Recent Calfiornia Family Law Case Involving Judge’s Bias

This article will review an interesting recent California family law case, Featherstone v. Martinez, a summary of which can be found here. The entirety of the case can be accessed here

In this case Featherstone (the court refers to her as “Mother”) was the parent of a child who was under six months old at the time. Mother sought sole primary physical and legal custody on the basis that Father traveled a lot for work and was only in town a few days a month. Mother wanted visitation in her home, for only a few hours and with advance notice. Father wanted overnight visits at least hours and overnight visitation. 

The case becomes interesting with the court’s comments that were later found to be biased. Mother was representing herself and the court made statements such as:  “I know how hard it is. You gave birth to the child. You held the child. You’ve taken care of this child. It’s hard to conceptualize that he is every bit of the parent that you are, especially in this case because he’s been there from birth…so here’s the law: If everything is equal, you’re supposed to be sharing 50/50. Not six hours. 50/50.”

Mother retained an attorney and filed a disqualification motion on the basis of judicial bias. As the litigation proceeded, issues arose where the court took umbrage with Mother’s request to record the Zoom visits between Father and child and the court believed the disqualification motion was untimely and procedurally deficient. The Court sanctioned Mother $10,000 and sanctioned her attorney $10,000. 

The Court of Appeals held that both sanctions were improper. The sanction against the attorney was an error because the code section it was based on does not allow a sanction against a party’s attorney. The sanction against the mother was unwarranted because the court cannot sanction a party for taking litigation positions to which the court disagrees. Further, Mother had a right to believe that the judge was biased and file a motion to seek redress. 


If you feel the court is biased, you have a right to make the appropriate motion. 

An attorney cannot be sanctioned with the legal basis of Section 271 

  • Quote from the case: “Section 271 provides that a family court may impose an award of attorney fees and costs `in the nature of a sanction’ where the conduct of a party or attorney `frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between the parties and attorneys.”

Mother appeared at first hearing unrepresented and perhaps may have had a better outcome had she been represented from the start of the case. 

  • Part of the basis for the improper sanction was that Mother’s disqualification motion was untimely. She waited until she had an attorney and then there was a delay in the attorney receiving the transcript.
  • In some cases, having counsel from the beginning can help you prepare the case properly from the onset of the litigation, rather than having to fix problems later.  

Contact an Experienced Family Law Firm

At the Law Office of David Knecht, we have extensive experience in family law. Whether your divorce case is at the beginning, or whether you have tried another firm without success or whether your case has been going for years, we are here to help. We will leverage our many years of experience to provide you with knowledgeable and passionate representation. Contact us at 707-451-4502.