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Friday, March 25, 2011

Whistleblower Sues Family Court over Firing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 3:36 PM

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A former mediator in Nevada County Family Court is suing court administrators over her dismissal after a labor arbitrator decided she raised valid concerns about whether the courts were operating properly and following state law.

Emily Gallup, a Stanford graduate, was fired after her superiors criticized her for reviewing parents' backgrounds too thoroughly -- and, in particular, seeking to conduct criminal background checks -- before making child custody recommendations to judges. In a March 2010 written reprimand, obtained by SF Weekly, Court Executive Office Sean Metroka wrote to Gallup, "I admonished you not to take the role of a court investigator."

Critics of the family courts say they have woefully inadequate procedures for investigating evidence of parents' abusiveness. In a cover story this month, SF Weekly chronicled four cases where children were placed with physically or sexually abusive parents.

Gallup's lawsuit, filed in the Eastern section California's U.S. District Court, asserts that she was improperly retaliated against by her superiors after she "raised concerns about [the court's] failure to follow applicable legal and ethical mandates."

Gallup has said that she believed court officials were not devoting adequate time and energy to assessing parents' fitness for child custody. An arbitrator hired to assess the situation after her firing found that she "had reasonable cause to believe that Court's Family Court Services department had violated or not complied with statutes and rules of court." The arbitrator also ordered an audit of the court to investigate the claims in Gallup's grievance.

Calls to Metroka, as well as Nevada County Interim Director of Family Court Services Carmella Cellini, both defendants in the lawsuit, were not returned. Court Human Resources Director Thea Palmiere, another defendant, declined to comment. "I am not able to comment on any pending litigation, or any personnel matters, at all," she said.

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Peter Jamison

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