Law commissioner censured |

Law commissioner censured

Christina Proctor

An El Dorado County family law commissioner was publicly censured this month for failing to issue decisions in a timely manner.

According to the complaint filed by Jeffrey Valney, a South Lake Tahoe firefighter, Commissioner Gregory Emery took more than a year after the trial to issue a decision in a case regarding child support, custody, and visitation rights of Valney’s children.

Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury and Judge Gregory Haas investigated Valney’s complaints. The judges concluded that the length of delay, coupled with previous complaints about delays in making decisions, warranted public censure.

They did not support Valney’s allegations of perjury, contempt of a superior court order, or a retaliatory decision.

“The failure to promptly dispose of judicial business is never acceptable, but is particularly egregious in family law matters because of the potential for the passage of time to result in irreparable harm to the parties or their minor children,” wrote Kingsbury and Haas in their decision.

Emery told Valney and his attorney, shortly after the trial, that he had made his decision when in fact he had not. Although the justices said Emery’s assertions did not constitute perjury because they were not made under oath, they admonished him for lying.

“… this type of conduct cannot occur in the future. When a bench officer makes any untrue statement, whether outside or inside the courtroom, this serves to seriously undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary. Further conduct of this nature may result in additional discipline,” Kingsbury and Haas stated.

To help ensure that problems like Valney’s are not repeated, Kingsbury and former Presiding Judge Patrick J. Riley are requiring that Emery report to Kingsbury weekly on his case load that is awaiting decisions; schedule a “dark day” every two weeks and work on nothing but submitted matters; attend a week-long course in decision making; regularly attend continuing education courses for family law judges; and make efforts to settle cases through conferences and dispute resolution.

Valney said because he is still waiting for decisions from Emery he will not comment on the censure.

Placerville attorney Doug Phimister said Valney’s experience is not unusual.

“I will no longer go before Emery,” Phimister said. “I had a case that was worse than the one they reported. My decision took substantially longer than the one he was censured for. There are many other attorneys who are also frustrated, but they won’t come forward.”

The majority of family law matters are handled by the county’s two commissioners, Emery in Placerville and Melvin Beverly in South Lake Tahoe. Kingsbury said both commissioners have a heavy workload.

“There is a need for an additional commissioner, but no funding for it,” Kingsbury said. “To help mitigate the problem we are encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.