SPECIAL MASTERS, OR PARENTING PLAN COORDINATORS – KEEPING SMALL ISSUES OUT OF THE COURTROOM
Not since the first training session for Special Masters over six years ago, has there been a training program in s Los Angeles County for attorneys and mental health professionals interested in becoming Special Masters. The Superior Court, along with the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts, AFCC, sponsored a training program in March. Matthew Sullivan, Ph.D. provided the training, followed by a panel, including Judge Robert Schnider, Lynette Robe, J.D., Angus Strachan, Ph.D. and Jane Shatz, Ph.D. A list of the attendees who attended the training, and perhaps the earlier training, will be developed.
The court may not order the assignment of a Special Master in a case, although if the parties and the attorneys stipulate, the court will usually sign the stipulated order. A few difficult cases require an inordinate amount of judicial resources and are wearing on all the professionals involved, not to mention the adverse effects on the children. Using a Special Master to make decisions regarding more routine conflicts may provide benefits for the families as well as for the bench officers. Mary Lund, Ph.D. and Lyn Robe and convened A Special Master committee and developed a stipulation for the use of the Special Master. It is now available on the Family Law Home Page of the Los Angeles County Bar Website: lacba.org. The use of the Special Master or Parenting Plan Coordinator is not without controversy. Some are concerned about the delegation of authority to non-judicial officers and the absence of the usual protections in a court hearing. The option, however of using an attorney or mental health professional to resolve minor issues may provide relief to the courtrooms that are excessively burdened.
See an excellent summary of the case law regarding the Parenting Plan Coordinator by Mara Berke, Law Offices of Marshall S. Zolla, “Planned Parenthood,” Los Angeles Lawyer, March 2009.
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David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.
In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.
He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.
In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.