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Abusers are given children to abuse

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Why Give Kids to Abusers?

By a guest blogger

After trying and often failing to absorb the reality that family (divorce) courts are taking abused children away from safe mothers and giving then to dangerous fathers, most people ask the salient question.

Kids to Abusers!?

“Why? What on earth would motivate a judge to do such a cruel thing to a child?”

There are a number of reasons for these human rights violations, but the simple fact is that when a child is born, somebody has to take care of the baby. If a breadwinner has a good job, a mother can stay home with the baby. Breadwinners have money. Stay-at-home mothers do not.

And some of these breadwinners are abusers.  If a child reports abuse by an abusive breadwinner, he may use his hard earned money to find an aggressive, unscrupulous bully of a lawyer.  Abusers want custody to keep the child from telling people about the abuse.  Losing custody also punishes the mother who believes the child. It works like a charm.

On March 26, 2014, the Sacramento Bee’s reporter Brad Branan  explained this phenomenon in a front page article entitled. “State considers providing lawyers for high-stakes civil disputes”. 

 “Susan Ferris went into Sacramento family court hoping to win custody of her 14-year-old daughter. She left without her girl and without most of her disability income.

The Sacramento Superior Court judge said his ruling was driven by his suspicion that Ferris helped her daughter run away from her father. But prominent San Francisco attorney James Brosnahan argues that the decision resulted from something else: not having a lawyer.

The California Administrative Office of the Courts estimates that more than 75 percent of family court cases have at least one party without legal representation. In California, parents have the right to counsel when they stand to lose their children for alleged neglect or abuse, but not in custody disputes. Brosnahan argues that custody cases such as Ferris’ have the same parental stakes and should come with similar protections.”

Mind you, California already has a perfectly good law on the books that reads, “ In any proceeding pursuant to Section 3120, and in any proceeding subsequent to entry of a related judgment, the court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including access early in the proceedings, to preserve each party’s rights by ordering, if necessary based on the income and needs assessments, one party, except a government entity, to pay to the other party, or to the other party’s attorney, whatever amount is reasonably necessary for attorney’s fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.” Family Code Section 3121 (a).

But family court judges rarely ensure this right to counsel. They have wide discretion, which is translated by some judges as “I can do anything I damn well please. This is my courtroom and I can do as I want.”  Indeed, they can, because there is no effective oversight. Poor litigants also can’t afford to appeal, so there is not even an illusion of oversight. This is concerning to good judges in the state, but they have not been able to make their rogue colleagues behave with integrity.

The Sacramento Bee article continued:

‘Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the poor to legal representation in criminal cases. The American Bar Association passed a resolution in 2006 in support of extending that right to civil cases, particularly matters involving evictions, government benefits and child custody.

“This is at the point where a lot of us think it’s a disgrace,” Brosnahan said. “You can’t take someone’s child and that person doesn’t have an attorney when you do it … It’s an outrage.”

“In the decade he has practiced in Sacramento family court, attorney Neil Forester estimated that self-represented parties have won cases against his clients less than 10 percent of the time.

“When I go before a judge, I say ‘Here’s the law, and this is what we want,’ ” Forester said. “Someone who isn’t an attorney doesn’t understand what they’re entitled to because they don’t understand the law.”

The crush of litigants entering family court without an attorney could be considered to be practicing law without a degree.

“McGeorge School of Law professor John Myers sees a knowledge gap when he represents clients in family court and when he runs a monthly clinic providing basic assistance to people who can’t afford an attorney. He helps clinic participants fill out myriad required legal forms, knowing they will face an uphill battle if their spouses have attorneys, he said.

“They can’t get the job done,” he said. “It’s not a level playing field.”

It is simply absurd to imagine a person untrained in the law and terrified in the courtroom to compete against a seasoned attorney.

“Susan Ferris described her courtroom proceedings as a nightmare she could barely understand. Court transcripts show that Ferris struggled to follow courtroom procedure and often had to be told by Judge Matthew Gary how to respond. The judge frequently had to remind her not to interrupt him.”

Susan and David Ferris shared joint custody until 2011.   That’s when Susan and her daughter told the court about David’s temper, marijuana use and sharing a bed with his daughter. David did not deny that he shared his bed with his teenage daughter but explained it was because her bedroom was being renovated. Understandably, the daughter ran away from this awkward situation.

“For five consecutive days in December 2011, Gary ordered the parents into court and asked them where the girl was after she disappeared from her father’s home. Each day, they told him they could not locate her. Although Susan Ferris repeatedly insisted she did not know where her daughter was, Gary became convinced that she was responsible for her daughter’s disappearance, the transcript shows. The judge awarded David Ferris full custody.”

Over Susan Ferris’ objections, Judge Gary allowed David Ferris to place their daughter in a Utah boarding school for troubled children. He ordered Susan Ferris to pay $920 in child support each month, in part to pay for some of the boarding school cost. That is most of the $1,200 monthly disability check she gets from the Social Security Administration, records show. The judge said he realized as much, but argued that the child should be her first responsibility.

Susan had to give up her apartment and live on a friend’s couch as a result of Judge Gary’s outrageous decisions.

“If I had had an attorney,” she said, “none of this would have happened.”

But Susan was more fortunate than many mothers in this situation. She found that in this world there are a few good men. An appellate attorney decided to take her case pro bono because of the violations of her due process rights.

“Brosnahan said that she (Susan) was hindered by having to serve as both attorney and witness in her custody fight. Her ability to represent herself was further weakened by her post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of a 2005 assault and a 2007 rock-climbing accident, according to court records.

The San Francisco attorney agreed to take up an appeal at no charge because he saw an opportunity to right what he considers a wrong: the judge deprived Ferris of due process by ending her parental rights without appointing her an attorney. In his appeal, Brosnahan argues that the family court should give Ferris an attorney for new custody hearings.”

We heartily agree. In California, they need to uphold the black letter of the Family Code Section 3121(a) at the very least.

This is happening all over the country.  If you want to help, just click here and sign the petition requesting Congressional Oversight Hearings.

Petition for Congressional Oversight Hearings


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