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Archive for July, 2010

When you are deprived of your parental rights by family courts, you become acutely sensitive to miscarriages of justice. Hence I watched with great interest “Presumed Guilty,” a documentary about the flaws of the Mexican justice system on PBS last night.

This documentary is breathtaking and highly educational. The main protagonist is sent twenty years in prison for a crime he has not committed. He happens to get a new trail because the trial documents are signed by a fake lawyer and the directors of the documentary – Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete- discover it.

What is fascinating in this documentary is why bad justice persists. It is not so much because of bad laws, poorly paid cops or corruption of the judiciary-  problems that plague the Mexican justice system;   It is  mostly because the justice system is an institution that tries to protect itself.  And protecting oneself means making sense of stupid and criminal decisions – condemning an innocent in this case- by sticking to these very decisions. To any spectator obviously, the only witness of the protagonist’s so- called crime has never seen the person he is accusing. Problem: the judge who presides the second trail is the one that presided the first. This fellow is flanked by a no Einstein prosecutor, who says in front of blazing evidence for the innocence of the defendant, ” my job is to prosecute” (Esa es mi chamba). Final verdict of this second trial: guilty, again. Twenty years behind bars.

Typical Mexican story? Not at all. We have here judiciary folks “doing their job:”  this entails shielding oneself from doubt by doing again what they have done. It would take just a bit of courage to do otherwise- mostly vis-à-vis oneself, because making a decision contradictory to  prior one’s would not jeopardize one’s carrier. But they don’t do it – and do their job instead- because this courage would make them uncomfortable.

My hope is that some folks in Manhattan family court I know – a judge, a law guardian,  support magistrates- have watched this documentary and perhaps had a moment of reckoning;  So that the showing of “Presumed Guilty” will not have been useful for reforming the Mexican justice system, but also the New York State one.

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Picture CYBR3RCRIM3Fathers deprived of their parenting rights like myself know that Massachusetts Shared Parenting Bill HB1400 is being considered by the Joint Judiciary Committee and might become law. If this were to happen, equal parenting rights would be the basis of custody rulings in divorce cases. I happened today to come across a posting of the Simeon Law Firm, titled “Would Proposed Mass. Fathers’ Rights Rule Help Dads or Hurt Kids? One more time, this title frames the conventional, misleading trade-off between fathers rights and “the best interest of the child” that would result from the passing of the bill into law.

What do we have in this posting? Not much, in all honesty. First, the Simeon Law Firm states that evidence of biased rulings – mothers granted sole physical custody of children 84% of the time- is based on 1999 doctoral dissertation. Old stuff indeed, yet that has the merit to exist. Does Simeon Law Firm have better, more recent data?  Of course not, but the firm seems to suggest that between 1999 and 2010, Massachusetts probate courts might have – magic- produced more balanced rulings. The punch line? The law would hamper judge discretion, and judges work really hard on each individual family cases (Here Simeon Law firm quotes Scannel -director of the policy and planning for the Massachusetts Society- and Barbar, co-chairman of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s family laws).

The new law would hamper judge discretion, really? We can’t wait for that to happen. Divorced fathers that have spent time in family courts know that judges rarely, if ever, exert their discretion in their favor. On the contrary,  judge discretion often aggravates the bias of the law. An equal parenting law would force judges to get off the rails of biased thinking and take into account of fathers’ parenting right. Why would an unbiased family court judge mind? Moreover, where does Simeon Law firm get that justice is the proceed of judge discretion? There might have been a few good judges in the South during segregation times, did that invalidate the need of civil rights?

Ultimately, Simeon law firm’s case rests on the flimsy “best interest of the child” doctrine: a child is better off with mum when parents divorce.  Evidence in favor of this doctrine? zero. In half of the world, family laws are not predicated upon it. Can anybody prove that children of divorced parents are worse off there?

A last word. I can’t help but ask myself why would a law firm would vindicate judicial discretion against reform. I guess, from the point of view of law firms, grey areas are good for business. Judge discretion leaves more room for pleas and lawsuits… and the perpetration of things as they are.

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For many years now, I have gathered information regarding Family Laws in New York State, going from discovery of horrors to discovery of greater horrors. By chance, I got it all in may during a visit at Support Collection Unit in 151 West Broadway, New York. The bible of New York family laws is the Child Support Handbook For NonCustodial Parents: an exercise in marketing the infamous.

First challenge for the authors of this Handbook: selling the fact that segregation is no problem for non-custodial parents. In many countries and in a growing number of American states, each divorced parent is a custodial parent; the default position of the lawmaker is that after divorce, any parent is presumed by law to be as involved in raising her children – if the couple had children- as the other parent is. New State is a segregationist state: they are divorced parents with custody rights, the custodial parents, and divorced parents without custody rights, the noncustodial parents.  As endlessly documented, many  non-custodial parents ends up after a while not being a  parent altogether.  The Handbook’s first order of business is to deny that fact: at almost every pages, you have nauseating pictures of happy noncustodial parents -dads- with their kids: daddy showing son to handle a baseball bat, daddy giving a bottle to baby, daddy with  son on his shoulders etc… Non-custodial dads are having problems to see their kids, really? For non-custodial dads in this very unlikely situation, mystifying Handbook pretends to touch on the topic  in  a super short section titled Seeing Your Children on page 16 (with another picture, taking two-third of the page, of daddy with girl on his shoulder, in case the reader has not understood that not seeing his children is EXTREMELY unlikely): too bad man, we are not going to do a dam about you seeing your children, but don’t ever forget to pay child support, ever. Contact a call center – Parent Help- or ask family court about the Custody/Mediation Program. Have a nice day!

Second challenge for the authors: selling the other side of segregation, that in New York State, the noncustodial parent is the only Payer, the custodial parent is the only Payee of child support, unlike many other states, where child support lies with both parents depending on their respective income. Don’t expect to find the name of the illustrious moron who came up with the percentage of dad’s ‘income devoted to child support in the Handbook. Instead, on page 9, at the section How Much Child Support You Can Expect to Pay, you find in a same frame a picture of an old black man – noncustodial grand dad ?- with baby girl and the percentages of the noncustodial dad’s income devoted to child support with one to five and more children. Let’s decrypt the message: grand dad approves of the law and expects you to approve of it. Perhaps grand dad approves of the law because the law was there when he was young. The Handbook is shamelessly sliding to revisionism: The New York State child support/family laws have not always been there, there are a product of the eighties.

I  save other pearls of the Handbook (Living below the poverty level for instance) for later. An advice of this blogger: get the Handbook and ask your representative about her/his thoughts about it. And most of all, don’t get married or don’t divorce in New York State!

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