AT THE HANDS OF JUDGE SANDRA POMRENZE
by Sharon Rondeau
On Wednesday a second individual whose divorce was overseen by Las Vegas Eighth Judicial District Judge Sandra Pomrenze spoke with this publication about the bias she believes the judge has harbored against her since the beginning of the process in 2013.
The woman, who we will call “Jill,” currently has custody of her two minor children, but only because her ex-husband is in prison. Jill told us that she fears that when he is released next June on parole, custody will be returned to him despite his conviction related to his conduct with a minor girl.
Although it might seem unlikely that a judge would award custody of minor children to a parent under such circumstances, another case featured last week belies that assumption. A father of three children, one of whom drowned three years ago while in his mother’s care, Burke Hall was told that the only way he might be awarded custody of his remaining two children was if he applied for and received public assistance. At the order of Pomrenze, Hall is now forbidden to have any contact with his children, who he fears are in imminent danger and possibly not receiving the most basic of care from his ex-wife.
On June 8, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, with video, Pomrenze’s description of a multi-racial child’s hair as “nappy.” The child’s mother, Mandah Mitchell, asked that Pomrenze be removed from the case for bias, a request Chief District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez denied.
Jill told us that in late 2012, she and her then-husband discussed separating and agreed in principle to a plan which they felt would be the least disruptive for their three children. She explained that after many years of emotional and psychological abuse as well as her ex-husband’s infidelity, she felt the need to extricate herself from the relationship while acknowledging that the children’s father would want to maintain contact with them.
Germane to the case is that Jill acted as a surrogate on six occasions with her then-husband’s approval and participation during the birthing process. During our interview, Jill explained that extensive psychological and emotional testing is conducted on any potential surrogate as well as interviews with the candidate’s spouse if applicable. She said that not only was her then-husband supportive of the idea, but that he also provided surrogacy services of his own on one occasion.
Because of the surrogacies, which are confidential, her family law case is sealed, Jill said.
As the couple owned two homes and four cars, Jill told us, she believed that dividing their property evenly would be simple and straightforward. However, that proved not to be the case, and over the course of a dozen hearings in front of Pomrenze and other adjudications in front of a Special Master, she was ultimately granted two 24-hour visitation periods each month with the children.
Regarding Pomrenze’s decisions, Jill told us, “I was having to show proof that I didn’t do those things my ex-husband was accusing me of. Every little bit of evidence I would put out there she wouldn’t even look at. Even after he was arrested and taken to jail and I got temporary custody of the children, Pomrenze said, ‘I guess we’ll be back in court later once this gets resolved.’ It was as if he wasn’t going to get convicted of it, even though there was plenty of evidence.”
“Does Judge Pomrenze take a dislike to one parent?” we asked, to which she responded, “I think she does. I don’t even know that she reads all the paperwork. I think she just looks at the most dramatic side of it and forms an opinion before you even walk into court. Whoever’s lawyer can scream the loudest about who is the worst parent out there is going to be the one who wins. I’ve seen a few of her videos and the way she treats people, and the more factual you are and try to do the right thing, she rules against you. It’s almost as if she wants to keep the case going.”
When we asked Jill if her ex-husband might not be granted parole next June, she said, “Sure. I plan on writing letters, but I think the longest they can keep him in is December 2019 or January 2020.” Of the case against her ex-husband, she told us, “The conviction he ended up getting, because he took a plea deal, was on one count of coercion. There were originally 11 counts of statutory rape. When we have to go back to court, he’ll be able to say that his conviction isn’t for what he was charged.”
Of the 15-year-old girl involved, Jill told us, “She had plenty of evidence, but he tried to say that our daughter sent the text messages and that it wasn’t really him.” The girl was her daughter’s best friend, Jill said.
Of the beginnings of her story, Jill told us:
I’d been married for 17 years and we had the three kids together. When we decided to separate, they were 15, 12 and 7 years old. We had sat down together with the kids in November 2012 to let them know that we were going to be separating. We really hadn’t discussed divorce or anything yet, but we wanted them to feel comfortable that we both loved them and they could go back and forth between us and wouldn’t have to choose one parent or the other.
We had two houses at that time, so it wasn’t a matter of having to pay the extra bills. We decided that he would move into the other house and I would stay in the home we had shared. We agreed to let the kids come back and forth as they wanted. Their school was near my house, so it was assumed that if they spent the night at his house, he would take them to school the next morning. When they were done with school, they would come back to my house. His house was only seven miles away from my house, so it wasn’t a hardship or anything.
For the most part, our relationship had been fairly calm up to that point; there was no screaming or fighting. There was no physical harm; it was all emotional. There was some sexual abuse, also, for me, but up until that point I justified it, because I was in denial.
In December 2012, we had gotten into a fairly large argument, and that was the day that he ended up moving out. He moved to the other house and was starting to put furniture in it. The kids went with him that night, sending me into a frenzy, because I thought, “Now what am I going to do?” It was the first night my children had ever been away from me.
Two days later, a friend of mine said, “You need to go look on Match.com,” and sure enough, he had a profile up already. It was at that point that I said, “OK, I’m going to go see a lawyer.”
I made an appointment and had a consultation to find out what my options were. If I wanted a divorce, what was the least messy way? How much would it cost? We didn’t have a lot of money, so I wanted to do it amicably. When consulting with the lawyer, they want to see all your finances, assets, retirement accounts, etc. We were about equal in salary, and there wasn’t a question of either one getting alimony or being at a financial disadvantage. We had four vehicles, so I thought we’d just split them half and half. It should have been a simple process.
The lawyer advised me to try to do a joint petition, so if I could get him to agree to split everything 50-50 and do joint custody 50-50, it would make it as easy as possible. That would have allowed us to keep all of our assets.
In January 2013, I sat down with him. The lawyer had shown me where to find the paperwork for self-help cases, which was pretty nice. I put it together, split everything 50-50, sat him down and said, “This is what I want to do. What do you think?”
He wasn’t surprised that I wanted the divorce. He was looking at the numbers and said, “No, this isn’t going to work,” and threw the papers down on the table. So I said, “Well, tell me what will work.”
So I tried it again two days later, changing the numbers around a little bit. He had mentioned something about not wanting to give up one of the vehicles. So I did it the other way – “I’ll take this car and you keep that one.” “No, no, that won’t work.” “Well, why not?” “Well, I want custody of the kids.” And I said, “What???”
Any way that I would split it and try to negotiate it, he was like, “No, no, no.” I finally said, “Fine. Take this paperwork and go see a lawyer, because there isn’t anything I can do to negotiate this.”
He went to see a lawyer, and she said, “Oh, no, this is all wrong. I can get you all of this, and don’t agree to anything.” So he came back to me and said, “Well, now I need half of the attorney’s retainer.” From that point on, he started nickel-and-diming me for every little thing. Because I told him to go see an attorney, that should have been my expense, or so he thought.
That evening, January 22, 2013, we had a disagreement. We were arguing in the bedroom. I never wanted to argue in front of the kids; that was one thing I tried never to do. He kept going out of the bedroom into the kitchen where the kids were sitting. “I don’t care how many lawyers you know; I’m going to win,” he said. So I followed him into the kitchen and said, “I’ve just begun.” He turned around and said, “Kids, did you hear that? Your mom says she has a gun.”
I threw my hands up and walked back into the bedroom. He was notorious for twisting my words. I knew exactly what he was trying to do. Sure enough, my oldest son went running out the door. So I turned to my husband and said, “Where is he going?” and he said, “I think he’s going to call the cops.” So the police showed up about a half-hour later responding to the claim that I was threatening him with a gun.
[The Post & Email has redacted all identifying information from the report.]
When we asked Jill if there were any guns in the home, she responded:
I was very adamant not to have guns in the house. My third child was very inquisitive, and even if you locked things away, he had a way of finding them; he is like that to this day. That was one thing my husband knew I was very much against. He wanted to get one and looked up on websites how to do it, which I later found in the computer history.
When the cops came and questioned me and said, “Do you have a gun in here?” I said “No.” When they asked if I minded if they searched, I said, “No.” But they didn’t end up searching; they took my word for it. I explained the situation, and they took my word. When the police questioned the two younger children, they said they weren’t sure what I had said. At that point I realized that my husband was trying to get me arrested, to get me out of the picture so he could get custody.