Janet C. Phelan
Walking into any “court” of late one might have a distinct impression that one has walked into a monarch’s domain. In our post- 911 America, it is becoming increasingly clear that the rule of law only applies at the discretion of the monarch. And that would be the judge sitting in that particular court.
Unlike removing a President, it is nearly impossible to remove a judge. Lifetime appointments in many cases coupled with laws prohibiting suing a judge (even for “malicious and corrupt practices”) have given the judiciary a nearly godly form of immunity.
A recent attempt in one of these courts…well, you can’t really call them courts of law at this juncture, so let’s call them courts of judicial privilege…to recuse the sitting probate judge in San Bernardino County could be seen as an example of the futility of exerting the rule of law today.
On March 26, 2013, Keith Phillips, the son of conservatee Russell Mack Phillips, attempted to recuse Judge Raymond Haight III on grounds that Haight had refused to rule on a petition for an evidentiary hearing filed by Keith Phillips on December 12, 2012. According to the Judicial Canons (that would be under the rule of law, not the rule of judicial privilege), a judge has a duty to rule. Over a hundred days had passed by and Judge Haight was simply ignoring the petition filed by Phillips.
Parenthetically, Phillips filed the request for an evidentiary hearing due to questions raised by accountings filed by his Dad’s conservator, Lawrence Dean III, who is a licensed professional fiduciary and conservator operating out of Redlands, California. Concerns have been raised as to missing social security and pension checks and also the nature and amount of a lien filed by Visiting Angels, a home care agency, on the Dad’s home. Conservator Dean is attempting to sell Russell Phillips’ home, stating that there is no money left in his estate. According to the court record, Dean has not filed an accounting in over two years, another violation of probate law.
Having reviewed the accountings and also the lien application, it is clear that Visiting Angels is alleging non-payment for services that were paid for, according to the accountings. As son and heir, Keith Phillips was requesting an evidentiary hearing for disclosure of records and a fair adjudication of accountings that are — at best — bewildering.
Phillips filed the motion for recusal for cause under California Code 170.1 and it was duly sent over to Riverside for an impartial review by Presiding Judge Mark Cope. Included in Phillips’ motion for recusal were some concerns that Haight may have lied on his Form 700’s. These Form 700’s are official financial disclosure forms which must be filed by judges with the State of California every year. Interestingly, Judge Haight had reported for seven years running that he had nothing to report — no investments, no gifts and no loans outside of those on his personal residence.
California judges make about $178,000 per year. It would be unusual for someone with that level of income not to have investments. A search for property, even a personal residence belonging to Raymond Haight III, also drew a blank. Apparently, Judge Haight not only has no investments but is also homeless.
Either that, or Haight, a grandson of a former California governor, has become extraordinarily adept at hiding his assets. A well known private investigator recently revealed to this reporter that he has many clients who are judges who have asked the PI how to hide their assets. A review of the homeowner records of another judge, Ronald Christianson, formerly Presiding Judge of San Bernardino Court, shows that Christianson changed the name on the ownership records of his property in Grand Terrace recently, apparently in an attempt to hide his ownership. The property records for the home changed from the name of Ronald and Ruth Christianson to that of “PROPERTY OWNERS.” It was of interest to note that Ronald Christianson also has no investments, has received no gifts, no loans and has no outside business interests, according to his Form 700’s.
Riverside Presiding Judge Mark Cope ruled on the attempted recusal of San Bernardino Probate Judge Raymond Haight and neglected to take note of Keith Phillips’ contention that Haight had refused to rule on a matter in front of him. Instead, Cope recast Phillips’ concerns and stated that Phillips felt that Haight was ruling against him, a clear misstatement of the documented fact that Haight had refused to rule in over a hundred days.
A review was then made of Judge Mark Cope’s Form 700’s. For the period of time that these records must be retained — seven years — Cope also declared, under penalty of perjury, that he had nothing to declare — just like Judge Haight.
A snafu then took place between courthouses and Cope’s ruling did not show up in the system until about two weeks later. In addition, Phillips declares he was never served with notice of this decision by Cope. He did receive a letter from San Bernardino Court informing him that notice of decision would be given by Judge Cope’s clerk. Riverside Court has consistently stated that the notice had to be given by Haight’s clerk, in San Bernardino County Court.
Due to this mixup, Phillips lost his right to file a writ of mandate on the matter of the recusal. These writs must be filed within ten days of the decision.
Not to be dealt with in such a desultory manner, Phillips filed a second 170.1 recusal against Judge Haight. In this motion, Phillips points out that his core concern, that Haight had refused to rule, was never dealt with in the original decision by Cope.
Haight struck down the second recusal, citing it as redundant.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard coming all the way from the Inland Empire in California when the former San Bernardino probate judge, Michael Welch, stepped down from the bench last November. Rumors were flying that, due to the media attention garnered by Welch’s most unusual interpretations of the law, the bench had simply gotten too “hot” for Mike Welch. Court watchers have been keenly attending to what sort of successor would ascend to the probate bench in San Bernardino. It appears that the new King of San Bernardino Probate Court has firmly entrenched himself as perpetuating the reign of the old King. As for Mike Welch’s Form 700’s’ — did you guess it already? Nothing to declare, for seven years running.
A Northern California lawyer, speaking under conditions of anonymity, had this to say about judges who declare nothing on their Form 700’s — “The worst judges always state they have nothing to declare. These are the scofflaws in the judicial cesspool.”
Judge Mark Cope has declined to comment on this matter. Calls to Lawrence Dean III were not returned. Joan Roberts at Riverside Visiting Angels referred all questions to her counsel, Alison De Tal at Best, Best and Kreiger. De Tal has declined to respond to questions concerning this case.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com