Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Newspaper gets award for exposing bad juvenile lawyers

The San Jose paper brags:
Mercury News Staff Writer Karen de Sá has won a Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association for her series on the problems in California's juvenile dependency courts.

De Sá received the association's highest honor for her work on "Broken Families, Broken Courts." The Mercury News was the only newspaper in the country to win the award.

The association has presented the award since 1958 to recognize work in the media and the arts that foster the public's understanding of the law and legal system. ...

In the wake of the series, the state has approved broad reforms to shore up the system, expanding a pilot program to ensure that court-appointed dependency lawyers are properly trained and compensated, and a new law that strengthens the right of children to attend hearings where their fates are decided.
That's the trick for getting an award from a lawyers organization -- write some articles advocating more money for lawyers!

The articles did report some bad practices by the juvenile dependency court, but the problems were systemic and paying the lawyers more money will not do a bit of good.

Rich lawyer charged with endangering a child

AP reports:
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- (04/23/09) -- Usually, it's an empty threat: "If you kids don't stop fighting, I'm going to stop this car right now and leave you here!"

But a mother from an upper-crust New York suburb went through with it, ordering her battling 10- and 12-year-old daughters out of her car in White Plains' business district and driving off, police said Tuesday.

Madlyn Primoff, 45, a partner in a Manhattan law firm, pleaded not guilty Monday to a charge of endangering a child. A temporary order of protection was issued, barring her from contact with the children, who were physically unharmed. ...

The report does not say whether the girls had cell phones. ...

Dr. Richard Gersh, director of psychiatric services at the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services in Manhattan, said Primoff's behavior was not appropriate.

"It is a traumatic situation for a child to be abandoned by a parent like that. You can imagine what emotional issues might arise," he said.
I saw this on Fox News, and their experts said that the cops were right to arrest and charge the mom, but that the charges ought to be dropped after CPS completes its investigation. I got the impression that they thought that it would be okay for the mom to threaten to kick the kids out of the car, but not okay to carry out the threat.

This WSJ blogger says that the mom's action would have been acceptable, maybe even a positive and constructive parenting practice, if only the mom acted deliberately after some consideration. Lenore Skenazy wrote a whole book on why it is good for parents to do things like this, and comments on the story here. But he thinks that she acted suddenly and angrily, and that is not acceptable.

The cops only found out because the mom asked for their help in finding one of the kids. She only had trouble finding one of the kids because some busybody had already intervened.

I think that it is pretty crazy to criminalize a trivial incident like this.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Web critic angers Police Chief

A Florida newspaper reports:
Orlando police Chief Val Demings is threatening to sue one of her critics for creating a Web site that criticizes her performance. is run by Ezell "Easy" Harris, a frequent critic of Demings', and contains a disclaimer stating the chief has no association with the site.

Demings' attorney, Griffith J. Winthrop III, accuses Harris in an April 17 letter of "maligning" and defaming the chief. The letter also says Harris violated the law by using her "persona" and identity and claims Harris' behavior is "malicious."

Demings is demanding that the Web site be taken down and threatens to sue Harris if he refuses.
This is the internet age. Public officials are subject to being criticized on the web. Get over it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Teacher acquitted of child charge

Robert Franklin writes:
Way down at the southern tip of Texas, a Brownsville teacher has been acquitted of indecency with a child. Andres Chavez Rodriguez walked free after a jury found him not guilty of the charge and will now try to put his life back together.

Apparently, a teenaged girl levelled the accusation at Rodriguez in retaliation for his wife's having reported the girl's suicide attempt. Once the accusation was made in 2007, CPS took Rodriguez' two-year-old daughter from his home, he was suspended from his teaching job and later forced to resign. His child was later returned to Rodriguez and his wife Leslie who remained by his side throughout his legal ordeal.

Eventually, Rodriguez' accuser (who remains anonymous) sent Leslie Rodriguez an email explaining that she had fabricated the allegation. Rodriguez' attorney turned the email over to prosecutors, but they insisted on trying him on the charge anyway. It took a jury less than an hour to acquit him.
This case never should have even gotten to court. A competent DA or judge would have dismissed it at the start. Instead, the DA still defends the trial:
"The defendant, Andres Rodriguez, was acquitted of indecency with a child," the DA said.

"We respect the jury's decision. These types of cases are difficult due to the sensitive nature of the allegations and the age of the victim.

"We firmly believe these cases must be tried to a jury, and we will continue to be strong advocates for child victims," Villalobos said.
No, there was no child victim. If he really respected the jury's determination that the man was innocent, then he would not still be calling the child a victim.

This is just another how authorities act on the flimsiest evidence and treat fathers as guilty until proven innocent. Here the father was proven innocent, and the DA still will not admit that he was wrong.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Parental Alienation Awareness

Tomorrow (April 25) is Parental Alienation Awareness Day.

There is some debate over whether parental alienation ought to be formally recognized as a psychological disorder. But everyone agrees that it exists, and is harmful.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My main appeal issue

Here is the issue that I am presenting to the California Supreme Court:
Where the trial court has determined that both parents should share equal custody of their child, may the court later remove the child from one parent’s physical custody in the absence of clear and convincing evidence of abuse, as is required in juvenile dependency court?
The point here is that California has a bunch of laws that apply to removing kids from abuse or neglect in their homes. There are laws requiring teachers and nurses to report suspected abuse, laws requiring CPS to investigate reports, and laws for action to be taken in juvenile dependency court. These laws define abuse, and that clear and convincing evidence of such abuse be proved to take a child, even temporarily. Taking a child must be a last resort.

But Cmr. Irwin H. Joseph refused to follow any of that. There was no evidence of abuse according to the definition in the law, so he just made up his own definition. And he said that he does not need clear and convincing evidence.

I appeal to a higher court in order to force the family court to follow the law. But appeal judges Mihara, Bamattre-Manoukian, and Duffy refused to do anything. Now I am asking the California Supreme Court.

The court takes very few cases. It does accept letters urging it to take a particular case. If the court thinks that I am facing an injustice that is also faced by other parents, then it is more likely to hear the case. If you know anyone who is interested in writing a letter to the court, let me know and I will tell you what to do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New report on shared parenting

The Toronto Star reports:
Family court judges are misguidedly harming children by granting sole custody to one parent – usually the mother – in bitter divorce battles, says a comprehensive new report.

Too many children are being "robbed of the love of one parent" by a legal system that is out of touch with the needs of children and treats them like property to be won or lost, says Edward Kruk, an expert on child custody issues.

"The system is set up to polarize parents, to make them enemies, to set up fights over custody and exacerbate conflict rather than reduce it," says Kruk, an associate professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, whose three-year study is now in the hands of Canada's justice minister.
You can get the full report here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time limits for appeal

I just got a "statement of decision" from the Santa Cruz court clerk. The decision is dated Feb. 17, and stamped as being filed on Feb. 27. The clerk now certifies that he mailed it to me on Apr. 16. The trial ended on Jan. 16.

These dates are very important. As I understand it, I have 60 days to file a notice of appeal, or 90 days if I am never even notified. These deadlines are very strict, and the courts love to extinguish your appeal rights because you missed some silly deadline. But what is the deadline? It is ambiguous.

The last time I filed an appeal, I had to deal with the fact that Cmr. Irwin Joseph issued an oral decision in court, and then a written decision months later. The rules are ambiguous as which decision starts the 60 day clock.

There is a very simple solution to this nonsense. Every court order or decision should simply say on the document what the deadline is, and what is the procedure for appealing. It would make life easier for a lot of people. But the court won't bother.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Court order not mailed to me

I've been waiting for three months to get a court order from Cmr. Irwin H. Joseph, and I just found out that my ex-wife got it two months ago! Apparently he sent it to her, and not me.

It was not lost in the mail. Her copy has a proof of service that says that it was not mailed to her. It was just mailed to her and some lawyer named James Ritchey. Cmr. Joseph appointed Ritchey to write a little 2-page report for $2000 back in 2007, but he never represented me.

I don't see how a court could be so incompetent. What could be more basic that mailing a court order to the affected parties? This isn't even the first time that the court failed to send me an order.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Petition to California supreme court

I just filed a petition to the California supreme court to review my appeal. It is a longshot; only 3 percent of petition are granted. And even if it is granted, that just means that the court agrees to hear the case.

A couple of people have expressed an interest in writing a letter in support of my petition. There is a simple procedure for doing. If interested, send me an email and I will tell you how. I will post more info about it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Kern County Witch Hunt

I watched the movie Witch Hunt, mentioned below. It is about false charges of child abuse in Bakersfield California in the 1980s.

It should have obvious that there was no substance to the charges. There were no witnesses who could give any specifics about what happened, and no evidence that could be corroborated.

About a third of the way into the movie, the Cummings describe how neighbors were being arrested, including one close friend that they knew had to be innocent. They decided that a witch hunt was in progress, and they had to get out. They had both lived in Bakersfield their whole lives, but they packed up and left the state in the middle of the night, never to go back.

Smart move. This is striking because most people would never do anything like that. Most people would assume that they would never be falsely accused, and that they would easily prove their innocence if they were.

The accused did eventually prove their innocence, but some of them spent 15 years in prison first.

There is one kid who still claims that he was molested. He is an adult. He cannot provide any details at all. I suppose that he should not be blamed. He was only five years old when he was pressured to lie in court. Now he probably cannot face that the fact that his lies helped send his father to jail.

The judges and prosecutors and others who did all this were never punished.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cmr. Joseph booted out of family court

I just heard that Commissioner Irwin Joseph has been booted out of the Santa Cruz family court, and is being replaced with Judge John Salazar. Usually these assignments are made at the beginning of the calendar year, and stay the same for the whole year. No public explanation has been give yet, as far as I know. I will try to post more when I find out.

On the official Santa Cruz court web site, this pdf page lists Irwin H. Joseph as being assigned to Watsonville Family Law until June 30, 2009, but this pdf page, which you can find from here, lists him as being currently assigned to the juvenile delinquency court in Felton.

Cmr. Joseph also failed to show up to the last meeting of the Elkins Family Law Task Force. He had been a member, but maybe has been booted off that as well. I don't know.

New movie on phony child abuse charges

MSNBC is showing the documentary Witch Hunt:
The story of several families who have their lives destroyed when their hometown is whipped into a frenzy by allegations of child molestation.
Sean Penn narrates. You can view the trailer at the movie home page. The movie got critical acclaim when it has a limited release in movie theaters last year. It is on MSNBC Sunday (tomorrow) evening at 7pm and 9pm my time, but check your local schedule to be sure.

Books detailing family court

People sometimes suggest that I edit my story into a book about the horrors of family court, in order to reach a different audience. But I really cannot do better than the books already out there.

Taken Into Custody, by Stephen Baskerville (March 2007), tells it all. Thoroughly explains the evils of the system.

A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, by Alec Baldwin (Sept 2008), tells the story of the famous Hollywood actor.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Father cannot ground daughter for misbehaving

A Canadian appeal court has ruled:
A Quebec father who was taken to court by his 12-year-old daughter after he grounded her in June 2008 has lost his appeal.

Quebec Superior Court rejected the Gatineau father's appeal of a lower court ruling that said his punishment was too severe for the wrongs he said his daughter committed.

The father is "flabbergasted," his lawyer Kim Beaudoin told CBC News.

In its ruling, issued Monday, the province's court of appeal declared the girl was caught up in a "very rare" set of circumstances, and her father didn't have sufficient grounds to contest the court's earlier decision.

The family's legal wrangling started with a dispute over the girl's internet use.

'Either way, he doesn't have authority over this child anymore. She sued him because she doesn't respect his rules. It's very hard to raise a child who is the boss.'

She had been living with her father after her parents split up when he grounded her in 2008 for defying his order to stay off the internet. The father caught her chatting on websites he had blocked, and alleged his daughter was posting "inappropriate pictures" of herself online.
I reported on this case before, when the original order issued.
In its Monday ruling, the appeal court warned the case should not be seen as an open invitation for children to take legal action every time they're grounded.
Why not? Once the court assumes authority over a routine parental punishment, then every other kid may want a judge to second-guess a parent. As I said before, there is likely to be trouble ahead for that girl.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Divorce lawyer defends his business

A Virginia lawyer wrote this letter to the editor:
You ought to be ashamed of yourself for publishing Stephen Baskerville's drivel...

As an attorney who has practiced family law in the Fredericksburg region for more than 27 years, I would like to correct as many errors as possible of those contained in Baskerville's commentary.

Divorce does not license government intrusion, "including the power to seize children, loot family savings, and incarcerate parents without a trial."

Baskerville is wrong. In most divorce trials you don't receive one trial, but two.
No, Baskerville is right. The family court seized my kids twice without a trial. I did get some trials in attempts to get them back, but they were seized without any trial or evidence at all.

I am also paying child support based on figures for which there was never any testimony.
Baskerville is also 75 percent wrong when he states that judges, psychotherapists, social workers, and lawyers "profit from ensuing litigation."

Judges, psychotherapists, and social workers don't profit from ensuing divorce litigation. Judges are paid a salary to be a judge and hear trials that men and women bring to them. They are not paid on commission.

Most psychotherapists and social workers with whom I've worked over the years try to avoid litigation. They can't help clients if they, the psychotherapists and social workers, are sitting in court all day.
Again, Baskerville is correct. They do profit from the litigation. There are a couple of court psychotherapists who make $7-10k per week on court evaluations. They are getting rich from it.

They profit from trials even more. They charge triple their usual rate if they have to testify in court. They are not in business to help their clients. They work for the court.

They do try to avoid testifying, because it is stressful for them. They commonly do unethical things, and they hate being asked about them in court. To them, the ideal case is one which is litigated for months, and then settled just before court testimony is needed. That way they get the big bucks for writing their lousy reports, but do not have to defend what they say.
Baskerville's claim that "child abuse is itself the creation of welfare bureaucracies" is so absurd that I must comment. One need only sit through a week or two of family-court trials to see beaten, burned, damaged children--or to hear stories of murdered children.
I have been in the local family court for five years, and I have yet to see a genuine case of abuse. Every one was an uncorroborated accusation made in the context of a child custody fight. The lawyers here routinely advise their clients to make false accusations. I am not denying that abuse exists, but the real abuse cases are handled by some other court. The abuse that is heard in family court is almost entirely bogus.

Update: The newspaper published five letters criticizing this lawyer.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Navy Secretary has ugly divorce

The NY Times reports:
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Navy was involved in a divorce that drew national attention for his secret taping of a conversation between his wife and his family priest that he used against her in court proceedings.

The nominee, Ray Mabus, is a former governor of Mississippi and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Mr. Mabus, a Democrat, was a strong supporter of Mr. Obama in the campaign last year.

In 1998, as Mr. Mabus and his wife, Julie (now Julie Hines), sought to work out their marital problems, he surreptitiously recorded a meeting the couple had with the Rev. Jerry McBride, a mutual friend.

Mr. Mabus had told Mr. McBride in advance that he had been advised by a lawyer to tape the conversation, according to court records. Neither man mentioned the recording to Ms. Hines. During the session, she admitted having an affair and told her husband, “I will hate you till the day I die, and I will tell my children.

An expert psychiatric witness for Mr. Mabus referred to Ms. Hines’s recorded comments as evidence that he should get legal custody of the couple’s two daughters. The judge in the case awarded legal custody to Mr. Mabus and split physical custody between him and Ms. Hines.
Note that the dad had to have tape recorded evidence against the mom, just to get split physical custody. In my opinion, split custody ought to be automatic.

The mom is still suing the priest. I am not sure what her argument would be. Was she planning on denying what she said on tape? I don't see how the taping damaged her, except that she was required to admit the truth about what she said.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Why I call the judges evil

A reader asks why I call the judges "evil". She suggests that I call them biased or unfair.

The people in our society who have the greatest authority are also the ones with the greatest responsibility. And they deserve the greatest blame for wrongdoing.

I don't blame the cops who seized my kids. They were just following orders. I blame the ones who gave the orders. The judges.

In my case, Nathan D. Mihara, Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, and Wendy Clark Duffy did not just rule against me. They were dishonest, they did not follow the law, and they acted deliberately to inflict cruelty to my kids.

Let me give a couple of examples. In my appeal, I argued that Cmr. Irwin H. Joseph took my kids away on the grounds of abuse, but that no actual abuse had even been alleged. The appeal court disagreed, and said that there was evidence of abuse on the record. But it was unable to find a single example!

Think about that. If you were writing a 22-page opinion justifying an abuse decision, and you really believed that there was abuse, don't you think that you would mention just what the abuse is? The appeal court did not, and could not, name any example of abuse. There was no abuse, and the court was being dishonest.

For another example of dishonesty, Judge Mihara said that the applicable legal standard was that my ex-wife must have proved some change of circumstances between the 2005 and 2008 trials. I argued that no such change was proved or even alleged. If I were wrong, then it would be real easy to show that I was wrong. It would just take a sentence to say just what the circumstance was, and how it differed in 2008 from 2005. But Mihara could find no such circumstance that had changed. He just baldly stated that there was a change of circumstances and that the legal requirements were satisfied.

For yet another example, Cmr. Joseph gave his decision in oral form on Jan. 11, 2008. He gave a little speech summarizing his fact-finding. 36% of his speech was devoted to citing a 2004 report from a shrink named Bret Johnson.

Citing the 2004 report was improper for a number of reasons. The report had not been introduced into evidence. Johnson did not testify at the 2008 trial. Cmr. Joseph had excluded more recent evidence because he said that it was not timely enough. And worst of all, the 2004 report had already been litigated in the 2005 trial.

So what did Judge Mihara say? He said that Cmr. Joseph was not relying on the 2004 report. I had misinterpreted Cmr. Joseph's remarks and had taken them out of context. Judge Mihara said that Cmr. Joseph was merely noting that allegations against me had been longstanding in the case.

Yes, of course my ex-wife had some longstanding complaints. She had already been making them for a year when we had a trial in 2005. At the trial, it was proved that her complaints had no merit and the court ordered a 50-50 final custody determination.

So now Judge Mihara says that there has been a change of circumstances because Cmr. Joseph noted that the allegations were similar to some that were made in 2004 and disproved in 2005. It doesn't make any sense.

It seems obvious to me that Judge Mihara and his colleagues wanted to uphold Cmr. Joseph's decision even tho they could not find any facts or law to support him. By doing so, they are forcing two wonderful kids to grow up without a father who has been extremely good to them. I regard that as evil.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

County judges are overpaid

Reason mag reports:
The heftiest perks go to Los Angeles County judges, who get $46,000 a year from the county on top of their state salaries, giving them a total of $225,000. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts makes $217,400 per year, and associate justices bring in $208,100.
Roberts is one of the highest paid federal employees, but LA County has 400 judges who earn higher salaries.

Judges often try to pretend that they are dedicated public servants who working for less than what they could earn in the private sector. Don't believe it. It may be true about Roberts, but it is not true about those 400 LA judges.