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Robert J Hansen

Opinion: OC Family Court Fails to Protect Mothers and Children

Tawny Grossman (right) with her two children.Photo byCourtesy of Tawny Grossman

The fathers’ names have been omitted from the article because attempts to acquire comments from them were not made. This report relies heavily on court, medical and social services records.

Several Orange County mothers have come forward about how the OC family court has ignored documented evidence of abuse and given custody to parents who have demonstrated continued patterns of sexual abuse, child abuse or forms of domestic violence.

Tawny Grossman filed for divorce from her husband due to his pattern and history of domestic violence in 2021 and obtained sole custody of their two children.

Throughout the divorce, Grossman had brought to the court evidence of sexual assault against their daughter, who disclosed her father’s alleged crimes to her child therapist. These disclosures were recorded by CPS and affirmed by psychological assessments.

However, Orange County Judge Carmen Luege, has ignored the evidence of the father’s reported child abuse and affirmed domestic violence and ordered sole custody to him last December. Tawny was never found to be unfit to care for her children based on any credible evidence on record.

In Luege’s ex parte ruling, she stated that although the mother (Tawny) blames the father for the trauma exhibited by their daughter, the “evidence” gathered to date does not support her accusations. However, the judge never mentions why she excluded from the court record, CPS and doctor’s reports as well as photographic evidence affirming substantial abuse suffered by the children.

Instead, Judge Luege seemingly places blame for the children’s behavioral decline on the mother seeking to protect them rather than the reported perpetrator/father.

“At this time, petitioner's erratic and irrational behavior in her efforts to interfere with the visitation orders jeopardizes the children's emotional stability and well-being,” Luege said. “She (Tawny) is no longer capable of making rational decisions in the best interest of the children."
Grossmans son with bruises.Photo byCourtesy of Jack Xian

However, California Code, Family Code 3064 states that the court shall refrain from making an order granting or modifying a custody order unless there has been a showing of immediate harm to the child or immediate risk that the child will be removed from the State of California.

Immediate harm to the child includes, but is not limited to, the following having a parent who has committed acts of domestic violence and continuing pattern of acts of domestic violence or sexual abuse of the child, where the court determines that the acts of sexual abuse are of recent origin or are a part of a demonstrated and continuing pattern of acts of sexual abuse.

Jack Xian, with Protective Makua, has been advocating for Tawny and her children and several other mothers across the nation. Protective Makua is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for protective parents’ right to due process and equal protection, to put an end to the legal promotion of "toxic fatherhood" and to reform policy to be truly in the best interest of the child.

“Judges who have gone off the rails to criminalize motherhood are trying to create common law establishing parental alienation as a legal standard. This is legislating from the bench. They also have no authority to order psych exams,” Xian said.

It is not within a judge’s authority to opine that an individual is psychologically capable or not of taking care of their children.

“Good moms who choose to protect their children from a bad father’s abuse are faced with the unfair catch-22 of fulfilling their legal duty to protect their children from harm or allowing a flawed court to force their children into more abuse from their perpetrators. To keep safe from their exes and the corruption of judges who have gone off the rails, all moms go broke and suffer criminalization without just cause.” Xian told this reporter.

To date, only temporary domestic violence restraining orders have been issued and no criminal prosecutions have been pursued by the OC DA office based on Tawny’s daughter’s disclosures.

Grossman challenged Judge Luege’s December ruling to the OC Appellate Court and a week later, on Jan. 4, the appeal court granted a temporary emergency stay of Luege’s Dec. order but subjected the parties to joint custody.

In the Court of Appeals order, the court stated that “all portions of [the Dec. 12, 2023] order affecting the custody arrangement are stayed pending briefing and a further order of this court,” thus going back to the 50/50 custody order from Nov. 2023.

Despite the higher court's decision, the father filed another improper “emergency” ex parte motion for sole custody, which was granted by Judge Luege. This is where Tawny’s case currently lies, pending her forthcoming appeals on the matter, which is an inadequately slow process that puts victims of domestic violence and child abuse at high risk for retaliation both in and out of family court, according to Xian.

In another case, an OC mother lost all custody of her daughter last Sept.

This mother’s child was born in 2016 and issues of domestic violence and sexual abuse initially arose just a couple of years after the child was born.

Riverside CPS removed the father’s access to his daughter because of his apparent sexual abuse. This was supported by the court ordering “no contact” between the father and child.

Nonetheless, after a court-ordered custody evaluation, Judge Kreber-Varipapa ordered reunification therapy with Jessica St. Clair last April. That following Sept., full custody was awarded to the father.

A month later, in Oct. 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law that bans California Family Courts from ordering children to reunification camps or therapy.

Piqui’s Law or SB 331 was named after 5-year-old Aramazd "Piqui" Andressian Jr. was murdered in 2017 by his father, who eventually confessed to killing the boy because he was angry at his estranged wife.

Piqui was an innocent five-year-old child, who was murdered by his father during a family court case, despite Ana Estevez, Piqui's mother, pleading for protection for her son, she was denied a restraining order and supervised visitation.

“We've collectively ensured protections for our children and families within the family court,” said California State Senator Susan Rubio, the author of the bill. It has yet to be seen whether this new law has made a dent in the culture of discriminatory practices reportedly committed by OC judges in family court against mothers.

This reporter has learned of over two dozen mothers being treated unfairly in Orange County’s family courts.

Jessica St. Clair, the self-proclaimed first reunification therapist in Orange County, has been assigned in many of these cases.

St. Clair’s website has now been changed from "Reunification Specialty Team" to “Reintegration Specialty Team" in apparent attempt to avert the law.

Another recent case was that of Julie Holburn, who also lost all custody of her two children in November 2022 after being accused of “parental alienation.” As a result of this allegation, her credible reports of her ex-husband’s continuing abuse, coercive control and history of domestic violence and child abuse were overlooked by the OC family court

St. Clair was also assigned to Holburn’s case in 2022.

Julie had full custody of her two children since she divorced their father in 2012 until Nov. 2022 after Orange County Judge James Waltz reversed the custody order after having been assigned to the case for only a month.

Since Julie’s divorce, she had a protective restraining order against her ex-husband, which he has violated over a dozen times between 2014 and 2021, according to court records. And, her ex has withheld their two children from her several times without recourse, the mother stated.

In 2015, the court granted Julie a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO), finding that her ex had committed acts of domestic violence against her. The court ordered Julie’s ex to address his “obsessive behavior with his mother” and attend therapy with a licensed psychiatrist for anxiety and obsessive behavior. In 2019, Julie’s DVRO was renewed.

Both of Julie’s children have told mediators, doctors and therapists about the abuse they experienced from their father and that their preference is to live with their mother. But, Judge Waltz ignored those preferences.

The children repeatedly told Tracy Willis, their minor’s counsel, about the abuse they endured from their father, yet she failed to report any of these instances to the court. A video of the children speaking to Willis can be seen here.

Judge Waltz subsequently vacated Julie’s restraining orders and awarded the perpetrator of domestic violence and child abuse full custody. Julie has filed an appeal challenging this decision.

California family code 3044 states that to award sole or joint physical or legal custody of a child to a person who has perpetrated domestic violence within the last five years is detrimental to the best interest of the child.

In re the Marriage of Fajota (2014), Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court made two mistakes (twice “abused its discretion”) by awarding joint legal custody without applying Family Code section 3044, which says courts should almost never award joint legal custody to a parent who has committed domestic abuse against the other parent in the past five years, because it would be detrimental to a child’s best interest.

Another similarity between Grossman and Holburn’s cases is that of OC DA investigator Joseph Faria. In both women’s cases, Faria harassed them at their homes or via text messages.

Tawny said that Faria started to harass her via text shortly after the Dec. ruling. Faria came to Holburn’s home in 2020 where he failed to identify himself and began screaming at her demanding that she come to the door for more than two hours.

The OC DA’s office also has had recent issues regarding sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace for women.

Former OC prosecutor Tracy Miller filed a lawsuit against the OC DA’s office and the elected DA Todd Spitzer in 2022.

Miller was forced from her senior position by purposefully and intentionally retaliating against her after she reported sexual misconduct by former Senior Assistant District Attorney Gary LoGalbo, according to the lawsuit.

John Barnett, Miller’s attorney, said when this kind of environment is tolerated, victims are retaliated against and predators are protected and the public’s safety is threatened and jeopardized.

“No female prosecutor wants to admit to being a victim of sexual assault or harassment when they see they are not going to be believed,” Barnett said.

Barnett said if the DA can’t protect female prosecutors who are not believed when they report sexual harassment, then they can’t protect women outside of the office.

The mothers of Orange County decry foul, despite recent legislative efforts to address the recent and continuing murders and suicides caused by OC family court custody decisions such as those mentioned above. The community is more than familiar with these tragedies.

Investigative journalist Michael Volpe has written extensively about the Orange County family court. Volpe reported in 2022 of the death of Ethan Cook, who committed suicide after the OC family court gave his abusive father full custody. Volpe reported that, on more than one occasion, a juvenile court judge ordered Ethan to be removed from his father’s home. The family court also ignored those orders. Approximately eight months after turning 18, Ethan hanged himself.

Other patterns of Orange County’s failure to protect children were reported in 2011 by the OC Register when a $4.9 million judgment was awarded to a Seal Beach woman after two county social workers lied to a juvenile court commissioner to take away the woman's two daughters.

Last year the OC Register reported that Orange County paid $4.5 million to settle a claim that the OC Social Services Agency failed to report a 2011 child abuse complaint to police, a failure allowed alleged abuse to continue for six years.

In late November of 2022, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Terra Schilnger, a 37-year-old domestic violence victim was found dead in her San Juan Capistrano home. Terra was in the process of divorcing her husband, Greg Schlinger, who comes from a wealthy family and was due in court on December 6, 2022 for hearing.

This is part of an ongoing investigation into Orange County family court. Any victims of OC family court or whistleblowers are encouraged to contact Robert Hansen at

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