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/

The Family Court’s Secret Wheel

The Family Court’s Secret Wheel

February 22, 2016

Everyone follows the rules, except the Tarrant County (Fort Worth, TX) family courts.  Across the street from the family courts, is the brand new $4 million dollar courthouse handling the county’s civil and probate cases.  Several blocks away sits the criminal courthouse.  Since 2015, all of these courts are statutorily required to post and utilize a rotating court appointment wheel.

Not only to rotate qualified attorneys appointed on cases, but the courts must post, manage and report all court appointments to the Office of Court Administration. Part of the motivation by Senator Zaffirini authoring SB 1876, is to ensure transparency and foster efficiancy in the Texas courts.  

A Houston probate court judge questioned the new bill.  “As characterized by Judge Olsen, SB 1876 requires judges to make a list of ‘qualified persons’ for appointments, then move down the appointment list in a robotic fashion, ‘mindlessly picking the next person on the list, unless there is cause.’ The judge is no longer free to pick the best qualified person at his disposal, unless he jumps through the hoop of finding good cause,” said the letter. “By requiring a judge to make individual appointments for each case, the legislature is interfering with the manner by which a judge manages his docket.”   

Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) for years have questioned the appointment practices in the family courts and were quite pleased when Senator Zaffirini agreed some of our courts were plagued with a horrible disease called cronyism.  We hoped the problem would be fixed, so we checked.

As of today, the Tarrant County Probate Court Appointment policy can be found here:  TC Probate Appointment Policy. The Tarrant County Criminal Court Appointments are handled through the (Tarrant) Office of Court Appointments. And, the Tarrant County Civil Courts post their qualified court appointment lists on the first floor for the public to view, per Texas Gov. Code 37.005.

IMG_2293 Texas Gov. Code: Sec. 37.005. POSTING OF LISTS. A court annually shall post each list established under Section 37.003 at the courthouse of the county in which the court is located and on any Internet website of the court.

On February 16, 2016, PPC filed an open records request for the family wheel policy, appointments since 9/1/2015, and the public list of qualified attorneys on the wheel.  We were notified today these documents are not considered open records and we must put a request in writing to each judge for the information.  The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Open Records Office stated,

I am in receipt of the above referenced request. However, I am not the custodian of judicial records. Since your request seeks judicial records, you will need to direct your inquiry to each district court judge for the records they maintain. You can get the contact information for each district judge on the County’s web page www.Tarrantcounty.com.”
 

Yes, the family judges maintain the records, but the statute requires posting inside the courthouse and online.  We will file a request to each Tarrant family judge and report back with our results.

One could argue there is no accountability or transparency in the Tarrant County family courts.  

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/tcfamily-courts-secret-wheel/

Ad litem gets paid behind closed doors of 231st District Court

 

Ad litem gets all expense paid trip to Europe in a behind-the-doors-proceeding paid for by the parties

February 19, 2016

 

Jesse-Nevarez

FACTS:

  •  An elderly couple wanted a divorce in the 231st District Court of Tarrant County.  Wife has dual citizenship and lives in England.

  • Divorce involves a disputed prenuptial agreement and a respondent residing in England (the wife) allegedly suffering from dementia.

  • Wife had adult daughter help her move and receive medical help her husband refused to give. Wife alleges physical and mental abuse by her husband.  

  • Judge Jesse Nevarez orders wife a court ordered ad litem attorney due to wife’s state of dementia/Alzheimer’s/medical state. (click here)

  • Husband was ordered to pay ad litem fees and the fees of attorney #1 who is representing the ad litem. Apparently a second attorney for the ad litem, attorney #2, was being paid as well according to case records when husband appealed court’s ruling regarding $16,000.00 for ad litem travel to England. (click here) & (click here)

  • The wife appeared in person and had her deposition taken in Fort Worth,Texas. (click here)

  • The filings indicate that the wife was moved to England by family members due to decreased health.

  • The findings indicate that the doctors of the wife had been interviewed on video tape and provided to the attorneys and the ad litem in the case. The daughter of the wife had been the party videotaping.

  • Attorney ad litem insisted over the objections of the husband side to go to England in person to depose the same doctors. The husband suggested that another video tape of the doctors be made with a different person filming if necessary.

  • The demands of the ad litem were approved by the judge and the husband filed a writ of mandamus to the Court of Appeals asking them to reverse this ruling for what they considered to be unnecessary fees. (click here)

  • The Court of Appeals declined to review based on technicalities so the judges order allowing this trip to England stood.  Filing also indicate that wife’s ad litem was provided an order giving her control of wife’s bank account in Texas – presumably to pay for ad litem’s own fees and other attorneys ad litem hired for herself.  Shockingly no record was made of the hearing before the lower court arguing over this trip and ad litem fees.

  • No record was made of the hearing before the lower court arguing over this trip and ad litem fees.

  • The husband argued that other methods were available to determine information regarding the wife such as email mail or phone. His objections were overruled by the court. The husband argued in fact that the ad litem have presented no evidence during the in chambers hearing supporting this trip to England or to support the $16,000 amount demanded for this trip to England.

  • After this dispute the records show only activity for motions and orders to secure attorney fees for the attorney ad litem and her personal attorneys which were never appointed by the court or the wife.

  • The husband shortly thereafter asked for the divorce case to be dismissed all together. The attorney ad litem objected to having this case dismissed. However, Judge Nevarez ruled in the favor of husband allowing him to dismiss the case.

  • The husband appealed the trial court’s decision stating the court abused it’s discretion by ordering him to pay ad litem to travel to England to speak with his wife and her caregivers through evidence offered during “the in chambers hearing with respect to the Motion filed by [ad litem] Robinson.”

—COURT OF APPEALS DECISION BELOW—

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 11.22.29 AM

 

 


 

Court of Appeals OPINION:

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fort Worth.
IN RE: Ronald P. Quintana
NO. 02-15-00305-CV
Decided: October 22, 2015
PANEL: GABRIEL, DAUPHINOT, and WALKER, JJ.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1

In this mandamus proceeding arising from a divorce action, relator Ronald P. Quintana argues that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering him to pay for the real party in interest’s attorney ad litem, Laurie D. Robinson, to travel to England to speak with the real party in interest, Mary H. Quintana, and her caregivers.  Because we conclude Ronald has failed to comply with the procedural requirements to gain such extraordinary relief, we deny the petition.  See Tex.R.App. P. 52.8(a).

Ronald and Mary, who have no children together, are in the process of divorcing.  Robinson filed a motion for additional temporary orders, requesting that Ronald “be ordered to pay reasonable interim attorney’s fees and expenses” to allow Robinson and her attorney “to travel to England to obtain deposition testimony of the medical care providers of ․ Mary.” Both Ronald and Mary agree that a hearing was held on Robinson’s motion and that no record was made of the hearing.2  Ronald’s attorney states in her affidavit attached to the mandamus petition that “[n]o evidence was presented by the Attorney Ad Litem of a need for her to travel to England to see Mary.” Mary’s attorney states in his verified response that “evidence was offered during the in chambers hearing with respect to the Motion filed by ․ Robinson.”  Indeed, Ronald recognizes in his petition several facts that were “reported” or “stated” at the hearing.

In any event, the trial court ordered Ronald “to deposit the sum of [$8,000] with LAURIE ROBINSON, R.N ․ as a deposit against the cost of her traveling to England” and ordered Frost Bank to “disburse the sum of [$8,000] from [Mary’s] account ․ payable to LAURIE ROBINSON, R.N. for the purpose of traveling to England.”  Ronald objected to the order because “[n]o evidence was presented to support the payment of expenses and travel time for the Ad Litem to travel to England in the amount of $16,000” and because “other methods are available to determine information regarding Mary,” such as “mail, email, or phone.”  Ronald states in his petition that his objections were overruled.

Ronald now seeks mandamus relief from the order requiring him to pay for half of the costs for Robinson and her attorney to travel to England to speak with Mary and her medical caregivers.  Ronald argues that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the temporary order because “[n]o evidence was presented by the Attorney Ad Litem of the necessity to see Mary, no request had been made for the Attorney Ad Litem to come to England, and no evidence or argument was made of why the trip was reasonable or necessary.”  Ronald also seems to assert that the order was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion because Ronald and Mary had signed a prenuptial agreement, requiring each party to pay their own legal fees in the event of a divorce.  Although Ronald states that he raised the prenuptial agreement in his objections to the trial court’s order, he did not.

Ronald attached to his petition copies of Robinson’s motion for temporary orders, the resulting order, and his objections to the order.  Ronald’s attorney certified that “[t]he documents attached in the appendix are documents filed in this cause of action.”  Ronald also attached his attorney’s affidavit in which she swore to several facts regarding the underlying divorce, the need for the appointment of an attorney ad litem for Mary, and what occurred at the hearing on the attorney ad litem’s motion.

In seeking mandamus relief, a relator is required to file a record that includes “a certified or sworn copy of every document that is material to the relator’s claim for relief and that was filed in any underlying proceeding.”  Tex.R.App. P. 52.7(a)(1);  see also Tex.R.App. P. 52.3(k)(1)(A).  We must strictly adhere to this requirement to ensure the integrity of the mandamus record.  See In re Hunting, No. 05–15–00200–CV, 2015 WL 737408, at *1 (Tex.App.–Dallas Feb. 20, 2015, orig. proceeding) (mem.op.).  Here, Ronald’s attorney merely certified that the three attached filings were “documents filed in this cause of action.” 3  This is insufficient to render those documents sworn copies of those filed in the trial court.  See In re Kim, No. 05–14–01344–CV, 2014 WL 6556269, at *1 n.1 (Tex.App.—Dallas Oct. 23, 2014, orig. proceeding) (mem.op.) (concluding that affidavit stating “all the documents included in the Record ․ are either pleadings that are on file in the underlying suit ․ or orders signed by the trial court in the underlying suit” insufficient to authenticate mandamus record under rules 52.3(k) and 52.7(a));  In re Butler, 270 S.W.3d 757, 759 (Tex.App.–Dallas 2008, orig. proceeding) (finding affidavit insufficient to authenticate mandamus record because it did not state affiant had “personal knowledge the copy of the order in the appendix is a correct copy of the original”).

Additionally, “[t]he person filing the petition must certify that ․ she has reviewed the petition and concluded that every factual statement in the petition is supported by competent evidence included in the appendix or record.”  Tex.R.App. P. 52.3(j).  Although Ronald’s attorney included such a statement in her certification, most of the factual statements that she certified were supported by competent evidence in the mandamus record solely relied on her affidavit and not on the trial court filings.  The affidavit attempts to establish operative facts going directly to the propriety of the trial court’s action, which should be revealed by the documents themselves—e.g., the prenuptial agreement, the divorce petition, the order overruling Ronald’s objections—and not in an affidavit.  See Tex.R.App. P. 52.7(a).

Finally, the absence of a reporter’s record from the hearing and Ronald’s reliance on that fact to assert an abuse of discretion is troubling.  Ronald’s attorney states in her affidavit that no evidence was presented at the hearing but then avers in the petition that Robinson made several statements at the hearing relevant to her request to personally interview Mary and her caregivers.  Mary contradicts Ronald’s assertion and states in her response that evidence was offered at the hearing.  We conclude that the affidavit is insufficient to dispense with the requirement to request and provide a reporter’s record from the hearing.  Although Ronald’s attorney avers in her affidavit and in the petition that no evidence was presented, her argument is that no evidence was presented that supported the trial court’s order, not that no “testimony was adduced in connection with the matter complained.”  Tex.R.App. P. 52.7(a)(2).  As such, we presume that any testimony heard by the trial court supported its conclusion.4  See In re Bill Heard Chevrolet, Ltd., 209 S.W.3d 311, 313–17 (Tex.App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, orig. proceeding).

We cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in the absence of a sufficient record upon which to do so.  See In re Athans, 458 S.W.3d 675, 679 (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, orig. proceeding) (denying mandamus petition arguing evidence was insufficient to support trial court’s ruling based on failure of relator to include exhibits introduced at hearing as part of certified or sworn mandamus record);  In re Le, 335 S.W.3d 808, 813 (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2011, orig. proceeding) (“Those seeking the extraordinary remedy of mandamus must follow the applicable procedural rules.  Chief among these is the critical obligation to provide the reviewing court with a complete and adequate record.”).  Accordingly, we deny Ronald’s petition.  We deny as moot Mary’s motion to strike Ronald’s attorney’s affidavit.  Finally, to dispel any belief that this holding impliedly approves of the court’s underlying order, we explicitly express a serious concern about the necessity and propriety of the order.

FOOTNOTES
1.  See Tex.R.App. P. 47.4.
2.  Mary filed a response to Ronald’s mandamus petition at this court’s request.  See Tex.R.App. P. 52.8(b)(1).
3.  This statement was included in Ronald’s attorney’s certification under rule 52.3(j).  Ronald’s attorney stated in her affidavit that she had “personal knowledge of the facts stated herein,” but she did not refer to the three filings in the affidavit.
4.  Ronald argues that Robinson’s testimony cannot be considered evidence because she was “legal counsel.” But it was Robinson’s motion as the attorney ad litem, and the evidence Ronald argues was missing could only have been supplied by Robinson. Cf. Tex. Disciplinary Rules Prof’l Conduct R. 3.08(a), reprinted in Tex. Gov’t Code Ann., tit. 2, subtit. G, app. A (West 2013) (allowing party’s attorney to testify as fact witness regarding the nature and value of legal services without risking disqualification). Ronald does not dispute that Robinson was present at the hearing and made factual statements relevant to her motion.
PER CURIAM
– See more at: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1716458.html#sthash.mOB8vMba.dpuf

****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/ad-litem-closed-doors-231st/

Child Support and Incarceration

Written by National Conference of State Legislators 

2/10/2016

 

There are two primary ways by which noncustodial parents with child support orders may intersect with the criminal justice system.

On one path, the noncustodial parent is not in compliance with a child support obligation and that noncompliance may lead to incarceration (short-term, primarily in local jails) as a result of either a civil contempt or criminal non-support action taken by the state.

The other way is for noncustodial parents who are incarcerated for a criminal offense and have a current or delinquent child support obligation. The incarceration is not related to child support and they may be incarcerated for longer periods of time in a state or federal prison. While child support isn’t the reason for incarceration for these parents, the ongoing child support obligation has repercussions for their confinement, release and re-entry.

As of Dec. 31, 2014 there were approximately 1.56 million people in federal and state prison. More than 50 percent of those inmates have one or more child under the age of 18, leaving an estimated 2.7 million children with a parent incarcerated. In addition, a 2003 study estimated that one quarter of inmates in prisons had a child support case. Based on current prison populations, this suggests that approximately 400,000 inmates have a child support case.

What the federal and state prison numbers do not capture are the numbers of noncustodial parents who are incarcerated in local jails for failure to pay child support. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that more than 730,000 individuals were incarcerated in local jails in 2013, but what’s unknown is how many of those inmates were incarcerated due to child support noncompliance. A 2009 study in South Carolina found that 13.2 percent of county jail inmates were behind bars for civil contempt related to nonpayment of child support.

There is a great deal that state child support programs are currently doing to reduce the use of incarceration for child support noncompliance. The most widely developed efforts are focused on removing barriers to employment that are faced by low income and/or formerly incarcerated parents. The potential financial benefits of diverting nonpaying parents from jail into employment programs, to the family and the community at large, are significant.

The distinction between those noncustodial parents who are incarcerated for failure to pay child support and those who are incarcerated for a separate criminal offense who also have child support orders is an important one. The available approaches to improving child support compliance and encouraging ongoing, consistent child support payments within these populations are very different, particularly considering the reasons for and potential length of the incarceration. Below is a further discussion of this distinction as well as the varying policy options to address the needs of both populations.

New Federal Rule on Child Support

In addition, on Dec. 20, 2016, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) published final rules updating the rules regarding child support enforcement. The rule is intended to increase the effectiveness of the child support program for all families, and provide for more flexibility in state child support programs. In an effort to accommodate the ever-changing world of technology, the rule also helps remove barriers to outdated systems to improve efficiency and simplify the process of collecting and distributing child support. While the new rule provisions are, for the most part, optional and will not require state legislation in most states, they do provide an opportunity for state legislators to clarify and shore up various child support enforcement laws.

The rule specifically addresses incarcerated noncustodial parents and incarceration for failure to pay child support, as well as modification procedures for incarcerated noncustodial parents. The major provisions of the rule regarding incarcerated noncustodial parents are:

  • Incarceration for Failure to Pay Child Support: the rule requires states to implement due process safeguards from the Supreme Court case Turner v. Rogers. The rule addresses the use of civil contempt in child support cases and seeks to reflect the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2011 case, Turner v. Rogers, which provided guidance on the factors to be considered when determining which cases should be referred to the court for civil contempt, including a determination of the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.
  • Incarcerated with a Child Support Order: the rule ensures the right of all parents to seek a review of their order when their circumstances change. While these provisions apply to all parties involved, they specifically address incarcerated noncustodial parents and their ability to have the child support order reviewed and potentially modified while they are incarcerated. The rule prohibits states from treating incarceration as voluntary unemployment for purposes of modifying a child support order. Currently 36 states and D.C. treat incarceration as involuntary unemployment.

The final rule made significant changes to the child support program to improve efficiency and flexibility in states. For more about the final rule, visit the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s Final Rule Resources webpage and NCSL’s Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) Final Rules Governing Child Support Enforcement Programs page for a rule summary.

Incarceration for Failure to Pay Child Support

Noncustodial parents may face incarceration for failure to pay child support through civil contempt or criminal nonsupport. Civil contempt is used more commonly than criminal contempt and the sentence is typically less severe and for a shorter length of time. Many states, recognizing that no support can be paid when a noncustodial parent is incarcerated, have established programs to encourage full compliance with child support orders, both before and as a part of the civil contempt process. These programs include examining child support orders to reflect realistic amounts given the individual’s circumstances and diversion programs to reduce incarceration rates and increase child support payments.

Criminal Nonsupport

All 50 states have processes for criminal prosecution for failure to pay child support, however, this more severe punishment is very rarely meted out. These laws generally make criminal nonsupport a felony or misdemeanor. The fines and potential prison sentences, as well as the delinquent threshold amount in order for criminal prosecution to be triggered, vary state by state.

See NCSL’s Criminal Nonsupport and Child Support page for details on each states’ statute.

Civil Contempt

Every state has a procedure for civil contempt that may be used for violations of various court orders. Civil contempt is designed to incentivize the defendant, or obligor in the case of child support, to comply with the court order. While incarceration is certainly an option when a child support obligor is noncompliant, civil contempt is not intended to punish the defendant, rather, it is intended to prompt compliance with the court’s order.

Federal law, according to U.S. Supreme Court case Turner v. Rogers, requires that civil contempt only be used when the noncustodial parent has the ability to pay and is willfully avoiding paying. State policies and practices vary in regards to how this limitation is implemented by the state child support agency.  With noncustodial parents who are simply unable to pay their child support obligation, diversion or employment programs could have a significant impact in improving the likelihood of payment. The new federal rule, discussed above, seeks to shore up the due process requirements from Turner v. Rogers, by providing guidance on the factors to be considered when determining which cases should be referred to the court for civil contempt, including a determination of the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.

Some may see diversion or employment programs as letting the delinquent obligor off the hook, however, parents are generally ordered into these programs by the courts and may still face a period of incarceration for failing to follow the rules of the diversion program. For example, Georgia enacted house bill 310 during the 2015 legislative session to allow for a county diversion program for delinquent obligors who are in contempt of court. There are rules of the diversion program and “If the respondent fails to comply with any of the requirements…nothing shall prevent the sentencing judge from revoking such assignment to a diversion program and providing for alternative methods of incarceration.”

Diversion programs may reduce the number of non-custodial parents in jail, as well as increase the receipt of child support, reduce reliance on public assistance and save money from the reduced jail population. (See below for a discussion of state diversion programs). The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement also has an infographic comparing job services to jail.

The majority of states use civil contempt to enforce child support orders, though limited data is available on how often it is used and the costs associated with subsequent incarceration.

State Programs

State Diversion Programs

In addition to the legislation described above, Georgia has a series of problem solving courts, also called Parental Accountability Courts, which seek to remove barriers to non-payment of child support, such as unemployment, substance abuse, low level education. The overarching goal of these courts is to keep people out of jail for failing to pay child support, and to obtain support payments.

2015 Georgia HB 310: Creates a diversion center for child support obligors who have been sentenced for contempt of court for failure to pay child support. Allows people in the diversion program to travel to and from his or her place of employment and to continue his or her occupation. Details the requirements of traveling while in the diversion program. Requires the obligor to remain in the diversion center for the duration of the sentence, with the exception of traveling to and from work. Requires the obligor to pay alimony or child support as previously ordered, including arrears. Allows the obligor to participate in educational or counseling programs offered at the diversion center. Any additional funds that are available will go towards reimbursing the center for the cost (not to exceed $30 per day) of maintaining the obligor. Allows for alternative methods of incarceration if the obligor does not comply with the detailed requirements.

2015 Louisiana HCR 175: Urges and requests that the Department of Public Safety and Corrections make recommendations for the development of a work release program which would be suited for individuals convicted of offenses involving the failure to pay child support in order to facilitate employment and the fulfillment of child support obligations, and make recommendations to the Louisiana Legislature prior to the convening of the 2016 Regular Session.

Texas NCP Choices Program is a court diversion program that assists unemployed or underemployed noncustodial parents find and maintain employment. Program participants must spend 30 hours a week looking for a job, meet with the Workforce Counselor every week until employment is found, attend all court hearings and program appointments, comply with the child support order and stay in communication with their Workforce Counselor monthly following employment.

A 2009 report on the impact of the NCP Choices Program showed the following results:

  • Participants paid $57 more child support 47 percent more often, showing a 51 percent increase in total collections. These results continued for 2-4 years after programs participation.
  • Participants paid their child support 50 percent more consistently over time
  • Participants were employed at 21 percent higher rates than non-participants, an effect that also persisted at least two to four years after the program
  • Participants were about one third less likely to file an unemployment claim in any given month in the first year after the program
  • The custodial parents associated with NCP Choices participants were 21 percent less likely to receive TANF benefits in the first year after the program, and 29 percent less likely two to four years after the program.

Virginia’s Intensive Case Monitoring Program (ICMP) was established by the Virginia General Assembly in 2008 (HB 1257). ICMP is a diversion/referral program for noncustodial parents following an administrative determination or order of the court. If a parent is in court for failure to pay child support, they may be referred to ICMP for case monitoring and referral services. The program then refers participants to “(i) employment services, to include employment assessment, employment search, and employment training; (ii) family services, including parenting skills, co-parenting skills, and relationship-building activities for parents and children; (iii) educational services, including GED preparation and GED testing; (iv) housing services, including referrals to organizations that operate shelters and provide subsidies; (v) document assistance, including referrals to organizations and assistance in securing vital records, driver’s licenses, commercial driver’s licenses, or other documents; and (vi) social services, health and mental health services, substance abuse services, or other services that may be necessary to enable the person to pay child support owed in the future.” Of the 979 program participants since ICMP was first enacted, 326 have graduated, 277 are still active and 376 were dropped for noncompliance with program requirements. Further, through December 2011, the program had collected over $3 million dollars, showing significant increases in average monthly child support payments among all three groups.

In Seattle, Wash., the King County Prosecutor’s Office operates a Navigator Program consisting of two full-time paralegals who are there to assist parents “navigate” the child support system. The navigator program is voluntary and open to parents who are involved in the Family Support Division’s Contempt of Court Unit or those who have been referred by the Division of Child Support because they are in search of employment or educational and training opportunities. The navigators connect parents with community partners who can assist the parents with obtaining housing, food and utilities.

Similar to the King County Prosecutor’s Office’s Navigator Program, the Washington State Division Child Support operates a program called Alternative Solutions. Alternative Solutions is a statewide program that seeks to connect parents with over 3,500 community resources across the state. These community resources are available to help parents with finding a job, training, housing, food, medical care or legal resources. In addition, the program can assist parents with lowering child support payments, reducing state-owed debt, and other case management actions, such as getting a suspended driver’s license back.

Order Establishment

In addition to diversion and work release programs, states have also looked at the ways in which child support orders are established to ensure child support obligations are being calculated, as federal law requires, on the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay. State efforts to establish orders that reflect a parent’s current earnings are designed to promote regular payment of support and reduce the likelihood a parent will fall behind on child support and accrue debt.

The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has a Project to Avoid Increasing Delinquencies (PAID)resource with various fact sheets addressing this issue.

Incarcerated with Child Support Order

The other population of incarcerated noncustodial parents are those who are in prison for criminal offenses not involving child support and who have current and/or delinquent child support orders. On average, an incarcerated parent with a child support order has the potential to leave prison with nearly $20,000 in child support debt, having entered the system with around half that amount owed.

According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Justice:

  • 46 percent of incarcerated parents have HS diploma or equivalent, as compared to 82% of men ages 18-34
  • Nearly 60 percent of black men who are high school  dropouts have done time by their mid-30s
  • About two-thirds of people in prison or jail were employed at least part time before arrest with a median income of less than $1000 per month.

In addition, in Illinois in 2013:

  • There was 5,589 active orders for currently incarcerated noncustodial parents involved in the IV-D child support program with 6,646 cases
  • There was $986,000 in new current support debt per month with more than $97.4 million in accumulated debt.
  • There was 15,387 current or formerly incarcerated parents in the Illinois IV-D caseload
  • 41 percent of those incarcerated parents had an average income of $10,136 per year prior to incarceration
  • The remaining 59 percent had no reported income prior to incarceration.

Modification during Incarceration

Whether a parent is incarcerated or not, a material and substantial change in circumstances is required to modify child support orders in the majority of jurisdictions. Two situations that may be treated as a material and substantial change in circumstances are incarceration and unemployment.

Some states allow incarceration to be considered a substantial change in circumstances allowing for modification while others do not allow incarceration alone to be a sufficient reason for modification and would require other circumstances to be shown in order to modify. State policies regarding modification of child support during incarceration vary and depend on a number of factors.

A significant reduction in income due to a job loss or job change is generally considered a material and substantial change for purposes of modifying child support, as long as the job loss or reduction in earnings was involuntary. Conversely, voluntary un- or underemployment in order to avoid payment of child support is not considered to be a material and substantial change of circumstances and therefore does not warrant consideration for modifying child support.

Approximately 36 states currently treat imprisonment as involuntary unemployment which means the obligor could request a modification. Certain exceptions to this determination exist if the reason for the incarceration is related to the failure to pay child support or avoidance of child support. A small number of states treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment because the crime, which led to the inability to work or pay child support, is considered a voluntary act. As such, modification of child support during incarceration is not allowed in those states. The new federal rule, discussed above, prohibits state child support programs from treating incarceration as voluntary unemployment, allowing for modification of child support orders during incarceration.

The states that allow for modification during incarceration generally require the noncustodial parent to be proactive in making that request. This process requires the incarcerated parent to know of the modification procedure and access the necessary resources in order to obtain timely modification. Most recently, however, California passed legislation which requires the suspension of a child support order to occur automatically when an obligor is incarcerated or involuntarily institutionalized. In addition. Vermont and Wisconsin allow the child support agency to file a motion to modify the child support orders of incarcerated obligors.

The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement has a State-by-State-How to Change a Child Support Order page to inform child support obligors and state policymakers on the available resources and processes involved.

State Programs

Modification of Child Support Orders during Incarceration

2015 California AB 610: Requires the suspension of a child support order to occur by operation of law when an obligor is incarcerated or involuntarily institutionalized. Creates an exception to the automatic suspension of child support orders to include obligors who are incarcerated or involuntarily institutionalized for domestic violence or failure to pay child support. Authorizes the local child support agency to administratively adjust account balances for child support cases managed by the agency if the agency verifies that arrears and interest were accrued in violation of these provisions, that specified conditions relating to the obligor’s inability to pay while incarcerated and the underlying offense for which he or she was incarcerated do not exist, and neither the obligor nor the obligee object to the adjustment. Details the procedures for notifying the obligor and obligee about the suspension or adjustment of the child support order. Clarifies that the child support obligation will resume following the obligor’s release from incarceration.

2015 Texas HB 943: Current law presumes that a child support obligors earnings are equal to the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour week, absent evidence to the contrary, for purposes of calculating child support. This bill makes the presumption inapplicable in cases where the child support obligor is subject to an order of confinement that exceeds 90 days and is incarcerated in a local, state, or federal jail or prison at the time the court makes the determination regarding the party’s income.

For more about how states address modification of child support orders during periods of incarceration, see OCSE’s Modification Laws and Policies for Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents facts sheet, part of the PAID project discussed above.

State Prison Outreach and Data Collection

2015 Hawaii SB 913: Requires the Department of Public Safety to collect data relating to the number of incoming offenders into the state correctional system who are parents, and the number of children they have that are under the age of eighteen, in order to provide services to incarcerated parents and their children. Requires a plan for the management of the data collected and public disclosure of the data.

Illinois has several programs that are working with incarcerated parent who have child support orders. The Paternity Establishment Prison Project (PEPP) enables noncustodial parents to establish paternity while incarcerated through genetic testing or voluntary acknowledgements of paternity and then establish an administrative child support order based on that determination of paternity. From this program came Project CHILD (Collaboration Helps Inmates Lessen Debt), which has been in place for more than 10 years and assists incarcerated noncustodial parents with review and modification of support orders. Project CHILD includes dedicated, specially trained staff, who go into prisons to talk to incarcerated parents, provide the required forms and answer any questions they may have.

Minnesota’s Child Support Liaison program allows newly incarcerated noncustodial parents to speak with a child support enforcement representative upon intake into prison. That liaison then educates and informs the offenders about the child support system during inmate orientation, facilitates communication between the offender and the county child support enforcement agencies, and helps families support their children while the noncustodial parent is incarcerated. The liaison is also available to assist incarcerated noncustodial parents with the typical child support enforcement services, such as requesting a modification, obtaining genetic testing and other child support issues the parent may be facing.

Texas recently performed a demonstration project called Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS). This project used behavioral economics to help incarcerated parents apply for child support modification by changing the way child support enforcement staff contacted and interacted with incarcerated parents. The project increased the application for modification response rate from 28 percent to 39 percent.

Legislative Considerations

While there is a great deal that we do know, there is also a lot that we do not know, including how many incarcerated parents have child support orders and how many people are incarcerated for nonpayment of child support. Having this information could greatly inform both child support and criminal justice policy in the states.

Questions to Consider:

  • How many noncustodial parents are incarcerated in county jails for failure to pay child support?
  • Do these parents have the ability to pay the amount of support that is court-ordered, or the amount required to get out, or stay out, of jail?
  • What is the cost of incarceration in county jails?
  • How much child support has been collected by using civil contempt?
  • How much child support has been collected by using diversion programs?
  • What administrative or judicial process exists to adjust child support once a noncustodial parent is incarcerated?

Policy Considerations:

  • Is incarceration treated as voluntary or involuntary unemployment?
  • Can incarcerated noncustodial parents modify their child support orders?
  • Can the agency or judicial entity automatically modify a child support order?
  • Will debt and interest accrue while the parent is incarcerated?

About This NCSL Project

NCSL staff in D.C. and Denver can provide comprehensive, thorough, and timely information on critical child support policy issues. We provide services to legislators and staff working to improve state policies affecting children and their families. NCSL’s online clearinghouse for state legislators includes resources on child support policy, financing, laws, research and promising practices. Technical assistance visits to states are available to any state legislature that would like training or assistance related to this topic.

The Denver-based child support project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or cyf-info@ncsl.org.

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child support issues before Congress and the Administration. In D.C., Rachel Morgan at (202) 624-3569 or by e-mail at rachel.morgan@ncsl.org.

The child support project and D.C. human services staff receive guidance and support from NCSL’s Standing Committee on Health & Human Services.

Additional Resources

 

LINK TO ARTICLE:  http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/child-support-and-incarceration.aspx

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/child-support-and-incarceration/

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/

Attorneys Pick a Bone with PPC

UPDATE: On February 11, 2016 this petition was dismissed in favor of the Defendants. Attorneys named in article were ordered to pay attorney fees and sanctions. On June 24, 2016 the attorneys appealed the judge’s decision to the Second Court of Appeals and no ruling has been made as of July 27, 2016.

Attorneys Pick a Bone With Parents Group

By DAVID LEE
COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE – Thursday, December 24, 2015

FORT WORTH (CN) – Two Texas attorneys want to know who accused them of colluding with a judge to take “unearned attorney fees and child support” from a mother.

Attorneys Lori Deangelis and Laurie Robinson, both of Arlington, filed a petition for presuit depositions in Tarrant County Court on Tuesday. They seek information from six members of the Parent Protective Coalition (PPC), a family court watchdog group.TFamiliesMatter-1

The attorneys say they are “victims of slander and/or libel” published on the group’s website and Facebook page. They say the statements were posted with “actual malice” and “reckless disregard” for the truth.

On July 26 the PPC posted on Facebook that “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,” the petition states. This was posted on the PPC Facebook page at 9:53 a.m. that day, the attorneys say.

That post did not appear on the Facebook page of the Protective Parents Coalition on Wednesday.

The attorneys claim that the 9:53 a.m. July 26 post stated that the unidentified female attorney’s “primary motivation is attorney fees collected in each case.”

The attorneys want to know “The names of each and every PPC member, officer, and/or director that requested the posting of the banner bearing the photographs of each of the petitioners that described the petitioners as ‘three of the most family court appointed Fort Worth attorneys.” They say this post was published on the PPC Facebook page on July 26 at 8:43 a.m.

They want to know the identity of the post’s author, and any evidence he or she has that supports accusations of scheming with a judge.

The 9:53 a.m. post also stated that “one attorney appeared drunk at the doorstep of a father’s home demanding to see the children she was court appointed to represent. She did not leave until police were called,” according to the attorneys’ petition.

The 9:53 a.m. post also said that one of the petitioners “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 petitioners “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 petition.

That post also said that other “attorneys consistently file motions to remove her as a court appointment due to misconduct and yet the judges keep appointing her,” according to the petition.

The Protective Parents Coalition did not immediately respond to an e-mail message requesting comment Wednesday morning.

The attorneys want to take depositions from six members of PPC, and want them to produce the requested documents.

They are represented by Jim R. Ross in Arlington.

 

Link to article: http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/12/24/attorneys-pick-a-bone-with-parents-group.htm

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/attorneys-pick-a-bone/

Lawyers Take an Oath?

 

lawyers take a oath?

December 23, 2015

 

The holidays is a time to share with your families. However, many families will not be celebrating this holiday due to the actions of the Tarrant County family courts. The Tarrant County family courts consists of the judges, associate judges, counselors, receivers, amicus attorneys, ad litem attorneys, and case workers.

The Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association members work in the Tarrant County family courts, it is unfair to say that all members condone, or agree,  to the unethical practices held by some of the bar members.   

Family lawyers take an ethical oath intended to protect the due process  families are entitled to when suits have been filed.lawyers oath  

With the Texas Lawyer’s Oath in place, why are attorneys collectively silent when obvious violations by their peers is observed?  It is the duty of these members to report professional misconduct as referenced below:

8.03 Reporting Professional Misconduct
Back to Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct
(a) Except as permitted in paragraphs (c) or (d), a lawyer having knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of applicable rules of professional conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate disciplinary authority.
(b) Except as permitted in paragraphs (c) or (d), a lawyer having knowledge that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judges fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority.
(c) A lawyer having knowledge or suspecting that another lawyer or judge whose conduct the lawyer is required to report pursuant to paragraphs (a) or (b) of this Rule is impaired by chemical dependency on alcohol or drugs or by mental illness may report that person to an approved peer assistance program rather than to an appropriate disciplinary authority. If a lawyer elects that option, the lawyer’s report to the approved peer assistance program shall disclose any disciplinary violations that the reporting lawyer would otherwise have to disclose to the authorities referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b).

“Every minute a judge or a lawyer spends dealing with a colleague’s unprofessional behavior is valuable time taken away from the critical work of evaluating and deciding substantive legal issues on behalf of Texas citizens and businesses”, according to Jonathan Smaby of Texas Center for Legal Ethics – (May 19, 2015). In order to receive your bar license, lawyers must swear to this oath.  Is the Texas Lawyers Oath taken seriously?

“Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 534, which passed through the Texas Legislature with unanimous support this year . Authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, SB 534 amends the existing Texas Lawyer’s Oath to require the pledging attorney to “conduct oneself with integrity and civility in dealing with and communicating with the court and all parties.” The key additions to the oath added “integrity” and “civility” which demonstrates a need for more direct terminology for lawyers to follow.

It is time that Tarrant County attorneys take a stance and report what is going on in the family courts of Tarrant County. Too many children and families have suffered enough at the hands of these judges, court appointments and private attorneys.

The attorneys’ have an ethical duty to report and inform and let the families of Tarrant County have the right to due process.

****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/lawyers-take-a-oath/

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:

403963_90643163_XLarge

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.

 

 

 

 

****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/tarrant-couty-court-watching-report-december-7-9-2015/

Biased 360th District Judge Michael Sinha Seeking Re-Election

Biased 360th District Judge Michael Sinha Seeking Re-Election 

November 18, 2015
*  Many external links throughout post.

**** UPDATE:  March 1, 2016 Judge Michael Sinha was defeated by attorney Patricia Baca Bennett in the Tarrant County election.  Ms. Bennett takes office January 1, 2017.  ****

98% of the time, Tarrant family courts favor fathers over mothers

SinhaTarrant County 360th District Judge Michael Sinha is seeking re-election.  Judge Michael Sinha was appointed as a district judge in 2010 while he was serving as the associate judge for then District Judge Debra Lehrmann.    Lehrmann’s new appointed title is Justice Lehremann as she now serves on the Texas Supreme Court.  Lehremann has had ties with the father’s rights movement since 2003 and passed her biased view against mothers to Judge Michael Sinha.  Click here for the timeline.

Fathers and mothers both have parental rights to make important decisions on behalf of their children.  But favoring one parent over another, due to gender,  is obviously prejudiced and violates the American Bar Association’s judicial canon Rule 2.3. The issue we have found is the Texas family courts are currently ignoring the “best interests of the child” standard:

Texas Family Code Sec. 153.002. BEST INTEREST OF CHILD. The best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to the child.

Judges are changing custody to the father, even when evidence would support his household violated the best interests’ standard.  The question next would be, why?  Why would judges make such reckless decisions?  The answer is one that is always the root of evil, money.

As we have been reporting, the Tarrant County family courts are given financial incentives to grant fathers custody over mothers.  This is part of The President’s National Fatherhood Pledge through the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.  Millions of dollars are funneled through the U.S. Health and Human Services and straight to Texas family courts influencing district and associate family court judge’s decisions. President Obama’s fatherhood webpage states:

“The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, includes the broad range of federal programs that address the needs of children and families. These programs are at the heart of the federal effort to strengthen families and help all children succeed by bringing new ideas, insights, and leadership on issues that impact the lives of all Americans.

Why is it Tarrant County has the most abused children in Texas?  The family judges will tell you they work tirelessly for their constituents, but Tarrant has had this record for years and today the children of Tarrant County are still regularly placed in abusive environments.  

Many Tarrant parents who have faced the family courts would say the judge ordered the children to live in an unfit (and abusive) home because the judge refused to review the evidence presented. It is reported by the parents and family attorneys, judges make decisions based on the attorneys’ interpretation of the law, the relationship with the attorney in the case or a personal prejudice.  Protective Parents Coalition would even suggest the decisions are made based on the fatherhood grant criteria in order for Tarrant County family courts to receive grant money.

Did you know since 2005 Tarrant County gives the father’s rights organization NewDay Services free office space inside the family courthouse?  NewDay Services is on the second floor and a recipient of Obama’s fatherhood grant program.   Tarrant County does keep track of how many fathers and how many mothers are given custody in order to receive the grant funds.  See the Tarrant County family court child custody outcome spreadsheet for 2012 which demonstrates the bias against mothers.  98% of the time, Tarrant family courts favor fathers over mothers in contested child custody cases enrolled in this grant program.  Or, view this contract between Tarrant County and the Fatherhood Coalition.

Sinha Special Interest GroupJudge Michael Sinha is not active in local political groups until election time.  The Texas Ethics Commission reports since Judge Sinha has been a district  judge,  he has maintained his membership at one Republican club, participated in several golf tournaments, and advertised twice in a father’s rights program, NewDay Services.  In 2015, Sinha spent 28% of his political expenditures to NewDay Services, and $50 in 2013.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

****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/biased-judge-since-seeking-re-election/

If she can’t interpret an email, how can she interpret the law?

If she can’t interpret an email, how can she interpret the law?
FORT WORTH, TEXAS

June 21, 2017

She has only been on the bench 6 months and attorneys and family advocates are already challenging Judge Baca Bennett’s competency.  This post will only address our concern about Judge Baca Bennett’s ability to interpret an email.  

360th Family District Judge Patricia Baca Bennett, Tarrant County

Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) sent a letter to Judge Baca Bennett objecting to the transcription fee her court reporter quoted for a court record.  The quote was $6.75 per page, plus binding and production fees.
PPC requested a transcript from another court earlier in the year and the cost per page and additional fees were less.  The email requested Judge Bennett to consider setting a lower cost for court records in her court for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is the cost per page for court records in her court are not consistent with other Tarrant County courts.  The second reason is the Texas Government Code states the district judge shall set an appropriate rate for court records when a person objects to the cost.

 

 


Our letter emailed on June 6, 2017.  Please pay particular attention to the text in red.

Judge Bennett,
According to Sec. 52.047 of the Government Code, a person can object to the transcription fee for a court record from a court reporter.  The section states, as the judge, you shall determine a reasonable fee for the record.
Your court reporter is charging $6.75 per page, a $20 production fee, and .50 per page for exhibits. The grand total for a 120 page transcript is $893.25. 
On January 26, 2017,  I requested a transcript from the 233rd District Court from Luanne Spurrier, and the charge was $6.50 page and $6 for binding.  If I requested a 120 page transcript from the 233rd District court, the fee would  be $786.  Your court reporter is charging $107.25 more than the 233rd District Court. Both court reporters are employed by the county and there should be consistent rates between the courts.
The TCGOP Executive Committee is well aware of Tarrant County’s inflated court transcript rate as we passed a resolution regarding court recordings in the family courts last year.   I gave testimony before the TCGOP Committee and shared PPC’s research on transcription costs across the country.   The average national rate court reporters charge is $1.25 per page.
Judge Bennett, I am asking that you reduce the rate per page for court records in your court, including the request I have made to Betty Lynn Cade.  Please see attached invoice.
Sec. 52.047.  TRANSCRIPTS.  (a)  A person may apply for a transcript of the evidence in a case reported by an official court reporter.  The person must apply for the transcript in writing to the official court reporter. The official court reporter shall furnish the transcript to the person not later than the 120th day after the date the:
(1)  application for the transcript is received by the reporter; and
(2) transcript fee is paid or the person establishes indigency as provided by Rule 20, Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure.
(b)  If an objection is made to the amount of the transcript fee, the judge shall determine a reasonable fee, taking into consideration the difficulty and technicality of the material to be transcribed and any time constraints imposed by the person requesting the transcript.
(c)  On payment of the fee or as provided by Rule 40(a)(3) or 53(j), Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the person requesting the transcript is entitled to the original and one copy of the transcript.  The person may purchase additional copies for a fee per page that does not exceed one-third of the original cost per page.
(d)  An official court reporter may charge an additional fee for:
(1)  postage or express charges;
(2)  photostating, blueprinting, or other reproduction of exhibits;
(3)  indexing;  and
(4)  preparation for filing and special binding of original exhibits.
(e)  If an objection is made to the amount of these additional fees, the judge shall set a reasonable fee. If the person applying for the transcript is entitled to a transcript without charge under Rule 40(a)(3) or 53(j), Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court reporter may not charge any additional fees under Subsection (d).
(f)  If the official court reporter charges an amount that exceeds a fee set by the judge, the reporter shall refund the excess to the person to whom it is due on demand filed with the court.
Regards,
Jennifer Olson

Now, let’s see Judge Bennett’s response letter on June 12, 2017.  Please read the third paragraph and see the error of interpretation in Judge Patricia Baca Bennett’s statement.


The letter from the judge was obviously and error, so PPC asked the judge to revise her letter because PPC never stated the cost of the transcript was $6.00 a page.  Her court coordinator sent an email and stated:
“Judge Bennett referenced the fact that your email claimed that the 233rd charged $6.00 per page.  She also referenced an email that Luanne R. Spurrier sent to you on January 26, 2017 stating she charges $6.50 per page.”

 


This was what we will call a ‘WOW’ moment.  As petty as this fact might seem, Judge Baca Bennett flat out refused to re-read the email and correct her error.  Ms. Olson did not state in her email another court quoted $6.00 a page, she said $6.50 a page.  We have to ask, is this incompetence or willful ignorance?

Since she failed comprehending this email, or acknowledging she made an error, how is she interpreting the law in her courtroom?  Future observations and posts about this courtroom might answer this question.

And just for the record,

(1)  Tarrant County Court Reporters are paid two times the national rate for other court reporters with a salary of over $101,00 a year.  

(2)  Transcripts costs are paid privately to the court reporters and the county does not receive any of the money paid directly to reporters to transcribe records.  This is all private income for court reporters.  (The court reporters own the court records and evidence too.)

(3) The Tarrant County Criminal District Court #1 (felony court) court reporter charges $4.00 a page. ($2.75 a page less than Judge Patricia Baca Bennett’s court.)

(4)  The Charlotte Observer wrote an article on February 10, 2014 and it stated, “According to the AOC study, which was done by the staff of the National Center for State Courts, the average state-employed court reporter earns $53,000 in salary and $1.25 for every page of a court record transcribed. (Read story here:  N.C. weighs necessity of court reporters; ‘it’s all about the money’)

 

For now, we rest our case.  More on court watcher’s observations in this court later.  

 

Digital Recordings in   Courtrooms

 

 

READ:  Why digital recordings are needed in all Texas courts.  If it is good for North Carolina, then it should be good enough for Texas.

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/cant-interpret-email-can-interpret-law/