This oped ran in the Providence Journal on Monday, August 16, 2010:
Rhode Islanders have a fleeting chance this summer to help decide who will lead our beleaguered Family Court. On August 10th, at 5:15 p.m., the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) will interview six candidates to be next Chief Judge of Family Court: Haiganush R. Bedrosian, Stephen J. Capineri, Laureen D’Ambra, Michael B. Forte, John E. McCann, and Kathleen A. Voccola.
It may not be easy for these judges to criticize a system that already gives them life tenure, generous salaries, health benefits, pensions, and enormous power. But some will have valuable insights to stop an escalating spiral of abuse that re-traumatizes many families trapped there.
The list of nominees prepared this month by the JNC and the final choice by Gov. Carcieri in the fall may shape our Family Court for decades to come.
Twenty-three years ago, Gov. Edward DiPrete famously made his “best friend” Chief of Family Court. DiPrete later pled guilty to 18 felonies and spent a year in prison for crimes he committed in office. Though Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr., was never linked to DiPrete’s wrongdoing, conflicts-of-interest have seeped into Family Court proceedings at many levels.
The process of nominating judges has always been subject to enormous political pressure, even after the 1994 constitutional amendment that established merit selection for all Rhode Island judges. One quarter of our legislators are lawyers and one-half of the JNC is required to be lawyers. Lawyers rely on judges to preserve and protect their livelihood, while judges rely on legislators to fund their salaries.
For several years, professional journals have recognized that adversarial litigation does more harm than good in many civil cases, especially those involving crimes like domestic violence or sexual abuse, which become inadmissible in custody deliberations after a no-fault divorce. Mediation ignores past patterns of abusive control that judges need to recognize. New research shows damage being done by guardians ad litem, “experts” and court-ordered “therapy.”
The Rhode Island Family Court needs to move to a better model in attempting to resolve these critical custody cases. Perhaps a new model will require specialized training in collaborative law with centralized salaries instead of the private contractors who profiteer on adversarial law and pride themselves on cutting the other side to shreds.
A new blog, “Trophy Child,” at http://trophychild.blogspot.com, will discuss some of these issues—especially when the court gives children to the very people identified as harming them. A variety of subjects emerge from these cases: the role of gag orders; ex parte emergency orders; supervised visitation; frivolous litigation; trust funds; the problem with the Supreme Court’s friendly-parent factor in Pettinato; and more.
I have presented one confidential account of a “trophy child” to the Governor, JNC commissioners, candidates, and a small number of news professionals who agreed not to reveal specifics of that case for the safety of the child. This case does not reflect directly on any of the candidates presently under consideration, but it illustrates a culture of control, intrigue and deceit that has led many fine lawyers and mental health professionals to avoid this court altogether.
Candidates for Chief Judge of Family Court must show whether they possess the insight to recognize these problems, the candor to name them, and the resourcefulness to raise the bar and assure the highest standards of justice for families in crisis.
Candidates must also suggest a safe way for whistleblowers to expose abuses of favoritism throughout the system whether by judges, magistrates, officers, guardians, employees, contractors, or others.
Which of these six candidates can envision and inspire change? Which one has stamina to lift the bar to a new standard of civility and diligence so that this court appeals to the highest caliber of lawyers?
Even in summer, when many would prefer to relax, concerned citizens must listen to these candidates’ presentations to the Judicial Nominating Commission on August 10th. A week later, on August 17th, members of the public may comment on the candidates.
Unless the public steps up to listen, learn, and demand the government we deserve, Rhode Island will continue to create new generations of trophy children.
Under the Open Meetings Law, the public is welcome to attend most meetings of the Judicial Nominating Commission. These take place at 5:15 p.m. at the Department of Administration in Providence, One Capitol Hill, Second Floor Conference Room B, Providence, Rhode Island (the modern building across from the State House on Smith Street).
On August 10th, at 5:15 p.m., the six candidates for Chief Judge of Family Court will present their visions for the Court. On August 17th, the public may sign in to make brief comments about the candidates. For more about the JNC, visit their website:
Color of Law Custody Cases
Color of Law Custody Cases
Rhode Island and other states often violate civil rights in civil courts when officials threaten to separate children from protective parents who are their lifeline. These cases may include "color of law" abuses that push the boundaries of law. Judges who allow color of law abuse in their courtrooms are guilty of "color of office."
In Family Court, we give judges ultimate power over people’s lives while taking away their curiosity, concern, and even their ability to inquire about what is really happening in these cases. This transfers the power to guardians ad litem and lawyers. These officers of the court can convince a judge--through false allegations that are frequently off the record--to remove children, imprison innocent parents, then bankrupt them through years of frivolous motions, and forbid them to talk about it--all under color of law.
In domestic abuse custody cases, this enables the abusive parent to gain extraordinary power and control over the protective parent and the children.
Here is more information about color of law: