Wednesday, March 31, 2010

End most secret courts for children

A Wash. Post letter argues:
Your March 26 editorial "A tragedy's questions" asked, "Why are Renee Bowman's adoptions still secret?"

There is an easy fix: D.C. law should be amended to open child welfare proceedings, with judges retaining authority to close some or all of a hearing or record in a child's best interest.

This approach, already in place in many states, balances accountability with privacy. It is also consistent with other court cases involving children, including child custody, domestic violence and criminal cases.

At present, vulnerable children in the foster care system are hidden and silenced. Secret courts endanger children's safety and prevent voters and taxpayers from making informed judgments about this most important of governmental functions.

Matthew I. Fraidin, Washington
I think he is right. The secrecy serves primarily to shelter govt officials from scrutiny for their bad decisions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mom jailed for truancy

A Chico California newspaper reports:
It was a recent March Monday, and Anderson had answered the door in her shorts, T-shirt and socks, hardly expecting to be greeted with handcuffs by Orland police officers. She was shocked by the one-word response that came back over the police radio: truancy. Then, the 37-year-old mother of four was booked into Glenn County Jail on a $10,000 warrant.

Anderson soon realized she had been arrested in connection with her dispute with the Orland Unified School District over her youngest son’s attendance record. Eight-year-old Logan suffers from asthma, the cause of most of his 24 absences this school year. Anderson has been able to persuade the school to excuse only 14 of the absences, even though she says that in some of those cases the district nurse agreed Logan should go home. ...

The Orland school district employs a truancy officer and requires doctors’ notes after a student racks up 10 absences, von Kleist said. And this year it began requiring short-term independent study for students who are removed from school for winter trips of five to 10 days to Mexico or for other reasons, helping students stay up on work and helping the district maintain state funding tied to attendance, school officials said.
The key phrase there is "maintain state funding". To some bureaucrats, there is no greater crime than to lose some funding from some higher govt authority.

Missing 24 days of school may sound like a lot, but in bigger cities like Oakland it is commonplace. CPS guidelines say not to act unless there have been over 100 unexcused absences in a school year.

Update: The mom in this story has just posted a comment below. I guess that means that she is out on bail.

These parents are being prosecuted because they have the audacity to make their own independent judgments about the welfare of their own kids. When their kid was sick, their first concern was to take care of their kid, and worry about the paperwork later. I've never heard of parents being prosecuted for some minor irregularities in the paperwork for a sick kid missing a few days of school.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Who’s Your Daddy? Or Your Other Daddy?

Libertarian Ronald Bailey gets excited about some gay rights cases that have found they way into family court, and writes in Reason mag:
The responsibilities of a parent have never been simple. Three recent cases highlight just how convoluted those chains of responsibility can get, and how fickle the courts have been in weighing genetic parenthood against the deals would-be parents have struck with their partners. ...

Parents who violate their marriage contracts by cuckolding their spouses should not be awarded support payments for the resulting children. The good news is that the advent of widespread paternity testing at birth will make situations like Mike L’s less common and will thus shrink the number of children affected by the emotional and financial instability that such conflicts cause. In the meantime, the courts need to look beyond genetics to the reproductive contracts the parties actually adopted. In most cases, the right way to protect the best interests of children will be to enforce the contracts under which they were brought into being.
You can count on libertarians to recite grand principles of freedom and contract, and then apply them to obscure cases of some ideological significance. And then ignore the practical consequences for ordinary citizens.

A marriage has always been regarded as a contract between a man and a woman to be jointly responsible for the upbringing of the resulting kids. The family courts completely ignore this, and decide based on the prejudices of the judge. The judge does not even pay attention to whether the parents were married or not, when ordering custody, visitation, and child support. No contracts between the parents are even considered binding by the family court.

I am all in favor of adults being able to make some agreements that give them autonomy over their lives, but the family court stands squarely against the concept. Nothing in modern society violates libertarian principles more than the family courts. Bailey needs to open his eyes. He mentions a couple of obscure cases while the family courts are doing much worse things thousands of times every day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tasmanians also have bad laws

I sometimes think that foreign countries can't possibly have family courts as bad as ours. Now I read this from the other side of the world:
A TASMANIAN group has filed a $200 million class action against Premier David Bartlett and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is believed to be the first Australian class action against a law.

JAIL (Juries Against Illegal Laws) filed papers with the Federal Court of Australia on February 4 claiming that the Family Violence Act 2004 (Tasmania) was invalid. ...

The writ further seeks an order that the Tasmanian Government and DPP Tim Ellis cease to engage in arresting people without proper evidence or procedures, giving police judicial powers, denying people the right to a fair and proper hearing and usurping the proper role of the courts. ...

Sir John said he agreed to represent JAIL because the case raised important and fundamental questions of human rights, such as the presumption of innocence, right to a fair trial and the separation of powers.
I only learned several years ago that people lived on Tasmania. It is a remote island on the other side of Australia. It is home to some unusual animals. And apparently the disease of bad domestic violence laws has reached there.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Overprotection causes brain damage

NewScientist magazine reports on a new study:
Overprotective parents inhibit more than their kids' freedom: they may also slow brain growth in an area linked to mental illness.

Children whose parents are overprotective or neglectful are believed to be more susceptible to psychiatric disorders – which in turn are associated with defects in part of the prefrontal cortex.

To investigate the link, Kosuke Narita of Gunma University, Japan, scanned the brains of 50 people in their 20s and asked them to fill out a survey about their relationship with their parents during their first 16 years.
No, I am not convinced by this study. I am posting it for the (more obvious) conclusion that the more overprotective parent is not necessarily the better parent.

Sometimes parents in family court battle to prove that each is more overprotective than the other, as if that were a good thing. The bias of the court is to avoid harm, so many judges seems to believe that they should decide on the side of overprotection.

Overprotection is a bad thing, not a good thing. If your common sense doesn't tell you that, then read the studies.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Re-education order found unconstitutional

Some parents of some sexting teenagers have gotten some relief from the federal courts
in a recent decision. The kids were sending some provocative but legal messages and
pictures on cell phones, and had been ordered to take some classes to avoid prosecution.
A law professor blog explains:
(3) Threatening to prosecute the children for refusing to attend the education program interfered with the parents’ parental rights and the children’s rights to be free of compelled speech, because it threatened governmental retaliation for the exercise of constitutional rights. ...

At the same time, it’s important to realize the potential breadth of such a holding: It would mean that pretrial diversion programs that seek to substitute rehabilitative education for prosecution, in cases (usually involving first offenses or not very serious offenses) far beyond sexting — for instance, drug crimes, drunk driving, assault, domestic violence, child neglect, traffic law violations, and the like — would be presumptively unconstitutional. Such coerced participation in “the education program[s] would violate [defendants’] First Amendment freedom against compelled speech” just as coerced participation in anti-sexting classes would (probably even as to adults and certainly as to minors).
I wonder about the constitutionality of family courts that regularly send parents off to parenting classes for the flimsiest of reasons. The local family court here will do it without any accusation of anything illegal or harmful to the kids. The reason might be as trivial as a child complaining about eating vegetables.

The parenting classes do not just explain the law, or even consensus child-rearing practices. They teach narrow-minded ideas about how parents ought to behave, and they require the parents to agree. If the parents do not agree, then the teacher sends a bad report to the family court.

I do think that these parenting classes ought to be unconstitutional. They are taught by the sort of people who would be horrible parents, and they are used to thwart completely legitimate parenting practices. The orders are un-American.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Judge blamed for performing marriage

The Baltimore Sun newspaper reports:
A Baltimore County judge was reassigned Wednesday after he presided over the marriage between a man being prosecuted for domestic violence and the alleged victim - a marriage that led to the man's acquittal.

Baltimore County District Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. took the unusual step last week of allowing the defendant to leave court to obtain a marriage license and married the couple later in his chambers. About 20 minutes later, his new wife invoked marital privilege so she would not be required to testify against her husband. ...

Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said she was "appalled" by the judge's conduct, but added that she was pleased that Clyburn "took very swift and appropriate action in this case."

"For [Russell] to intervene in this way, and to basically provide, in a sense, a defense for this man ... it's just so unbelievable," Cohen said. "How could this case be fairly prosecuted when the judge is offering the respondent a way to avoid prosecution?"

Carole Alexander, a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work and a former executive director of the House of Ruth, a domestic violence shelter, said the disciplinary action against Russell should go further.
So the judge is being punished?!

This shows the twisted thinking of the domestic violence advocates. The man and woman wanted to get married. They had no complaint against each other. And yet some prosecutor does not approve, based on some police report.

The man-hating domestic violence lobby wants men to be prosecuted even when no one is making a complaint. They also want to bust up marriages, and in this case, prevent a marriage.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Judge faces reelection battle

This case has generated controversy:
VICTORVILLE, Calif. (AP) Katie Tagle pleaded with the judge that her ex-boyfriend had threatened to kill their 9-month-old son and himself if the couple did not reconcile. She wanted the judge to revoke the boyfriend's custody of the baby with a restraining order.

"I'm going to deny it ma'am," San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Robert Lemkau said. "My suspicion is that you're lying."

Ten days later, Stephen Garcia shot and killed the baby before turning the gun on himself. ...

Nonetheless, he stands by his decision "based on the evidence before me."

"If you are a homicidal, suicidal psychopath, you are not going to be persuaded by a restraining order," the judge said. "It's not like I released a psychopath onto the street he was already on the street."
I am going to defend the judge here. Restraining orders do not prevent murder.

The only way to stop a homicidal, suicidal psychopath is throw him in jail indefinitely or to spend millions of dollars on a team of Secret Service agents. We cannot jail men based on just a suspicion about an anonymous email.

Millions of these orders are granted every year. Most of them are bogus. Some of them do prevent harassment, stalking, and other annoyances. They do not prevent murder. And yet it is cases like this which are used to justify a lot of the orders, because judges are asked to be overly cautious and issue the order.

I listened to a radio talk show discuss this issue.

One woman called and said that she and her husband sometimes have fight about various domestic issues, such as carrying out the garbage, and she often calls the cops. But she complained that the cops are patronizing towards her, and don't take her seriously. I guess that her point was that the authorities do not always listen to a woman's domestic complaints.

Other callers blamed the mom for having a baby with such an unstable man, or for not
kidnapping the baby and refusing visitation. I don't think that we have enough info to blame her, but I suspect that there are measures that she could have taken that would have worked better than relying on a judge. The judge can do very little in a case like this.

A caller identified himself as a Monterey divorce lawyer and judge, and explained how the court is swamped with bogus restraining order requests. He said that the order would not have done any good, and evidence justified rejecting the order. But at the end of the call, the host asked him whether he would have issued the order as a judge. He said that he would have, because he wants to always err on the side of caution.

The host said that he did not think that judges should have to face re-election, because judges have to make gutsy decisions that can be unpopular.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

California prosecutors withhold evidence

The San Jose paper reports:
Attorneys have uncovered a second, critical trove of evidence that has been withheld for years by medical investigators in hundreds of Santa Clara County sex-assault cases, prompting a wholesale review of procedures at the county's public hospital.

The emergence Tuesday of previously unknown forms documenting interactions between medical personnel and suspected victims comes after prosecutors discovered more than 3,000 videotaped medical exams of children last year that were also improperly withheld from the accused.

So far, the videotapes have led to the release of a man sentenced to 38 years to life in prison, and put dozens of other convictions at risk.
The local DAs have responded by boycotting the judge who released the falsely-convicted guy.

I conclude from this that public officials have no concept of a fair trial, and can get away with a lot of abuses as long as they are claiming to protect children.

Right now I am undergoing a psychological evaluation. I would think that fairness would require that the evaluations be videorecorded. It is particularly necessary to record any child interviews. It is just too easy to manipulate kids, and for even a well-meaning psychologist to misinterpret what kids say. And yet none of the psychologists record interviews, as far as I know.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Family court ruins Montel Williams

A celebrity site reports:
Despite starring in his own TV chat show for 17 seasons, hosting a radio show, writing a best-selling memoir and being a TV infomercial pitchman, Montel Williams claimed he couldn't pay $7,500 in legal fees for his kids' attorney during a court hearing in Fairfield County, Connecticut Friday.

"Mr. Williams' financial situation is extremely perilous," Montel's attorney told Judge Marylouise Schoefield.

Williams and his ex-wife Grace divorced almost a decade ago. They have two children, Montel II and Wintergrace who have been the subject of an ongoing custody dispute. Williams is reportedly current on his $18,700 a-month support payments for the teenagers but rarely sees them.

The kids want their dad to either step up to the plate and take an active role in their lives or get out of the way so they and their mom can make all the decisions about their upbringing, and they want Montel to pay for their lawyer to argue this latest dispute.
This is just obviously wrong. Montel Williams has multiple sclerosis and has been ruined by the family court.

Look at the facts. Ten years of family court litigation. He doesn't get to see his kids. He pays $18,700 a month in support payments for the ex-wife. Somehow that is not enough. Now he is being asked to pay for a lawyer to sue him to make additional demands on him.

I don't see how any of this could possibly be justified. The mom has probably squandered the money, and brainwashed the kids against him. The whole thing is sad, the court is evil.

Innocent parents on state child abuser list

David G. Savage writes in the LA Times:
California's child abuse reporting act is unconstitutional because the wrongly accused have no recourse to get off the list. More than a year after that ruling, the state has yet to fix the problem.

Reporting from Washington - Craig and Wendy Humphries of Valencia have been "living every parent's nightmare," as a judge put it, since Craig's rebellious teenager falsely accused them of abuse nine years ago. They were arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and had their other young children taken away from them.

It continues today. Even though the state courts agreed that the girl's original complaint was "not true" and that the couple were "factually innocent," the Humphrieses are still listed as child abusers on the state's Child Abuse Central Index.

A federal appeals court ruled that Los Angeles County should pay damages to the couple, but the U.S. Supreme Court intervened Monday and said it would hear the county's claim that it is the state that is at fault.
I sometimes complain that the family court system treats parents as guilty until proven innocent. But this is a case where the parents are still guilty even after being proven innocent!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

DV advocate got caught at it

The Atlanta newspaper reports:
A 45-year-old woman, charged with ending a domestic dispute by killing her 26-year-old husband of five days, ... is a lobbyist for an organization called the National Declaration for Domestic Violence Order; its Web site says the group is pushing legislation to create a database of those convicted of sex crimes or domestic abuse. ...

A MARTA police officer stopped her as she was getting into her car, perhaps to return to her home nearby on Centennial Olympic Park Drive.

According to Atlanta police, Bridges told investigators that she and Rankins had been dating for a few months and were just married on Feb. 24.
What? After 5 days of marriage?

My lesson here is to stay away from any woman who is pushing for these vindictive and punitive man-hating laws. If she tells a story about her abusive ex-husband, then assume she is poison. Do not goto a private place with her, and do not go on another date with her.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The new Rosa Parks

Joseph Reyes compared himself to Rosa Parks on ABC TV 20/20, as I commented below.

I interpret this religion is not the only issue. He is fed up with his ex-wife Shapiro and the court eliminating him from any parental responsibilities toward his daughter. The court order against Christianity was just the final straw.

Rosa Parks was not just objecting to a bus seating policy. She was objecting to Jim Crow laws that made blacks (or negroes as they were called then) second-class citizens. The bus policy was just a particularly egregious civil rights violation. So she was willing to commit civil disobedience. Likewise, Joseph Reyes is willing to make a stand against a particularly outrageous order.

The only people I hear taking the ex-wife's side are those who say that a court order should be obeyed whether it is rightfully issued or not. You cannot take the law into your own hands, they say. They would have told Rosa Parks the same thing, I guess.

I don't know about Illinois law. In most states, you can be punished for violating a wrongly-issued order. In California, you are not required to obey an unconstitutional order. Of course judges enforce their own orders, and it is nearly impossible to convince them that the order is wrong.

At least Reyes has drawn national attention to how the family court can overreach.

The most annoying thing about the 20/20 TV show is that the interviewer kept suggesting that Reyes and Shapiro should call each other on the phone to resolve this. The questions were foolish.

There is a common myth that all disputes result from deficient communication. Psychologists and others promote this myth because they can hope to solve the problems by facilitating communication.

But Reyes and Shapiro have already communicated themselves with crystal clarity. No additional communication will solve anything, or even clarify anything. That phone call is pointless. Suggesting a phone call is like telling Rosa Parks to talk to the white people on the bus.

I am afraid that some people might go away from the 20/20 TV show thinking that both parents were stubborn and unreasonable, and the court was only trying to make the best of a bad situation. But Reyes has not asked for anything unreasonable, and the problem is entirely the making of the court. This was a Jewish judge who decided to favor the Jewish religion and zero out Reyes's parental rights.

Update: A reader writes:
you seem to ignore this claim of the mother's:
"Rebecca said that Joseph is entitled to be Catholic and Ela can choose
Catholicism when she is older, but they "had pledged in the marriage contract to raise Jewish children, and so we had a Jewish home." Joseph had converted to Judaism, complete with a ritualized circumcision."
shouldn't there be witnesses to this "marriage contract?" seems rather cut and dry to me. if dad did in fact enter into such a contract, this is a violation the judge should correct.
They also pledged to stay married. So the first question would be whether they agreed that the choice of religion should survive after the marriage. I doubt it. Rebecca doesn't say anything about that.

Second question is whether a religious choice contract should ever be enforceable. The answer is no, as far as I know. You cannot will your money to your kids on the condition that they actively subscribe to the Jewish faith. That is because there is a centuries-old legal tradition that religion is a personal choice and no court will enforce a contract about the matter.

Maybe there ought to be some way to have a specially-witnessed contract to legally bind parents regarding child-rearing. But family court law goes to the other extreme, and says that no such contract is binding. Any such contract is overridden by the BIOTCH standard that allows a judge to decide the best interest of the child, regardless of whatever contract there might be.