. Click here to view the order.Villapudua's assessment of Gary's credibility and the unlawful arrest and incarceration of Saunders for contempt of court was reaffirmed by a second judge who, at a subsequent court hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court, dismissed a resisting arrest charge against Saunders from the same incident. Evidence in the criminal case included a video recording of the debacle, according to the arrest report of a courtroom bailiff.
In addition, the unlawful contempt of court and resisting arrest incident was witnessed by judge pro tem attorneys Richard Sokol and Elaine Van Beveren, both of whom failed to intervene as required by the Code of Judicial Ethics. Gary currently is the Supervising Family Law, Probate and ADA Judge.
"Gary Became Embroiled...Did Not Adhere To Proper Procedure For Contempt"
|Assigned to the case by the California Supreme Court Chief Justice, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Xapuri Villapudua ordered Judge Matthew Gary disqualified to hear further proceedings in the Robert Saunders case.|
In his motion to disqualify Gary from the case, Saunders asserted that the judge was rude, impatient, and abused his authority by having him arrested and dragged from the courtroom. As Villapudua's order reflects, Saunders' claims were supported by the sworn testimony of three separate eyewitnesses who confirmed Saunders' account of the incident. The witnesses also testified that Gary made snide or rude comments directed at Saunders, and appeared biased during the hearing.
In his defense, Gary submitted to the San Joaquin County judge a one-sentence answer denying the charges made by Saunders. "I deny the allegations stated in Respondent's Challenge," Gary stated under penalty of perjury. Click here to view Gary's denial. To view the minute order issued by Gary after the hearing in which he charged Saunders with contempt of court, click here.
Second Independent Judge Vindicates Saunders
Judge Villapudua issued her order banning Gary from the Saunders case on January 7, 2010. Five months later, a second judge with no connection to family court dismissed the resisting arrest charge filed against Saunders by Gary's courtroom bailiff and Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Deputy J. Strong.
The dismissal of the criminal case by former prosecutor and veteran Sacramento County criminal court Judge Richard Gilmour infers that the video recording of the incident also supported Saunders' contention that both the contempt and resisting arrest charges were baseless and motivated by Gary's temper, embroilment and abuse of authority.
Judge Pro Tem Eyewitnesses Fail To Intervene
The resisting arrest charge filed by Judge Matthew Gary's courtroom
bailiff J. Strong against Robert Saunders was dismissed by
Judge Richard Gilmour on May 10, 2010.
Judge pro tem attorneys are by law required to take or initiate corrective action if they witness another judge violate the law or any provision of the Code of Judicial Ethics.
Canon 3D(1), an important self-policing component of the Code, mandates the intervention to maintain public confidence in the courts and ensure that judge misconduct is kept in check.
As confirmed by two independent judges, Gary's actions were clear violations of several sections of the ethics code, but court records and other eyewitness accounts indicate that neither Sokol, nor Van Beveren complied with the misconduct reporting requirement. Click here to view an internal Judicial Council of California memo about the legal duty. In addition, courtroom clerk Christina Arcuri had a legal and ethical duty to report the misconduct by the judge, but took no action.
In a different case last year Judge Matthew Gary suffered a full reversal by the Third District Court of Appeal. As in the Saunders case, in Seaton v. Seaton Gary also did not follow established law.
After conducting his own investigation and forensic analysis on a 20-year-old marriage certificate signature, Gary concluded that the signature was not made by an extremely intoxicated person, as Patricia Seaton had claimed. The judge then nullified a 17-year marriage so that Patricia would be deprived of all property, support and other rights associated with a lawful marriage.
The appellate court reversed Gary's decision, noting that the issues Gary had with Patricia's credibility were irrelevant to determining whether the marriage was valid. Both Gary and Villapudua were appointed to the bench in June, 2007 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Judge Gary is paid $169,289 per year.
Source: Sacramento Family Court Report