Monday, October 16, 2006

A simple status conference in court

I just got out of a family court status conference. I had submitted this statement:
Status Memo

Status issues
Child custody: A 50-50 order is in effect.
Child support: An order is in effect.
Spousal support: Terminated. AngryMom has remarried.
Attorney fees: We are currently unrepresented.
Property division: Property has been divided by mutual agreement, but AngryMom has some issues that she wishes to raise.
My ex-wife submitted something similar, and Comm. Joseph read them. He asked us to explain.

I told him that I contacted two lawyers by phone, and that both were willing to do the nonbinding arbitration.

The judge was very cordial, and asked when we want to return. I said that I had no opinion, and that my ex-wife is driving the case at this point. He said that one of the lawyers I named has at least a one-week backlog on appointments. I said that I was deferring to my ex-wife. He suggested that we come back to court in four months, and we all agreed to a date.

I only had to wait about 15 minutes in court for our case to come up, but that was enough to remind me what a nightmare family court is. First, a lawyer asked to be moved ahead of the queue by claiming that she had a stipulated agreement or postponement. Instead, she had some complicated story that I did not understand.

The next case has handled by some lawyer who looked as if he were fresh out of law school, and he was unfamiliar with both the court's procedures and his client's case history. The judge patiently told him what to do. There was something about the wife refusing to take drug tests, but that is something the family court is actually good at. It can make people take drug tests.

The next case had a couple of seasoned female lawyers, and no clients. The case was at an early stage, and the judge send them to mediation with Dr. Berrenge, the court's in-house mediator. One lawyer said, "Uhh-oh, that is a problem. She recuses herself in all my cases." The judge didn't know what to do, and told her to contact the court mediator to suggest someone else.

It seemed lousy to me that there is a divorce lawyer in town who can't let any clients use the court's only mediator. The mediator is not supposed to have any power, if she really just mediates. She is supposed to just mediate between the divorcing parties, and not even talk to lawyers. I don't know why she'd have to recuse herself, or how the lawyer can conduct her practice under such limitations. It seemed to me that the judge and opposing lawyer should have at least been notified about the reasons for the recusal, but I did not see that happen.

At one point, the judge mentioned getting an email. I was surprised by this. Since when do these jokers have email addresses? Does this mean that I can just dump my gripes/arguments/excuses/etc on the judge whenever I feel like it, if I just had his email address?! I guess that is why he doesn't advertise his email address. I was surprised that he would even admit in open court that he gets email.

Then another case came up where the father and son lived in Illinois, and were not present. His lawyer said that he couldn't afford to fly out for the court appearance. The judge said that he got a letter from Jay Muccilli, the court-appointed psychologist in the case, and asked if the parties or lawyers had seen a copy. They all said no. The judge said that Muccilli said that he wanted to interview the child in person, and the father's lawyer wanted to set up a teleconference. Then the judge said that Muccilli's letter said that he (Muccilli) wanted to interview the child in the next three weeks (in California), or he (Muccilli) would recommend an immediate custody change!

Yikes! Where do psychologists get this kind of power? Muccilli is just some bozo in private practice, who happens to have the ear of the court because he has completed a training seminar and is willing to testify in court. He should not be able to threaten parents with custody changes just because they don't jump thru hoops on his timetable. A custody change is supposed to be for the best interest of the child, not the psychologist. I don't think that the psychologist should even be contacting the judge, except thru the parties and lawyers, so they would have opportunities to object.

I don't know anything about this case. Maybe the father is abusing the child, for all I know. But it seems to me that if there is ongoing criminal abuse suspected, then Muccilli should notify the criminal authorities in Illinois. If it is a more minor matter, then I would expect that it could be handled by phone or video teleconference (which is cheap and convenient with Skype and a PC and an internet connection). Or it could wait until the next time the mom sees the child. I cannot imagine any justification for someone like Muccilli having this sort of power. He didn't even send a copy of his letter to the parents.

I am sure glad that I am not under the control of creepy shrinks like Muccilli any more. All in all, it was a pleasant day in court.

Afterwards, I went downstairs to the law library to look up the lawyer with the one-week backlog. My ex-wife said that he was smarter than the other lawyer I found for the arbitration, but I was a little skeptical. They both have web sites, but the supposedly smarter one conspicuously omitted the name of his law school. It turned out that his law degree is from Cal-Berkeley (Boalt), a top-tier law school. I am still amazed that he can collect $350 per hour for just doing mediation. He doesn't even have to appear in court.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw this a long time ago and was curious about the woman lawyer in whose cases Dr. Berrenge always recused herself. Perhaps it was a lawyer I've seen in action who abused the rules of court by engaging in ex parte communication with a mediator.

I asked some of those who know local family court personalities. One person told me who it was and then it turned out that there's some sort of familiar relationship so they, or Dr. Berrenge, think it best that they not work on the same cases.

Actually I've met this lawyer and would give her name, but it isn't particularly relevant because there doesn't seem to be anything fishy here. The fact that Dr. Berrenge recused herself might actually be evidence of professionalism.