Sometimes there were people in my court who I just did not like.
—Lynn Toler, Presiding Judge of Divorce Court
When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.
—Barnhill-Tichenor debate on Socialism, 1914
ULF CARLSSON WILL NEVER KNOW WHY THE JUDGE HE AND OTHERS call Chainsaw McBrien took such a strong dislike to him. Maybe it wasn’t personal. Maybe the relationship between McBrien and Carlsson’s wife’s attorney, who just happened to serve as a temporary judge in the same courthouse, was too close, as the first few divorce attorneys Carlsson interviewed had suggested. Was it possible that McBrien, presumably of Irish descent, didn’t like Scandinavians? Maybe the judge had something against mild-mannered civil servants with an interest in ancient African masks. Or maybe, after years on the bench, he had just become ornery, as Gerald Nissenbaum observed that family court judges do, and the diminutive Carlsson was an easy target for his rage. Maybe the reason for his dislike does not matter because, the bottom line is the U.S. family law system allowed Judge McBrien to be as arbitrary, nasty, abusive, biased, and vindictive as Judge McBrien chose to be.
Carlsson, sitting on the back patio of his modest home in a leafy suburb of Sacramento, sips coffee from a steaming mug. He is dressed in a pressed pale-blue oxford and blue jeans. His narrow shoulders are tight. His expression conveys controlled disgust and a little resignation. He is describing the final humiliation, the last and fatal blow to his life in America, delivered personally by the Chainsaw. Carlsson had worked almost 20 years for the State of California, rising up the ranks in the planning office where he had an exemplary work record and was looking forward to a generous pension. But one afternoon during the nightmare, a superior called him into his office and told him to pack up his personal things and leave within an hour. “There was no explanation.” Carlsson sighs. “After nearly 20 years, it was just basically ‘you’re fired.’” Buy the book to read more…