“I NEVER THOUGHT IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 8, 2018) — [Editor’s Note: The following contains material which will be disturbing to some readers and is not recommended for children.]
In Part 3 of this series, “Jill” described how her estranged husband’s allegations against her of “mental issues” at the outset of their divorce were rubber-stamped by Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District without any verification, resulting in her loss of custody of her then-three minor children.
Initiated in late 2012, Jill had hoped for an amicable divorce and equal custody of the children, seeing as she and her then-husband owned two homes and a number of assets which could have been comfortably split between them. At the time, Jill was pregnant under a surrogacy contract, the greater part of which was eventually awarded to her husband.
In February 2013, after separating but sensing that her husband was attempting to lay claim to the marital residence, Jill left to stay in a house owned by a relative. Having already attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate what she felt was a fair split of their assets and an informal custody arrangement with which the children would feel comfortable, she had retained an attorney, then advised him to do the same.
They subsequently went to family court, culminating in more than a dozen hearings over a two-year period presided over by both a Special Master and a judge. The jurist assigned to their case, Sandra Pomrenze, has made controversial statements from the bench in at least two other cases of which this publication has become aware.
In early March 2013, after Jill made the decision to obtain a restraining order against her husband for behavior she deemed threatening at her temporary home, she discovered that he had already obtained one against her. “She didn’t even ask for any evidence,” Jill told us of Pomrenze’s decision to extend the TRO once they appeared in court.
Although employed full-time and earning monthly payments from the surrogacy contract, by June 2013, Jill found herself without funds to finish the divorce. Prior to that, Pomrenze had ordered her to pay $5,000 in attorneys’ fees for her estranged husband while also paying her own.
Due to the TRO, Jill’s husband was awarded full custody of the children, with Jill ordered to pay child support and more than half of the surrogacy payments each month. She was given twice-weekly visitation and a restrictive “honk-and-seatbelt” rule which forbade her from exiting the vehicle after arriving at her ex-husband’s home to pick up the children. Jill said that her ex-husband repeatedly attempted to use that situation against her, claiming she violated the order by switching places in the vehicle with their eldest son, who had obtained his learner’s permit.
There were times, Jill recalled, that she was forced to wait in the car for hours in 100° heat in the latter stages of pregnancy in order to see her children, as they were apparently sleeping and/or unsupervised when she arrived at the designated time.
Property division remained contentious, as evidenced by text messages and court documents The Post & Email has seen. The couple’s second home went into foreclosure, with the only parties benefiting the attorneys. Each received $12,000 at Pomrenze’s recommendation.
At the point where Jill’s finances were exhausted three months into the divorce, her narrative continues:
I was ready to throw in the towel, and a relative said, “Before you do that, talk to my lawyer.” I did. That attorney had a coworker who was a state legislator at the time. She had just helped to pass a bill that would help the family court, so she already had that tie with Judge Pomrenze. I thought perhaps that would give me a leg up. My relative paid for her retainer.
During the very first hearing in June, my lawyer said, “I think we need to disclose that there is a potential relationship so that it doesn’t become a conflict or something that is brought up later.” So the judge admitted that she had worked with her but that there was no bias.
Sure enough, about 30 minutes into the hearing, my ex-husband’s lawyer began screaming, “You’re throwing everything her way; we’re going to file an appeal…” She was basically threatening to have the judge recused.
During each hearing, she would exaggerate everything a hundredfold and constantly send my lawyer letters, at least twice a week…something that said, “Please advise your client not to….” She definitely ran up the bill.
It also provides a paper trail, whether or not the allegations are true. She would exaggerate the amounts I was getting for surrogacy to make it look as if I had more assets than I did.
He definitely has a big problem but a really effective way of making people feel sorry for him. With 42 years on this earth, he has yet to make a single rent or mortgage payment. He has managed to get other people or organizations or somebody to pay his way for his entire life. When we were going through the divorce, the judge awarded 67% of the debt to me. Through the life of the case, I was ordered to pay all the community debts.
Pomrenze ended up extending the restraining order again until August with the same visitation. My lawyer kept trying to fight it, asking for at least one overnight. My ex and I did have text communication, but only for the children – pickups, drop-offs, etc. He tried to say that I was using it for other things, but he definitely changed the order of some of them or the actual text to something I didn’t say. That was one of those things I couldn’t prove – I did send him the text, but not that text. The phone records showed that I texted him, but not what I texted.
One thing my lawyer was able to prove was that he had bugged my phone so that he was able to see all of my incoming texts, phone calls, and emails. He could actually click in to see some of my texts and emails. His lawyer somehow managed to go around the fact that that was illegal, so it was thrown out.
In August, he tried to get me on another violation. The restraining order had expired on August 16, and my oldest son’s birthday was August 25. I had the kids the day before, and it was about 7:00 p.m. I was getting ready to drop them off, and I said, “Let me take you out to dinner for your birthday. Let’s text your dad and make sure that’s OK, and if he wants, he can meet us there.” So my son texted his dad, and he said, “OK, I’ll meet you there.”
About two hours later, we were finishing dinner, and my ex finally showed up. My son was really upset about it, but I said, “OK, whatever. ” When it was all said and done, I had to pay for the meal, his included, but I figured, “Let’s start the healing process, and maybe we can come back around.”
Two days later, I was served with another restraining order violation. On the 17th, he had gone into the PPO office, without his lawyer, and applied on his own for a new one. I didn’t get served with the new restraining order until two days after I was served with the supposed violation. At the time of the dinner, he did not know that I had not been served yet.
So we went back to court, and Judge Pomrenze had to hear the violation allegation. During the hearing, she noted another calendar date for the PPO with the hearing master, and she said, “Wait, you have a lawyer, so why do you a separate hearing for the restraining order?” So probably the only time in the entire case, she ruled against him and threw it out.
She actually had warned him at that point, too, because he had sent me a couple of text messages, after he might have been drinking, about how much he missed me. He hadn’t been a drinker, but my daughter tells me now that after I was gone, he started drinking heavily.
In June 2013, the judge had ordered the kids to go to an interview with a social worker. It was my understanding that it was just for the kids, but I later found out that my ex had spoken to the social worker prior to the kids talking to her. When we got the report after the kids had been interviewed, it showed a summary of what the social worker asked them and how they responded. A lot of the questions were very much biased against me already. It wasn’t, “Which parent do you prefer?” It was, for example, “Why don’t you want to spend time with your mom?”
In the interview, the kids had told the social worker that I yelled a lot. It was pretty scathing; when I saw it, I said, “I’m done.” It was confidential, but I was able to read it, and it was very much against me. The way the social worker spun it, even though the kids said I yelled at them, they didn’t ask, “What does she say when she yells?” or “What is your mom yelling about?”
They thought that my saying, “Get off the X-box and do your homework” or “Do your chores” was yelling. They had been coached to say what the yelling was. They really didn’t know what they were doing.
Jill’s story then moved into unsettling territory encompassing sexual misconduct with a minor and subsequent criminal charges against her then-ex-husband.
I never thought it could have happened. When I first began hearing about the inappropriate encounters with our daughter’s 15 year old best friend, I wasn’t sure what to think. I knew my ex-husband was bad, but I didn’t want to consider that he was capable of abusing a child, especially like that. It really opened the door for what more he could have done to our children and others. After hearing and reading more details, it became undeniable. A sense of guilt also struck me. Had I not been in denial and deep shame about his sexual abuse on me, I might have been able to stop him from hurting others.
As the story unfolded, this was my understanding of it: The teenager had spent much of the summer of 2013 with my daughter spending the night dozens of times after I was no longer living in the house. In the beginning of her close friendship with our daughter, earlier in 2012, she had started dating our 16-year-old son when she was just 14. When her mother was informed, she had to break off the relationship to continue her friendship with our daughter. Our son was disappointed but was respectful and still treated her kindly.
It was less than 4 months after that, that my ex-husband, in his mid-thirties at the time, began his pursuit of her. Their relationship turned sexual around her 15th birthday and continued secretly for several months. He had led her to believe he was monogamous and that their relationship would lead to marriage and family after she turned 16 and they could be open about it. However, she became suspicious after seeing another woman that he worked with frequently visiting and calling. Shortly after, he broke off their relationship telling her that he would never compare or be able to compete with boys her age. Despite her disappointment, she promised to keep their secret, and did for nearly a year after it ended.
Her story came out just a month after our final orders for our divorce were made. Because of the timing of it, I knew that even though everything in me wanted to protect my children, I had to stay as far away as I possibly could from what was to follow from the girl and her family going to the police.
Prior to the girl’s report in May 2014, I had lost custody of the kids permanently. At a hearing in January 2014, Pomrenze gave the order that he got permanent custody, and I had been reduced to 24 hours every other weekend. Since I wasn’t allowed to spend much time with the kids, I had decided to focus on my career and moved to Carson City, which is 450 miles away from where he was living. I would drive down every other weekend religiously and spend my 24 hours from Friday to Saturday evening, then drop them off and drive back home. I figured my chances at regaining custody were over. Pomrenze ordered that because I had voluntarily moved, I was to pay 100% of the transportation. Despite my distance and complete loss of mutual friendships and connections, my ex-husband still tried to implicate me in somehow setting him up. Since then, he and his family have haunted me and the children with multiple calls, reports, threats and false allegations to my employers, law enforcement, CPS, the kids’ schools, and anyone who will listen.
Regarding her ex’s arrest and incarceration, Jill told us:
He was charged in May 2014. He was released on house arrest in June 2014, and then “intensive supervision” was allowed a few months later. This allowed him to go where he wanted freely, and he just had to check in with the DA’s office once a week. He was scheduled for trial several times, but managed to keep getting it continued and pushed out to a later date. He was assigned a special public defender, which is a private attorney paid from public funds. In January 2017, he submitted a plea deal which reduced the 15 counts (11 for statutory sexual seduction, 3 for open or gross lewdness, and 1 for child abuse) he was originally charged with down to one felony charge of coercion. He was sentenced and taken to prison in March 2017. He received credit for approximately 1 month that he served when he was first arrested. His sentence was 28-72 months.
The Post & Email has viewed Jill’s ex-husband’s entry at the NDOC. As indicated in the Court Minutes dated May 14, 2014, Jill petitioned the court for temporary custody of the children, as her husband was at the time temporarily incarcerated following his arrest. Jill was granted custody of the two younger children, with her eldest having decided to live with his father in order to finish high school in Las Vegas.
Of that development, Jill told us:
The judge wouldn’t address “custody” for him, but turned around and awarded my ex-husband child support. She did a hybrid calculation giving me 25% of his income for the 2 children I had temporary custody of, and gave him 18% of my income for our 18 year old son. Because my income was quite a bit more than his, since he had chosen unemployment at that time, the calculation ended up making me have to still pay him the difference, with zero physical custody actually awarded to him. I have not petitioned the court for permanent custody since then. I was out of money to pay my attorney and didn’t dare try filing pro se while he still retained his attorney. I would be at a severe legal disadvantage, and my children had already suffered much more than all of it was worth ultimately.
Although the hearing resulted in Pomrenze’s awarding of “temporary sole physical custody” of the younger children to Jill, it also ordered that “the parties shall share JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY.” That order has not been amended.
Further, the order states that “Counsel shall BRING the MATTER BACK before the Court if any SITUATIONS needing attention COME UP,” prompting Jill to believe that once her ex-husband is released from prison as expected between June 2019 and January 2020, he could petition the court for custody of their youngest, who will still be under 18 at that time.