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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Profiteering at the Rhode Island Family Court

The original version of this op-ed by Anne Grant appeared in the Providence Journal on Friday, March 9, 2007.

RHODE ISLAND’S chief justice, Frank Williams, objected to Governor Carcieri’s recent but since-dropped proposal to balance the budget by shutting down the courts and other state operations on four generally slow days. Williams cites a section of the Rhode Island Constitution that guarantees the right to a speedy trial, insisting this “cannot and should not be abrogated by monetary interests” (“Top judge balks at days off,” Feb. 14, 2007, p. A-1 ff.).

Tell this to families devastated from decades of looting by Family Court lawyers, guardians ad litem, and mental-health professionals who drag out domestic cases that promise them a stream of income through frivolous litigation and strategic delays. While the majority of those in Family Court may not be looters, few would deny that some of their colleagues unethically exploit human crises to enrich themselves.

Among the many children I’ve followed are three whose 18th birthdays are finally emancipating them. Family Court had removed all three from protective mothers who were victims of domestic violence or rape. These children endured years of abuse by fathers intent on punishing women who had rejected them.

One youth was abandoned by the abusive parent; the other two rebelled. Feelings of rage overwhelm them like a riptide. Family Court subjected them to endless crises and false charges. Judges labeled them “manipulative” before returning them, damaged, to their mothers.

The first time I asked Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah in 1993 about problems that battered mothers encountered while trying to protect their children in his court, he said amiably that it’s all political anyway. He saw no problem in the fact that psychologists favor whichever parent pays them.

Am I naïve to think this system should rely on rules of evidence and merits of a case rather than money? Are these children not entitled to speedy justice?

Chief Jeremiah’s direct involvement in many of these cases along with his former tenants and political associates suggest significant conflicts of interest. His assistant David Tassoni, mediating one of the cases, determined that the father should pay only $200 a month child support. This locked the man’s two teenagers in poverty while their mother worked menial jobs day and night.

Cranston records for 2004 show the same father, a licensed real-estate agent, giving his house to an older son by his first wife. She had been director of counseling at a Rhode Island college 25 years ago when she called campus security and police, saying that he had taken their baby and threatened to kill her.

According to her affidavit, he menaced her colleagues, too, telling her: “When I get through with you, you won’t have a job and neither will they, if you live that long.” When a judge found him in contempt for failure to pay her child support in 1995, he had already faced abuse charges and three years of litigation with his second wife.

The second case dragged through 11 Family Court judges by 2002, when Judge Howard Lipsey said: “I feel [this father] is abusing the court system for his own purposes . . . taking advantage of his children . . . of his oldest son . . . of his former wife. I think he is really devious. I think he has no desire to really look into the best interest of the . . . children. And if anyone is causing pain to these children and not allowing them to re-establish a relationship . . . it is he who is doing it.”

Judge Lipsey returned the children to their mother after they had been psychologically devastated by twenty-nine months with this abusive father. Then Lipsey did something astonishing that revealed the unrelenting cat-and-mouse game at Family Court. Saying he was no longer unbiased, he recused himself from any further decisions on it, including child support, and sent the case to a 12th judge, where Tassoni weighed in as mediator.

Many younger children have already replaced the three who are turning 18. People in Little Compton packed their community center last year after the court removed two young sisters from their mother when the girls complained about things they said their father had done to them.

The father paid for a psychological evaluation blaming the mother. The court ordered her to pay tens of thousands of dollars for mental-health professionals and a guardian ad litem, while she seldom sees her daughters.

Elderly grandparents and friends struggled to raise a six-digit sum for an out-of-state lawyer, who has fought similar cases in 44 states. If he gets to argue this case, it could set a historic precedent for Rhode Island children.

The General Assembly has dodged this problem. One-quarter of its members are lawyers, many of whom practice in Family Court. Lawyers dominate both chambers’ Judiciary Committees.

The U.S. attorney says he cannot step in: This is a state matter.

The real question is not whether we should close court for four days, but whether we will continue to deny justice for 18 years while professionals in Family Court profiteer off children in crisis.

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit http://LittleHostages.blogspot.com


About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to parentingproject@verizon.net

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here:

www.centerforjudicialexcellence.org/PhotoExhibit.htm
www.child-justice.org
www.leadershipcouncil.org
www.evawintl.org provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:
www.haguedv.org

more about domestic violence in law enforcement:
http://behindthebluewall.blogspot.com/



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