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:

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@