Category: Court Watching

Family law attorneys sue watchdog group over social media posts

Family law attorneys sue watchdog group over social media posts

JULY 29, 2016 5:49 PM

BY MAX B. BAKER
maxbaker@star-telegram.com

 

Two attorneys are suing a watchdog group dedicated to reforming the Tarrant County family court system and alleging libel and slander, saying it used social media posts to falsely accuse them of unethical and illegal activities.

Attorneys Lori DeAngelis and Laurie Robinson accuse the Southlake-based Protective Parents Coalition, its co-founder Jennifer Olson, and Donna Tribunella, one of the group’s followers, of defaming them by publishing malicious comments without any evidence, court records state.

Among the allegations is that DeAngelis and Robinson unethically colluded with Tarrant County judges to receive higher attorneys fees and more business while also conspiring with caseworkers to destroy critical social study reports that are part of the court’s records, the lawsuit states.

One posting by Tribunella that is quoted in the lawsuit attacks Robinson for “showing up drunk as a skunk” at a family’s home while serving as a child’s attorney during a custody case. Robinson and DeAngelis have denied all of the allegations made against them.

SOME OF THIS STUFF YOU SHAKE YOUR HEAD AND SAY, ‘WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?’
attorney Jim Ross

The posts appeared on the Protective Parents Coalition’s website and Facebook page, which the group describes in court records as an online newspaper or blog about the family courts. Tribunella, who lives in Burleson, published material on her Facebook page, records show.

“We have a group of people who say they are exercising their free speech rights but there are boundaries that you do not cross,” said Jim Ross, the attorney representing DeAngelis and Robinson. “They are slamming and criticizing to the point of accusing people of crimes …”

“Some of this stuff you shake your head and say, ‘What in the world are you talking about?’”

Ross’ clients are seeking an injunction to prevent the group from publishing any additional posts. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, they also are seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

Tribunella said she is just exercising her right to free speech in her posts. She has had a contentious child custody case in the Tarrant County courts and questioned the actions of Robinson and others, according to court records.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right afforded to all citizens,” Tribunella said in an email. “Advocating and watchdog groups are geared for judicial reform, to gain greater access to transparency when one’s children, family and property are affected.”

“This suit will unleash many more questions than answers into the multiple departments within Tarrant County that should be transparent,” she wrote.

The Star-Telegram was unable to talk to Olson, but the attorney for the Protective Parents Coalition said they will “vigorously” fight the current lawsuit. The group previously convinced a judge to dismiss a petition seeking to take depositions and conduct discovery that could have been used to prepare for this lawsuit, said attorney Greg Westfall.

“Truth is a defense and a defamation lawsuit gets to go both ways. So, they can look for a fight,” Westfall said. “These ladies who make up this organization are trying to reform how the family courts do their business.”

Court watchers

The Protective Parents Coalition was started by Olson after she went through a divorce and custody battle that raised questions with her about how the local family courts operate, a member of the group said. The group was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2014, according to state records.

The group was formed to “support parents and children who do not have a voice outside the courtroom,” and to help those who have dealt with family violence and child abuse but are forced to arbitrate their cases in family court, Olson said in a deposition in January.

As part of its activities, the group established a Court Watching Program that sends volunteers to observe and take notes in court, Olson said. After making their observations, the group’s staff makes recommendations to improve the court system “from the litigant’s perspective,” she said.

The court watchers have not been well received by court personnel and attorneys who work in the family courts, with two associate family court judges kicking them out of the courtroom, she said.

 

THEY WANT TO STOP THE COURT WATCHERS AND THEY DON’T WANT ANY CITIZEN WHISTLEBLOWERS CALLING THEM OUT, MARIE HOWARD.

 Protective Parents Coalition board member

Marie Howard said that when she went to observe a hearing and was questioned about her identity, she was suddenly sworn in as a witness — even though she wasn’t involved in the case — and then told she couldn’t be in the courtoom until she was called to testify. She also couldn’t leave the courthouse until the hearing was completed.

“They pretty much had their way with that case and no one was there to witness it,” said Howard, who lives in Keller and serves on the group’s board of directors.

In another incident, Howard said she was observing a trial and had to go through a search each time she left the courtroom to make sure that she didn’t have a recording device. “They want to stop the court watchers and they don’t want any citizen whistleblowers calling them out,” she said.

Generally, the Protective Parents Coalition finds that the Tarrant County family court system is “deeply flawed” and has identified many examples of “judges, attorneys and court staff misusing and abusing their power,” Olson said in her deposition.

 
Kevin Schmid, president of the Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association, said he hasn’t had any personal knowledge or interaction with the protective parents group, but he said he’s never seen DeAngelis or Robinson behave in an unprofessional manner.
“They are both highly regarded in the family law community,” Schmid said.The veteran family law attorney also defended the local court system, saying that it is “considered to be one of the best in the state and our judges among the most qualified.” Schmid added that everyone involved take their jobs seriously in “highly contentious” cases.“The decisions our judges are called upon to make affect lives and not just dollars,” he said.

Passionate concerns

The Protective Parents Coalition was able to get the previous petition filed by Ross dismissed in February by arguing that the coalition’s activities are allowed under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which protects citizens who speak out on matters of public concern from retaliatory lawsuits.

The legislation gives the courts the power to promptly toss out a legal action if it determines that the lawsuit impinges on constitutional rights and intends to intimidate or silence them through what is known as an anti-SLAPP motion, or a directive to dismiss a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

The Protective Parents Coalition said its work is a “matter of public concern” since it pertains to the community’s well-being, health or safety and involves a public official or public figure and a service provided in the marketplace.

But the group simply is trying to escape liability for defamatory statements and the Texas Citizens Participation Act does not allow someone to directly state or imply that someone has committed crimes, fraud or behaved in an unethical manner, according to Ross and court records.

Ross, who is appealing the earlier decision, states in court records that the Texas Citizens Participation Act requires not only “clear and specific evidence” of its accusations.

“Everyone has a right to be passionate about a cause that is important to them,” Ross said. “What they don’t have a right to do is falsely accuse people of committing crimes in a public forum. That’s is not protected in the Constitution and not by the anti- SLAPP motion.”

 

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/article92706907.html#storylink=cpy

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/article92706907.html#storylink=cpy

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/family-law-attorneys-sue-watchdog-group-over-social-media-posts/

Court Watchers Needed

Now the real work begins in Tarrant County

November 16, 2016

 

tarrant courtWe have heard your horrific stories of abuse of power, extortion, quid pro quo, intimidation, threats, fraud, bias, corruption, denial of due process, cronyism, perjury, denial of parental rights, ex parte meetings, and children used as pawns in the Tarrant family courts.  Please continue to share your experience with us through Facebook, Twitter and through email.  

Today, those same acts are occurring in the family courts and in fact, the judges are digging in their heels and refusing to clean up their acts on the bench.  Judges report they are overworked, pray over cases everyday, and make decisions in the best interests of the children. 

In order to eliminate associate judges from the family courts, we need documentation to support the limited hours (and cases) they hear each day.  For the last three years PPC has been court watching, we have seen the district judges and associate judges working a part-time schedule. Download form here.

Many people have reached out to us asking how to help reform the family courts.  This is how you can help.

We have attached a form that can be downloaded and printed.    On your free time, stop by the Tarrant Family Courthouse any time/any day and take a stroll through the courthouse.  All the district and associate judge courtrooms are on the 4th and 5th floors. Some judges leave the double doors open and you can see inside the courtroom.  Others, close the doors and you will have to open the door and peek in.  All you are doing is filling in the information on the form.  

If you would like to stick around and court watch cases, have a seat and observe.  A pen and notepad is all you will need.  The judges have expressed the public is always welcome in their courts and the bailiffs have been instructed to be courteous.  No one should attempt to intimidate you in these public courtrooms.  If you feel this has occurred, please notify PPC immediately.   Copies of your court watching notes can be emailed to PPC @ protectiveparentscoalition@gmail.com, or mailed to the address on the form.

Tarrant County Family Courthouse 
200 East Weatherford Street
Fort Worth, TX  76196 

P:  817-884-1265

             DOWNLOAD

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-7-25-57-amThank you everyone for participating and supporting PPC in our effort to improve our family courts.

 

****The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your competent attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site is not legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not be viewed as legal advice.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/court-watchers-needed/

Bitter Fight Against Family Court Lawyers

Bitter Fight Against Family Court Lawyers

By DAVID LEE

COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

July 28, 2016

FORT WORTH (CN) – Two court-appointed attorneys sued a family court watchdog group, claiming it defamed them in PPC_800x600online posts that claim the lawyers are unethical and colluded with a judge to take “unearned attorney fees and child support from the mother.”

Lori Deangelis and Laurie Robinson, both of Arlington, sued the Protective Parents Coalition on Tuesday in Tarrant County Court. They also sued Jennifer Olson, of Frisco, and Donna Tribunella, of Burleson.

The attorneys say they are “victims of slander and/or libel” on the Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) website and Facebook page, and on Tribunella’s social media sites.

Among their complaint is that a banner posted on the PPC Facebook page on or around July 26, 2015 showed photographs of both plaintiffs with the caption, “Three of the most family court-appointed Fort Worth attorneys.” The plaintiffs claim the banner “formally” describes them as “three of the worst family court appointed Fort Worth attorneys.”

Another post that day stated: “One attorney representing children partnered with a district judge to take unearned attorney fees and child support from the mother of the children who out-cried inappropriate conduct by their father. Her primary motivation is attorney fees collected in each case,” according to the 22-page lawsuit.

The post also said that one of the plaintiffs “had the power to have her paralegal direct a Tarrant County caseworker to select and destroy records collected in a social study” and that one of the plaintiffs “regularly advises one of the parties to fire their current attorney and to hire one of her friends,” while acting as a court-appointed attorney, according to the complaint.

On Jan. 23 this year, the attorneys say, Tribunella posted on her Facebook page that the plaintiffs are “the spawn of Hell who I like to refer to as Court room Hall Whore Huggers who continually stay at the Court house to get Court ordered Assignment from the despicable Judges who order them to oversee a childs best interest (Thats a Joke) to keep them employed and deplete the family’s finances and tear families apart and who coherece with opposing counsel when they are sworn to not share information one sided.” (Spelling and language as in complaint.)

The objectionable statements take up five single-spaced pages of the lawsuit. It cites a Sept. 25, 2015 post from Tribunella, who allegedly called plaintiff Robinson “An attorney in Tarrant county who was removed as a child guardian ad litem for showing up Drunk as a skunk at a families home…Keep on drinking you alcoholic…hope you get pulled over tonight and thrown in jail before you ruin anymore lives~.. It is what it is~ you are pathetic…and Judge Polus and Judge Hennighan who appointed you need to be very ashamed…but yet again …they are corrupt as hell~…what…is that an alcoholic beverage you are drinking?…..and your driving…..WOW…being an attorney dont you know that is Illegal … and that makes you an unfit parent and moraless!” (Language and spelling as in complaint.)

The plaintiffs seek an injunction prohibiting the defendants from contacting them, their employers and their families, and from posting comments on the Internet “directly or indirectly refer” to them. They also want them prohibited from directly or indirectly taking pictures and conveying pictures of the plaintiffs.

Defendant Olson told Courthouse News that if granted, the plaintiffs’ injunction “would silence the plaintiffs’ critics named in the lawsuit and anyone else associated” with the defendants.

“This is a clear violation of protected free speech and freedom of association in our country,” Olson said Tuesday afternoon.
Olson said she has spoken with attorneys who “believe this case is res judicata” — a legal term meaning a litigant is barred from raising the same issue from an earlier claim that could have been then.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Ross, in Arlington, denied any res judicata issue with the lawsuit. In an email message Tuesday afternoon, Ross said, “(W)e are confident the First Amendment does not cover the type of publications” used by the defendants.

In a precursor to the lawsuit, the attorneys in December filed a petition for presuit deposition against the defendants to determine who wrote the online posts.

Olson said the trial court dismissed that case in May under the Texas Citizens’ Participation Act, the state’s Anti-SLAPP law (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

The court also awarded $7,747 in attorneys’ fees to PPC et al. in that case.

Olson said the plaintiff-attorneys later filed an “untimely” notice of appeal of that ruling.

“As of today, the [Texas] Second Court of Appeals has not ruled if they will provide an extension to their appeal,” Olson said, citing a letter from the court.

The plaintiffs seek a restraining order and actual and punitive damages for libel, business disparagement, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intrusion on seclusion.

Formed in 2012 by several parents, the PPC says it “is dedicated to providing an impartial assessment of the effectiveness of family courts in dealing with custody, visitation, support and property issues.” The founders “decided to educate the public” about “unethical child custody evaluators” after seeing “unusual” family court rulings, according to its website.

Read More:  http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/07/28/bitter-fight-against-family-court-lawyers.htm

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/bitter-fight-against-family-court-lawyers/

Did the judge condone a theft in her courtroom committed by her bailiff?

Did the judge condone a theft in her courtroom committed by her bailiff?

March 2, 2016

Associate judge’s courtroom runs amok

TFRW Senate District 10 Director

Associate Judge Diane Haddock of Tarrant County & TFRW Senate District 10 Director

THE PRE-MEDITATION

At 9:35 am, a court watcher walks into the almost empty 233rd courtroom in Tarrant County. Only the bailiff, Associate Judge (AJ) Diane Haddock and an attorney setting up for her hearing are in the room. As we sit in silence, the judge from the 325th District Court, Judge Judith Wells enters the courtroom through the public entrance. This was a surprise not only to the court watcher, but also to AJ Diane Haddock. The judges usually do not enter other judge’s courtrooms from the public entrance. Instead they would use the back door to the courtroom across from the judge’s chambers. AJ Diane Haddock made a joke with District Judge Wells wondering if she should stand when she walked into the room. District Judge Wells stated, ‘Oh I was just here to see Laurie,” then whispered to ‘Laurie’.

Five minutes later, Judge Well’s AJ Terri White, peeks her head in the courtroom from the chambers entrance and asks if AJ Haddock has a minute. AJ Haddock leaves the bench and ducks out into the hall to meet with the judge. At this time only the attorney, the court watcher and the bailiff were in the courtroom. AJ Haddock returns to the bench after several minutes and by this time the courtroom was filling up with people. Approximately 17 people entered the courtroom by 9:50 am.

The bailiff appeared to be on a mission and walked briskly from his desk, down the aisle and exited the courtroom three times. Several attorneys were ‘staged’ to stand behind and in front of the court watcher. AJ Diane Haddock was sitting at her bench doing paperwork while the courtroom was filled with litigants waiting for their cases to be called. The litigants sat in silence waiting while attorneys and the bailiff walked in and out of the courtroom.

THE ILLEGAL ACT

Finally around 10:22 am., the judge appears to be ready to begin. But, she suddenly says, “Do you hear that phone ringing?” The courtroom was silent and the court watcher heard no ringing. The bailiff said, yes I do. Then two  attorneys agreed they heard a ring too. The bailiff then walked away from his desk, plowed down the aisle and began to exit the courtroom. The court watcher was sitting in the seat closest to the back door and could not see but heard the bailiff behind her. Then, he suddenly turned around and as he was walking back towards the judge he bent down and reached into the court watcher’s purse on the floor, grabbed her cell phone, and held it up in the air and announced, “I found it!”. He then walked straight up to the bench and set it on the judge’s desk.

The court watcher protested and demanded her cell phone back. She stood up and approached the bar and told the judge her bailiff had reached into her purse and took her cell phone. The judge then began to set an example of the court watcher and said that the reason cell phones have to be completely off is because phones can be used as recording devices, per Texas Supreme Court orders. The next thing she said was grossly inaccurate and one might question her moral turpitude  after she made the next statement.  Children are committing suicide because parents are recording court hearings and posting them online.  The courtroom was packed with a hired expert, two subpoenaed witnesses, attorneys, litigants and family members.  All of these individuals are witnesses to the statements made by the judge.

As the court watcher stood there shocked the bailiff stole her phone, she became mortified that a judge would made such a reckless statement before the court. Kids are killing themselves because of what they heard inside a courtroom. If this is AJ Haddock’s experience, what kind of horrific events are happening in her court that cause children to want to kill themselves?

It was obvious AJ Haddock, the bailiff and attorneys imagined a cellphone ringing in the courtroom to attempt to embarrass the court watcher. After the lecture from AJ Haddock, she asked the court watcher if she was recording.  She said no, then instructed the bailiff to return the court watcher’s phone. The court watcher sat back down and took more notes about what had just occurred.

Shortly after the court watcher was berated by AJ Haddock for her quiet cell phone in her purse, one of AJ Haddock’s ‘friends of the court’ was in the courtroom named ‘Deborah’.  Deborah’s cell phone rang loudly in the courtroom. This of course created an awkward situation for the judge and bailiff because of their recent treatment of the court watcher when an imaginary ring was heard by only the court personnel.  Again, AJ Haddock talked about the Texas Supreme Court rules and this time she said, children are harming themselves because parents are recording and posting their court cases online.

THE HISTORY OF THREATS

In November 2014, the bailiff’s supervisor filed a complaint with Internal Affairs for ‘violating Civil Service Rule 12.02.15; specifically Tarrant County Electronic Communications System Policy (3) (A) (2), while on duty and at his assigned duty station, he sent several messages and instant messages which contained offensive references.” The bailiff was investigated for electronic communications with two other 233rd District Court employees (another bailiff and the court coordinator) about this court watcher. The bailiff used the court watcher’s full name and compared her to a Nazi, stated members of the PPC are a threat to public safety, called court watchers “P.O.S” (acronym for ‘piece of sh@t’) and wrote she could be stopped if the bailiffs would “Cock and drop your ASP and accidentally take out a knee trying to catch it before it hits the floor. That should do it.”

BAILIFFS Pg1 BAILIFFS Pg2

The two bailiffs were under direction of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department and investigated by Internal Affairs.  The bailiff featured in this article quit and was never sanctioned by the Sheriff’s Department.  PPC does not know if District Judge Bill Harris disciplined the 233rd court coordinator for her participation in the inappropriate emails.

THE BAILIFF BILL 

Judge Harris was reportedly furious with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office not only disciplining his bailiffs, but was also angry Sheriff Dee Anderson removed them from his court. The sheriff might have believed it wasn’t the court watcher that was a threat to public safety but instead it was his bailiffs. Judge Harris requested State Representative Matt Krause to author a bill to give him the power to hire his own bailiff. The bill failed, but was presented as an amendment in another bill and it passed. Therefore, the two bailiffs who were sanctioned for harassing the public are now Judge Bill Harris’ employees and he is directly responsible for their conduct.   (Click here for related bailiff harassment post)

AFTER THE ILLEGAL ACT

When the courtroom was empty again, only AJ Haddock, the court watcher and bailiff were in the courtroom. The court watcher wanted clarification on a couple of items the judge had mentioned. The court watcher asked the judge to clarify which Texas Supreme Court law did not permit recordings in the courtroom. AJ Haddock was not able to name the law. At first she said it was posted on a sign by the bailiff’s desk. She was referring to District Judge Bill Harris’ court policy, not a Texas Supreme Court law. Then she thought the law might be in the Texas Court Reporters rules but she wasn’t sure. Then she thought maybe the Office of the Attorney General wrote an opinion for the IV-D courts to have limited recordings in the courtrooms. No law was given however AJ Haddock told a courtroom full of people TWICE there was a law.

Then the court watcher asked about what case she was referring to when she said a child killed themself over a court hearing recording. She said she never said the word ‘killed’, she said she only used the word ‘harmed’. (The court watcher looked back at her notes and revealed the first lecture by AJ Haddock the word ‘suicide’ was used and the second lecture AJ Haddock used the word ‘harmed’.) So the court watcher pressed and asked for details about this child ‘harming’ themselves. AJ Haddock did not know of a situation when a parent posted a recording online and a child injuring themselves – ever. The only conclusion the court watcher could come to was that AJ Haddock, as an un-elected judge who was appointed by District Judge Bill Harris, just lied twice in a public forum. The real question is, how often does this happen?

The bailiff has always been under direct supervision of the judge while in the courtroom even when the Sheriff provided the bailiffs to the family courts. Since the ‘Bailiff Bill’ has been passed under SB 1139, the district judge that hires the bailiffs is responsible for all of their actions. When a district judge hires a bailiff for his associate judge’s courtroom, the associate judge is responsible for their actions and is their direct supervisor. But after the bailiff had 17 witnesses of him reaching into the court watcher’s purse, all of a sudden AJ Diane Haddock said she was just an employee and was not in charge of anyone.

As an associate judge, she has almost as much power as a district judge authorized by the Texas Family Code. One could argue the judge and bailiff coordinated the theft of a phone from their common adversary.  The court watcher reported to AJ Haddock repeatedly her bailiff reached into her purse and took her cellphone without permission.  AJ Haddock ignored and did not address the complaints until after the 5th time.  AJ Haddock looked at the bailiff and sarcastically said, “Okay, now don’t reach into anyone’s purse.  Okay?” 

RESULTS

(1)  Instead of hearing the cases on the docket for the day, the judge reset the cases to be heard on another day.  The litigants did not have their day in court today.

(2)  When the court watcher challenged the associate judge, she could not recite the law prohibited court recordings or a case where a child self-harmed due to court recordings being posted on the internet.

(3)  The expert and two subpoenaed witnesses will be forced to come back to court in three weeks.  And, after all the judge’s fear mongering on the bench, the courtroom was empty (again) by 11:30.

______________________________________________________________

Tarrant County’s tax dollars are being drained by premeditated shenanigans against members of the public attempting to hold the family judges accountable. It was obvious on this day why court watchers and audio/video recordings are desperately needed in the Tarrant County kangaroo family courtrooms.

****The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your competent attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site is not legal advice. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not be viewed as legal advice.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/judge-condone-theft/

Tarrant County Court Watchers Harassed

Tarrant County Court Watchers Harassed

January 7, 2016 

Judges, bailiffs and the employees of the Tarrant County family courts have been at odds with court watchers for years. We have not publicized all the harassment court watchers have experienced because it is par for the course. After all, it is alleged many attorneys who choose to practice family law are bankrupting families instead of representing the best interests of their clients in court. Court watchers exist due to many public complaints of denial of due process and violations of local, state and federal laws in the family courts.

Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) has documented courtroom harassment by obtaining affidavits, videos, pictures and public information.  Prior to November of 2014, the court watchers were unaware of the emails and instant messages between judges, family court personnel and bailiffs about the court watchers. We thought we would share some of our findings.

Top 10 comments about court watchers:

  1. Pictures of court watchers on a public street were left in sealed envelope on a Tarrant County district judge’s desk mysteriously overnight. The forged return address is one of a court watcher’s and no finger prints are found on the envelope or pictures. The incident was not formally investigated.

  2. A district judge creates impromptu policies in order to discourage (or intimidate) court watchers from observing her court.

  3. Court watchers are compared to Nazi’s in this YouTube video. (click here)

  4. Bailiffs from the 233rd District Court discuss how to physically take out one of the court watcher’s knees by using their ASP baton.

  5. Discussions when to deny or delay public information requested by the court watchers.

  6. Tarrant executives add ‘court watchers’ to county meeting agendas.

  7. Attorneys ‘watching’ court watchers by following them from courtroom to courtroom.

  8. Judge’s calling court watchers to the bench to inquire who they were and why they were there.

  9. Discussions of discretionary policies to confiscate court watcher’s cell phones.

  10. Many people elected, appointed and privately employed in Tarrant County discuss PPC’s website and Facebook accounts on a regular basis.

The purpose to ‘court watch’ is intended to educate the public about how our family courts function.  Really, the only level of oversight and accountability over the family courts is by the public.

By observing hearings, the public can make opinions based on first hand knowledge. This is very uncomfortable to the family courts. By design, the family courts have alienated themselves from the civil and criminal courts. The outcome is a tight clique and anyone who intends to challenge their objectives will be retaliated against and the court watchers are no exception.Sgt. Glenn Burton and PPC Executive Director, Jennifer Olson

In September of 2015,  the 233rd district court hired their own bailiffs instead of using the Tarrant County Sheriff’s deputies.  This was the first time any Tarrant County family district judges were statutorily permitted to hire their own bailiffs.  We question Judge Bill Harris’ decision because the bailiffs he hired were investigated by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office nine months earlier.  The bailiffs violated mulitiple Tarrant County policies  and threatened to physically harm a court watcher in his courtroom.  The sheriff suspended one bailiff and the other resigned while under investigation.  

According to Sheriff Dee Anderson of Tarrant County, the bailiffs are not under his watch while working inside a courtroom. It is the judge who calls the shots and the sheriff’s hands are tied. With the bailiffs now Harris’ employees, Judge Harris and Haddock are responsible for their own safety in their courtrooms and the bailiffs no longer report to the Tarrant County Sheriff.

Last year, the court watchers in the Tarrant County family courthouse were overly monitored by bailiffs, often under direction of Sergeant Glenn Burton. He managed all the bailiffs assigned to work in the family courts.  

When a court watcher asked for the county’s court docket (a schedule of court cases for the day), Sgt. Burton stated he was asserting his 5th amendment right and would not respond.  He later sent emails out to all of the bailiffs asking if they gave any court dockets to court watchers.  It was discouraged for the bailiffs to comply with any requests made by court watchers without the permission of their judge.

Sheriff Dee Anderson removed all bailiffs including Sgt. Burton from the family courts and assigned them to new posts after he learned the court watchers were harassed in 2014.  Judge Bill Harris and Judge Diane Haddock however, hired the two disciplined bailiffs to work directly for them in their courtrooms in September of 2015.  Both bailiffs are still employed by the 233rd District Court.  

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/tarrant-county-court-watchers-harassed/

Tarrant County Court Watching Report: December 7-9, 2015


Through the eyes of our volunteer Tarrant County (Fort Worth, Texas) Nevarez, Haddock, Mendozavolunteers this week, the following has been reported to Protective Parents Coalition regarding three family courts.

 

Tarrant County Court Watching Report:  December 7 – 9, 2015

231st District Judge Jesse Nevarez:

Jesse-NevarezTen observers attended a custody case before a jury. The parents did not have attorneys and represented themselves. Both parents did very well representing themselves without any legal training and were courteous, according to Judge Nevarez.

According to the observers, one party was a loving parent with the best interests of the child in mind, and the other was a narcissist Fort Worth police officer who believed professional relationships with other employees inside the family courthouse should warrant sole custody. It appeared that the officer wanted to remove the other biological parent from the child’s life with the sole custody court order and instead have the new spouse take the place of the biological parent.

A word of caution, the jury bought the questionable narrative of the police officer hook, line and sinker. Since the jury can only make conservatorship (custody) decisions, the judge is authorized to make the visitation schedule. Judge Jesse Nevarez appeared to recognize the sole conservatorship decision would negatively impact the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent and gave that parent the most visitation he statutorily could.

This is an example of a judge actually making a sound judge based on evidence and not on personal or professional relationships as a judge. One would think judges always behave this way, but this is not the norm in the Tarrant County family courts.

360th Associate Judge Cynthia Mendoza:

MendozaThis is a first for Court watchers. We have never heard this from this court or any other court, but Judge Mendoza said in open court she was not concerned about who the therapist was for the children and encouraged the parents to continue therapy for their children with their chosen therapist.

Normally, judges like to remove the therapist prior to court because they have no relationship with the therapist and in my opinion, can control the therapist’s recommendation. Another important reason judges like to pick the therapist is because the role of the therapist changes from a private therapist to a forensic therapist. The client of the forensic therapist is the COURT, and a private therapist’s loyalty lies with the PATIENT. In forensic therapy sessions, the therapist is not there to help the patient but instead are to report opinions and confidential dialogue to the judge.

This is why PPC is surprised Judge Mendoza had an unusually carefree attitude with the parents about therapist selection. She also asked the parents to pick a therapist under their insurance plan for family counseling. Usually the judges court appoint their favorite therapist who will not accept or file with insurance companies. They will charge anywhere from $180 – $250 an hour and tell the parents since the court appointed them the visits are considered ‘forensic’ and insurance will not cover the visit. This is incorrect and the Texas Department of Insurance will investigate such crimes.

Judith Wells and the court appointed amicus who is now associate judge Lindsey DeVos, appointed a therapist alleged of triple dipping while acting as the court appointment- charged both parents, a credit card and the insurance company for the same visit. This could be a reason Judge Mendoza has backed off the liability of court ordering a therapist.

Anyways, we hope the trend continues because parents definitely have a better interest of doing the right thing for the children than many of the Tarrant County family judges.

233rd Associate Judge Diane Haddock:

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As taxpayers and regular observers of the Tarrant family courthouse, we are concerned about the lack of access plaintiffs and defendants have to the 233rd District Court. Families are issued temporary hearings before final orders and yet the judge responsible for the temporary hearings is not on the bench.

On Monday, December 7th a court watcher entered her courtroom two times before 11:00 a.m. and the bailiff sat alone in her court. When asked when she would be on the bench, he said, “Quite frankly, she will be in here when she wants to.” At 2:30 p.m. the same court watcher witnessed her exited the courthouse in her vehicle.

 

 

 

 

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/tarrant-couty-court-watching-report-december-7-9-2015/

CPS fights to reunite kids with mother but kids’ attorney supports foster parents

COURT WATCH REPORT OCTOBER 15, 2014

Associate District Court 325th in Tarrant County, Texas

CPS fights in court to do the right thing, but child’s ad litem fighting against reunification with mother

CPS-Tarrant

 

Two court watchers observed CPS argue to Judge Terri White, the biological mother is fit to care for her two children removed from her home 15 months ago and placed in a foster home.   CPS attorney, Melissa Paschall, called witnesses and reiterated CPS’ purpose is to reunify parents with their children.  The mother has completed all of her services,  is not accepting any welfare or government aid, is currently raising a 5 month old baby and is living with her parents in a nice four bedroom home.  
Last year, the father of the two children committed family violence and injured one of the children.  Luckily the child’s injury is not permanent, however the father was booked, charged, did time in jail  and currently is on probation.  Court watchers did not hear any testimony supporting why CPS took the children from the mother in the first place.  Court watchers have observed other victims of domestic violence lose their children in other cases too.

 

 

 

The children have been in foster care since June 2013.  The mother has taken many classes including:
1.  A drug program through CPS because she admitted to CPS that she had done drugs as one time in the past.
2.  Individual counseling sessions.
3.  Parenting classes.
4.  10 week FOCUS classes with NewDay Services.
5.  Attended drug and alcohol classes with Safe Haven because she tested positive for marijuana.
6.  Has assessments at the Recovery Resource Council in Fort Worth.

The mother’s  drug test results are negative, she has a job, a stable home with the support of her parents, no longer in a relationship with the abusive father of her children; so, what’s the problem?  The problem is the court appointed ad litem attorney representing the two children is objecting to the reunification.  Attorney Laurie Robinson objected constantly to any information offered to the court suggesting the mother was a positive role model.  The children are under the age of 5 and they have an attorney actively working to keep them in the foster care program.  Robinson’s focus to the court was who the father was of the 5 month old baby the mother has had since her children were removed last year.  The baby is not included in this suit, nor is Robinson representing the baby as the ad litem attorney.

The mother, who resides in Arlington, is only allowed a visit every 2 weeks in the Dallas CPS office.  This arrangement seems to be very inconvenient for the mother and her attorney, Sonya Carillo argued this point as well.  Arlington does not have public transportation and  on a couple of occasions the mother has missed visits with her kids due to problems with her vehicle.  

Robinson did not find this excusable and doggedly wanted the CPS caseworker to testify to the court that the mother was lying about her transportation problems.  Instead, the CPS caseworker testified that CPS seeks to reunify children with their parents but this case has taken longer because the department wanted to be satisfied with the care the mother would give her new baby and the foster parents of her 2 children didn’t agree with the return of the children.  CPS also said under oath, the 5 month old was not removed because their were no grounds, there are no services left for the mother to complete, the mother has done an excellent job with services and her new baby, she has never committed domestic violence on her kids, and the children’s therapist has only worked with the foster parents and has never worked with the mother.  

This case will be dismissed in two months and the foster parents hired attorney Greg Housewirth to intervene in this case two days ago. Housewirth filed a Petition to Intervene for Termination and Adoption of Child on behalf of his clients.  Interestingly, Mr. Housewirth appeared at this hearing when his clients were not part of the motion.  The judge allowed him to sit with counsel and he attempted to ask questions and make objections.  The mother’s court appointed attorney, Carillo, continuously reminded the court the inappropriateness for his behavior and presence, but the judge only made exceptions for him.  Judge White allowed him to cross examine witnesses on the stand through the ad litem attorney.  Attorneys Paschall and Carrillo throughout the hearing were visibly irritated with the many exceptions the judge was allowing.  

Even worse, Judge White and attorney Robinson would interrupt attorney Carrillo’s line of questioning of the CPS caseworker.  CPS was answering questions related to findings and investigations of the mother by their department.   Judge White and Robinson both interrupted and discussed together what they remembered was different than what was being offered in testimony.  CPS attorney Paschall was able to validate the caseworker’s testimony.

The therapist, Andrea M. Davis LPC.,  in this case was clearly biased.  She had never met the mother, but was able to make recommendations and opinions of the mother’s ability to parent based on other therapist’s progress notes and CPS’s  records.  The mother’s attorney obviously objected and asked how she could offer an opinion based on someone else’s opinion.  The therapist has weekly counseling sessions at the foster parent’s home or in her office (total of 24 times) but is not willing to hold any sessions in the mother’s home.  I believe at one time while the therapist was testifying, the ad litem offered to the court the older child has PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  CPS and the mother’s attorney kept objecting, but the judge would side with the ad litem.  Attorney Robinson may be a nurse, but she not licensed as a psychiatrist or psychologist who can diagnose mental illnesses.

The judge was to rule on CPS’ motion to allow the mother to have 4 hour unsupervised visitations with her boys to start a process of a rapid return of permanency in their mother’s home.  CPS reiterated in the hearing their desire to reunite the children with their mother as this is always their goal. The judge’s ruling is unknown at this time, however, she did rule the mother is court ordered to take a paternity DNA test to determine who the father of her 5 month old baby is, who is not a part of this suit.

On this day, PPC Court Watcher’s witnessed CPS fighting to do what is in the child’s best interest of the children, while the court appointed attorney fought to keep the children from their mother.

In this case, there are 4 court appointed attorneys paid by Tarrant County.  So far a total of $4683.54 has been spent on the case just in attorney fees.  In CPS cases, attorneys are paid $100 an hour.  According to invoices submitted to the court, the ad litem attorney, Laurie Robinson, has been paid a disproportionate amount in this case.  Robinson has made $3600  (76%)  and the mother’s attorney, Sonya Carrillo, has been paid $613.54 (13%) of the total fees expenditures.  The percentages actually represent the number of hours the attorneys have worked on the case and according to the invoices.  Robinson has worked 36 hours representing the two toddler children versus Carrillo who was just as prepared for court, has worked 6 hours representing the mother.

This case begs the question, whose interests is the court protecting?

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/cps-fights/

District Judge Nevarez sanctions wife for jury request

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COURT WATCHER REPORT- 231st District Court -Tarrant County
AUGUST 1, 2014

On February 19, 2013  a motion was brought before the court for a Post Divorce Division of Property.  The husband is represented by attorney Mark Cochran and the wife currently by attorney Robert Widner.  The records suggest the father’s salary is close to $1 million a year. The wife alleges fraud and perjury by her ex-husband because he intentionally was deceitful to the court by hiding $850,000 worth of assets at the time of the divorce.

On April 21, 2014, Judge Nevarez ordered the wife to pay $30,000 into the ‘court registry’. The 231st District Judge (Nevarez) ordered her to pay the court the full amount within 10 days of the ruling.  She works part-time and was forced to empty her IRA account and take out a home equity loan in order to comply with the judge’s order.  Court watchers have been reporting ‘conditional rulings’ by the 360th District Judge (Sinha) and it would appear the newly elected 231st District Judge is doing the same.  This $30,000 was ordered after the mother requested a trial by jury.  The transcript images attached are from the April 28, 2014 hearing.  Could the conditional sanction by the court be because the mother requested a jury to hear the case?

After today’s hearing, a witness reported to PPC the husband’s attorney, Mark Cochran, was overheard stating “if I don’t get all of the $30,000 then I will get $15,000 or something”.  

When the hearing was over, the PPC Court Watcher asked Judge Nevarez what a ‘court registry’ was and he explained it as an account held and controlled by the judge when parties cannot be trusted with money.  

PPC’s question is:  Why does the wife have to provide the court $30,000 when the husband is hiding close to a million dollars in assets?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/sanction-wife-jury-request/

Tarrant County 360th Court offers a victim a deal if drops charges against the father

Tarrant County 360th Court offers a victim a deal if drops charges against the father

 

360th offers victim a dealCourt watchers have been following a case in Tarrant County Family Courts. 360th District Court (Judge Sinha and Judge Mendoza) used it’s ‘judicial discretion’ to punish a sexual and physical assault victim by forcing the victim to pay all court appointment fees. The judge(s) normally split the fees, but this court has offered the victim a deal. If she drops her motion to terminate parental rights, the judge(s) will reconsider the order forcing her to pay the entire social study fee ($800) and all amicus fees. The 360th Court appointed an attorney, Lori DeAngelis, to be paid at a rate of $300 an hour to protect the interests of an infant as an amicus attorney. Amicus attorneys are actually arms of the court and do not represent children.

When CPS use ad litem attorneys (who actually represent the children and not the court) at the rate is $100 an hour, how can this court justify an amicus attorney making $300 an hour who simply assists the court? The court has already appointed a case worker to conduct a social study who is also an arm of the court. Keep in mind, the mother will be paying all these costs and not taxpayers.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/tarrant-county-360th-court-offers-victim-deal/

Conspiracy in the 360th District Court

COURT WATCHER REPORT in Tarrant County, Texas:  MAY 27, 2014

MendozaVaughn Bailey copyA group of court watchers showed up at Tarrant County Family Courthouse to observe a case.  Before the case began, the father’s attorney, client  and client’s current wife were giggling in the lobby and looking at the groups of court watchers.  We thought this was unusual but ignored it.  The case began at 1:32pm with Judge Mendoza coming out of her chambers with a big smile on her face.  Mendoza asks the mother’s attorney, Chris Nickelson, where the Domestic Relations Attorney Anne Smith is and where the opposing attorney Vaughn Bailey were. Then joked with Nickelson that he didn’t know where anyone was.  Mendoza’s behavior appeared to be a nervous reaction because she appeared inappropriately jovial.

At 1:36 p.m. Ms. Smith and Mr. Bailey come in the courtroom and the judge is ready to proceed.  Judge calls the case number and she was hearing a Motion to Revoke Community Supervision.  The mother was being charged with contempt today.  In the past hearing she proved to the court that she was indigent and was court appointed an attorney, Chris Nickelson.

At 1:40 p.m. Vaughn Bailey asks Judge Mendoza  to ask all the witnesses in the courtroom to identify themselves to the court.  He followed his request with asking all observers to be sworn in.  The judge then asked the court watchers to stand up and be sworn in.  Only 4 of the 7 court watchers stood up and were sworn in.  Vaughn Bailey was not satisfied.  He requested the other 3 stand up and be sworn in as well.  Two of the three announced they were not witnesses – they were observers.  The judge still asked them to stand up and be sworn in.  Mr. Bailey then said, now he wanted everyone to identify themselves by name and their reason in the courtroom.  Everyone stated their name and five said “court watcher”, one said “observer” and one said “author” as their position.  Then, Mr. Bailey invoked “the rule” in which excluded all witnesses to be in the courtroom and to sit outside until called in as a witness to the case.  The bailiff walked over to us and said we need to leave the courtroom.  All the observers were shocked and some touted this was unconstitutional.  We were ordered to leave and the bailiff shut the outside doors not permitting anyone to even view inside the courtroom.

This was an obvious premeditated strategy to prevent the mother to have any witnesses of the attacks she would receive throughout her court hearing.  She reported that she was on the stand and Mr. Bailey asked her to identify each observer in the courtroom and how she knew them.  I am not sure how this information would be relevant when the Domestic Relation’s Office has filed a motion to revoke community supervision, but Mr. Bailey thought it was important.

This case drew much attention as court coordinators, court reporters and other attorneys were drawn in to observe the closed courtroom.  Mr. Bailey did not see it fit to call them as witnesses and have them removed.  The ‘witnesses’ were detained outside the court for 5 hours.  Throughout this period of time I would ask Mr. Bailey why we were considered witnesses to the case.  I also asked for a witness list in which no one could provide.  Mr. Bailey stated it wasn’t his turn to call witnesses and did not know at this time if we would be needed.  As you can probably guess, no one was called on as a witness.  This was just one of many corroborated sharp practices that Tarrant County is repeatedly guilty of.

The outcome was that the mother was charged with 180 days to be served on the weekends until all time is served.  She was already illegally arrested two months ago by the court and she served 3 days in February so she has 177 days left to serve only on the weekends.  She is the primary health care giver of her terminally ill father and the court on this day heard his deposition of his health condition.  The court found that it was in the best interest of the mother’s child and the mother’s father that she spend the next 88 weekends in jail despite all the testimony heard.

What is interesting is that the mother has not been given the opportunity to see or speak to her daughter for a year a half.  Mr. Vaughn Bailey did make an offer that many parents would find troubling…..if she would give up her parental rights then he would drop the suit.  I think we all know what her response was.  At this time she is checking herself into the Tarrant County Correctional facility to fulfill her second weekend in jail.  The court deemed her indigent but yet Judge Mendoza has ordered her the maximum amount of time Mendoza can legally hold someone in jail because she intentionally avoided paying her child support obligation.  How ironic.

(Images of attorney Vaughn Bailey and Associate Judge Cynthia Mendoza)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/conspiracy-360th-district-court/

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