News & Politics

Texas Family Courts Under Fire From Angry Parents: 'Our Confidence in the Judiciary Is at an All-Time Low'

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

Judge David Hall, the chairman of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC), held an open meeting for members of the public to speak to the commission about their concerns at the beginning of October. The SCJC only does this once a year. Other public boards meet more frequently and are required to have public comment time every time they meet, but for some reason the commission that is supposed to hold Texas judges accountable only hears from the public in an open forum once every 365 days.

In the more than an hour-long recorded video, parents speak out about the poor and illegal treatment they say they experienced in Texas family courts. No one was there to complain about the criminal court or any other court. In every case, the complaints came from divorce and custody cases in family court. The allegations ranged from the legal kidnapping of children by the state Child Protection Services to false arrests and courtroom abuse from out-of-control judges.

A father, Mr. Johnson, speaks at the 19:25 mark in the video. “This commission is propping up a system that is plundering the people,” he said. “Fifty percent of the caseload in the courts right now are family law cases. This is fueled by the anti-family code of Texas encouraging broken homes and mandating absent fathers when the relationship between parents dissolves.” Many fathers spoke to back up Johnson’s statements.

“When you combine legalized plunder of the judiciary and the destruction of the families, the legal society and this commission are responsible for the destruction we see in our society today. You men and women have the responsibility just like all of us common folks to do the right thing without being mandated to do so,” the father continued. “Trust in the judiciary is at an all-time low because you do not police your own.”

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Riti Chikkerur of Pro Se Court Support Services, a single mother, alleged that Texas courts have committed terrible injustice and she accused the commission of willful blindness, claiming that the commission never processed her complaint.

“The Judiciary in this state has immense power over its citizens,” Chikkerur said. “[I am] a single mother of three minor children who has been subjected to repeated misconduct by certain judges in the Travis County District Court. And trust me I’m not the only one. The commission has received multiple complaints through the online complaint form by many parents who have been subjected to irreparable harm to their children and themselves.”

But what happens to those complaints? The parents have no idea. They report never hearing back from the SCJC unless their complaints are dismissed.

“What can be worse than that for society?” Chikkerur asked. “Nelson Mandela said there can be no keener revelation for a society’s soul than the way it treats its children. Certain unethical judges are issuing orders for minor children to be returned to their abusers and these are not just emotional abuse stories. The stories are horrifying. In my own cases, a judge in Travis County District Court issued unconstitutional orders violating judges’ cannons that had the effect of termination of my parental rights. A county court judge issued a seventeen-year protective order and ordered a GPS ankle monitor on me in 2018 for no crimes committed because he felt like it.”

Chikkerur was accused of violent acts against her family over a meme she posted on Facebook featuring the Indian god Kali. According to Chikkerur, the opposing attorney convinced a judge that she sent that photo to her ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Chikkerur says even though her ex-husband could produce no evidence that it had been sent to him or his girlfriend and was only posted on Chikkerur’s private page, the judge issued a restraining order against her for 17 years and put her under arrest. Chikkerur competed in the Miss World competition representing India wearing the GPS monitor in 2018.

“Certain judges abuse their public office and are liable to be indicted as per Texas Penal Code Chapter 39 for crimes committed against our children, our families and the judiciary itself,” she said. “I have filed several complaints with the commission, provided substantial evidence, but there seem to be no clear timelines for response investigation or any disciplinary actions taken against these judges. Several of us testifying today have the same testimony: that our official complaints have been simply ignored by the commission. We citizens respectfully demand a clear timeline for when and how these complaints will be investigated.”

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PJ Media reached out to the SCJC and spoke with Executive Director Jacqueline Habersham about the timeline for responses to the parents’ concerns. “Ninety-five percent of the time they’re complaining about discretionary rulings or mistakes in the law in which the commission has no authority,” she said. As for the timeline, there isn’t one but “we send out quarterly status letters to the complainants,” she said.

Chikkerur says she’s never received a quarterly update and neither have the parents she has helped to file their own complaints. “Some of these people have been waiting more than two years for a response from the commission,” she told PJM.

Habersham pointed PJM to the online accounting of all the judges who have been disciplined. But parents who have been through the Texas family court system say their concerns and complaints of judicial misconduct are ignored and the judges who should be disciplined aren’t.

A father named Carlos, speaking at the 27:00 mark, told Judge Hall, “My kids were taken from me because I know this court system is corrupt and it’s pretty much rampant and I know it’s because there’s no oversight on these judges,” he said. “I think nothing is going to be done until judges are held accountable. I do not have faith in the family court system at all. They strip kids away from loving parents… without any type of hearing to see if a parent is unfit.”

“I was made an absent father. I never wanted to be an absent father,” said Carlos. “I’m talking to you man to man. It’s time to step up to the plate and hold these judges accountable.”

But who will hold the SCJC accountable if it turns out they are sitting on complaints? PJM reached out to two Republican lawmakers, state Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) and state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). Frank refused the call and issued a statement through a staffer claiming that he has no knowledge of how the SCJC works nor has he heard from any parents on the matter of family court corruption.

Mother Lorena Mirafuentes disagrees. During her testimony in front of the SCJC, Mirafuentes named state Rep. Frank as a person to whom she spoke personally about the corruption. You can hear her comments starting at 41:40.

“Children are often misdiagnosed with child abuse and judges within the criminal court system are signing off on the wrongful removal of children and it’s devastating families,” she said. “My child was misdiagnosed, the judge signed off an emergency removal of my two children and it greatly traumatized my children and my family.” Other citizens voiced similar complaints.

“Judges are often not held accountable. I shared my testimony and Rep. James Frank is looking into this issue and I ask you to please take these concerns very seriously,” Mirafuentes said. “It took me two and a half years and over $80,000 in attorney fees to have my son correctly diagnosed.”

Stories like what happened to the Mirafuentes family are numerous and happening in children’s hospitals across the nation. “One doctor made a wrongful accusation that [my son] was abused when he never was, and there was zero evidence that he ever was. There are children in this system who have medical issues but are misdiagnosed with child abuse,” said Mirafuentes.

“There’s no accountability on the side of the judges. My oldest son lost twenty pounds in six weeks after being removed and it greatly traumatized my whole family,” she concluded.

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Representative Frank’s office responded, “Ms. Mirafuentes testified at a hearing that Rep. Frank convened as chairman of the Committee on Human Services in the Texas House. That hearing is public and you are welcome to watch the proceedings. The link is here.” Frank would not answer any questions about what parents suffering through the process and receiving no justice can do. His staffer said Frank is “looking at the impact of child abuse specialists at various hospitals and how the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigates abuse reports from those institutions.”

PJM also reached out to Sen. Hughes twice in two weeks. Hughes is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Texas Senate. He did not return multiple phone calls. No matter where they turn, parents in family court get no support from anyone who is in charge of the Texas judiciary.

Hunter Cold Youngblood, who speaks at minute mark 38:48, concluded with a heartfelt plea. “They’re bankrupting families in the name of the child’s best interest. It is unconstitutional and it’s absurd that we have to spend our life savings just to be a part of our children’s lives. We need cameras in the courtroom to help. Our confidence in the judiciary is at an all-time low.”

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