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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Battered Wife Claims Won’t Stick to California

(CN) - A federal judge dismissed claims that California failed to protect a woman whose abusive ex allegedly shot cats in front of their children, bashed their daughter's head into a dashboard and threw a wrench at her while she was pregnant.

Michele Fotinos, of San Mateo, Calif., had filed a federal complaint in February 2012 against Attorney General Kamala Harris, the State Bar of California's Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim, San Mateo County and others.

She claimed that her ex-husband, John Fotinos, bullied, beat and intimidated her and their children, and took issue with anyone who tried to intervene.

After she filed for divorce in 2003, John Fotinos allegedly won custody of their children through a falsified ex parte application.

She said her "seriously disturbed" ex then "frightened" two visitation center therapists off the case, ran a witness off the road with his truck, and so "intimidated and frightened" the children's pediatrician that she refused to treat the children any longer.

In 2010, she filed an order to show cause seeking change of custody "based on years of interference with visitation and alienation of the children as well as for child and spousal support."

San Mateo Judge Don Franchi allegedly recused himself on the day that he was scheduled to hear the case.

"For eight and a half years years, the San Mateo judges let him [John Fotinos] get away with harassment of court-connected professionals, with not obeying orders, with letting him retain custody, all the while finding him repeatedly guilty of alienation of the children and interfering with the custody or visitation of M. Fotinos, with not paying his share for all the evaluators and therapists and other professional involved in the case, of using the minors' counsel as his own attorney at county expense, and so on," Fotinos said.

She claimed John Fotinos threw a wrench at her head while she pregnant, "assaulted a high school babysitter because she had dropped uncooked rice on the ground," shot neighbors' cats in front of his children, and, in 2011, "bashed" their child R.F.'s head against a truck dashboard, among other violent outbursts.

"While the California courts are trying to do damage control in dismantling all of J. Franchi's finding and orders, neither San Mateo Court nor the First Appellate District Court of Appeal nor the California Supreme Court are doing a proper assessment of J. Fotinos' potential for deadly violence, not just against M. Fotinos and his children but against J. Franchi," the complaint added. "Why are they allowing this man who could blow up at any moment walk around without a restraining order?"

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken dismissed the claims against Harris and Kim with prejudice last week.

"After numerous setbacks in her efforts to gain custody of her children in state court, plaintiff filed this lawsuit against numerous defendants on behalf of herself and as guardian ad litem for R.F. and A.F.," the 26-page ruling states.

"Plaintiff provides no basis for filing her motion ex parte in violation of Civil Local Rule 7-10 and she has not attached a copy of the proposed amended complaint in violation of Civil Local Rule 10-1," Wilken added. "Moreover, plaintiff's motion does not provide any grounds for granting leave to amend, and the facts and law to which the motion and attached declaration refer are not sufficient to overcome the deficiencies in her complaint identified in defendants' motions to dismiss."

The ruling also states that Michele Fotinos "has only made a bare allegation that the relevant defendants acted with the intent to deny her and her children 'equal protection of the law as victims of domestic abuse.'"

"Plaintiff has made no allegations suggesting that any conspiracy, assuming that one existed, was motivated by animus against victims of domestic violence," Wilken continued. "Rather, the complaint alleges that the conspiracy operated to prevent plaintiff from regaining custody of her children."

The plaintiff can still amend her claims against the remaining defendants: John Fotinos and his wife, Dawn Grover; Bonnie Miller, the children's former court-appointed counsel; the City of Belmont; Belmont police officer Robyn Pitts; San Mateo County; San Mateo County deputy sheriffs Mark Reed and Patrick Carey; Renee La Farge, a former reunification therapist for Fotinos and her children; and Shannon Morgan, a San Mateo County social worker.

This amended complaint is due April 5, but Michele Fotinos may not add any additional causes of action without leave of the court.

If Fotinos does not file an amended complaint, her federal claims will be dismissed with prejudice and the state claims will be dismissed without prejudice to refiling in state court, according to the ruling.

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