Saturday, November 19, 2011

Family court secrecy

A front page NY Times story exposes a big family court flaw:
Today, the culture of secrecy has hardly budged. Leah A. Hill, a Fordham Law School professor who has written about and practiced in New York Family Courts, said the courts were largely as unaccountable today as they had ever been, even though they can hold a central place in the lives of poor New Yorkers.

“There hasn’t really been a public discourse about what goes on in Family Court, and part of the reason is that it is a closed institution,” Professor Hill said.
Here is the story:
New York State’s Family Courts were ordered to be opened to the public with much fanfare in 1997, supposedly allowing anyone to witness the cases of domestic violence, foster care and child neglect that inch through by the hundreds of thousands every year. But now, 14 years later, the Family Courts remain essentially, almost defiantly, closed to the general public.

Recent visits to the courts across New York City revealed officials and security officers routinely disregarding the open-courts rule in ways both large and small, direct and implied, insistent and even hostile.

Some courtrooms were locked, and many were marked with “stop” and “do not enter” signs. Court officers stationed at courtroom doors repeatedly barred a visitor, sometimes with sarcasm or ridicule, frequently demanding to know who he was and what he was doing. Armed court officers at times appeared so rattled by a visitor’s efforts to enter courtrooms that, in several instances, a group of them nervously confronted the visitor, their holsters in easy reach. ...

In Brooklyn, a judge, Michael Katz, was quickly alerted to a visitor who had managed to slip briefly into a seat. “These proceedings are generally confidential,” the judge said.

But they are not, according to the law. ...

American legal principles have long favored open courts as a check on government, and New York law has specifically said for more than a century that “the sittings of every court within the state shall be public.”

But by 1997, the Family Courts had been closed for decades, with rare exceptions. Critics said the chaos of the courts was amplified by their secrecy — a veil that had grown over the years with the support of many of the courts’ judges, lawyers and social-agency representatives. Closed courtrooms, critics argued, kept hidden the courts’ struggles, as well as the sometimes controversial ways they dealt with those who ended up in the resource-starved system plagued by delays.
In Santa Cruz, the family court is open to the public, altho I was once asked to leave someone else's trial. But it is still very secretive about evaluations and other back-room deals that are so important to the process.

I would like to put a webcam in the family court, and broadcast proceeding on the internet. If people saw how really bad the system is, it would have to change. It is worse that what you expect. Just sit in a court sometime, and find out.

The article has some excellent comments, such as this:
These courts are closed so that no one sees the justice taking place. There are child abuse proceedings dragging on where the only injury to a child is a mark or only on the basis of a child's words. There are child support proceedings taking place where men are presumed to always lie about their income. There are custody cases where children are flipped from one parent to another without a hearing. There are domestic violence cases taking place where men are always deemed inherently violent and the woman's words are used as evidence.

The apparent goal of this courtroom secrecy is the imposition of government will upon the public at its roots: the family. There is a preference for the creation of single parent homes where natural vulnerabilities of single parents are further exploited. There is a zealous desire to stamp out violence against women to such an extent that even illegal alien women who claim domestic violence are able to circumvent deportation proceedings and level horrendous charges against their American men. Children are used to build a case through their voluntary hospital admissions into psychiatric wards for the creation of reports of abuse.

There is also a hiding of biased methodologies. Judges determine who the winner of a case is sometimes by mere intuition. Then they start to sanitize the record by precluding the loser's documents and experts. They bolster the winner's case by allowing the winner's documents and experts into evidence. For example, in IDV cases, crisis center advocates will take the stand and offer expert testimony on issues they have no background on.

The most important aspect of this system of courts is that by the removal of a child from a parent, families are made to spend all their money on lawyers and white collar professionals for their kid's return to the home. Hence secrecy leads to enhanced income production for industry members and the statutes that guide all this were created at the very top of political echelons.
That is what is wrong with the family court, in 4 paragraphs.

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