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Janine M. Frisco was quoted in The Daily Journal

Brandmeyer Gilligan & Dockstader’s own Janine M. Frisco was interviewed and quoted in the Daily Journal profile article of Judge Mark Epstein of the Los Angeles Superior Court:

 

LOS ANGELES — Judge Mark Epstein once delayed his vacation to ensure two children knew where they’d be going to school after summer break.

It was a family law case in which parents bickered about their school of choice, and Epstein wanted to resolve the matter before the first day of classes. If he hadn’t put off his own downtime, the children might have started at one school and then been forced to enroll in another weeks later.

“That’s really hard on the kids; it’s not fair,” Epstein said.

And while he ruled against Janine Frisco of Long Beach firm Brandmeyer Gilligan & Dockstader LLP and her client, Frisco praised the judge for being considerate.

“It just showed me that this judge cares more about the kids and getting what’s right instead of saying it’s my holiday or my vacation. ... He went above and beyond what a judge does,” she said.

After nearly 30 years as a complex business litigator, Epstein has spent his first year on the bench presiding over family law cases at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.

He might be new to the field, but he already describes himself as a “proceduralist” and holds firm on certain practices. For one, he’d prefer not to talk to children in his capacity as a judge.

“I think it’s terrible,” Epstein said. “The danger of it is ... you’re putting a 14-year-old witness on the stand and subjecting that person to examination and cross-examination about which parent they would rather be with.”

Epstein believes that could have a lasting impact on the relationship between a parent and child. He’s spoken only twice to minors, and on one of those occasions, both parties preferred Epstein’s involvement to that of an independent evaluator.

When a family is facing a move-away order because the parents live far apart, Epstein said he’ll take that up before any other matter in a divorce case, noting that he doesn’t want a child bouncing back and forth while the trial plays out.

“What you want is to bifurcate the trial and see who’s going to get custody of the child. ... I think it’s better than me holding a trial four months later. ... I don’t understand the logic of that,” Epstein said. “It’s a lot of hassle on the kid and a terrible waste of ... resources.”

Family law attorney Richard Trugman of the Trugman Law Group in Beverly Hills said Epstein quickly picked up on the knowledge required.

The judge stays on top of reading case documents, and while he doesn’t issue written tentative rulings, he’ll announce them orally.

“He would at times tend to say ‘OK, this is my sense of things after reading the papers. I’ll hear argument,’” Trugman said, “which is fairly typical of a good judge to narrow the discussion.”

Frisco recalled going over court transcripts and was reminded of how well Epstein simply explained things.

Epstein said he does that quite a bit with self-represented litigants to help focus the conversation and provide an example.

“The issue before me, say, is custody and what one person wants to tell me is how the other side hasn’t been paying child support. ... Really, under the law, it’s not related to custody,” Epstein said. “You can owe child support and never pay it. It doesn’t mean you can’t see your children.”

Family law attorney Michele Friedlander in Encino said Epstein’s demeanor is thoughtful and thorough and that he gives both sides the opportunity to make arguments and consider them sufficiently before ruling.

“It seems like he keeps a tight rein on parties to steer them towards resolution,” Friedlander said. “He made his expectations known and clear and told the parties if they don’t meet the deadlines and show up to the trial-setting conference having completed the things on his list, then they’re going to have some explaining to do.”

Epstein said he offers words of encouragement to parents who’ve had their child visitation reduced because of substance or alcohol abuse problems. For drugs like methamphetamine, however, he’s more skeptical.

“Meth is super addictive. I don’t want to hear, ‘I’ve been clean and sober for a month,’” Epstein said. “I don’t think so. Not with meth. Maybe with other drugs.”

Epstein said one of the hardest parts of his job is domestic violence matters because it could be tough to determine when a restraining order should be issued. A tough call might be where there were no hits, but a few shoves. Since the preponderance of evidence is low, it’s about weighing the risk of not issuing an order.

“So you can be telling someone, ‘I’m destroying your chance to have a livelihood ... but you got to do your best and get it right,’” Epstein said. “Sometimes you really just don’t know; there’s no way to know. Those ones are really tough for me.”

Epstein added that he’ll usually sign off on recommendations made by Family Court Services though he has tweaked them in the past.

He is a native Angeleno and grew up in the west side neighborhood of Westdale. After graduating from UCLA, he enrolled at the University of Berkeley School of Law, where he finished his studies in 1985. Epstein spent the early years of his career clerking for federal judges, including a year for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

In 1988, he moved back to Los Angeles and joined Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, where he spent nearly three decades in civil litigation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Epstein to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2016.

Off the bench, Epstein is an avid fan of both word and jigsaw puzzles and — although he’s embarrassed to admit it — computer games. His favorite titles include “Starcraft II” and the “Diablo” series.

~ Arin Mikailian, Daily Journal Reporter

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