Two court cases—one initiated by each child’s father—sometimes ran simultaneously in different courts creating room for mischief.
For example, on September 27, 2002, the young couple had a divorce hearing in Providence on the same day that lawyer William Holt was fourteen miles away at the Kent County Courthouse asking Justice Rocha to sign an order he said Justice Voccola had issued eight months earlier. The transcript from January 16th shows Voccola saying:
My understanding is Mr. Holt will be preparing an order which will amend the birth certificate for [the younger child] to show the surname of [her father, the former VP], if that is agreed to.
Out of consideration for children’s emotional health, Rhode Island law does not require a child born out of wedlock to use a biological father’s surname, especially when the family uses a different name. But changing this girl’s surname became an issue of paternal control that resulted in a hefty fine and imprisonment for the mother. It also forced the two sisters, who looked alike in grade school, to explain why they had two completely different surnames.
Here’s how the stratagem worked:
Holt wrote his version of the order in a curious passive voice, asserting that Voccola adjudged the former VP to be the biological father and decreed that the child’s birth certificate “shall be modified,” and the child’s surname “shall be changed,” and a “certified copy of this Order shall be provided to the Health Department. . . .”
Voccola never directed anyone to carry out these orders on January 16, 2002. She had already given legal authority for the children to Murray-Rapoza, the guardian ad litem, on May 23, 2001. Holt certified that he had sent an advance copy of this order only to the mother’s attorney, but not to Murray-Rapoza, who should have received all communications about the children. Indeed, she would have been the logical person to change the birth certificate.
Justice Rocha signed the order on September 27, 2002, adding the Latin words nunc pro tunc, meaning “now for then.” Holt took four more months to deliver the unusual order to the clerk, who entered it in the record January 21, 2003, two weeks after the mother's attorney had withdrawn from the case, and more than a year after Voccola mentioned the name change “if that is agreed to.”
The order lay undetected in the rapidly expanding court file for nearly three years. It eventually served as a blunt instrument for punishing the mother, who had stood up in court on July 13, 2004, to accuse attorney Holt, Justice Rocha and Patricia Rocha, his daughter, for perpetrating insurance fraud.
I remember Holt’s astonished expression as a pile of papers flew up from his hands, creating instant distraction. He diplomatically assured the judge there was no need to consider any pending motions for the rest of the summer, since judicial rotation would occur in the fall and “in the interests of judicial economy,” all motions could be re-filed at that time.
Thereupon Justice Rocha and attorney Holt disappeared from the case. When Justice Pamela Macktaz arrived at Kent County Courthouse, attorney Barbara Grady took over as attorney for the former VP.
Family Court custody cases are often played like a waiting game as children grow from one stage to the next. When the baby was old enough to start school, Grady found a way to use Holt’s lurking name-change order to her own advantage.
Two days before Thanksgiving 2005, Macktaz called in four sheriffs to hustle the diminutive mother out of the courtroom in handcuffs for contempt of court, because she had registered her younger daughter in school under the child’s birth name. Attorney Grady was careful not to say the mother had failed to change the birth certificate, for she had never been ordered to do that. Instead, Grady accused her of using a “fraudulent document.”
Macktaz ordered the defendant to be “held at the Adult Correctional Institution . . . until such time that she schedules an appointment for a full psychiatric evaluation with a licensed psychiatrist.” The mother won her release by the end of the day, but Macktaz ordered her to pay Grady’s fee from her escrowed funds at a rate that had become the standard withdrawal for officers of the court -- $5,000.
NEXT: D. Who's Watching the Children?