“You give muckrakers a bad name…. Now, you’re even using the legendary ‘when’s the last time that you beat your wife’ ploy.”
—Judge-Elect Gary Kreep, Nov. 30, 2012
The signs were staked in the ground across the street from Gary Kreep’s law office in Escondido. One read “Divorce Lawyers Lie,” the other “You’re in Good Hands With Kreep—Not.”
It was 1991, and Kreep—who’ll be sworn in as a Superior Court judge in January— was being stalked by a client who’d gone off the deep end. The signs were just the beginning of a Cape Fear-style threat to Kreep and his staff; the man allegedly idled outside Kreep’s office and sent postcards featuring images of skeletons and bloody bodies. The client defended his actions in court, saying his goal was “to protest Kreep’s unscrupulous, careless and impious actions towards me and to warn the community about an archetype of ill repute.” Kreep successfully obtained a restraining order, and the court record indicates that was the end of it.
Among attorneys who practice family law, unhinged clients are considered part of the cost of doing business. Yet, as Kreep hopes to be assigned to domestic court next year, the controversial attorney’s record in family law certainly deserves scrutiny.
After running a stealth campaign, Kreep won the June 6 primary election by less than half a percentage point. His election has raised grave concerns in the legal community and the press due to his history as a polarizing political force. A lifelong Republican, Kreep pursued a career as a self-styled constitutional-law attorney. Over three decades, he’s represented myriad conservative interests, such as the anti-abortion and Minutemen movements, and, as a Republican activist, headed up numerous political action committees. These days, he’s best known as one of the primary “Birther” attorneys suing over the supposed illegitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
(Read CityBeat's previous in-depth reporting on Kreep here.)
Soon, he’ll leave all that behind to become a judge in the Superior Court of California, serving San Diego County. He’s told multiple media outlets that he won’t let his right-wing and Christian fundamentalist leanings (such as his ardent opposition to LGBT marriage equality) impact his rulings. However, Kreep’s record in family court—as a private attorney, as the executive director of a far-right nonprofit and as a party in his own domestic matters—raises questions about whether families will be in good hands.
One of Kreep’s earliest family-related cases is stored on microfilm at the Vista courthouse. The records from 1983 and 1984 detail his representation of two foster parents who needed to obtain a restraining order against their troubled, adult adopted son, specifically to keep him away from their younger adopted child. Kreep had been hired to file the injunction, and he quoted the parents a fee of between $250 and $500. As the case became more complicated, involving Carlsbad police and a private investigator, Kreep racked up fees in excess of $1,500. When the couple couldn’t pay, Kreep took them to court.
The judge took the rare move of ruling that Kreep must write the case off as pro-bono.
“The lawyers of California have been told by the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal [sic] that they must contribute their time and talent to those less fortunate than themselves,” Judge Ross Tharp wrote in his ruling. “Such is the case at hand. Defendants, being borderline indigents, simply could not, and cannot, afford to pay $90 per hour for plaintiff’s professional services, no matter how exemplary or successful they may have been.”
Kreep declined to comment on this case, or any other case for that matter, citing attorney-client privilege, even though, at the time some of the cases were happening, he was eager to publicize them.
Through the U.S. Justice Foundation (USJF), often described as the right-wing’s answer to the American Civil Liberties Union, Kreep has inserted himself into several family-law cases. A 1987 profile in the Los Angeles Times referenced USJF’s assistance to a San Francisco man who was attempting to gain custody of his daughter. The argument was that the mother was an unfit guardian, since she’d been a leader in the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Maoist radical group. Kreep sent out a newsletter with the headline “USJF Wins First Round of Battle to Save 12-Year-Old From Communism,” the Times reported.
More than 20 years later, USJF signed on to Miller vs. Jenkins, a landmark custody dispute that cut to the core of LGBT parental rights.
The case involved a lesbian couple in a civil union who had a child together. The biological mother became an ex-gay, born-again Christian and sought to dissolve the relationship. Although a Vermont court awarded the other parent visitation rights, the biological mother—for whom the USJF served as cocounsel—left for Virginia, which doesn’t recognize LGBT unions, to invalidate the visitation rights. A federal law explicitly prohibits this kind of interstate judge-shopping; however, Kreep’s organization sought to publicize the case as a front in a larger culture war.
“We anticipate that this litigation, which centers around the issue of child custody and visitation rights resulting from a domestic partnership, will soon wind up before the United States Supreme Court as state courts are involved in more of these cases,” Kreep said in a press release. “The United States Justice Foundation believes that the time is now to engage in this battle to preserve the sanctity of traditional marriage and the best interests of children.”
The case didn’t reach the Supreme Court. When it was resolved in the other mother’s favor, the biological mother fled to Nicaragua with the child. A Mennonite pastor was convicted of kidnapping for helping the mother leave the country.
Ask Kreep about his own domestic life, and he’ll talk about how he cared for his terminally ill wife for two-and-a-half years. After she passed away, Kreep cared for his terminally ill mother-inlaw for another eight months.
He remarried in 2004, but after three years, they separated. Kreep filed for dissolution in September 2007, citing irreconcilable differences. A legal battle ensued over splitting property, including real estate, timeshares, insurance policies, IRS returns, Corvettes, art work, coin and sports-card collections and a cache of firearms. The protracted case grew bitter as Kreep accused his wife of a gambling addiction and she countered with multiple allegations of abuse.
“Since my marriage to my husband it has become very clear that he has a very strong need to control me emotionally, physically and financially,” Kreep’s ex-wife, a psychologist, wrote in a declaration on file at the East County court house. “The reason I left my husband is because he was verbally and physically and emotionally abusive. He is a recovering alcoholic and unfortunately has to lay blame on me for things he cannot accept in himself. He accuses me of addictive behaviors I don’t have, throws bottles at me, punches holes in walls, and belittles me.”
Confronted with these allegations, Kreep points out they were not made at the beginning of the case, but two years into the dispute.
“I have never touched either of my wives in anger,” Kreep writes in an email to CityBeat. “The charges of ‘verbally and physically and emotionally abusive’ are completely false. As far as being ‘a recovering alcoholic,’ I have only been ‘blasted’ once in the past 30+ years. I do not feel that it is appropriate to comment on my ex-wife’s addictions. I never threw a bottle at her, never punched walls during our marriage, and I should point out that my ex-wife was 6’ tall in stocking feet, and not exactly petite.”
CityBeat unsuccessfully attempted to reach his ex-wife directly or through her attorney of record.
Although Kreep has made a career of smearing politicians, he believes it’s unfair to bring up these issues about him.
“You REALLY must hate me, or you’re REALLY being paid a lot to go after me by the downtown crowd,” he writes. “I hope that your bootlicking is getting you the crumbs from the table of the ‘powers that be’ that you are seeking, as your journalistic integrity, and accuracy, certainly is lacking.”
Kreep will be sworn into office on Jan. 7, after which Presiding Judge Robert Trentacosta will assign him to a department.