Prison employees protected by sick, secret power structure Family law cases show unlawful activities by judges, attorneys and police
Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing, California's highest paid employee at $780,000 for 2010, will cost taxpayers far more in pending lawsuits. Removed from his duties in 2006 as a doctor at Susanville's notorious High Desert State Prison, he received preferential treatment which cast his disabled wife to the streets. Intervention is needed by Governor Jerry Brown immediately.
It has taken years to get only a few details of the bizarre circumstances surrounding Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing into the mainstream media. What has surfaced so far is superficial, barely touching a tangled web of lawless people who are in power in Susanville, California.
Two years ago when the families of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect (U.N.I.O.N.) held a press conference at the state capitol to advise the media of the settlement of prisoner Joseph Sullivan's wrongful death lawsuit, there was another case that I brought to the attention of reporters. It was not the typical story of the torture and state murder by medical neglect of prisoners. It concerned the disturbing divorce case of High Desert State Prison's Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing from his severely disabled and ultimately homeless wife. That press conference in 2009 marked the beginning of our daunting task to get lawmakers' and media attention to what was clearly an abused California Department of Corrections wife whose wealthy physician husband refused to pay her settlement and/or return her stolen personal property. Dr. Rohlfing had further maligned her as being the cause of his problems at the State Personnel Board and he got away with taking everything that his wife had worked hard to acquire after eight and half years of marriage. At the age of 60 years, she was reduced to extreme poverty and unless justice is done by reversing these false rulings, she has no hope of recovery or survival in the future.
I never volunteer my time to help the rich or those who work for the prison system, but Dr. Rohlfing was implicated in an inmate death and the improper care of other prisoners so severe that he has not been allowed to treat any inmate since July 6, 2005. I have numerous, unspeakable complaints coming out of the three prisons near Susanville, especially High Desert. There is rarely any help at any level of government for these prisoners and their families when intervention is needed.
Dr. Rohlfing has been in the national news lately as the highest paid California state employee in 2010, at approximately $780,000 which included back pay. Unless something is done, he will be sorting mail at High Desert State Prison for a salary of $235,000 or more, which is a rip-off of the taxpayers. However, Dr. Rohlfing has cost us far more than the others recognize in lawsuits filed against him for numerous people who suffered damages. I have fought for more humane treatment of mentally ill prisoners for 14 years on a daily basis. There is no group of prisoners who are victimized more than the mentally ill in prison and I have great compassion for their condition and adamantly object to their mistreatment. But when Rohlfing, a mentally ill prison doctor who had his privileges suspended at three different hospitals was hired by the State to treat prisoners, that was an action that had a predictably tragic outcome. I have long known that the State hires doctors as long as they have a current license, regardless of their records. While I have great compassion for the mentally ill, I never believe that they should be in elected office or employed as prison doctors where clear thinking and good judgment are matters of life and death. The State has low standards and often hires people who cannot get a job anywhere else. Further probing of the reasons why Dr. Rohlfing lost his privileges at these hospitals reveals a trail of bizarre acting out and restraining orders.
An internet search at Justia.com shows Rohlfing's name mentioned in 13 different lawsuits, which I am still reading to determine the extent of his damages.
Rohlfing had also been an expert witness in hundreds of cases as an orthopaedic surgeon, and is a smooth talker. His wife Kristi, age 60, struggles with dyslexia, ADHD and stammers when she speaks. After a blood-curdling divorce from Rohlfing, she now suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition which has left her permanently disabled and unable to work or make major decisions. She would have little chance of recovering her property or getting police protection in a prison town like Susanville when going up in a family law matter against someone so powerful and articulate that he was above the law.
According to Mrs. Rohlfing, after several prison doctors helped Dr. Rohlfing to rob her of her personal property, the local police dispatcher refused to send assistance. Over the course of two years, Dr. Rohlfing stripped the house of everything but a shelf of books, even taking her vehicles. He violated court orders but local agencies refused to stop him.
She and witnesses believe that the silver-tongued Rohlfing, aided by his then attorney F. Don Sokol, who is now the county's chief presiding judge, convinced local authorities that Rohlfing was the head psychiatrist at the prison. Rohlfing, with assistance, convinced law enforcement personnel that his wife should not be believed, when it was he who suffered from documented mental illness, not her. That misconception empowered Rohlfing to do whatever he wanted to his wife without consequence because the local authorities thought that he was credible. She describes one physical assault by Rohlfing lasting for 45 minutes, which she reported to various law enforcement individuals and agencies, including the District Attorney Robert Burns, other agencies and the Lassen County Grand Jury. The local authorities were complicit in ignoring and punishing Mrs. Rohlfing because her husband was a doctor at the prison, the industry which is the ballast of the Lassen County economy. It reached a point where Mrs. Rohlfing had all of her personal property stolen, her cat poisoned, locks on her home changed in violation of a court order and she literally had to flee Susanville for her life with only the clothes on her back. There are witnesses to the fact that law enforcement allowed all this to happen to her when they refused to do their jobs.
Susanville is home to three prisons and in 2007, Ted Koppel did a special for the Discovery Channel entitled "Prison Town" which can still be viewed online here.
What isn't apparent in Koppel's special, is that the local criminal justice system is dominated and controlled by the prison employees and attorneys who protect their interests. Because there is little or no accountability of State employees, their wives and children are often victims of domestic abuse. As I researched several cases where Rohlfing's attorney, Joseph Polockow had been representing the husbands, I noted a disturbing pattern of violence and denial of justice, including spousal and child support.
I reference the following cases in addition to the Rohlfing files and records.
Dan R. Hatton vs. Leslie Hatton Case No. 46537
TIMOTHY JOHNSON vs. SVETLANA JOHNSON Case No. FS 3568
YEVGENIYA MCNEIL, vs. MICHAEL MCNEIL Case No. FS 46200
I believe that the failure of the criminal justice system in Susanville not only needs to be exposed but investigated, with consequences brought to everyone who was complicit in this travesty of justice. Whether or not there could be a real investigation is probably wishful thinking on my part, but major reform needs to take place there. The failed and flawed investigation methods and prejudice of law enforcement police agencies in Susanville including the office of the District Attorney were clearly exposed in the People vs. McNeil case tried in Southern California. The victims in that case include Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, Ms. McNeil, the Eder Family and countless others. McNeil is now serving a 20-year sentence, but in Susanville, few members of law enforcement are ever held accountable for their crimes.
The records show patterns of these wives being what lawyers often call "small-towned" in shocking and unlawful ways. After reading these cases it is clear to me that the wives and children of prison and other state employees are almost always the losers within this corrupt, isolated and secret society.
Collusion is easy to achieve when the community is comprised of people who are related to one another, often working for the prison system that they are dedicated to protect. When there are but two judges and few attorneys handling the business for all the locals, it easy to control court outcomes to favor law enforcement employees. For example, in the case of Dan R. Hatton vs. Leslie Hatton Case No. 46537 the court records read "It should be noted, Judge F. Don Sokol's private practice was sold to Attorney Polockow and due to that existing business relationship, it is a clear conflict of interest for him to have adjudicated the Farley case which directly impacted on the child custody issues then pending in the Hatton case." Attorney Polockow should have had the integrity not to appear before Judge Sokol in that case.
Inside the prisons, problems are handled in a similar manner of preferential treatment and a lack of transparency, which suppresses the voice of the inmates and denies them due process. Outsiders can rarely see how the "Blue Wall" methods apply to the locals in a court system so corrupt that the State Bar and California Commission for Judicial Performance need to intervene.
Wives and prisoners are second-class citizens in the prison town of Susanville. They are powerless to do anything about it when the judges and a few lawyers collude with one another. While there is an occasional "visiting judge", justice delayed is justice denied. Dr. Rohlfing and his lawyers used cronyism before friendly and corrupt judges in order to destroy his wife Kristi in the opinion of almost everyone involved in the case.
Bi-polar disorder often turns those who suffer from it into two personalities, such as that reflected in the story of the mad Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Rohlfing's lawyer, Joseph Polockow, knew of his mental illness and the disability of his wife. In my humble opinion, Polockow had a moral and ethical obligation to handle the matter in a civil manner so that the money and property would be equally divided. Men of good character should be human beings first and rabid attorneys second. In a highly unusual court ruling by Judge Charles Hayden, Polockow was allowed to keep proceeds from the illegal sale of Mrs. Rohlfing's real estate properties in HIS trust fund. Her spousal support payments stopped coming in March, 2007 even though Dr. Rohlfing had control of their multiple seven digit resources that were before the court from which he could have made the payments. Mrs. Rohlfing's property was sold without her permission with the excuse that "she couldn't be reached" when there is evidence that she had been in touch with Polockow and the real estate broker on a recent and continuing basis.
Court records report Rohlfing was paid approximately $780,000 last year, yet he made no effort to compensate his wife. Dr. Rohlfing and Attorney Joseph Polockow were able to convince Judge Hayden that she was the cause of his problems with the State Personnel Board. The recent news coverage is further evidence that she had nothing to do with Rohlfing's disciplinary actions for incompetency and the mistreatment/neglect of inmates. That spousal support which was cut off by Judge Hayden based on false claims and ineffective assistance of counsel needs to be rectified. In a recent 2011 trial of the case, newly appointed Judge Joseph Harvey, announced that the prior awards to Dr. Rohlfing involving six figures by predecessor Judge Hayden, were improper.
However, no correction was recommended or implemented by Judge Harvey. Judge Hayden greatly erred by cutting off the spousal support and health insurance causing permanent and irreversible injury to Mrs. Rohlfing. She is now costing the taxpayers $835 a month in disability benefits because of her husband's refusal to give her back her own property, which is not an amount that she can survive on given her numerous inflicted medical problems and injuries.
On July 19, 2011 a court order was issued to return some of the misappropriated funds which to date has not happened. In spite of Mrs. Rohlfing's extreme need of her funds and stolen assets, Polockow still refuses to write a check. Defying a court order could result in contempt or disbarment. There has never been an accounting of the funds placed in Polockow's trust account despite numerous requests. nor has there been an investigation of Dr. Rohlfing's millions in assets. This accounting needs to happen item by item and adjustments made.
Both former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jerry Brown knew of the abuse that was taking place. Yet when the Los Angeles Times article by Jack Dolan brought out one or two facts about Rohlfing's high salary, everyone that we had been seeking help from acted as if it was the first time that they had ever heard of this injustice.
Schwarzenegger's aide did not take any direct action except to request a detailed memo about prison medical problems at High Desert State Prison and advised a traumatized, disabled elderly woman with no money for lawyers, to file complaints with various agencies within the Department of Justice. It was the usual pass- the-buck, transfer-the-call run around that bureaucrats give to anyone trying to get remedy from the misdeeds of State prison employees. Mrs. Rohlfing made noble efforts to write, call, and/or attempt to see everyone to whom she was referred. She rarely received any response, let alone any action. This deliberate indifference is akin to what the prisoners' families go through, even in life and death circumstances.
At the time, Attorney General Jerry Brown's office turned it over to Mike Farrell in the criminal division and advised Mrs. Rohlfing that he would be contacting her for more information and possible remedy. When Farrell didn't call, she took the initiative and tried to reach him on several occasions but could never get any communications returned.
Brown had many opportunities as Attorney General to rectify this situation in terms of prosecutorial misconduct, judicial misconduct, civil rights violations, and felony violations under state and federal laws. Nothing at all was done, and Mrs. Rohlfing was simply cast to the streets. It took several years of living in her car, sleeping on couches, doing without food and having no medical treatment for injuries, for the insufficient social security benefits to begin. All the while, Dr. Rohlfing continued to live a comfortable lifestyle. There were funds from the sale of her properties which she never did receive, although Mrs. Rohlfing says that Dr. Rohlfing and Polockow wrote large checks to themselves and not to her. What was her husband's attorney doing controlling funds that should have gone to her? What was Judge Hayden thinking when he allowed Polockow to control Ms. Rohlfing’s money? Why was Judge Harvey so disturbed with Judge Hayden’s ruling which gave Polockow power over her funds that he never should have been assigned? She and her attorneys made numerous requests, but Polockow refused information and he is still refusing to pay what is owed to her.
Mrs. Rohlfing was told by the Susanville police that they wouldn't intervene because "it was too complicated" and that she "appeared to be able to take care of herself." Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown told her that they wouldn't intervene because the courts and police agencies in Susanville are "self-regulating." This deliberate indifference resulted in a cruel outcome and permanent disabilities that were preventable had the police been doing their jobs to respond to her cries for help.
After 14 years of taking complaints from 33 prisons, I repeatedly find that there is almost no oversight of our criminal justice system, which is corrupt from arrest through parole. This is one reason why most doctors' wives refuse to live in the rural towns where prairie justice can so greatly diminish their rights. Will there be any justice in the tragic case of Mrs. Rohlfing? The cost of California's highest paid prison employee was far greater that the back pay that exalted him to $780,000 and the losers are the taxpayers and Rohlfing's abused wife.
This is what to needs to happen now:
An attorney of Mrs. Rohlfing's choice needs to be paid for by the State in order to represent her in the appeal of her divorce, the personal injury and federal civil rights suits that she has been forced to write herself because she cannot afford counsel. All legal actions need to be removed from Lassen County and prosecuted vigorously.
She needs whistleblower protection from every level of state, county and city retaliatory acts against her.
Immediate compensation for the actual value of Mrs. Rohlfing's half of two estate properties, which were illegally sold below market without her permission to a conflicted party, based on Attorney Joseph Polockow's fraud.
Conduct a formal DOJ investigation into Lassen Court patterns and practices of non-compliance with state and federal laws in handling domestic violence and family law procedures.
A pre-settlement release of funds for the tortious, and ongoing interference of employees of CDCR in the Lassen court proceedings. The preferential treatment of CDCR employees by the police and sheriff's department whose deliberate indifference resulted in Mrs. Rohlfing's permanent disabilities.
B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.