The appearance that the court systems are criminally involved with this sick practice and looks the other way with a blind eye?

June 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Here’s an unpublished article written about this case. This article was rejected by dozens of media, both national, regional, and specialty. Is it the writing or the subject matter? … Chris Mackney, who committed suicide Dec. 29, 2013, told me before he died that he was being bullied to death during a divorce and he laid the blame at the feet of the Virginia Family Court system and Dr. Stanton Samenow, a psychologist made famous by his mention on the popular television show The Sopranos. Furthermore, Mackney said the bullying was in retaliation for his discovering and publicizing details of his former father-in-law’s involvement in a 1960s murder along with actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson. Besides speaking to me, Mackney also left a suicide note on his website, called “GoodMenDidNothing,” and in it, he described the mental and psychological terror that his ex-wife’s legal assault had caused him. The note later was removed from the site, but has been republished online. “I took my own life because I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do or say to end the abuse. Every time I got up off my knees, I would get knocked back down. They were not going to let me be the father I wanted to be to my children. People may think I am a coward for giving up on my children, but I didn’t see how I was going to heal from this. I have no money for an attorney, therapy or medication. I have lost 4 jobs because of this process.” (Please note that according to Word Press, which owns Mackney’s blog, his site has since been taken down based on its policy regarding bloggers who pass away.) According to the organization Father’s Unite, 300 fathers and 30 mothers take their lives every month in the U.S. as a result of family court abuse. In fact, the circumstances surrounding Mackney’s suicide have several uncanny resemblances to the most notorious such suicide, that of Tom Ball in 2011. Tom Ball set himself on fire just before 5:30 on the evening of June 15, 2011, in front of the of the Cheshire County Superior Court House in Keane, N.H. The next day the local paper, the Keane Sentinel, received his 10,000-plus word suicide note in which he blamed both the family court system as well as the Children and Protective System for his suicide. Ball had contended in his suicide note that a minor case of corporal punishment was turned on its head and used to brand him unfairly as a domestic abuser, and with that branding all his rights were taken away. According to a study by Dr. Augustine J. Kposowa, entitled “Marital Status and Suicide in National Longitudinal Mortality Study” and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in the April 2000 edition, both Ball and Mackney are part of a quiet epidemic of suicide of divorced fathers, a group which is nearly 10 times as likely to commit suicide as any other group. Both Mackney and Ball had lost all contact with their children, fallen hopelessly behind on child support, had repeatedly been sanctioned by the court for prior violations leading to prison time. Each had also shown signs of obsession with a concept central to their case. In the case of Ball, it was the constant misdiagnosis of domestic violence and with Mackney it was psychopathy. On Nov. 21, 2013, as an example, Mackney published on his website a blog post entitled “Alienation, Family Law and Psychopathy – Welcome to my world.” That’s because six months into his divorce Mackney discovered that his wife’s father had helped orchestrate a murder in the late 1960s. Dina’s father, Pete Scamardo, is a successful real estate developer in Virginia, however in 1968, he hired Charles Harrelson, the father of Woody Harrelson, to kill Sam Degelia, who was not only Scamardo’s business partner but friend since the second grade. Scamardo allegedly wanted Degelia dead because in order to collect on life insurance each had on the other because they were partners. According to news reports at the time, Harrelson had become indebted to Scamardo after losing some heroine he was tasked by Scamardo to sell, and that Scamardo used this as leverage to convince Harrelson to commit the murder. Scamardo was only convicted as an accomplice in the murder in 1970. Mackney also discovered that Scamardo was currently using his daughter as a front for a gaming license because his criminal record would make him ineligible for his own gaming license. Mackney said that from the beginning of his divorce in 2008 all he wanted to do was settle in an equitable manner but that his wife refused to ever offer any deal. Worse yet, she hired the law firm Cottrell, Fletcher, Schinstock, Bartol, and Cottrell, where the lead attorney, Jim Cottrell, advertises by saying, “We’re not the type to settle so be prepared to open your wallet.” Mackney charged that his ex-wife’s father paid an estimated $1.2 million to have the legal team badger him for $2,916 per month in child support until the day he died. Cottrell spoke briefly with me and would only say “it’s not true, it’s not true” to the charges made by Mackney in his suicide note that he legally bullied Mackney to death. Dr. Karin Huffer is a clinical psychologist who saw so many victims of legal abuse she coined the term, “legal abuse syndrome,” which she told me she considers a subset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), only in this case the PTSD is caused by protracted abuse by the legal system. Mackney told me that he believed he had PTSD, and in Huffer’s book, Legal Abuse Syndrome: Eight Steps for Avoiding Stress Caused by the Legal System obsession is the title of Chapter 5. In 2010, Mackney saw Dr. William Zuckerman for the purposes of being evaluated during the course of his custody. During the evaluation, Dr. Zuckerman described behavior consistent with someone suffering from legal abuse syndrome. “There is a great deal of data which would support Mr. Mackney’s contention that he has felt overmatched and stressed, that he is not feeling much in control of the circumstances either in the context of his trying to negotiate with his wife, and also in the context of the helplessness he feels in the midst of this litigation. As noted earlier, he also feels at the mercy of superior forces (his wife, his wife’s family, and their attorney), and he feels without the funds necessary to prosecute his position. These stresses can lead to experience some dysphoric and even anxious feelings. (both are also symptoms of PTSD)” Connie Valentine is the co-founder of the California Protective Parents Association and she told me she has been documenting family court abuse for more than two decades. She said that jailing or threatening to jail a parent by setting persistently high child support payments, as in the case of Ball and Mackney, is a form of debtors, technically outlawed in the U.S. Valentine said that in both the cases of Ball and Mackney, the divorce fell into a category considered high conflict divorces. Valentine said there are cases in which family court abuse targets a mother, and there are father’s rights groups like Father’s Unite which believe the corruption is directed mostly at males. But observers from multiple viewpoints affirm the abuse starts because there is too much power in the hands of so-called experts, a lack of transparency, and a lack of training. In Mackney’s case, he focused in specifically on the behavior of Samenow, who became a cult celebrity when his work was featured in an episode of the television show The Sopranos. Samenow declined to comment on this case. In 2009, the two parties, Mackney and his ex-wife, agreed to have Samenow do a psychological evaluation after little progress was being made in the divorce. Mackney said the corruption started immediately when he was pressured to change this so-called psychological evaluation into a custody evaluation. Samenow’s evaluation on Aug. 3, 2009, and he cited in every part only Dina’s side of the story. He referred to her as “thoughtful” and “cooperative” while Samenow diagnosed Mackney as “narcissistic” and warned that he had violent tendencies. Mackney said this evaluation was used as the basis for a series of court rulings which limited and then in January 2010 first took all his parental rights away. In October 2010, after a psychological evaluation by Zuckerman restored some parental rights, Mackney was cited for contempt of court after he only faxed over a copy of his new apartment lease when a court order directed he fax a lease and a copy of the receipt for first month’s payment. According to Robert Worster, who represented Mackney for parts of 2012 as a court appointed attorney, here is the list of family court related jail stints to which Mackney was sentenced. “On October 7, 2011, Mr. Mackney was sentenced to 10 days of incarceration for criminal contempt and also held in civil contempt for failing to abide by the Final Custody Order entered on July 26, 2010. He was remanded to the Fairfax County Regional Detention Center until he purged himself of civil contempt by Paying Ms. Mackney $31,000 in sanctions; and Submitting a plan to the Court describing how he will abide by the Final Custody Order. “Mr. Mackney was released on July 30, 2012 and Mr. Worster and Mr. Bodner’s representation of Mr. Mackney ceased. All requests for fees were denied by the Court.” Mackney was serving his fourth stint in jail when he received a letter from Worster in May 2012 which ended this way. “Last, Mr. Bartol (Kyle Bartol, another attorney for Dina Mackney) again expressed his client’s request that you simply disappear following release and not have any contact with her or her family (including the children). My understanding (none of this has been submitted to me in writing) is that she will not pursue further sanctions if you do not have any contact with her or her family (including the children).” Mackney said that he complied and moved to Dallas to try and begin his life anew. But in the beginning of 2013, Mackney was extradited back to Virginia, when his ex-wife through her attorneys and the Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, and specifically their Prosecutor Elizabeth Kohut, claimed extortion. They alleged it was a crime when Mackney suggested in emails to his ex-wife he might go to the media with allegations her father helped kill his former business partner if she didn’t voluntarily reduce his child support to a more reasonable level. The prosecutors refused to accept any plea, and forced Mackney to languish in jail with a bail he couldn’t afford while he awaited trial. Despite not having any money and using a court appointed attorney, Mackney was acquitted, all of which he explained in his suicide note. “So, we went to trial and I was found not guilty. I did not ask for any money from her and the child support I owe is to my children, not my ex-wife. The jury saw that my attempts to reduce my child support were not an effort to obtain money at all, and the law supported the verdict. “It was a clear effort on the Commonwealth’s attorney to silence me for threatening to speak out about the fraud of Dr. Samenow, and the Cover-up by Judge Randy Bellows. Why else wouldn’t they accept a plea to my first criminal charge, ever?” After his acquittal his ex-wife successfully reached out to Child Support Enforcement to force Mackney to stay in Virginia, and he was facing further sanction for being behind on his child support as well as starting his blog, Good Men Did Nothing, which spoke about Scamardo’s murder conviction, something a previous court order forbade Mackney from doing. Both Samenow and Judge Randy Bellows, the combination in Mackney’s divorce, were cited in a Washington Post story, which suggested that Samenow had misrepresented a convicted killer’s testimony to him and Bellows had allowed him to do it. I also spoke with Tommy Moffett who also had Samenow as a custody evaluator. He told me that he might have wound up like Mackney, but he taped all their sessions and was able to, acting as his own attorney, frustrate Samenow to the point Samenow blurted out, ‘What, did you have me recorded?” Moffett briefly documented his experience on a blog he started, Stop Samenow. (

** Quote of the 1997 book title, Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of America Justice by Margaret A. Hagen.

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

The appearance that the doors have been opened by themselves with the greed of the oppressors on their own team?

Recent Publication

Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice is available at your local bookstore or at

January 13, 1997 Publishers Weekly, Review of Whores of the Court. . .backcover.jpeg (123208 bytes)
“Boston University psychology professor, Margaret A. Hagen, delivers a damning indictment of the psychologizing – and undermining – of the American legal system through judges’ and juries’ reliance on the well-paid testimony of self-styled psychological experts. Spouting what often amounts to unscientific, unsubstantiated psychobabble, these ‘whores of the court,’she charges, be they psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists or others, often determine whether murderers and rapists are competent to stand trial, whether a batterer will be viewed as likely to offend again after receiving therapy, whether a person experienced mental injury at the hand of a neighbor or an unfeeling institution, whether recovered memories of alleged traumas are genuine. With righteous wrath and devastating wit, Hagen punctures the inflated claims of much expert testimony. She blames liberal and feminist lawyers and apologist psychologists for what she claims is the courts’ tendency to exonerate perpetrators of crimes on the grounds that they are victims of mental illness, dysfunctional families or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This sweeping critique should stir national debate.”

To All Victims of Whores of the Court** aka court-appointed evaluators, etc:

Please be advised that apparently a fox is no longer guarding the hen house. Specifically, on or about the first two weeks of May, three parent-victims of Illinois’ officially-labeled family court “cottage industries” were contacted by investigators of IDFPR (Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation).

I have attached three files to help explain the basis of my opinion and sincere request that all victims seriously consider the following:
(a) file requests for investigations against any and all court-appointed evaluators, therapists, parenting coordinators, etc., no matter how long ago your victimization was due to the apparent fraudulent concealment of the alleged court-based racketeering activity by government officials in all three branches of Illinois government;
(b) file a supplement to any and all previously filed requests for investigations and include the certified “cottage industries” report (attached), and
(c) try to coordinate with other victims of the same court appointee(s). (I am personally coordinating with other parent-victims of Gail Grossman, PhD, and Jonathan Gamze, MD.)

Files couldn’t attack but most are public record.

Lets Have the House Pass bills that have the Appearance they promote Lawyers not Families in divorce supporting the ISBA in Illinois.

April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment


Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Illinois House Endorses Extortion of Parents in Family Court
The family courts allow court-appointed child representatives and guardian ad litems in divorce court (family court) to extort families and impoverish them by ordering payment to them of $300 to $1200 per hr – often with final bills of >> $50,000, in addition to paying outrageous rates to private attorneys for each parent, as well as paying for psychological counselors and other court appointed persons who evaluate the family situation. As the average American family makes around $40,000 – $60,000, this guarantees that families will be impoverished. then the judges order the families home sold, children’s college funds confiscated, and all assets sold to pay these fees.

This surely is not in the best interest of the children as the state law mandates!

Stand up and be counted – complain to the press, your House Representative, your State Senator, you Illinois Senator Durbin, and your Illinois Representative, and your Cook County Board Member.


March 14, 2012

TO: All Members of Judiciary I- Civil Law Committee

FROM: Milijana Vlastelica, On behalf of all victims of court-ordered child representation

Subject: The Judiciary’s Objection to $150/Hour Fee Cap to the Court-Appointed

Children’s Attorneys as Provided in House Bill 5544 Deviates from the

Legislature’s Established Practices; Some Possible Solutions
Most of us are still recovering from the Judiciary’s objection [February 29, 2012] to establishing the fee caps for the court-appointed children’s attorneys in divorce cases especially that this objection is not in sync with the Legislature’s well-established practice to set the exact hourly rate for other types of court-appointed attorneys. For example, in death-penalty cases, the Legislature did not leave it up to the court-appointed private attorney to set his own hourly rate, but it capped his fees at $125/hour (adjusted for COLA) per 725 ILCS 124-10. In non-death penalty cases, attorney’s fees are based on 725 ILCS 5/113-3, set at $40/hour for court time and $30/hour for non-court times.
Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend where this rationale, which some Representatives expressed that the court-appointed children’s attorney should be making as much money as privately retained attorneys, comes from.
Our research indicates that nowhere in this country are the court-appointed attorneys allowed to set their own hourly rate except in Illinois in the Family Court.
Per the attached research article entitled, “Issues Relating to Guardians ad Litem”, dated January 2003, the Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau conducted a study of the practices that exist in Hawaii and on the mainland with respect to guardian ad litem and appointed counsel in child protective cases and in the Family Court. The Bureau’s research reveals that the court-appointed guardians in other states are paid either flat fee per case or block of cases per contract or fixed hourly rate. For example, in Alaska attorney GALs receive $70 to $80 an hour; in Arkansas, guardian ad litems are salaried between $37,000 – $57,000 per year depending on experience; Attorney ad litem contractors who are part-time receive $800 per case per year; In California, Contract attorneys are paid flat rates per event. The juvenile court panel of attorneys are compensated at a rate of $75 per hour in court and $50 for out of court work. If an attorney had twenty-five cases, the attorney would receive $20,000 per year; In Colorado, some attorneys were compensated on an hourly basis and others on a flat-fee basis; most attorneys who represent children in dependency and neglect cases currently are paid a flat fee of $1,040 per case for 24 months of representation. If the case has not yet closed after 24 months, attorneys may bill at hourly rates of $45 for out-of court work and $55 for in-court work (which is the same rate paid to other public attorneys in Colorado).
Upon the Hawaii Legislative Bureau’s comprehensive research, the Bureau concluded and recommended that, “Attorneys providing guardian ad litem services should be compensated equivalent to other ‘public service’ attorneys”.
Here in Illinois, without any formal studies, some members of Judiciary concluded that the court-appointed children’s attorney in divorce cases, should be making as much money as mom’s and dad’s privately retained attorneys. As shown above, this practice deviates from the well-established standards that the Illinois Legislature adopted in the past which is to cap the fees for all court-appointed attorneys; and, it also deviates from the standards established by the rest of the United States.
Therefore, this letter is a plea to those members of Judiciary to reconsider their position, and to realize that the only solution is capping the fees at $150/hour or establishing some type of flat amounts.
If we set the court-appointed children’s attorneys fee to be a flat $1000 per case as some other states are doing it, but with the explicit provisions that they cannot withdraw from the case until the case is concluded, and that they must attend all hearings and all status dates where they are not needed (because they are currently doing it, and billing the parents), I guarantee that all the cases would be concluded much faster. The divorcing parents would have money left for their children’s education; the courts would not be overbooked; we may not need as many family court judges, and this would help the Illinois budget as well.
In the alternative, if some Representatives continue objecting to the fee cap of $150/hour and/or insist that the court-appointed child representative should be making as much money as privately retained mom’s and dad’s attorneys, then, perhaps the Legislature can afford the parents some remedy by revoking the absolute immunity that the Courts recently gave to the court-appointed children’s attorneys. If the court-appointed children’s attorneys want to be, and deserve to be at the same pay level or higher than the mom’s and dad’s privately retained attorneys, then they also should be held accountable for their actions and professional negligence. If mom’s or dad’s attorney provides substandard level of service, he or she can be sued for legal malpractice. The court-appointed child representatives, on the other hand, cannot be sued for professional negligence or intentional tort no matter how much they damage the child. Nowhere on Planet Earth does this exist that a private professional in a capacity of a court-appointee sets his own hourly rate, can make as much as one million in annual revenue, and not be held liable for his work or lack thereof.
In addition, I would recommend that the judges have no input as to which private attorney is awarded these appointments. Currently, the same judges always appoint the same child representatives. This practice, where a trial court can award an extremely lucrative business to a private attorney, provides a breeding ground for corruption, whether it is happening or not.


Why do judges in our family courts ignore the law?The appearance they will be out of a job as well as their brethren.

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Why do judges in our family courts ignore the law?

Sir James Munby’s guidelines are being breached

Judges have a duty to obey the law of the land, but this is is not always happening in the family courts

Judges have a duty to obey the law of the land, but this is is not always happening in the family courts Photo: ALAMY

6:24PM GMT 02 Nov 2013

It is a basic principle of British justice that no one should be sent to prison except in open court, so that their name can be known and why they have been jailed. But this has long been one of those basic principles that are routinely ignored in our ultra-secretive family courts.

In a parliamentary answer given by Harriet Harman in 2006, she said that some 200 people had been jailed in secret by the family courts in 2005, and that her government now wanted to open up the courts to ensure that this scandal did not continue. Last May and July, following publicity given to a case in which a woman was secretly sentenced to 12 months in prison for rescuing her father from a care home, where he was being mistreated, the new head of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby, issued guidelines reminding his fellow judges that this was against the law, as clearly restated in the Rules of the Supreme Court as long ago as 1965.

In recent years, I have come across many cases of judges continuing to break the law in this way. In one instance, a father who had already lost his two teenage sons because they were held to be “at risk of emotional abuse” from their mother, from whom he had separated, was before a judge who wanted to order the removal for adoption of his third son, aged four. When the father left the courtroom in disgust, the judge ordered his arrest for contempt.

While he was in custody, his new partner, still at home and fearful that the little boy might also be removed, panicked and took him to a secret destination. The judge summoned the father back to court to ask where they had gone. Since his partner’s flight was on the spur of the moment, the father explained, truthfully, that he had no idea. Refusing to believe him, the judge angrily sentenced him in secret to 12 months. The police tracked down the woman, who was convicted of kidnapping the boy but let off with a caution. The father was released after six months in prison, but given a penal notice forbidding him to have any further contact with his boys, all now in foster care, whom he had brought up and who loved him.

In another recent case, a couple whose son had repeatedly run away from a care home were secretly jailed for not disclosing his whereabouts. In October, months after Munby issued his guidelines, three judges in the Court of Appeal upheld their sentencing. Also last month, John Hemming MP protested that the sentencing of a woman to 28 days by another High Court judge, Mrs Justice Theis, was yet another example of “secret justice” in breach of Munby’s guidelines and the law, because, although her court had been technically “open” for the brief period of the sentencing, the case was not advertised and no one was allowed to know the woman’s name or why she was imprisoned.

It seems that Lord Justice Munby has a battle on his hands to persuade judges that it is their duty to obey the law of the land.

Children separated from their families by courts must know why they where abused by the courts ?

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Children separated from their families by courts must know why

Britain’s most senior family judge says children who are separated from their families must be able to access a record of the court’s secret ruling when they grow up

By , Political Correspondent

11:13PM GMT 18 Mar 2014

Children separated from their parents in secret family court judgments must be able to find out the reasons for the court’s decisions when they grow up, the most senior family judge has said.

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, said it was “great concern” that the judgments of all family court judges were not routinely transcribed and published.

This is a “major issue” for the children affected by judgments, he said, who are then unable to find out at a later date why a judge came to a decision that may have affected the course of the rest of their life.

He said that there was a “pressing need” for a “definitive record” for concerned parties to refer to if future contentions over the judgment occur.

Sir James added: “More importantly, in future years: five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or fifty years into the future, a child who may, for example, be subject of adoption proceedings, is able to see what the judge actually said.”

“My focus immediately is on transparency, disclosure into the public arena but there is an equally important need for the judgements to be made available for the families. That of course has cost implications.”

The change is the next move in a push by Sir James for “greater transparency” in the family court system.

In January the senior judge issued guidance to the family courts and the Court of Protection that more decisions by judges should be published in an effort to bring about “an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments”.

The guidance means that judges now have to provide “compelling reasons” to prevent judgments being released, with local authorities and expert witnesses involved in care cases being generally named — although the anonymity of children and vulnerable adults will be protected.

Hundreds of decisions on parental access to children and care orders were also published in a move to end the secrecy of family courts.

The move came following sustained criticism from fathers’ groups and MPs that the family courts lack transparency, with 95,000 hearings in private every year. In recent years several secret care cases have been exposed by the Court of Appeal after “disgraceful” decisions by local authorities.

Speaking at the Justice select committee Sir James said that the January guidance was “merely a start” and that he planned to issue further missives following consultation.

He plans to tell courts to increase the categories of court documents available to journalists, extend the number of judgements that will be published on an mandatory basis and apply the new transparency rules to circuit judges as well as those in the High Court, he said.

Sir James said January’s guidance was already having a “visible affect” on secrecy within the family court system with many more judgments now available to the public.

The appearance of abuse in Family Courts System Expensive, Inefficient And Abusive to children ,,,,

March 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

Opinion: Family Court System Expensive, Inefficient And Abusive


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On Feb. 26, there was a historic vote at the state Capitol in which family court Judge Leslie Olear was only narrowly reappointed by the legislature. This vote came after public protests which gained media attention and after legislators were called into action to address the serious problems in our state’s family courts. After this vote, some members of the legal community understandably rushed to defend Judge Olear, claiming that the votes against her were politically motivated and only in response to complaints being expressed by a “small number of family court critics.” This is simply not the case.

This vote came after scores of parents, adult children of divorce, grandparents, attorneys and business executives testified until the early morning hours in front of a task force in January, after more than 630 parents signed a petition demanding legislative reforms of the family court’s broken guardian ad litem (GAL) system, and after legislators were inundated with thousands of complaints about our family courts from parents, as consumers of the family court system’s services.

In an op-ed piece submitted to the Law Tribune, Kimberly Knox, president of the Connecticut Bar Association, fell back on well-worn industry rhetoric trying to blame the actual victims in this scenario — the thousands of parents and families who have been financially devastated and unfairly denied access to their children solely due the problems in our family courts. The vote on Feb. 26 was not about a judge and what was in her best interests. The vote was about parents, children, families, citizens and taxpayers and what is in our best interests. The protests and the vote reflected how expensive, ineffective, abusive and damaging our family courts have become.

Unfortunately, Olear did not come before the legislature with a stellar record. In 2011, the state Supreme Court overturned a custody case ruling made by Olear where Chief Justice Chase Rogers expressed strong constitutional concerns. The opinions of the family law attorneys who testified in favor of Olear have a vested interest in doing so. The question should be asked how many parents and adult children of divorce testified – those impacted by the judge’s rulings. It is quite unfortunate that these voices and opinions are seldom solicited or heard.

What legislators heard (and responded to) were complaints about children being arbitrarily separated from their parents and parents forced to pay for supervised visitations to see them. Parents being jailed for not being able to pay outlandish GAL fees. Parents being jailed for not being able to pay outlandish GAL feesThis same scenario has become the operational norm in our family courts, not one only associated with a small number of “high-conflict cases.”

The majority of the family courts’ time is consumed by the growing number of 3,400 or so custody cases it hears. It is the underlying politics and misguided policies of the family court itself which created this crisis – and one which is harming parents, children and families.

The vote signaled that citizens are no longer tolerating the status quo and expecting far better of our legislature and judiciary. It reflects a historic shift in attitudes and approaches towards family law happening not just here in Connecticut, but nationally and internationally as well. Connecticut is characteristically late to the game.

Many states have already enacted sweeping changes in their family laws and made shared parenting a standard. Maine reformed its GAL system last summer, following states such as Maryland, which eliminated GAL immunity. The chief justice of New York State and a task force in Delaware both proposed opening their family courts in order to “eliminate the atmosphere of corruption.” The chief justice of Canada called the country’s family courts “beyond the point of simple repair” and a Royal Commission is examining ways to replace their system with “something else.”

Connecticut’s family courts are in a state of operational dysfunction solely due to a self-inflicted legal monstrosity it created and of epic proportions. We have the largest Practice Book in the country, as our judiciary has essentially been allowed to write self-serving legislation.

None of the people in the fast growing family court reform movement deny that custody cases can be difficult. This is not the issue. The issue is that in this state, we have allowed a very small group of family law attorneys and GALs to directly and adversely impact family court operations in a manner designed to personally enrich them at the expense of parents and families. This has created a situation where 85 percent of the cases before the court involve a pro se party, as no one can afford the agenda being promoted by these individuals. To be clear, this group does not represent mainstream legal thought in this state and many attorneys are increasingly speaking out about this.

Our state’s GALs are almost exclusively family law attorneys who enjoy complete immunity and been granted quasi-judicial authority – this is not common elsewhere in the country. Our GALs are not held to any standard of performance or excellence and they are not licensed or monitored. They are allowed to bill with impunity with the expected results. GALs in this state legally trump a parent’s right to be a parent as soon as they are assigned to case. These individuals are allowed to make life-altering decisions directly impacting children and families as judges routinely outsource their judicial authority to them – for the entire life of a case and child. This is misguided, unethical and simply wrong.

Too many of our judges operate with the misguided belief that parents are to blame and inherently flawed, invalid, and incapable of parenting solely because they have dared to approach the Court for help or have a dispute with the other parent. Instead of making effective rulings, even simple cases are allowed to drag on for months and years as children and families suffer and parents are literally bankrupted in process. Concerns for their clients expressed to the family court by well-meaning attorneys and professionals, fall of deaf ears as these people are shut out of the system.

Along with many others, I attended and watched the recent hearings of a task force assigned to study the costs of custody cases. Ms. Knox did not. This task force failed its legislative mandate as it was chaired by two “full-time GALs” who blocked every effort by other task force members to collect and analyze meaningful financial cost and operational metrics data related to custody cases. This may explain why many legislators have little faith in what the task force ultimately recommended.

In summary, the legal industry and judiciary need to recognize that the world has changed. As with many other movements, social media has brought together thousands of parents, progressive lawyers, former judges, concerned mental health professionals, business executives and legislators on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, uniting us in a common cause. A cause which cuts across all political lines, all social and economic classes, all genders and race classifications.

We have three branches of government because when one of these branches goes astray and operates in a manner which violates the Constitution and ignores basic civil and due process rights, the other two must step in to take correction action. Having no other recourse, citizens have properly turned to the legislature and the legislature is responding – which mirrors what has happened in many other states.

Parents who have suffered for years due to the problems in our family courts are the actual experts and our voices must be heard – not just those of the legal industry. This is the very best way to run a government and court system – for the people, of the people, and by the people.

Peter T. Szymonik is a portfolio manager at UnitedHealthcare, where he works as a liaison between business technology executives and the legal and compliance teams. He is a former member of the executive board at Cummings & Lockwood and has served as the state chair of the Council of Litigation Management. He is also the father of two young sons and has been working with state legislators on family court reform for many years.

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