Dear Patients, Friends and Family Members:
After Court in San Bernardino, and a nice chance to talk with Rory Murray about a GREAT YouTube musical video (see the next e-mail), I then finished putting together the SECOND motion to disqualify a BAD judge in Riverside County — something I spent the whole weekend working on after the judge improperly struck my first motion to disqualify him.
This all began when I got a call from a woman whose child was taken away from her by DPSS. The way this child was removed from his family was extremely questionable and, in my opinion, improper. But what happened after that has been a nightmare.
The mother called Crusaders because when DPSS showed up, she was legally using medical marijuana. Under DPSS’s written policy, the legal use of medical marijuana is just like the legal use of prescription drugs or alcohol: if your use of these legal products is not impairing your ability to be a parent, DPSS is not supposed to make an issue of your use. And, in fact, the mother’s case plan did not require her to stop using medical marijuana: only ILLEGAL drugs. And, under state law and DPSS’s own policy, marijuana is not an illegal drug if you have a doctor’s recommendation.
In this case, the mother had a recommendation and there was NO connection between her use of marijuana and the reason the child was allegedly removed — “domestic violence” in which SHE had been the victim. The domestic violence was that her partner had grabbed her arm and left bruises when he didn’t want her to leave during an argument. And when CPS insisted that she and the child would have to move into a shelter, she refused — and rather than help her get a restraining order against the dad, or accepting the dad’s offer to move in with his parents so she and their child wouldn’t have to go to a shelter, CPS took the 20 month-old child!
The person who had called in the report had also claimed that the mother had stabbed the father, that she was using meth and her house was a wreck and her child was neglected, and that she was also using marijuana. Every single allegation was established by CPS’s investigation to be untrue — except that she was LEGALLY using medical marijuana. They drug-tested her, and she tested negative for any other kind of drug.
Then, her own attorney ignored her requests for help addressing the legality of her use of marijuana. Her own attorney had ignored the fact that DPSS policy allowed her to use marijuana. Her own attorney insisted she switch to a prescription medication that made her fall asleep in the day time, that did not treat her pain, and that has a lot of bad side effects, including being very addictive. So she saw the ad in Kush magazine about Crusaders for Patients’ Rights and called me.
When we sat down with her attorney, and the attorney saw the mistakes she’d been making, she decided to bail on the case. She made an motion to be relieved as counsel — and the jduge in the dependency court GRANTED the motion BEFORE it was even filed, before the mother had a chance to put in her side of the story, and before there had been any hearing!
Was this an accident? I could not believe it when I saw the signed order, so I went to the courthouse and asked if the clerks recognized the signature — I had thought that maybe the attorney forged the signature to get out of the case.
Wrong. They recognized the signature as that of the only dependency judge operating in the Southwest Justice Center: Judge Michael Joseph Rushton.
So I said, how can this order be signed a day BEFORE the motion has even been filed? Before mother has a chance to oppose it? Before a HEARING?!?! And they said, Judge Rushton doesn’t LIKE to have motions set in his courtroom. He tells us to bring him any motions BEFORE they are filed, and he takes care of them.
I have told this story to several attorneys, and every single one has said “You need to report him!” For a judge to violate litigants’ rights to due process like this is INCREDIBLE!
So, on behalf of mother, I filed a motion to disqualify Judge Rushton, because a judge who doesn’t want to hear mother’s side of the story before he grants an order AGAINST her
obviously can’t be fair.
And guess what? Judge Rushton STRUCK the motion to disqualify him, so he can continue to judge mother. Does it get worse? Yes?
Because after I made the motion, but before I found out he’d struck it, I found out more. Another dependency attorney told me that Judge Rushton has said that as far as he is concerned ALL marijuana is illegal.
So I went on line to see what I could find out about him. You won’t be surprised to learn that he only became a judge in 2010, and that before that he worked for the Rod Pacheco-era Riverside County D.A.’s Office, that was infamous for proescuting legitimate patients and making THEM prove that they were innocent, instead of being presumed innocent. But he didn’t only work for Rod Pacheco: in 2008, he was named “Top Prosecutor.” And what was he prosecuting? Drug cases.
So then I asked mother, did Judge Rushton ever say anything to you that indicated that he has a problem distinguishing between medical and recreational marijuana? And she said that at the very first hearing, Judge Rushton pointed his finger at her and said, I’m only giving you six months to reunify with your child, because I am not going to wait for your drug addiction! And there was no evidence that she was a drug addict!
So today, Tuesday, I will be filing a SECOND motion to disqualify him based on these NEW facts about his prejudice against legal medical marijuana users and his inability to follow state law.
But I have also contacted the Commission on Judicial Performance about this, and the Presiding Judge for the whole Riverside Superior Court.
And I am going to do my best to at least get this judge out of the dependency court, where the rules of confidentiality mean that witnesses like the Human Solution volunteers cannot watch what is being done, and no one can even look at all the court records to see how many times Judge Rushton signed orders before there was a hearing or an opportunity to respond. And since Judge Rushton got into office because he ran unopposed, I hope that we can come up with some other, better candidates to run against him when it’s time for his re-election bid.
Also, please stand by, because I may also ask any of you who are willing to do so to send letters of concern to the Commission on Judicial Performance and to the Presiding Judge asking that he not be allowed to sit in a confidential court where the public can’t keep an eye on him, and that he be disqualified from sitting in any case in which medical marijuana is an issue. When it’s time for those letters, I’ll send another e-mail with the addresses.
Thanks for taking the time to read this: it’s an important issue that can and will affect the fairness of very important hearings at which parental rights can be permanently severed. And thanks to Lanette Davies, who founded Crusaders for Patients’ Rights, who put the ads in Kush magazine offering our help to patients who need it, and who provides me with enough money to pay for some of the various costs involved in these projects — like paying to have a notary verify the statements of disqualification, and paying for all the copies and postage involved in notifying people — on top of spending $5,000 a month on a lobbying team to work against bad legislation like A.B. 1300 and S.B. 847.
Letitia E. Pepper for Crusaders for Patients’ Rights