DID A COURT COMMISSIONER HOLD A “SHAM” HEARING?
by Sharon Rondeau
The protected individual, Michelle Robinson*, is the mother of a three-year-old girl placed with her father, Eric Crutchfield, as a result of a case having been opened by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in March 2016 and adjudicated for the final time in dependency court on April 25, 2017.
Prior to Crutchfield’s award of full physical and legal custody, Robinson had been given custody by the Torrance Superior Court in December 2015, when the initial “temporary” restraining order was granted. From there, the order became “permanent” for five years as a result of documented domestic violence on Crutchfield’s part which had left marks on Robinson as well as broken furniture and electronic equipment in her home.
At the April 25, 2017 custody hearing, Crutchfield was able to secure a “permanent” restraining order against Robinson after claiming that she contacted his employer with derogatory information about him. In a prior interview, Robinson informed The Post & Email that she did, in fact, call Crutchfield’s employer to relate that he was abusing drugs from the time he was hired.
Robinson’s unexpected loss of custody of her daughter occurred as a result of a physical altercation with Crutchfield after she took her daughter on the occasion of her first birthday to see him. At that time, Robinson’s restraining order against Crutchfield had been in place for ten days.
California Penal Code § 13710(b) states that if a protected person approaches a restrained person, the protected person is not in violation of the law. However, by the nature of a restraining order, the same is not true if the restrained individual approaches the protected person.
After Robinson sustained a bite from the altercation, she sought medical treatment and reported the incident to the LAPD. A report was taken, and Robinson asked that Crutchfield be prosecuted.
Subsequently, Detective Sean Horton was assigned to investigate Robinson’s complaint. Much later, Robinson discovered that Horton has been both a plaintiff and a defendant in a number of lawsuits involving the LAPD, most recently concerning his retirement.
In a call made to DCFS, Horton claimed that a video existed in which Robinson was shown to be the aggressor in the December 20, 2015 altercation and that as a result, her ability to properly care for her daughter was in question.
Taking Horton’s “word” that a video existed, DCFS opened a child-dependency case, contacted Robinson during working hours, and compelled her to bring her daughter to their offices on March 15, 2016 to be left in their care. Believing the demand to be the result of a misunderstanding, Robinson complied and was later surprised to find that her daughter was placed in Crutchfield’s custody despite her restraining order against him for domestic violence.
Approximately two weeks ago, Robinson noted that Crutchfield had appeared at the train station from which she boards her commuter train to and from her place of employment each day. Because of the restraining order which she believed to be in place, she characterized Crutchfield’s presence in the station on the apparent pretext of buying a ticket as “stalking” and hurriedly called a friend in fear.
She then drove to the Hawthorne Police Department (HPD), where she asked to submit a report on Crutchfield’s alleged restraining order violation.
Last October, Robinson and Crutchfield had been involved in a vehicle accident which Robinson believes Crutchfield deliberately caused. While each wanted the other prosecuted, the HPD declined to do so in either case, and neither was accused of having violated the respective restraining order against the other. However, because of the car accident and Crutchfield’s appearance at the train station, she told the HPD that she feared for her life.
As the HPD officer was reluctant to take a report, referring her to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) instead, Robinson called the LASD to ask if it would be proper for her to make out the report there. An LASD officer reportedly told her that the HPD was the proper location for her to submit a report given that the incident occurred in that jurisdiction. After she relayed that information to the HPD officer, he agreed to take her report of what he characterized as an “incident.”
Later that day, Robinson was contacted by phone and email by HPD’s Captain Catano, who informed her that the restraining order to which she had referred was not locatable within the “CLETS” system and had been canceled last April.
Robinson had provided to Catano by email her certified copy of the restraining order showing that it was in effect until 2020. Responding to Catano’s supplying of the alleged cancellation document, Robinson maintained that without a verifiable source, and containing what appeared to be a handwritten cancellation date, the document was invalid.
On Friday, February 16, Robinson went to the Torrance Superior Court, where she asked to inspect the entire file of with her case. As she was not prohibited from taking photographs of the documents contained therein, Robinson said she photographed every page and that no cancellation order for the restraining order appeared in the file.
Robinson therefore suspects, for lack of any other evidence, that Commissioner Steff Padilla, who mysteriously recused herself from Robinson’s case last March, hand-wrote the cancellation of the order and provided it, either directly or indirectly, to Crutchfield.
On February 18, 2018, Robinson told The Post & Email:
The document is called a “Termination of Order,” and the handwriting says that it was supposed to be canceled as of April even though the document itself is allegedly endorsed for October. What doesn’t make sense to me is that even if the court decided it should have been canceled as of April, they could have just endorsed the document to say so. Why date the document October and then hand-write that it should have been canceled six months before?
A judge doesn’t scribble on top of a piece of paper and say it should have been retroactive; they make it legitimate by having the court enter it into the system. That wasn’t what was done here.
I believe Padilla produced that document to protect Crutchfield. I believe that when he was arrested in the middle of the first trial, she was led to believe that it was something I orchestrated so that she felt, “Let’s give him something so that when she tries this again, she won’t be successful.”
Unbeknownst to me, I think they gave him paperwork.
What really happened was that we had a hearing on October 13, 2016 to decide whether or not Padilla could, in fact, alter Torrance’s restraining order. I spoke with an attorney friend of mine who said, “I don’t think she can do that. I don’t think she has the authority to terminate an order made by another judge in another court.” So I told her, “This is what they’re saying,” and she said, “You need to ask your attorney for a document.” So I started emailing my attorney, Katherine Anderson of Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. (LADL), to ask for a copy of the points and authorities that she was submitting. From what I was led to believe, during the actual hearing, my attorney argued that I didn’t want to terminate the restraining order and there was no jurisdiction to do so. Crutchfield’s attorney argued that he found a legal citation that gave Padilla the power to terminate the restraining order.
My attorney put up what I thought was a weak argument, but she could have just believed that she didn’t have to do a lot of grandstanding to make it work. So at the end of the alleged argument over points and authorities, Padilla sided with Crutchfield’s attorney and said, “I agree that I have the jurisdiction. Mother is clearly not afraid of him because she took her daughter to see him.” They said that I was pretending to be afraid of him.
So Padilla said, “I’m terminating the restraining order.” I contacted my attorney friend, who said, “I still don’t think she can do that.”
I’m speculating on Padilla’s intent, but there really was a hearing in which these discussions took place. However, there’s no proof that it happened. There is no minute order, and I kept emailing my attorney to ask for a copy.
If attorneys argue on points and authorities, they have to submit them to the court. Padilla appeared to have received submission of those documents and she allowed the attorneys to make the arguments, and then she made a ruling which is not in any court documentation.
Eventually my attorney sent me an email which I forwarded directly to my attorney friend, who emailed me back and said, “That’s not yours; that’s his,” meaning Crutchfield’s attorney’s points-and-authorities document. So he did draft the document and sent it to my attorney, Kathy, but Kathy never produced hers. They’re supposed to share documentation as a courtesy. So he shared; Kathy did not, as far as I know, and there’s nothing in the court file from either one of them.
I don’t know about Crutchfield’s attorney, but I believe Kathy knew what Padilla’s intent was; that’s why it appears she never drafted points and authorities. I think they had a “pretend” argument in the courtroom because they thought that as long as I believed there was no protective order, I would stop the alleged attempts to have Crutchfield arrested out of fear. And I was afraid, which is why I kept telling my attorney friend, “I’m scared.” And she said, “You need to get documentation to prove she did it.” The goal was “Prove she did it and then go to the court to make points.” I never got proof that she actually did it.
I was led to believe that it was a legitimate hearing; I was led to believe an order was issued, but I was never served a copy of it. If it were legitimate, I should have received one. Kathy sent me my entire court file, and that document was not in it.
I believe that Steff Padilla created the document with her clerk to give Crutchfield something to prove that the order was terminated. I think Crutchfield thinks that the hearing was legitimate; I did, too, although my attorney friend kept telling me, “Something isn’t right about this.”
When Crutchfield showed up where older my daughter was working last June, I went to the Inglewood Police Department to make a report, and when I kept trying to press them, they told me, “You don’t have a restraining order.” That detective was more willing to help me; he said, “If you go to Torrance and get me a certified copy, then maybe I can do something.”
I went to Torrance; they gave me a certified copy just as they did on the 16th. I went back to Inglewood and the detective came out to talk to me, and he said, “It was taken out of the system on 10/16/2016, so you need to bring a copy to the sheriff’s department.” Because of what he told me, I left the clerk’s office; there was a sheriff’s office within the court building, and I dropped off a copy. I assumed that they would update it. I don’t know why they didn’t or why it’s not there, but maybe they just didn’t put it in again if it was already there.
So I asked the detective, “Will you look in CLETS and see if they put it in?” and he said, “Well, if you just dropped it off today, it probably won’t be done today; I’ll look later.” He also said, “Your daughter was the person involved, and she’s not here to make the report, and he really didn’t do anything to her, so there’s not a lot we can do.” That was reasonable, and I said, “OK, fine,” but I wanted to document the interaction. That was my goal.
So fast-forward to now, when Hawthorne is vigorously denying that I have a restraining order, Captain Catano forwarded me a document that I’ve never seen in my life.
I never had proof that Padilla did what I kept saying she did: that she held a sham hearing and went so far as to produce a document to the other side. That might have been one of the reasons she recused herself, and I was never, ever given a reason.
*not her real name