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:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lesbian Mafia

I recoiled when I first heard “Tracy” refer to Attorneys Cynthia Gifford, Cherrie Perkins, and Lise Iwon as the “Lesbian Mafia.” They are no more representative of most gay women than La Cosa Nostra is of most Italians.

But that’s how they make me feel, Tracy said.

When she and “Barbara” moved from gay-friendly Washington, D.C., to Rhode Island’s Washington County in 1991, she said their windows got pelted with eggs. The two women eventually connected with a circle of gay friends, but Tracy said her ASD symptoms often made her the butt of their jokes. Some people got to know and appreciate her quirks, her kindness, her quick mind and facility with numbers.

The lawyers who represented Tracy said that Gifford and Perkins’ intense personal involvement in this case was troubling both in chambers and in the courtroom. Last Thursday, the Gifford and Perkins entourage welcomed Iwon to Washington County Courthouse like a returning don.

Their posse deliberately sat in Tracy’s line of vision. One called out to Perkins: “Sit over here.”

“No,” she said and kept a circle of empty seats around her. “I want to really be able to concentrate on [Tracy.] Send all my good thoughts.”

Her glare put the evil eye on the defendant, who stood ramrod straight like a prisoner in the dock to hear the judge’s sentence. She was expecting the worst.

Iwon sat across the aisle from me writing on her legal pad to show that she as a lawyer -- an “officer of the court” -- was allowed to do what I as a non-lawyer was not.

Judge Debra DiSegna fell in line with them. She did not admonish Gifford or Perkins for the violations of due process that littered the case these four years. Her Decision ran over 60 pages. What she read aloud never acknowledged the errors of two prior judges. How could she? This is not a system that self-regulates, though it professes to.

She quoted from questionable documents, including one that claimed to be an agreement from a meeting Tracy maintains never happened with guardian ad litem Kerry Rafanelli. Judge DiSegna cited a mysterious document from June 29, 2009, when Gifford slid four orders under Judge Raymond Shawcross’s pen without any notice to Tracy or copies to give her in court. One document had not even been stamped by the clerk. DiSegna never mentioned Barbara’s missing green financial forms.

How does mischief like that keep happening without consequences? The judge excoriated Tracy for taking her complaints to Rhode Island’s more law-abiding Superior and Supreme Courts.

Judge DiSegna reconfirmed sole custody and placement to Barbara. Fifteen-year old “Jenny” will stay at her local high school and not be allowed to audition for the state’s preeminent school for performing artists.

Even though Barbara admitted Tracy had never assaulted her, DiSegna kept a 3-year restraining order in force for Tracy to stay away from Barbara and Jenny until December 2013.

She allowed Tracy unsupervised visits with Jenny from noon to 3 pm every other Saturday -- at least until summer, when Barbara usually sends Jenny away to camp.

DiSegna said Tracy and Jenny could have daily 10-minute phone calls, but they must not text each other. Tracy can attend Jenny’s public events as long as she stays away from Barbara. Most of those events are over -- except for a concert on May 12th.

On the day of her Decision, the judge said Tracy and Jenny would have an unsupervised visit in the law library after she privately explained her Decision to the teen.

That was when Judge DiSegna learned that Gifford and Barbara had already flaunted the Court’s instructions. They had not brought the girl to the courthouse for a 3 p.m. meeting as the judge directed. It was 3:30 when Barbara went to get Jenny.

Tracy simply left the courthouse. Later she sent me an email explaining why she did not wait to see if there might be a visit after all. By then there would be scarce time for them to meet, she wrote. More important, the Court’s Decision left Tracy in no condition to visit. It would not be good for her daughter to see her this way.

People without children or without good relationships to their children, who are not on the ASD spectrum and do not suffer post-traumatic stress disorder might not understand this.

Tracy needed to leave, she said. She knew the limits of this sort of sensory overload. She needed time to absorb the Decision. After nearly three years separated from her daughter, there could be no sweet reunion in the courthouse library, no matter what DiSegna imagined.

And what could a teenager like Jenny and a mom like Tracy say in just a 10-minute phone call? Trying to squeeze in everything that matters could tie up their stomachs day and night.

I once thought Judge DiSegna was genuinely interested in Dr. Ronitte Vilker’s insights on autism. So who prompted the judge to taunt Tracy three times in her Decision with the offensive term that the Diagnostic Manual is removing and Vilker herself avoids?

Judge DiSegna had buttressed Gifford’s demands, forcing Dr. Vilker to cancel her patients' appointments and return to court again and again, to hand over federally protected documents in violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments and Rhode Island Disciplinary Rules.

Five days have passed since the Decision, and the visitation order has arrived for Tracy to get a 3-hour unsupervised visit with Jenny and attend her performance May 12th, the day before Mother's Day. The document is a jumbled mess in Gifford's handwriting, crossed out, scribbled over, and barely legible. But the judge signed it.

This much is clear: it is a trick. The order gives Tracy's name incorrectly--the old domestic partnership name. She has no I.D. cards with that name. Four years ago she claimed her own name. This sloppy order means nothing compared to the restraining order that could take her to prison. Police will arrest her if she comes near Jenny on May 12th with only her current I.D.

This is the kind of ruse I’ve seen batterers use in this court for decades. It is calculated to trigger all Tracy's symptoms--ASD, PTSD--with no concern whatsoever for her or her daughter. As much as this teenager longs to see her mom, she will probably have to wait until she turns 18.

Raymond L.S. Patriarca, don of the New England mob, held special affection for the smallness of Rhode Island, saying that all he needed here were a few cops and judges to corrupt the entire state.

Family Court has cabals thick as thieves allowed free rein to demand exorbitant fees and to torment their enemies. If Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian can clean up here, she will need to end their flagrant abuse of process.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

10.S. Should Gifford, Perkins, and Rafanelli be disciplined?

Last week, I wrote this at
It was odd last month when the Rhode Island Supreme Court's Disciplinary Counsel David Curtin reportedly filed a complaint accusing Attorney Robert T. Karns of unethical conduct for twice offering his services to a tragically bereaved widow (Tracy Breton, “Lawyer faces disciplinary hearing,” The Providence Journal, March 30, 2012, Section: Rhode Island; Page A5 COURTS).

. . . . [Mr. Karns’s] offense seems minor compared to years of Family Court litigation full of blatant violations that have removed parental rights with no due process, no notice, no hearing, no evidence, no cross examination—all done in the usual way, ex parte, through so-called “emergency” orders when no emergencies existed, sometimes with DCYF involvement and behind closed doors.
If you ask most Rhode Island attorneys what they think of Family Court, they descend into locker room vulgarities -- "cesspool" is the one I hear most often.

Four years ago, when "Barbara" hired Cynthia Gifford and Cherrie Perkins to remove the parental rights of her ex-partner, "Tracy," with whom their daughter, "Jenny," wants to live, Gifford and Perkins dragged them all into a system widely abused by its own officers.

All across the state, other families are being traumatized by long, drawn-out custody cases that extract tens of thousands of dollars for officers of the court while subjecting children and parents to gut-wrenching torment.

I asked Tracy if she, a systems engineer, could analyze how the system operates. Could she draw a graph that shows the abuses of power that have become routine in Family Court?

She began with an Ideal "730 Chart" that shows the hearing dates on the left and the dates that orders are entered along the bottom. Court rules require lawyers to give 10-days' notice to those they are moving against in Family Court, but lawyers often claim there is an "emergency" and seek an ex parte hearing without the other party present.

Tracy created a thin green line for when hearings (H) are set and/or heard, whether they are properly noticed or ex parte. The Court speaks through its orders (O), and only one order is to be entered for each hearing. These orders must come no earlier than 7 days after a regular hearing and no later than 30 days after the hearing. This creates a "730 tunnel" between those dotted 7-day and 30-day lines in which orders must be signed and come into "full force and effect."

So an ideal Family Court case should look like this, with one order for each hearing. Each order falls within the 730 tunnel. (Click once on the image to enlarge):

In contrast, Tracy's rough chart of Barbara's case against her shows no orders correctly entered in the 730 tunnel for the first nine months. The judge does not even see her during that time.

It is hard for Tracy to research this record. Page after page feels like being punched in the stomach.

It sickens me, too, even though I have not had to endure the mockery she felt in and out of court. Or worse--the anguish of more than three years completely cut off from her daughter.

Attorneys Gifford, Perkins, and guardian ad litem Kerry Rafanelli, used "emergencies," ex parte hearings, and abrupt continuances to such an extent that the case is scarred with these and with orders entered "out of time" (OOT) -- months beyond the 30-day limit. They accused Tracy of violating orders that had never been properly entered. Sometimes no transcript existed. This was torture for Tracy with her high-functioning autism and need for precision and literal clarity.

Will Gifford, Perkins, and Rafanelli be disciplined for violating Rule 8.4 of the Rhode Island Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct? Probably not, though Tracy has submitted lengthy complaints to the Disciplinary Counsel and others. The Disciplinary Board and Courts punish officials for stealing money or cars (as on yesterday's front page of the Providence Journal),--but never for taking children from excellent parents.

Barbara testified that she had never seen Tracy behave the way she did at court--as if to suggest that Tracy was putting on an act to appear disabled. Perhaps Barbara still does not appreciate the damage four years of legal abuse will do to any of us.

Tracy's 730 Chart gives us a concept and a tool that could work with a few administrative adjustments. Thanks to her, we may soon be able to chart any case based simply on its docket sheet. We will finally be able to graph the evidence of color-of-law abuses in Family Court custody cases.

In an era when most important realities can be reduced to numbers, Tracy has transformed her own pain into a model for measuring legal proceedings that have long defied logic and justice. Like the stream of data available to physicians from an EKG or CT-scan, Tracy’s chart would allow judges to see clearly which officers of this court are abusing a process intended to protect children, families, and the honor of the Court.

As always, if you see errors in my information or understanding of the legal process, I welcome your corrections so we can use Tracy's 730 Chart to improve this Court. Write to me at ParentingProject@