Sonoma County's top judge said Wednesday that a fellow judge acted appropriately when she rejected an emergency restraining order for a Petaluma woman, who was shot to death one week later by her estranged husband.
Meanwhile, public records show that a second judge turned down a similar request one month earlier by Kim Conover, 43, when the Petaluma teacher sought a court order to protect her from Kevin Conover, 41.
On Sunday, the man shot his wife outside her divorce lawyer's office in downtown Petaluma and then turned the gun on himself.
The case has shined a light on the difficult decisions that police officers and judges face when sorting through conflicting accounts that are common in domestic disputes.
Judge Rene Chouteau, the presiding judge of the Sonoma County Court, said Judge Virginia Marcoida followed the law April 9 `when she reviewed the information provided by a Petaluma police officer and then denied Conover's request .
"Whatever was related by the officer to the judge didn't meet the criteria of immediate and present danger of domestic violence," Chouteau said Wednesday.
Marcoida did not comment Wednesday and referred calls to court administrators.
Kim Conover made her most recent request for an emergency protective order April 9 at the Petaluma Police Department. She reported that her husband had grabbed her that morning during an argument at their Searles Way home.
A Petaluma police officer went to the home to investigate the allegations, which the husband denied, Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said Wednesday.
"She makes a claim, he says the total opposite," said Lyons.
"She did not want prosecution. There were no witnesses. The officer checked the residence to see if there were any signs of any physical altercation and did not find any," Lyons said.
She changed her initial explanation of why the couple had been arguing, Lyons said. Later in the day, she agreed with her husband that they had been fighting over a relationship she had while the couple was separated, Lyons said.
"The officer is presented with all of this and he's got to make a decision," Lyons said.
Even though she did not want her husband arrested that day, the officer could have arrested Kevin Conover anyway, on suspicion of misdemeanor battery, based on her allegation.
"We could make an arrest, even with the lack of injury showing and when the victim does not want prosecution," Lyons said.
The officer decided not to arrest the man, said Lyons.
"I feel he acted appropriately, based on his documented report," Lyons said.
The officer went to the judge in an attempt to help the woman get the restraining order, Lyons said.
The Petaluma Police Department is now reviewing how the Conover case was handled by its officers, standard policy for such incidents, Lyons said. He declined to name the officer.
County judges rotate the job of reviewing requests for emergency protective orders. That Monday, it was Marcoida's turn.
The conversation between the officer and the judge wasn't documented, Lyons said. But typically, a police officer provides as much information as he or she has to help the judge make a decision, Lyons said.
Chouteau said several such requests are made weekly to the courts. A majority are approved, he said.