Monday, March 31, 2008

My check was returned

I just found out that the court reporters are supposed to finish my transcripts by April 14. After that, the local court clerk will assemble the record for the appellate court, and I will be able to submit a appeal brief (ie, 40-page written argument) that cites the court record.

Today the court is closed because of the Cesar Chavez holiday.

I sent another check to the Appeals Clerk, but I got this envelope returned to me. Isn't 41 cents the correct first class postage? I don't get it. Maybe someday the courts will not be so dependent on the postal system. The courts take deadlines very seriously, so postal mistakes can cause a lot of trouble.

A reader sends this AP story:
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was released on bond from a federal prison Friday, saying he remains upbeat despite serving nine months for corruption. ...

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Siegelman should be released while he appeals his conviction. ...

The appeals process had been delayed for months after the court reporter during the trial died and the transcript was not completed as it normally would have.
I hope none of the court reporters die!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Calling another psychologist

I got a proposed agreement from another psychologist who does forensic child custody evaluations, and it had this clause:

Many parents ask about confidentiality in a child custody evaluation. Quite simply, within the process, there is no confidentiality.
I think that this is correct. The main purpose of the evaluation is to develop evidence to be presented in open court, and it is not confidential.

One of my complaints with a previous evaluator was that he tried to trick my kids into thinking that the process was confidential. They were surprised when they learned that it was not.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Clarifying the court orders

A reader wrote that my description of the court orders is confusing. Comm. Irwin Joseph did not issue any new orders to us in court last week. What he did was to give us copies of an order that he issued to Elizabeth Lee back in January. That order was for Ms. Lee to do a child custody evaluation. She wrote to the court that she was unable to do it.

I don't know he didn't give us copies of the order back in January. Maybe it was an oversight on the part of a clerk, I don't know. The order is now obsolete, as Ms. Lee is not going to do it.

So why was Comm. Joseph giving us copies of the order on Friday? Because he was urging us to find another psychologist. If my ex-wife and I were to find and agree on another psychologist, then presumably Comm. Joseph would issue another order with that shrink's name on it. We were getting a copy of the previous order so that we can tell the new shrink what he would be doing.

I have tried calling some psychologists, but Comm. Joseph's wishes are still hopelessly ambiguous. My ex-wife and I will probably have to go back to him for another order.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Calling evaluators

I tried calling forensic child custody evaluators, without much luck. The Santa Clara court list is years out of date, and many of the telephone numbers are no good.

Several have asked to see the court order, and have insisted that no one could get started without a written order. I just told one that I could send him the order, but he said that he could not possibly start unless he had in hand an order with his name on it. Otherwise someone might object later, he said.

I tried to explain that my ex-wife and I do not agree on custody, and someone will object no matter what he does. We are not agreeing to be bound to his recommendations. All he would be doing is making ammunition for yet another court trial.

All I have is the order that I got last Friday, with another psychologist's name on it. Most of it is boilerplate, with some boxes checked. The only individualized part is this addendum:
(You can click on the image to get an enlarged view.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Judge says he avoids this blog

A reader asks:
Is it true [Comm.] Joseph said he was not permitted to read your blog?
Yes. He did not say why. The obvious explanation is that he is trying to follow the rules that say that judges are only supposed to consider evidence that is presented to both parties in open court.

The trouble with this explanation is that he violates the rule all the time anyway. Even when we were in court last Friday, he had a sign by the court door announcing a change in his schedule for hearing ex parte motions that day. Ex parte motions are motions to the court by one party, without the other party being notified or present. Comm. Joseph makes decisions all the time based on one-sided presentations. He even took my kids away in Nov. 2007 without listening to my side of the story.

I do not believe that this blog is really an impediment to getting a child custody evaluation. Here is a typical Informed Consent Agreement from a local forensic psychologist. He makes parents sign this when doing a custody evaluation. It includes this clause:
4. Limits of Confidentiality: There is no confidentiality in this process. All information you share throughout the assessment process may be made public in reports or by testimony. A final report, summarizing findings and recommendations will be prepared and sent simultaneously to the attorneys and the court, or as the court orders direct.
If there is no confidentiality, then there is no legitimate reason for a psychologist to object to public comment on his public testimony.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another wasted day in court

My ex-wife and I appeared in Comm. Irwin H. Joseph's court this morning for a status conference. We were supposed to report on the status of a psychological/custody evaluation, and to schedule a trial on financial issues.

Comm. Joseph took the unusual step of swearing us in (to testify under oath), and asked about this allegation from my ex-wife: (I have changed the names.)
II. Visitation

George has made no efforts to obtain a supervisor in order to visit Mary and Jenny. He did show up at one of Mary's field trips in San Jose, uninvited. He was invited to Jenny's play, showed up, and then marked up Jenny's name on the play's prominently displayed poster board which displays descriptions of the cast members. Jenny subsequently asked her teacher for white out to redo her name on the poster board. The teacher was quite livid that he marked up school property. Through his behavior, he made Mary, Jenny, and the school officials feel very uncomfortable. He calls Mary and Jenny occasionally. They are uncomfortable telling him about their schedule, because they worry that he will respond in an inappropriate and unpredictable manner.
I don't know whether the teacher, Heather Treen, was really livid. I explained that her sign had erroneously shown our daughter's last name as "Travers". I corrected it by writing in her true last name. Ms. Treen should be using the girl's real name, not the name of my ex-wife's new husband. Comm. Joseph seemed satisfied with this explanation.

Comm. Joseph alluded to my ex-wife's gripes about my blog. He said that he was not allowed to read the blog, so he did not know what was in it. If the blog is really deterring me from being able to visit my kids, then he said that I should consider that.

I told Comm. Joseph that one of the problems in hiring a psychologist was that there were no clear orders on what he would do. Then he gave us a copy of the order that previously went to Elizabeth Lee. Since neither my ex-wife nor I have been able to find a psychologist to take the case, Comm. Joseph acted as if he had no responsibilities in the matter.

I told Comm. Joseph that I wanted to see my kids. He said that he also wants me to see the kids. I reminded him that he has direct authority to let me visit the kids. He just shrugged and changed the subject.

Finally, he asked my ex-wife about a trial on some remaining financial issues. She said that she was waiting on some subpoenas on some bank records from ten years ago, and wanted a September trial. He scheduled another status conference on May 28 in Watsonville. I guess the Santa Cruz family court moved to Watsonville, I don't know.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Problems with child custody evaluations

I have previously posted here some articles explaining why child custody evaluations are unscientific, and why reputable shrinks do not do them.

Here is the Scientific American Mind article:
Custody Disputed
The guidelines judges and psychologists use to decide child custody cases have little basis in science. The system must be rebuilt on better research
By Robert E. Emery, Randy K. Otto and William O'Donohue

Courts are overwhelmed with couples who are splitting up and disputing custody of their children. If parents cannot agree on their children's fates, a judge will decide who gets custody, and increasingly, psychologists are becoming involved as expert evaluators during legal wranglings. But do any of these professionals have proof that the bases for their life-determining decisions are empirically sound? It seems not, and it is the boys and girls who suffer.

Parents often think that judges possess some special wisdom that will allow them to determine a custody arrangement that is somehow better than what parents can devise themselves. They don't. Although the details vary, every state's law indicates that custody decisions are to be made according to the "best interests of the child." That rule of thumb sounds laudable, but it is so vague that the outcome of every case is unpredictable. The possibility of "winning" in court, paired with the emotional dynamics of divorce, encourages parents to enter into custody disputes, which only increases conflict between them -- and conflict is a major cause of lasting psychological damage to children of separating spouses.
Asking me to find a satisfactory child custody evaluator is a bit like asking me to find an astrologer. Actually, most of these evaluators are worse than astrologers because they are influenced by their personal prejudices and conflicts. Commissioner Joseph might even be a better judge if he followed astrology.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

AngryMom complains about blog again

My ex-wife just filed this with the court:
II. Child Custody Evaluation
A. Receipt of List of Child Custody Evaluators

We received a list from this Court of possible child custody evaluators. I called 12 Ph.D. psychologists, most of whom have received court training. The main, if not sole impediment for each psychologist who was available to perform a child custody evaluation was not wanting to become involved with George and his blogsite,

However, there was one local psychologist who was willing to perform a child custody evaluation, despite the blogsite. He stated that if we weren't able to find anyone else, then he would consider performing the evaluation. (He had a full case load at the time I called, and said that we would have to wait a few months.) However, I hesitate to mention his name because of George's proclivity to vilify people involved in our case on his blogsite.

George's blogsite has been the main problem in finding a qualified psychologist to perform a child custody evaluation. In order to move forward, George might consider permanently shutting down his blogsite in order that professionals might voluntarily become involved in our case. Otherwise, it doesn't appear likely that a child custody evaluation will be performed in the near future.
First, the web site is Not blogSITE, not blogSPIT, but blogSPOT. If that is too confusing, just type "angry dad" into Google or Yahoo. On Google, you can click "I'm Feeling Lucky".

Second, I don't vilify people. I just report on what they say and do in open court. Honest and reputable folks don't mind having their court statements quoted.

The real story is that most of these shrinks do unethical things in their child custody evaluations, and they hate public scrutiny. They don't like to testify in open court. They don't even like anyone reading their written reports. When possible, they try to arrange for their reports to be given only to the judge, and not even given to the parents themselves!

Many reputable psychologists have dropped out of doing child custody evaluations altogether, because they believe the whole business to be unethical.

When real experts testify in a real court, they have no objection to being quoted or written about. They stand behind what they say, and they are not afraid of public scrutiny.

Here is what I submitted to the court:
I got Comm. Joseph’s letter urging us to agree on a professional, and I got the enclosed 2004 Santa Clara county court list of mental health professionals who have completed domestic violence training. I called about twenty of them. Nearly all of them were unable or unwilling to do an evaluation. A couple of them were willing, but they told me that it would be impossible to an evaluation based on the limited instructions that I have from this court. For an example of the difficulties, many of those on the list are not licensed psychologists but rather MD, LMPT, or LCSW. It is unclear whether the court wants a licensed psychologist to do psychological tests. I was unable to determine whether anyone was competent to do an evaluation anyway. Therefore, I cannot recommend a replacement for Ms. Lee.
We appear in Commissioner Irwin Joseph's court on Friday. He will probably do something to try to offload the mess he has created. Maybe he will even appoint a shrink. But I doubt that Comm. Joseph will be willing to specify precisely what he wants the shrink to do.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

California panel recommends fixes

The San Jose paper reports:
A state commission concluded its two-year study of California's juvenile dependency courts Friday by calling for sweeping reforms to make sure children and parents caught in the system are better informed and better served. ...

The recommendations address several of the critical problems highlighted by the series "Broken Families, Broken Courts," a Mercury News investigation published last month that exposed widespread problems in the courts that oversee 75,000 California children in foster care. ...

The recommendations in the commission's 20-page report aim at reducing the number of children in foster care, a system believed to poorly serve the children it is designed to protect. Key recommendations include:

Removing children from their homes should be a last resort, and children temporarily separated from parents should be returned home by the courts as quickly as possible. If the state does take custody, children in long-term foster care should receive financial and other support through age 21, rather than ending foster care at age 18 as is the current practice.

• Local trial courts should prioritize the often-shunned dependency courts. All dependency cases should be heard by judges, not the court-appointed referees and commissioners who now hear most cases.

All court clients - including children - should have an opportunity to participate in their hearings; with the exception of cases in Los Angeles County, children are routinely absent. Clients should get help with rides to court, and hearings should be set at specific times, so that school and work conflicts for parents can be accommodated. ...

Juvenile dependency law should be a mandatory area of study for the California bar exam ...
These recommendations did not come in time for my case. My case was heard by a Commissioner Irwin H. Joseph, not a real judge. He removed my kids from our home at the first complaint, without even holding a hearing. He blocked the kids from participating. As far as I know, his training was just that of a real-estate lawyer and he didn't seem to have the foggiest idea about juvenile dependency law. He was unfamiliar with the statutory definitions of abuse and the legal standards for proving that abuse. The court-appointed lawyer, James M. Ritchey did not seem to know anything about it either.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Custody evaluation reform proposed

The Whittier California Daily News reports:
A state bill that would set guidelines for child custody cases has highlighted a nearly 20-year-old dispute over a theory used by psychological evaluators.

The bill, AB 612, which failed to pass into law in 2007, targeted the controversial theory, called Parental Alienation Syndrome. The syndrome describes behavior where one parent turns a child against the other, convincing the child the parent has treated him or her badly, even when they have not.

Dr. Philip Stahl, a California evaluator and member of the state's Association of Family & Conciliation Courts, says evaluators are split in their beliefs about whether children can be alienated.

"You have evaluators who really don't understand alienation, and people who want to apply it in every case," said Stahl. ...

Dr. Amy Baker, a psychiatrist and believer in Parental Alienation Syndrome who wrote a book on the experiences of adult children who claim to have suffered alienation, says the gender issue is overshadowing the problems victims are facing.

"It is unfortunate that women's groups have taken a stance against the issue, because many women have suffered because of the actions of alienators," said Baker, who added that both men and women alienate their children from the other parent.

A 2005 study of 125 high-conflict divorce cases by San Jose State University researcher Janet Johnstone indicated that Baker might be right. The study found that 50 percent of women in the cases showed signs of alienating their children, and 45 percent of men. ...
The current proposal in the California legislature is AB 2587. There is a lot of unsupported opinion in these custody evaluations, and I think that the ought to be tighter laws on what sorts of evidence the shrinks can use.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Local juvenile court suicide

The San Jose paper reports:
Gary Proctor, the embattled head of the legal firm representing parents in Santa Clara County Juvenile Dependency Court, shot and killed himself in his San Jose home, officials said Monday. ...

His death stunned officials in the Santa Clara County court system, where Proctor's firm has represented parents and some children for more than a decade.

The incident occurred amid growing scrutiny of the publicly funded representation that Proctor's firm was providing to parents who faced losing their children after allegations of abuse or neglect. The Mercury News series "Broken Families, Broken Courts" reported that attorneys for Proctor's firm, Santa Clara Juvenile Defenders, often lacked such fundamental tools as experts and investigators, and regularly met the parents they represented on the day of their hearings.

Proctor, who created similar for-profit firms to represent parents in Orange and Santa Cruz counties, told his Santa Clara County staff he was resigning the week the series appeared in mid-February. ...

Proctor served as a consultant in Sacramento, San Diego and Honolulu and led court improvement sessions at national judges' conventions.
I don't want to speak badly of the recently-deceased, but this guy was just a symptom of the problems. This guy's law firms did most of the court-appointed legal work in my area for families who were being busted up by govt agencies. The judges and govt social service agencies were very happy with his work because he never contested the abuse and neglect charges.

This guy looked bad because he was not zealously advancing his clients' interests, as he is supposed to do. But he was appointed by govt agencies who did not want him to contest accusations. The judges, courts, and govt agencies are the real problem.

I had one of those court-appointed lawyers in my case. He is a Santa Cruz lawyer named James M. Ritchey. He explained to me that judges like Commissioner Irwin H. Joseph don't like it when anyone disputes accusations by CPS social workers. Once Comm. Joseph indicated how he was going to rule, Jim Ritchey would only take actions to support what Comm. Joseph was expected to do. Jim Ritchey was absolutely against any fact-finding in the case. Mr. Ritchey did not even show up for the trial.

I am sorry that Gary Proctor shot himself. He might have helped reform the system. The judges, social workers, and court-appointed lawyers and shrinks who still run the system are just as bad.

Gangsta girls file lawsuits

Glenn Sacks:
Feminist family law attorney Arelia Margarita Taveras (pictured) wrote The Gangsta Girls' Guide To Child Support, described by the Associated Press as a "guidebook for women dealing with deadbeat dads in the court system." According to the AP, Taveras' gambling losses totaled nearly $1 million. She lost her law practice, her apartment, her parents' home, and owes the IRS $58,000. She dipped into her clients' escrow accounts to finance her gambling habit, was disbarred last June, and faces criminal charges.

She does know right where to place the blame, though--on the casinos. "They had a duty of care to me," she explains.
That's right, she is suing the casinos for letting a compulsive gambler lose money.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Judge blames me for action against me

Here is an exchange between Commissioner Irwin H. Joseph and me in Santa Cruz family court on Jan. 4:
THE COURT: Why don't you understand the secrecy that is to be preserved to protect your children? This isn't for me or you. You are an authorized viewer. This is to protect your children. ...
THE RESPONDENT: We have talked about every detail of this in open court.
THE COURT: That is because you brought this action, and you decided that this was going to be divulged in open court.
THE RESPONDENT: I did not bring this action.
THE COURT: Yes you did. You challenged the report.
THE RESPONDENT: I challenged Julie's motion to take my kids away.
Comm. Joseph was trying to justify making a report against me secret, and justify preventing me from calling a rebuttal witness.

The secrecy does not protect my kids. Comm. Joseph never mentioned the secrecy until after Sally Mitchell testified for CPS, and got caught lying under oath. She was embarrassingly bad as a witness for CPS. After her testimony, Comm. Joseph tried to cover up for her by declaring her testimony secret.

My kids were harmed by the secrecy, because it prevented their story from getting a fair hearing.

It was outrageous that Comm. Joseph tried to blame me for bringing the legal action. I did not bring the legal action. Julie Travers brought a motion to Comm. Joseph to take our kids away, and she made a bunch of false accusations in open court. She publicly brought forth all sorts of wacky accusations about me running over dogs and other nonsense. I was forced to refute them in court.

I proved in court that I never ran over the dog. The dog is alive and well. So what does Comm. Joseph do? He blames me for denying the accusations in open court, claims that I am violating the privacy of the kids, and orders the kids taken away from me.

It is the false and malicious accusations from Julie Travers and Sally Mitchell that are damaging to the kids. Comm. Joseph ordered me to appear in court to attend a hearing on those accusations. I had no choice. My guess is that Comm. Joseph was hoping to humiliate me with evidence of abuse in open court. Only when the testimony turned out to not involve abuse at all did he issue a protective order to try to make the testimony secret.

Comm. Joseph should not be allowed to cover up his maliciousness and incompetence in this way.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Anti-war judge rejects foster teen's bid to join military

Here is news about a California juvenile court:
SIMI VALLEY - Shawn Sage long dreamed of joining the military, and watching "Full Metal Jacket" last year really sold him on becoming a Marine.

But last fall, a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner dashed the foster teen's hopes of early enlistment for Marine sniper duty, plus a potential $10,000 signing bonus.

In denying the Royal High School student delayed entry into the Marine Corps, Children's Court Commissioner Marilyn Mackel reportedly told Sage and a recruiter that she didn't approve of the Iraq war, didn't trust recruiters and didn't support the military.

"The judge said she didn't support the Iraq war for any reason why we're over there," said Marine recruiter Sgt. Guillermo Medrano of the Simi Valley USMC recruiting office.

"She just said all recruiters were the same - that they `all tap dance and tell me what I want to hear.' She said she didn't want him to fight in it."

Sage, 17, said he begged for Mackel's permission.

"Foster children shouldn't be denied (an) ability to enlist in the service just because they're foster kids," he said. "Foster kids shouldn't have to go to court to gain approval to serve one's country."

Mackel, a juvenile dependency commissioner at the Children's Court in Monterey Park, declined through a clerk to speak about any court case or comments she may have made in court.

Transcripts of juvenile court hearings require a special release from a judge. Court
officials said a transcript of the Sage hearing, if released, would not be available for a week or more.
Note how the newspaper cannot get a transcript of the secret hearing, even tho nothing is really confidential. The secrecy is just used to cover up the prejudices of the judge.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kids to be allowed in court

The San Jose paper reports:
An influential California lawmaker has introduced legislation to bring more children into the court hearings that decide their fates after allegations of abuse and neglect - a bill proposed in response to systemic failures revealed by the Mercury News last month.

"This bill sends a strong message that kids need to be a more integral part of the system," said Dave Jones, a Sacramento Democrat who chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Jones said the bill is designed to address one of the key findings of the series "Broken Families, Broken Courts" - that throughout California, hearings in the courts that oversee the foster care system are often held without the child present.

The bill is the latest development following publication of the series, which showed that California dependency courts are so congested that clients' legal rights are in continual jeopardy. In recent weeks, the owner of the firm that long has represented indigent parents in Santa Clara County abruptly resigned and Superior Court officials have made significant improvements to the handling of all new dependency court cases.

Jones' bill, AB 3051, would require all California judicial officers to postpone hearings if children 10 and older have not been properly notified and offered the chance to attend.

Current law gives children the legal right to attend but does not require officials to make a strong effort to get the children there. Outside of Los Angeles County, children are not routinely present at their hearings. ...

Leslie Heimov, executive director of the non-profit Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, said setting the minimum age at 10 could prohibit even younger children from participating in court. In Los Angeles, where 96 full-time attorneys represent 26,000 children, local rules encourage all those age 4 and older to attend hearings. Heimov said if it weren't for diaper issues, babies and toddlers also would be present.

"For older kids, there's a benefit to the child, but for younger kids there's a benefit to the court," Heimov said. "They bring the case alive. They're ruling on a person, not a piece of paper."
My 10 and 8 year old kids were not allowed in court. Comm. Irwin Joseph said that he does not believe in it. He didn't say why. My guess is that he does not have to guts to look at them as he is ruling against them.

If the kids had been there, it would have definitely changed the tone of the hearing. There were a lot of really foolish things that were said by Comm. Joseph, by CPS social worker Sally Mitchell, and by court-appointed lawyer Jim Ritchey that even a 10-year-old child would see to be false and idiotic.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Judge forbids legal advice

At the end of my Jan. 4 hearing, the acting judge Comm. Irwin H. Joseph said this:
THE COURT: If your lawyer -- I said, if you decide to have a lawyer look at the file, or someone else, you need to file an 827 petition. You, as a parent, have a right to see the file. Yes, to see the file.

THE RESPONDENT: But just for my own lawyer to look at the file I have to petition the Court to get permission?

THE COURT: That's right. My authority? Welfare & Institution Code 827. I will ask the question.

THE RESPONDENT: I didn't understand that. I always thought I had a legal right to consult an attorney about the legal predicament I am in.

THE COURT: Don't twist my words, sir. I never said you could not consult with a lawyer. I said you could not show the lawyer the file, including the report. Don't twist my words.
I am not twisting his words. This is from the official transcript.

Comm. Joseph took my kids away from me. The main piece of evidence was a report written by Sally Mitchell. The report was released to me without any confidentiality restrictions, and I have quoted from it on this blog. Comm. Joseph says that I cannot show it to a lawyer.

It is axiomatic that I am allowed to consult a lawyer. Comm. Joseph apparently agrees with that, but wants to limit what I can communicate to my lawyer. I say this is unconstitutional. If it is not unconstitutional, it ought to be unconstitutional. The Sixth Amendment says:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Technically, the courts would say that this does not apply because I have not been subjected to a criminal prosecution. But I have been deprived of my kids. I say that the govt should not be able to take kids away from parents unless it can prove guilt to the same standards as a criminal prosecution.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Got the Sally Mitchell transcript

I just got the transcript from the CPS social worker. I needed it to prepare my appeal. I am not sure how much I can quote, but I will be posting some of my appellate arguments here.

Update: After Comm. Joseph made such a fuss about sealing the transcript, I was surprised that the transcript did not come in a sealed envelope with CONFIDENTIAL stamped all over it. If someone stumbled across the transcript by accident, he would not guess that there was anything secret about it. Even if he read the whole thing, including where Comm. Joseph discusses confidentiality aspects, he still would not thing the transcript is confidential.