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California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody 

Wednesday, Mar 2 2011
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The community's reaction was swift. Picket lines formed outside Lemkau's courthouse. In the fall, when he was up for re-election, he lost his seat to James Hosking, a deputy district attorney whose upstart campaign was fueled by public outrage over the case.

Lemkau could not be reached for comment. His phone number and address were redacted from campaign forms filed in San Bernardino County during last year's election, and messages sent to the e-mail address listed for his campaign were not returned. On March 3, 2010, at another hearing in family court, he apologized to Tagle and said he could not have predicted what would happen at the time he refused to issue the restraining order, the Daily Press of Victorville reported. "I deeply apologize for my comments to you," he said, according to the newspaper.

Hosking, who just ascended to the bench in January, said that while Tagle's case presents a clear picture of a family court failing to assess dangers to children, the question of systemic reform is more complex. At bottom, he says, the courts are "concerned with trying to predict future behavior," a task at which people in any profession have never excelled. "Family law judges like myself face difficult decisions every day," Hosking says.

Speaking through tears today as she recalls her son's death, Tagle, who has moved to Las Vegas, talks about the reform she would most like to see: a stripping of the legal immunity enjoyed by judges, evaluators, and all the other personnel who make up the complex apparatus of the state's troubled family courts.

At present, litigants are barred from suing such court employees for official misconduct under the doctrine of judicial immunity that applies to judges in the civil and criminal courts. Evaluators and mediators enjoy similar protections with respect to their court functions. When decisions about child welfare turn out to be disastrous, parents like Tagle have no recourse.

"If they had no immunity, they would think twice," she says. "It was [Lemkau's] job to protect our son, and not give him to the person who admitted to me, multiple times, in e-mails, that he was going to kill our son."

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Peter Jamison

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