Shelly's (47), a rather plain-looking woman, arrives at a federal prosecutor's office. Marty Mullins (56), a well-groomed married Hispanic man, is tasked with getting her statement on the record. Shelly soon realizes she has to convince Marty that an elaborate scam is occurring throughout the Arizona judicial system that is saturated with corruption. She warns Marty that her story might scare the living hell out of him.
Shelly's story starts ten years prior. Ford (39), a tall, dominant man (Shelly's husband), shows signs of having anger issues with their sons, Jessie (9), an athletic boy, and Travis (17), an emerging young man. The tension between Ford and Shelly (37) escalates when Shelly speaks up about the way he is treating her. The incident becomes hostile and violent. Shelly has to flee from her home without her children. To add insult to injury, Shelly is arrested at the hospital despite the evidence that shows she is the victim. In addition to this, Ford gets a restraining order against her. She cannot return home, nor can she see the boys, and it puts her livelihood at stake. Ford has her over a barrel.
However, Ford quickly changes his tune after realizing he cannot afford all the bills by himself. Having heard all the nightmares that people have gone through, Ford and Shelly decide to be as civil as possible. They agree on everything, including having joint custody of Jessie, in a notarized separation agreement. Since Travis is now over eighteen, he is omitted from the separation agreement.
Things change when Ford starts dating Linda (40), a manipulative drama queen. Shelly's relationship with Carl (45), a single father, is destroyed by unsubstituted allegations of him exposing himself to Jessie.
However, all Ford and Linda's attempts to get custody of Jessie are unsuccessful. At the divorce hearing, Judge Blackmoore ignores the separation agreement and awards sole custody of Jessie to Shelly.
Things take an ugly turn for Shelly when she starts dating Randal (48). He persuades Shelly to do drugs with him. Worst yet, unbeknownst to Shelly, she has been set-up by Randal and Linda. They want to take everything from her. It's no coincidence that everything around her is crumbling. Randal and Linda are nothing but con artists, and Shelly is sleeping with the enemy. Every chance Randal, Ford, and Linda get, they relentlessly stalk and harass Shelly, systematically destroying her life.
Secretly, Randal feeds her rotten meat, which results in her getting e-coli. Shelly goes to the hospital. Ford gets emergency custody of Jessie by saying Shelly went to the hospital because she almost overdosed. Judge Blackmoore awards Ford permanent custody of Jessie, despite her medical records showing that it wasn't a drug overdose.
Shelly has to sell her home and move with Randal, who pretends to be her savior. However, Randal only wants to do drugs with Shelly. When she decides to get sober, he goes off the rails. He pulls a gun on her. She has to flee from Randal's house and move into her parents' home.
Shelly realizes nothing that Judge Blackmoore has been doing seems legal, and she is hell-bent on getting custody of Jessie. She decides to study law and be the biggest pain in the court's ass that she can be. After all, what else can she do?
After being sober for over a year and a half, Shelly files for custody of Jessie. She points out all the violations of parenting time, she submits copies of her drug-testing results, which are all negative, and that Ford has not submitted to any drug-testing. However, Judge Blackmoore ignores all the evidence. In fact, he's more interested in Shelly paying child support than her being able to see her son.
During the child support hearing, Shelly is arrested. She is charged with two counts of assault, putting her career and freedom at stake. Apparently, the good ol' boy club is alive and well.
The charges stem from an incident a year prior, when Ford and Linda followed her to a casino. Shelly tosses the contents of a cocktail at them. Broke, Shelly has no choice but to represent herself during a fake trial against two prosecutors, which results in her being found guilty of one count of assault. She has to pay a thousand dollar fine and now has a criminal record, which takes her career from her. It takes two years, but she gets the charges set aside and wins her career back.
Shelly goes back to court since yet again; she is unable to see Jessie. As a form of punishment, Judge Blackmoore orders Shelly and Ford to attend counseling with Jessie. During a counseling session, Ford gets into a verbal exchange with the Counselor. He practically attacks him!
With a new judge, Judge Stevens, Shelly thinks she finally has a chance at getting custody of Jessie (16). Even after the Counselor testifies, Judge Stevens reduces her visitation time to one day a month. Ford gets away with everything.
The story ends with Jessie graduating high school and Shelly moving into an apartment. As she unpacks, she remembers several comments that Randal had made to her. It triggers her to research everyone. Shelly uncovers an elaborate scam. All of which paints a dark picture. It's shocking.
Marty is astonished. He believes her. Shelly walks Marty through the scam using all the documentation and evidence she acquired along the way. She tells him everything; who, what, where, when, how, and why. Marty thanks her for all that she's done. He will take it from here. A sigh of relief pass through Shelly's eyes, like a burden, was lifted off of her soul.
Shortly after that, since all the money's gone, Linda leaves Ford. Jessie (21) moves in with Shelly. Several DEA agents arrest Ford during a drug bust. While watching TV, Shelly discovers that Judge Blackmoore is arrested along with several other court officials.
People say the system is broken, but it's something else… In 2014 Harvard did a study, and Arizona had the highest instance of illegal corruption — "private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups."