Bass Lake double murder-suicide prompts protection concerns

FRESNO, Calif.

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Family law attorneys work with people getting divorced, fighting over a child's custody, and other emotional situations.

Violence isn't uncommon, and the Bass Lake murders have some people thinking about arming themselves.

Williamson vs. Williamson is the latest of many divorce cases to end outside of a courtroom in violence.

Investigators say Jim Williamson murdered his wife, Sandy, and her attorney, Judy Soley, at Ducey's on the Lake restaurant in Bass Lake.

Just hours before, they were all in court for the Williamsons' divorce case.

"You never do know which person has been sent over the edge," said family law attorney Brian Tatarian.

Tatarian has seen family law cases from both sides of the bench -- as a lawyer and as a judge pro tem. He says they can often be powder kegs, ready to explode.

"Family law cases have to be the most volatile emotionally," Tatarian said. "Good people typically are going through the worst times of their lives."

Several of Tatarian's clients have been killed -- including Tim Schuster, whose ex-wife, Larissa, was convicted of murder after her husband was dumped in a barrel of acid. But exes aren't always the only targets.

"We've had death threats and a couple of attempts on my life," said family law attorney Judy Lund. "Things happen."

Lund says bailiffs have escorted her out of court on several occasions, but the protection only lasts to her car.

Family law attorney Kim Aguirre had just stepped out of his northeast Fresno office when someone shot him in 2006.

Now, the Bass Lake murders have a lot of attorneys thinking about protecting themselves.

"The issue is, 'Is there anything you can really do?'" said Tatarian. "Well, it's very difficult. All my friends are talking about carrying guns and whatnot."

As for Judy Soley's cases already in progress, they'll stay with her law firm -- which she shared with her daughter.

Community members and more than 20-churches in the eastern Madera County area have organized a prayer service and day of fasting after this latest tragedy. The event will be held Sunday, February 27th from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Oakhurst Community Center at 39800 Road 425B in Oakhurst.

On Monday, a memorial service will take place for Judy Soley. It starts at 1:00 p.m. at the Fresno Convention Center New Exhibit Hall.

Judy's family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Judy Soley Memorial Fund for disabled students at UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law. The address is 215 Boalt Hall, Berkeley, California 94720.

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Lawyer dropped Bass Lake gunman early in divorce case

It looked like a normal day at Ducey's Lodge on Bass Lake. But employees who witnessed the shootings of Judith Soley and Sandra Williamson and on Wednesday were attending a mental health counseling session.

Ducey's Manager Roman Zabicki said the staff was trying to come together after living through the bloody ordeal. "People are still stunned and shocked but we're dealing with it. The staff is looking to get together and bond, and support each other. That's the word. Support one another and help get through this tragic event." He said.

Zabicki told Action News he was "not doing too well." He had rushed to Judith Soley's aid and attempted to stop the bleeding from her gunshot wounds.

Soley, a well known Fresno attorney and her client Sandra Williamson were at Ducey's on a lunch break from what was to be the final phase of a four year long divorce proceeding at the nearby Bass Lake Courthouse.

Sandra's estranged husband, James Williamson was representing himself in the contentious case. His previous lawyer, Steven Shahbazian of Fresno, told Action News he dropped Williamson as a client early on.

"I left the case about three years ago. A few months after it started. My professional position was I didn't want to be involved any further in the case and I withdrew." He said.

Sandra Williamson's original attorney also dropped the case at about the same time. The attorney was not available for a comment.

While Shahbazian wouldn't talk about the specifics of the Williamson case he said lawyers may withdraw from extremely volatile divorce proceedings. "In many cases if you can't, if it's truly confrontational and acrimonious you may not be able to handle this and you may tell that person I'm sorry I can't represent you particularly if that person wants you to do things or present positions you should not that are not supported by the law or the facts." He said.

Much of the dissension in the Williamson case focused on the couple's home and finances. James Williamson is alleged to have vowed to not let Sandra have "his" house. He was also said to be angry at the $150,000 in legal feels Soley was demanding. It's alleged in the divorce proceedings he had taken nearly $1 million in equity out of the home fraudulently and without his wife's knowledge.

After killing the two women James Williamson shot and killed himself in the house during a standoff with Madera County Sheriff's Deputies. The couple had been married for more than 20 years. They both had adult children from previous marriages.

Members of Sandra's family were at the home today, but declined to comment other than to say funeral services are still being worked out.

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