Michael Volpe Investigates
Michael Volpe Investigates
Michael Volpe Investigates Special Report: the psychological effect of an abusive court process

Michael Volpe Investigates Special Report: the psychological effect of an abusive court process

I interviewed Ella Taran and Julia Minkowski, both litigants in Santa Clara County, CA, about the all-consuming court process and its psychological and physical effects.
Julia Minkowski, a screenshot from a YouTube video produced by Susan Bassi

Ella Taran told me that she can wakes in the middle of the night from the same recurring nightmare up to three times per night, she told me.

The recurring nightmare ends in the middle of her and her judge arguing back and forth in court over her case.

This is just one of the effects that Ella has from an all-consuming court process.

She isn’t the only one to suffer from it.

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In the latest podcast, I also spoke to Julia Minkowski. Julia has worked since she was a teenager. She managed people, gave direction, and leadership, creating a successful career in the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley.

Both Ella and Julia have been victimized by the family court system in Santa Clara County, California, next door to Silicon Valley.

Julia now finds it nearly impossible to work.

She might be working on a project when she hears a booming knock on the door.

She’s served: a motion requiring her immediate attention. She has twenty-four hours to comply.

This is not a one-time occurrence, but something which repeats itself.

Julia told me that the court process consumes ninety-nine percent of her energy, while the other one percent is dedicated to everything else: work, children (she has three), and the rest of her life.

It’s now nearly impossible to concentrate; she has trouble completing basic tasks.

Ella joined me from Thailand, where she has lived since September 2023.


She created a great deal of success in marketing, even helping transform her then husband’s martial arts business.

So, why move halfway around the world?

Ella has been arrested, falsely accused, taken away from her children, and financially devastated.

Both Ella and Julia told me they have been hospitalized as a result of the process.

Julia told me her Apple Watch sometimes lets her know just how much the process has made her suffer.

Her Apple Watch has alerted her numerous times about dangerously high heart rate or dangerous levels of oxygen.

Ella told me that the night before any hearing she suffered a breakdown.

It is a brutal, all-consuming process, in which both have developed a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) called Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS).

Worse yet, they both told me that the court players know this and purposely keep the pressure on in hopes of maximizing on their LAS.

So, who are these court players who prey on litigants in Santa Clara, CA family court?

To answer that question, I spoke with Susan Bassi., who has covered this court for years. The two-part interview is below.

Part 1


Part 2


Both Ella’s and Julia’s ex-husbands hired attorney Nicole Myers for their divorces. Susan told me that Myers is an insider with an especially troubling connection to a private judge named Michael Smith.

“Nicole Myers is an attorney who is fond of using Michael Smith as a private judge,” Susan told me.

Myers did not respond to an email for comment, but she may be very sensitive about exposure of this relationship.

About two years ago, Susan interviewed Julia as part of video she produced. Julia came on about 9:30 in.

Julia told Susan in the video that Myers recommended that Smith be brought on as a private judge.

A private judge is a unique title for California. The rich, like Sergey Brin, hire private judges to bypass the regular court process.

The problem is that this then becomes very non-transparent. Often, conflicts of interest are not disclosed, as was revealed in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce.

In a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, Jolie argues that Judge John W. Ouderkirk should be taken off the divorce case that she filed in 2016 because he was too late and not forthcoming enough about other cases he was hired for involving Pitt attorney Anne C. Kiley.

It says that during the Jolie-Pitt proceedings Ouderkirk has “failed to disclose the cases that demonstrated the current, ongoing, repeat-customer relationship between the judge and Respondent’s counsel.”

It goes on to say that Pitt’s attorney “actively advocated for Judge Ouderkirk’s financial interests in moving — over the opposing party’s opposition — to have his appointment (and his ability to continue to receive fees) extended in a high profile case.”

Julia, in her video with Susan, also described a potential conflict of interest between Myers and Smith but did not say anything which was objectionable.

Myers disagreed, and she quickly filed for $40,000 in sanctions. Susan explained further in an article in Davis Vanguard.

Since that time, Nicole Myers has repeatedly sought court orders for sanctions against Julia for speaking to the media about the case and private judging in general.  Myers has supported her request by falsely alleging Julia was responsible for Smith’s recusal such that she should be ordered to pay Myers’ attorney’s fees in the amount of $40,000—a request made as Julia has been unable to pay an attorney herself.

Susan described a Santa Clara courthouse built on insiders who get favorable rulings based on connections, rather than good legal arguments. Susan and I got into debate over whether to call this a cabal- I did and Susan disagreed- but Julia also noted that Myers touts her connections on her law firm’s website.

Prior to starting her own firm in 2014, Nicole was the senior family law associate attorney at a family law firm in Santa Clara County. Nicole’s focus on both practice area and location has enabled her to develop relationships with most family law attorneys in Santa Clara County. More importantly, she has earned the respect and trust of family law experts, judges and mediators in the area.

Nicole Myers, from her law firm’s website

Susan told me that laws meant to protect domestic violence victims in California have been perverted. Both Ella and Julia have been victimized by false domestic violence restraining orders- called the silver bullet technique- and this is something that Susan told me she tracked throughout Santa Clara.

In California, a domestic violence finding would not only help with custody, but it could be a financial windfall.

Susan explained that the logic was that domestic violence victims would have a hard time recovering and working; thereby, they should be financially compensated.

The problem- as Susan found- is that abusers and the wealthy have caught, and they file frivolous restraining orders in hopes of getting their own favorable domestic violence findings, or at least, to counteract unfavorable findings.

Susan and I also discussed other court insiders like BJ Fadem and Judge James Towery.

Check out more from Susan Bassi on Santa Clara courts.

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Michael Volpe Investigates
Michael Volpe Investigates
I give voice to the voiceless with true original reporting on topics the rest of the media is too afraid or lazy to cover.