by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 1, 2018) — In Part 2 of this series, a Las Vegas mother who reported losing all custody of her three children through what she said was a restraining order riddled with erroneous claims illustrated what she believes was a bias on the part of Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Family Law Judge Sandra Pomrenze.

Pomrenze came to our attention approximately three weeks ago when we were told about the case of Burke Hall, whose ex-wife was physically on-site when their two-year-old son drowned in an outdoor hot tub.  Although Vanessa Loftis pleaded “guilty” to two charges of child neglect and endangerment, Pomrenze awarded her temporary full legal and physical custody of the two older boys, who Burke Hall told us he has not seen since March by Pomrenze’s order.

We have been told that corruption is pervasive in the Eighth District family court system and involves a network of individuals, including attorneys.

Jill told us that in her divorce, Pomrenze accepted her estranged husband’s claims that she was an “abusive alcholic” and failed to recognize testing she took, while pregnant in a surrogacy arrangement, to show that the accusation was false.  She added that assessments she was required to undergo in order to qualify as a surrogate demonstrating that she had no “mental disorders” were disregarded by Pomrenze on her pronouncement that they constituted “a self-assessment.”

Regarding her surrogacies, Jill said, her ex-husband was required to sign the contracts before they could go forward.  “He had to do some of the same screenings I did,” she said. Jill told us that prior to and throughout six surrogacies, he showed no opposition, even serving as a sperm donor himself in one instance.

Jill said that her entire family benefited from the additional income in the form of vacations, college savings, motorcycles and a new truck for her husband.  “But when we went through the divorce, he tried to claim that I forced him, that I threatened to divorce him if he didn’t go along with it,” she said. “It definitely didn’t happen that way. He was there for most of my doctors’ appointments and deliveries.  He was even there to help the couple cut the cord.”

Full physical and legal custody of the children were awarded to her ex-husband, who is now serving time in prison after accepting a plea deal distilled from original charges of statutory rape.  The relationship involved a 15-year-old, who was her daughter’s best friend, Jill told us.

Having lost all custody due to the restraining order, Jill received the bulk of financial obligations existing from the marriage as well as hefty child support.  Pregnant as a surrogate at the time of their separation, Nevada law and Pomrenze’s order deemed that 50% of that monthly income to belong to her husband.  Jill therefore calculated that between the “community property” aspect of the surrogacy and the child support she was ordered to pay, 82% of the contract went to her then-husband.

“One thing I didn’t realize is that Nevada law regards the surrogacy contracts as community property,” she said.  “My lawyer didn’t even tell me this.  He said, ‘If he gets custody, you might have to pay child support.’  Unfortunately in my case, it got taken both ways:  not only as community property but also child support.  I don’t feel it was a proper ruling.”

Further, Jill told us, “Because I was getting monthly income from the surrogacy, his lawyer said that I had a distinct advantage over him, so Judge Pomrenze automatically awarded him $5,000 in attorneys’ fees.”

Jill said she believes Pomrenze is personally opposed to the concept of surrogacy and that it affected her decisions toward her.  After her estranged husband claimed she suffered from emotional issues to obtain the restraining order, Jill said, Pomrenze “made a really improper comment about it.  His lawyer had tried to say that this ‘crazy, psycho pregnant woman…’ and Pomrenze said, ‘If a woman has all these mental issues, she probably shouldn’t be getting pregnant, especially over and over again.’ I got the feeling from the beginning that she was definitely against me.”

Despite her ex-husband’s incarceration and her custody, by default, of their remaining minor child, Jill believes that Pomrenze’s bias will prompt a change in that arrangement once he is set free between June of next year and January 2020.  That fear is based on Pomrenze’s statement that the custody issue will be “revisited” once her ex-husband is released.

“There was no record of any mental issues,” Jill said.  “Right off the bat, after I filed for divorce, I started going to a psychologist to show I wasn’t crazy, that I was trying to get help for dealing with an issue I might have in the future.  The psychologist did testing to document that I didn’t have any mental issues.  For the surrogacies, I had taken several different types of tests:  the MMPI and a couple of the personality tests with 300-500 questions.  Up to that point, everything had been in my favor, but Pomrenze threw it all out.

“We had done a home study with the final surrogacy in September or October of 2012 when a social worker had come into our home.  She had checked out our house, interviewed my husband and sons and issued a nice, glowing report about how wonderful our home was.  She gave the go-ahead for the surrogacy.”

Jill said that at the time, she was “in denial” about the emotional abuse taking place in her 17-year marriage despite the outward appearance of a happy home.  “I was not really familiar with what emotional abuse was,” she said.  “I had kind-of grown up with it, so I didn’t recognize that when somebody called me a ‘stupid whore,’ it was a problem. When I filed for divorce, a lot of my friends and coworkers said that they had no idea that things were ‘that bad.'”

Her story continues:

He would make allegations, and the judge would require me to come up with the proof that they weren’t true.  How do you prove something is not true?  It’s almost impossible.

Because of the restraining order, I received two days a week of visitation from a Hearing Master. Pomrenze took that minimum and made it a maximum. There weren’t any overnights.  I got them Wednesday and Friday evenings for three hours, and I was responsible for 100% of the travel.  I was living in Boulder City at that point, so it was 20 miles there and back to the house each way.

When I went to pick up the children for visitation, as Pomrenze had ordered, I couldn’t get out of the car because of a “honk-and-seatbelt” rule she had imposed.  So, I would honk and they wouldn’t always hear it. Many times they would be sleeping and my ex would be at work. I also wasn’t allowed to call the house phone to try to wake them. I would have to wait in my car for the children to come out, sometimes up to two hours. I was several months pregnant, and temperatures were over 100 degrees. On several occasions, after waiting more than an hour, I had to call the police to request a “civil standby” for an officer to knock on the door or call the house phone to wake the children. At no time, even after presenting in court the multiple police reports showing the extended wait times, did Judge Pomrenze consider my health or the baby in my pregnancy.

She also gave no consideration to the fact that the children were left alone in their father’s home for long periods of time on dozens of occasions. The children often ate food from boxes or cans since nothing had been prepared and left for them. After hearing about them having an empty refrigerator, I had groceries delivered that day to make sure they had enough to eat. Other family members were also pitching in to buy groceries. I was told that this was harassment. How does anyone in their right mind consider starving children left home alone better off than being fed and supervised by their very capable and willing parent? The children’s best interests were obviously and intentionally ignored under Judge Pomrenze.

During this time, my son was 15½ and had his instruction permit.  A couple of times when I’d pull up to the house, I’d honk, and they’d come out, and I’d get out of the car and walk around to the passenger side of the car and he’d get in the driver’s side.  One time my husband crept around behind the neighbor’s car and videotaped me doing this.  He said I violated the honk-and-seatbelt rule — the fact that I was on his property, had taken off my seat belt and gotten out of the car.

My ex attempted an Order to Show Cause twice to get me on a violation. Judge Pomrenze almost gave it to me once. My lawyer fought it, saying that he advised me to do it, but she even threatened to hold him in contempt of court for a violation.  My lawyer had advised me not to put the surrogacy money into an interest-bearing account to be frozen, at Pomrenze’s order, because there would have been no way to pay the child support.  He had said, “Don’t cash the checks.”

At the hearing about six weeks later when I was supposed to bring proof that I had opened the account, my lawyer said, “This is why she didn’t do it — I advised her not to.” And Pomrenze said, “Sir, one more time you violate my orders and I’m going to hold you in contempt and fine you.”  He was trying very hard to explain why he had advised me as he did, but she would not accept anything, oral or written.

Throughout the case, I was served five times by the constable with an Order to Show Cause.  The last time was two days before I was due to deliver the baby.  An Order to Show Cause when I can barely walk?  It meant I had to go to court and show why I wasn’t in contempt of court.  He was continuously trying to get me on a violation of the restraining order – to get me arrested still, when I was nine months’ pregnant.  It was just ugly back and forth.

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