After a whirlwind romance, marriage, pregnancy, and equally quick divorce, Jonea Rogers was ready to chalk up the whole thing to another life lesson learned. But then her three‐year‐old daughter began returning from custody visits to father, Ian Stone, with what Rogers perceived as evidence of physical and sexual abuse. As any good mother would do, Rogers took her concerns to a variety of official sources: law enforcement, child protective services, family court.
It was Jonea Rogers’ misfortune to find herself at the mercy of the Marin County, California, family court system (more on that later). Authorities refused to intervene, even in the face of medical evidence and testimony by both Ms. Rogers and her babysitter. Feeling she was left with no alternative, this desperate mother took her child and disappeared.
For three years, Rogers and her daughter lived under assumed identities, traveling hither and yon across eight different countries, all with the goal of preventing further contact with an allegedly abusive father and grandfather. But luck eventually ran out for the mother and daughter. A “good samaritan” tipped off police after recognizing the young girl from a missing child listing on the Polly Klaas Foundation website.
It wasn’t long before Rogers found herself sitting in jail for five months with a $500,000 bond on a federal warrant of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Her daughter was immediately and without question turned over to her alleged abusers.
Meanwhile, Rogers was prosecuted on criminal charges for abducting her own child, but a Marin County jury found her innocent on all charges in a 2006 court proceeding. The very same evidence that the jury considered in Rogers’ exoneration had been deemed “frivolous” years earlier by a family court judge and tossed aside.
Though Ms. Rogers avoided additional jail time, she has never been allowed to regain custody of her daughter. The girl lives with her alleged abusers to this day. Is this an example of a psychotic mother who couldn’t bear the thought of sharing her child with a hated ex, or is there a deeper issue at play? According to lawyer/author Karen Winner, there’s been something rotten going on in the Marin Superior County family court system for a while now.
Winner wrote an 81‐page report in 2000 that detailed a series of unseemly relationships between an elite group of wealthy attorneys who maintained close ties with Marin family law judges. According to Winner, the system was rigidly rigged to favor male clients with deep pockets, who could afford the high‐priced legal help.
Enter the FLEAs
Such an acronym seems to good to be true. A group of favored attorneys who actually call themselves FLEAs? Winner’s report asserts that is exactly what they called themselves, short for Family Law Elite Attorneys. This group was unofficially founded in the early 1980’s under the leadership of family law attorney Michael Buck Dufficy. By 1990, Mr. Dufficy had become a judge, and it seemed that a client was assured a victory in his courtroom merely by hiring one of the FLEAs.
And perhaps the most prominent FLEA of all, other than Dufficy himself, was one Terence Frederick Colyer. The Colyer strategy, as told by an employee of his firm in 1997, was “papering people to death,” and running up exorbitant legal fees in the process. But to a client able to write a check on the family fortune, nothing mattered except winning and that’s what Colyer always did.
Grand Jury Involvement
By 1997, the cozy arrangement between Judge Dufficy and the FLEAs had been brought to the attention of a grand jury, which voted 19‐0 to conduct an investigation into alleged improprieties at the family law court. Among the charges, Judge Dufficy flouted laws and manipulated outcomes by showing gross favoritism to attorneys like Colyer, Mauna Berkov, and Verna Adams (who was appointed to the bench in 1999).
The favoritism was so severe that a former law partner of Colyer’s referred to it as the Verna Factor, which meant that if Verna Adams appeared as opposing counsel, you might as well not show up because you were going to lose. Though Judge Dufficy eventually recused himself from hearing Family Law Court Cases on the grounds of poor health, further reform of the system ground to a halt, even in the face of the Winner Report, the grand jury investigation, multiple FBI investigations, attempted voter recalls of Marin Superior Court judges and the district attorney, numerous newspaper articles, and volumes of complaints from litigants.
The only tangible evidence that anything was amiss was when the Commission on Judicial Performance privately censored Judge Dufficy regarding his conduct on two separate cases. By 2002, everything had returned to “normal” in the Marin County family law system.
The Good and the Bad
But back to Jonea Rogers and her plight. Though it appears that she achieved some measure of justice with the innocent verdict regarding child abduction charges, the custody case continues. Following her criminal vindication, Rogers was still left paying a fee to see her daughter a few times a month at a supervised visitation facility. Not the result she envisioned after receiving a verdict concluding that social services and law enforcement had failed her, creating a desperate state of mind that convinced her running was the only answer.
The Marin Family Court allowed Stone to move with his daughter to Hawaii in 2005, even though a Marin County court psychiatrist deemd the move would be detrimental to the child. Jonea Rogers has a request for custody and return of her daughter to Marin now pending in the Marin Family Court.