(Click once on the ACLU news release above to enlarge it.)
Lawyers representing Rhode Island's ACLU and twenty ethics professors from law schools throughout the country are in Superior Court today seeking to pursue a class action suit against Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah, magistrates and officials who have permitted Truancy Courts to operate in their schools. ACLU charges are similar to concerns we have raised about the way Family Court handles domestic abuse custody cases:
The pending lawsuit, filed in March by the National ACLU and its Rhode Island affiliate, charges that the truancy courts are frequently punitive in nature, and that truancy court magistrates threaten vulnerable children and their parents with baseless fines and imprisonment, remove children from the custody of their parents without legal justification and fail to keep adequate records of court hearings.
(Two trophy children who had been court-ordered into custody with abusive fathers succeeded in returning to protective mothers after several years--when each one suffered an emotional breakdown and missed school. Both of their fathers responded to this by reporting them to truancy court--another means of exerting power and control over their families.)
Family Court gives judges kingly power, but takes away their sense of curiosity and concern about what is really happening to the people who come before them.
How is the Family Court system set up to do this?
Custody cases surround the judges with "courtiers"--privately paid officers of the court, lawyers, and guardians ad litem--who represent vested interests. They can and often do repeat lies, rumors, and innuendos in bench conferences or in chambers with no evidence and no record. Even the Rhode Island Supreme Court, that condemns these off-the-record conferences, has not been able to stop them.
Victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children have had their children removed, have been imprisoned, have lost their jobs and been forced into bankruptcy through years of frivolous litigation, and have been subjected to unconstitutional "gag" orders--forbidden to speak about the Court's actions for fear of reprisals against their children.
Which of the candidates for Chief Judge will recognize these concerns in their JNC interviews next Tuesday? Which ones possess the vision, capacity, and determination to reform the system?