Custody catastrophes

Remember the case involving 9-month-old baby Wyatt? His mother Katie Tagle was denied a restraining order 3 times. The 3rd judge, Judge Lemkau, called Katie a liar and handed the infant over to the ex-husband. Ten days later, both were found dead. Here’s an article by Cara Tabachnick about judges’ virtual impunity:

Disciplining the judge

Advocates contend that many family court judges are not properly trained or ignore abuse guidelines.  And such judges tend to view protective mothers as not trustworthy and overwrought, making biased decisions on which they have no true recourse, according to Darby Mangen , chapter president of the San Bernardino National Organization of Women (NOW). “No matter how exiguous the case there is no help for the victim,” added Mangen, who was active in the campaign to remove Judge Lemkau.

Furthermore, since so much of the decision making in custody cases relies on the judge’s discretion, litigants are fearful of bringing any motions against the judge.

“Family judges have so much power over cases that you can not afford to challenge the judge,” says Tony Tanke, a former senior judicial staff attorney for the Chief  Justice of the California Supreme Court, who advises on family court cases pro-bono.

Moreover, the often tight relationships between local bar associations and judges make it difficult to find an attorney who wants to take on a complaint against a powerful judge, according to Tanke. Indeed, in the Lemkau v. Hoskings election, Lemkau received endorsements from the local Family Law Bar association and other area attorneys, who supported his decision in baby Wyatt’s case

The result:  parties who feel victimized by a judge’s biased decision are left with nowhere to turn.

Read the rest of Cara’s article to find out about the appeals process and court watch programs. We need the media to highlight these cases, as well, in order to raise awareness and reform the courts.