Tarrant County receives money to promote fatherhood agenda

Tarrant County Family CourthouseKNOW BEFORE YOU GO FACT:

Tarrant County receives grant money to promote fatherhood agenda in courtroom.

Many people are surprised to find out just how close the working relationship is with Child Protective Services (CPS) and the family courts. Within the Tarrant County Family Court there is a faith based father’s rights organization, NewDay Services, that has had free office space since 2005. This non-profit organization receives state grant money to train Texas CPS investigators and supervisors.

Their program ‘navigates’ men through the family court and CPS process during their custody case. Usually the fathers will go through a 12 week workshop with Newday Services and are rewarded with a graduation ceremony. Their employers, family and family court judges are invited to the ceremonies. Isn’t this a conflict of interest for a judge to attend one of their litigant’s graduation ceremonies without the opposing litigant present?

Click here for more details of the relationship between CPS, Tarrant County and NewDay Services. 

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Harris County District Judge Pratt resigned due to misconduct allegations

Embattled judge Pratt resigns, suspends campaign

Pratt1The freshman Republican jurist campaigned as a conservative advocate for children and families, touting her unique policy of keeping boyfriends, girlfriends and lovers of recently divorced litigants away from children. While a bevy of Houston-area lawyers and families who have rallied against Pratt challenged that claim, the Baytown native defended her record Friday in a statement that said her departure from the 311th state District Court was due to the damage that “relentless attacks by my political opponents” were having on the court, the local Republican Party and her family.

“I cannot, in good conscience, allow it to continue,” she wrote on her campaign website. “My goal has always been to serve the children and families of Harris County, but I won’t sacrifice my family’s well-being any longer to continue to serve as judge. … I don’t want to see my party, which I have worked to build, dragged down by the media circus.”

A Harris County grand jury began investigating Pratt, who was elected in 2010, last fall after Webster family lawyer Greg Enos filed the first of three criminal complaints against her. That led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk, whom the judge blamed for the backdating. Enos’ most recent complaint, filed last month with the district attorney and State Commission on Judicial Conduct, alleged Pratt broke the law by dismissing more than 630 cases on the final two days of 2013 without giving notice to lawyers or litigants.

The move effectively nullified a bevy of property, child custody and child support arrangements she had previously made, creating additional anxiety, confusion and legal costs for families. As a result, one man’s ex-wife showed up at his house demanding to move back in.

Since Enos filed his first complaint in October, dozens of prominent family court lawyers – Democrats and Republicans, alike, and many with cases still pending in her court – spoke out against Pratt, signing a letter calling for her resignation, asking for her to be recused from their cases and – last Saturday – attending a protest Enos organized.

As of Friday, 29 motions to recuse had been filed, according to the administrative judge for the family courts, with 13 denied, 15 granted and one pending.

Earlier this month, Pratt was removed from five cases in a day by a visiting senior judge who criticized her for making a final ruling in a child custody case without hearing any testimony or evidence. The opposing lawyers on the case told the judge they recently had been interviewed by the district attorney’s office about it as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into Pratt, a claim the office has neither confirmed nor denied.

Pratt’s critics have harped on the fact that she and District Attorney Devon Anderson share the same political consultant, Allen Blakemore, who said Friday that “the DA’s office never initiated their own investigation; they responded to criminal complaints filed by Greg Enos. They investigated those criminal complaints and they found them to be without merit.”

Under investigation by Harris County prosecutors for dismissing hundreds of cases without notice, embattled family court judge Denise Pratt resigned Friday, abruptly ending her re-election bid.

On Friday, Pratt critics said they were elated by the resignation, but also frustrated that she continues to deny wrongdoing.

“Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, she’s blaming people like me, when all the lawyers want are judges who show up to work and follow the law and treat people fairly,” Enos said. “Had she done that, she wouldn’t be in this position.”

Despite the firestorm, Pratt secured the highest percentage of the vote in the five-way March 4 primary, but not enough to avoid a runoff. She was to face family lawyer Alicia Franklin in a May 27 election.

Pratt’s name will still appear on the ballot, County Clerk Stan Stanart said. Though his staff, as a practical matter, still could remove her name, state law would have required Pratt to file withdrawal papers by 5 p.m. March 12.

Pratt “often times didn’t come to court,” Franklin said. “Orders were not being signed and the local rules say that they must be signed within 10 days and sometimes there were orders” to transfer property or collect child support that “hadn’t been signed for seven months.”

Assistant Harris County Attorney Douglas Ray said Gov. Rick Perry will appoint a replacement for Pratt to serve through Dec. 31.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill said he will encourage the governor to select Franklin, who he said is the party’s “nominee by default.”

Franklin, who had been appointed by Pratt several times to represent children as an amicus lawyer, had originally planned to run for election to the 247th Court, but switched to the 311th when she started noticing problems.

Reporters Mike Morris and Dug Begley contributed to this report.

 

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Court Watching Report: March 26, 2014 in 324th District Court

Compassionate Adoption Observed

Adoption-Day-2007“I would like to say how moved I was by the conduct of Judge Hennigan to the children that were being adopted. Judge Hennigan talked directly to the children and their siblings, and extended family members present to watch these beautiful children being adopted. As a court watcher, it was the most touching and tearful moving sight to observe. I have watched adoptions in other court rooms, but this particular day, to watch Judge Hennigan talk to all the children present during these proceedings warmed my heart. In addition to the one on one that Judge Hennigan displayed to the children, at the closure all the children were allowed to choose one item from behind the bench…..each child walked away with a stuffed animal that they cherished and held as they walked out of the courtroom. In addition, Judge Hennigan allowed pictures to be taken, and did not rush the families nor the children. I sat and observed with a smile on my face and walked away with my heart warmed by this observation. I applaud you Judge Hennigan for the compassion and humanity displayed on this date.” – Court Watcher

 

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Opinion: In Defense Of Self-Represented Litigants

Opinion: In Defense Of Self-Represented Litigants

By Anne Stevenson

 

indexDespite the economic barriers to justice faced by struggling Connecticut families, rising from the ashes of the highly charged public debates over how to reform the family courts is a shockingly insensitive outcry from court industry insiders demonizing the 85 percent of divorcing parents who have chosen to invest in their families instead of attorneys.

Tauck v. Tauck was perhaps the most inefficient and expensive trial in Connecticut family court history, spanning over five years, 600-plus filings, and ending in an 86-day trial in 2007 that played out before Judge Holly Abery-Wetstone on Middletown’s Regional Family Trial Docket. According to the Hartford Courant, the family paid out some $13.3 million in fees to the dozens of legal industry professionals on the case, including $1.3 million paid (without challenge) to attorney Gaetano Ferro, the children’s guardian ad litem.

Clearly, the legal industry professionals were the big winners in the Tauck case, and if ever there was a case for cutting out the middleman and going pro se, it is the Tauck divorce. While some may be quick to blame the Nancy and Peter Tauck for their part in spurring on this “high-conflict” litigation marathon, one might also question the competence and propriety of the judges and legal professionals who had clearly lost control of the case. Did Judge Wetstone really need help deciding the case from dozens of industry professionals who just couldn’t seem to agree with each other on much except that the $13.3 million they charged the family was “necessary and reasonable”?

At the end of the day, the Tauck children might wish their parents had been forced to deal directly with each other pro se, and could probably give you a list of better ways to spend the $13.3 million in fees derived from their family’s misfortune.

Yet in June 2012, Connecticut’s Chief Justice Chase Rogers told the Connecticut Bar Association that her “number one concern” of mutual interest was “the increasing number of self-represented parties.”

“We are going to have serious problems continuing to provide quality justice unless we tackle this issue head on,” said Rogers, who did not extensively address quality concerns expressed by industry consumers. Rogers asked the CBA to support legislation meant to “guarantee money for legal services and technology improvements for the Branch.”

One year later, the legal services industry’s concerns over the impact that self-represented parties were having on business were reflected in the Family Commission’s meeting minutes: “It was also raised by Judge [Maureen] Murphy that some attorneys perceive the Branch’s efforts to address the volume of self-represented litigants in an effective and efficient way as negatively impacting their business. It was suggested that more communication with attorneys to better understand their issues might help to alleviate some of their concerns.”

The question as to the Judicial Branch’s ability to provide equal access to justice for consumer litigants under pressure from the Connecticut Bar Association is a legitimate one. Incoming CBA President Mark Dubois recently expressed his concerns Connecticut Law Tribune that judges have become victims of “histrionic” and vengeful pro se family court litigants: “These litigants refuse to compromise or cooperate with regard to the simplest matters. They use the courts to advance their own narcissistic and histrionic agendas. They blame everyone but themselves for their problems, and post their complaints about everything and everyone on blogs and other internet soapboxes in vitriolic and ad hominem attacks. They drain every ounce of time and patience from the judges and court personnel who must deal with them.”

Three days later, Dubois’ exact sentiments appeared in a Hartford Courant editorial that trivialized consumer fraud concerns and urged “moderate reforms” for GAL’s skewed in the financial favor of the legal services industry.

Since, according to Judge Murphy, under current guidelines, anyone can be a GAL and GALs are not usually permitted to act in a duel role as the child’s attorney, this begs the question whether the CBA even has a dog in this fight any more than the Screen Actors Guild does? Considering the number of GAL’s who recently dumped their caseloads after their questionable business practices came under scrutiny, disaffiliation from CBA might not be a bad thing.

The more troubling implication behind Dubois’ statement is that there is a legitimate reason why even the most unfit divorcee should have to pay millions in legal fees and spend years of their lives in court merely because they are suspected of having an impairment or disability that is inconvenient to the court, but not necessarily indicative of one’s parenting skills. It concerns me that the lucratively convenient purpose of the Regional Family Trial Docket is to single out and impose extraordinary costs and burdens on the families of such inconveniently impaired litigants.

If Dubois is suggesting that exploitation complaints coming from disabled parties lack merit for debate, the U.S. Department of Justice would have to disagree with that statement given the Justice Department’s recent announcement that it opened a civil rights investigation into whether or not the Judicial Branch discriminates against disabled litigants.

In 2003, the Judicial Branch entered into a settlement agreement with the DOJ to resolve disability discrimination claims filed by litigants. The timing of both investigations coincides with legislative task forces that convened in 2002 and 2013 to address complaints from parents about the way the family courts were doing business.

Regardless, Dubois appears to have misunderstood what over 80 parents recently told the legislature about their experiences in the family courts, and how it came to be that so many of them were bankrupted into representing themselves pro se in custody battles. Parents said that they were bled dry through questionable court industry professionals who could not agree on what was best for their families.

During the 15-hour hearing, parents said their families did not benefit from court-ordered (adversarial-based) mental health evaluations and services because their therapeutic disclosures were debated on the public record with great embarrassment and risk, causing them to lose their children, jobs, homes, and even their freedom.

According to testimony, all of the complaints parents filed professional oversight boards were dismissed without inquiry, which is unsurprising given that the Judicial Review Committee has only held 13 public hearings since the 1980s. Perhaps Dubois, who is Connecticut’s first chief disciplinary counsel, could explain how it came to be that the family courts could very well be run by the most honest and ethical workforce ever known to mankind?

Since it’s not the parents, but the CBA and Judicial Branch members the DOJ is investigating, perhaps it’s time to consider the fact that the CBA and Judicial Branch do not represent the interests of consumers so much as the promotion of the legal industry itself. Some of the “modest reforms” their lobbyists are proposing may amount to little more than a stimulus package for legal industry professionals to perpetuate the dangerously problematic cases they complain about.

While the column by Dubois’ and an op-ed by Rogers in the Courant both concede that certain aspects of the family court industry are ill-supervised, is buying more hens and hiring more foxes to guard them likely to be the panacea the families themselves are looking for? Is it possible that 85 percent of litigants are too rabid for the courts to offer them the same dignity and respect and dignity automatically provided to attorneys?

After all, children raised by offbeat, politically active parents often turn out just fine, but the same cannot be said for innocent victims of out-of-control court systems.

If the Judicial Branch will not take a step back to allow the flooded legal market to correct itself, perhaps what divorcing families really need is not an attorney, a therapist or mediator, but help from the FBI’s white collar crime unit.

Anne Stevenson is a political analyst and freelance journalist who has written a Washington Times series of articles on the Connecticut courts that were accepted as a contender for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. Stevenson is a graduate of Tufts University who attended Suffolk University School of Law.

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How to identify a sociopath

Learn how to avoid sociopaths

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Associate Judge Beebe Retires After 20 Years of Service

Associate Judge Lisa Beebe’s last day on the bench is April 30, 2014.

BeebeThe 231st District Judge is currently interviewing attorneys to replace the associate judge for the 231st District Court. District Judge Nevarez does not have children and the current 231st Associate Judge Beebe has been married three times and has never had a judge rule in any of her divorces.

Let’s hope the future 231st Associate Judge is an ethical and experienced parent who will not take pleasure in dividing families in Tarrant County.

Judges must strive for the highest standards of integrity in both their professional and personal lives. They should be knowledgeable about the law, willing to undertake in-depth legal research, and able to write decisions that are clear and cogent. Their judgment should be sound and they should be able to make informed decisions that will stand up to close scrutiny. Judges should be fair and open-minded, and should appear to be fair and open-minded. They should be good listeners but should be able to ask questions that get to the heart of the issue before the court. They should be courteous in the courtroom but firm when it is necessary to rein in a rambling lawyer, a disrespectful litigant or an unruly spectator. And above all, the judge shall have compassion, or there is no justice.

Let’s hope Beebe’s bench is filled with a qualified replacement.

Fort Worth Star Telegram’s article about Tarrant County 231st Associate Judge Lisa Beebe

 

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Court Watcher Report: March 10, 2014 in 233rd District Court:

PPC_150x150

Personal attacks and unprofessional behavior by well known Tarrant County attorneys.

First let’s define the role of a receiver in a family courtroom:
The Texas Family Code allows for the use of a receiver for “the preservation of the property and protection of the property of the parties.” See Tex. Fam. Code § 6.502(5). In order to be appointed as a receiver, a person must satisfy certain requirements. The three main requirements are: (1) the receiver must be a citizen of the state of Texas; (2) the receiver must be qualified to vote in the state of Texas; and (3) the receiver must also not be an interested party to the action. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 64.021. In addition, a receiver must take an oath and be sworn to perform the duties faithfully. Another requirement in Texas regarding a receiver is that the person appointed must execute a “good and sufficient bond.” This bond amount can vary, as it is set by the court.

What happens when a court appointed receiver and private attorney join forces and become co-counsel in order to gang up on the other party? They misled the judge on the facts of the case, take a personal interest for personal gain in the divorced couple’s assets, create inappropriate attorney-client relationships, and put all the legal professionals in jeopardy of future sanctions.

What did the court watcher’s observe in this hearing? An attorney who behaved erratically, rambled incoherent questions towards the opposing client and, quite literally, lost control in court. This attorney badgered the opposing party to such a level that the attorney is asked to ‘take it easy’ on the witness by the judge. The rants, eye rolling, yelling, sighs, inappropriate giggling and the obvious bias against the one party that took place in this case was like having a front row seat to a smack down.

Is this really what our family courts were designed for? A forum used by attorneys to intimidate, belittle and extort finances for their own personal gain? The behavior of the attorneys in this case was unprofessional and showed lack of respect to the Lawyer’s Creed.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ppcforchange.com/court-watcher-report-3102014/

Public is holding family courts accountable

Court Watching Project

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Read All About It

A song inspiring all of you who know you have a voice,

                     but fear the consequences of it being heard.       – PPC

 

Song titled: Read All About It
Artist:  Emeli Sandé

 

 

According to Wikipedia, Adele Emily Sandé (/ˈsændeɪ/ san-day; born 10 March 1987), better known as Emeli Sandé, is a British recording artist and songwriter. She first became prominent after she featured on the track “Diamond Rings” by the emeli sande 2rapper Chipmunk (2009). It was their first top 10 single on the UK Singles Chart. In 2010, she featured on “Never Be Your Woman” by the rapper Wiley, which was another top ten hit. In 2012, she received the Brit Awards Critics’ Choice Award.

Sandé released her first solo single “Heaven” in August 2011. She has three number-one singles across the UK and Ireland with “Read All About It” with Professor Green, “Next to Me”, and “Beneath Your Beautiful”, a collaboration with Labrinth. Her album Our Version of Events spent seven non-consecutive weeks at number one and became the best-selling album of 2012 in the UK, with over 1 million sales.In 2012, she performed in both the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the London Olympics.She won two Brit Awards at the 2013 ceremony, Best British Female Artist, and British Album of the Year.

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Georgia Senator Exposes CPS Corruption

Georgia Senator Exposes CPS

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