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:

Monday, August 9, 2010

3.B. Case Study: Going for the gold

(This story begins below at 3.A.)

As their divorces got underway, these couples and their lawyers devoted most of 2001 to their finances.

Intending to marry the mother of his baby, the Textron VP gave her a diamond ring that she later insisted was an outright gift in return for her cooperating with the ruse so they could both keep their jobs at Textron. She says her husband was then unemployed, and she worried that they could not pay the mortgage on their new home if the VP fired her.

As for the VP’s divorce, his ex-wife had no lawyer and no apparent need for one. She gained assets worth over $4.3 million, while he got unspecified amounts in annuities, deferred income, and stock options, plus assets worth over a million.

He reached a settlement with Textron to protect the company against more claims of sexual harassment, while Textron supported his bid for disability insurance with help from doctors who said he was legally blind.

Pegged to his former salary of half a million dollars, his disability payments from Social Security and corporate insurance totaled $15,000 a month, from which he agreed to give the baby’s mother $1,500 a month child support--the same amount he would give his ex-wife for their teenager.

The baby’s mother reached her own settlement with Textron. Her husband’s attorney, John Lynch, persuaded Justice Voccola on May 18th to “equalize” counsel fees for lawyers on both sides, to be paid from marital assets, though it was not yet clear whether that could include her settlement.

On May 18th, Voccola also appointed the guardian ad litem—Patricia Murray-Rapoza, who four months later secured the judge’s order for the couple to sell their home so they could pay their legal fees. By January 2002, Murray-Rapoza wrote to the young couple's lawyers:
You will note that I severely underestimated my time on this case . . . . I know your clients are 'strapped' for cash at the present time. I would respectfully request that when the house sells that I be paid from the proceeds. I will be willing to wait for the money.

Some suspicion of deceitfulness rankled the judge. Though this was never asserted under oath, Voccola heard that the two former Textron employees, adversaries in the courtroom, were behaving like sweethearts at Sam’s Club. She declared her recusal, clearing the way for the next judge: Gilbert Rocha, whose daughter, Patricia Rocha, was one of Textron’s attorneys that negotiated the VP’s settlement with attorney Holt.

Instead of recusing himself from the case because of his daughter’s involvement, Rocha took the bench in time to intercept insurance company lawyers who came to Rhode Island to investigate transcripts, seeking to find out whether the former executive was truly blind and unemployable. Did he deserve the millions they were paying? Rocha blocked their access to the court record and sent them home for subpoenas.

Meanwhile, in the divorce case, Rocha began doling out escrowed funds to Murray-Rapoza, the guardian ad litem.

This angered lawyers for the divorcing parents, who demanded their share and handwrote a stipulation, using exactly the same words that Murray-Rapoza had used. Though they submitted no bills for their work, Justice Rocha signed the hasty order that awarded each lawyer $5,000 from the couple’s escrowed funds. By signing the order, he unwittingly created a second and third guardian ad litem for the two children.

The wife’s escrowed settlement funds produced a separate feeding frenzy as more lawyers secured non-refundable deposits and submitted bills to the court before abandoning her case. That fund would be managed by the guardian ad litem, Murray-Rapoza, and it would be tapped again by attorneys for the other side.

NEXT: C. Mischief in the Court