This report is part one of an investigative series looking into reported corruption in the Missouri Judiciary and family courts. For the rest of the investigation visit the catalog here.
A St. Louis, Mo., family court judge, Nicole Zellweger, has launched an all-out judicial assault on Angela Freiner and her minor daughter, who are refusing her order to make the 14-year-old girl return to the man who she says sexually molested her. The minor at the center of the controversy recorded a hearing on her smartphone, which got into the hands of investigative journalist Michael Volpe, who posted it on YouTube. In the video, the minor child begs the judge not to send her to live with the man she says is a child molester.
The audio is hard to hear, but it’s very plain that the minor child is in distress and begging the adults around her to take her concerns seriously. In return, Zellweger tried to coerce the daughter to comply, threatening to jail her mother for contempt. In the recording above, Zellweger can be heard telling the minor child that Freiner’s freedom is at stake if the child doesn’t cooperate. “She has free will but her free will can end up putting her in jail,” Zellweger says.
The child, in obvious distress, pleaded with Zellweger, “I don’t want to live with him.”
The judge replied, “When your mom is taken to jail you will have no other parent to live with but dad…I understand you’re not happy with the court’s judgment.”
When the child refused to consent, the judge continued threatening to arrest her mother. “We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way,” Zellweger said.
“I still don’t understand,” said the minor. “I told you that he was touching me [unintelligible] and you’re still going to make me go with him?”
“There’s no evidence…” Zellweger interrupted the minor’s plea.
“This is what I’m telling you,” continued the child while sobbing. “I have a personal experience,” she said, begging. “You don’t understand, you’re just going to force me to go with a child molester.”
At that point a male voice jumped in and scolded the child to be quiet with a loud “No!” and the minor fell silent while the judge repeated to the young girl that her story doesn’t matter in the eyes of the court because Zellweger didn’t hear any evidence of the molestation. But if only the child and the abuser were there at the time of the molestation, what evidence would there be, other than the child’s word?
The child reported the alleged abuse to her school counselor and Child Protective Services in Montana (where she lived with her father) filed a report, but her allegations fell on deaf ears. When the child went to visit her mother for Christmas, she disclosed the allegation and refused to go back. Zellweger still ruled to send her to live with the father full-time, in spite of the allegations of abuse the child made in Montana and in her own courtroom. In the age of #MeToo and #BelieveWomen, why are girls ignored and silenced and sent back to alleged abusers in Zellweger’s courtroom?
Court documents reveal that the minor was candid in court.
As planned, the GAL [guardian ad-litem] conducted examination of the Child in camera. The Child expressed her wishes to remain with Petitioner during the school year. The Child expressed her view that Respondent does not listen to her feelings and makes her feel insecure at times. She further testified that she feels manipulated at times by Respondent. She testified that she is more “comfortable” with Petitioner.
The documents also reveal that the father has a criminal record and is on probation for domestic abuse.
Petitioner and the GAL asked questions of Respondent about his past/current criminal convictions. Respondent testified that he is on probation until July of 2021 for disorderly conduct related to a domestic/family dispute that involved his wife and his step-daughter…Respondent testified that he has a temper and that there have been arguments at his house, although he testified that things have improved and he is working … on this issue. These facts trouble the Court greatly, but the Court finds Respondent credible in his testimony that he is working on his anger issues.
Most normal family arguments don’t end in arrests and convictions. But despite the testimony that the father has anger issues that led to arrest and conviction, Zellweger ordered the minor into the custody of her father over the custody of her mother, who had failed a marijuana test. The judge sided with a convicted abuser over a mom who smokes pot and let her daughter have a nose piercing. This brings into question why states are legalizing marijuana all over the country without changing the way judges treat pot-smoking parents.
There was additional evidence about Petitioner’s lifestyle that the Child witnessed, but which was entirely inappropriate for the Child to have witnessed, including Petitioner smoking marijuana at the home.
The judge did not enter into the record what the “additional evidence” was that the mother was unfit, other than an allegation that she left the minor with a family friend when she went out of state and got stranded and was unable to return quickly. Freiner denied that her daughter was in any danger during that time. Court documents also reveal that the father took the minor child to the home of his father, a level-three sex offender who had been convicted of “rape/fear, force, and sexual battery,” according to the registry, and stayed several nights at his house.
Additionally, Respondent testified that he took the Child to Arkansas to visit his parents. At that time, the GAL raised a concern about the Child spending nights at Respondent’s father’s house and Respondent told the GAL that he was staying at a hotel. However, Respondent acknowledged during testimony that he only stayed in a hotel one night and spent the rest of the nights at his parents’ house, which was in complete disregard of the GAL’s communications with Respondent. Such flagrant disregard for the GAL’s position (that the Child not spend an overnight at paternal grandfather’s house) concerns the GAL and this Court.
#JudgeNicoleZellweger gave custody of a child to a man on probation for domestic abuse who also took her to a level 3 sex offender's house and stayed there overnight for a week. Child alleges sex abuse by dad. Zellweger knew this. She did it anyway. #StLouisCounty pic.twitter.com/1e4QkHRM7s
— Megan Fox (@MeganFoxWriter) February 28, 2021
In many cases, child abuse complaints are treated as hearsay even though the victim is begging for help. Children are not believed. PJ Media confirmed multiple cases in St. Louis County that were reported to the police and were dropped by the county prosecutor, Wesley Bell, a controversial figure who supports defunding the police and has been publicly accused of creating a hostile working environment for white women and refusing to prosecute fathers who owe back payments of child support.
Sources who were in the courtroom on Friday told PJ Media that in response to the child’s heartfelt pleas to stay with her mother, Zellweger made good on her threat to arrest Freiner. She was held in criminal contempt and jailed for two days. Then sources told PJ Media that Zellweger called the county juvenile detention and had the child committed to the behavioral center at Children’s Hospital of St. Louis in retaliation for the refusal to obey. Upon her arrival at the hospital, sources say the child immediately informed the doctors that she experienced sexual abuse. As doctors are mandated reporters, that disclosure should have triggered a call to the St. Louis County abuse hotline. If the doctors did their job, Zellweger now has two reports on her desk saying that the man she has ordered to have physical custody of the minor should be investigated for child sexual abuse.
When the secret court recording was posted to YouTube, Zellweger issued a sweeping rebuke of the mother and convened an emergency hearing on Friday to order the mother to remove all postings from the internet. She is gagging everyone involved from talking about what she is doing inside her courtroom. She is also threatening the mother with six months in jail if she does not have members of the media delete the above video from the internet.
This is an impossible order. Freiner does not have control over members of the media who are doing their jobs and reporting court corruption and judicial overreach to the public. Zellweger herself is responsible for the seeming judicial overreach in this case that alerted the press to her actions. The fact that Zellweger thinks she has the power to tell the media what to report should concern the public. She does not have the power to control what the media prints, but she sure thinks she does. In the order, Zellweger wrote:
The Court also intends to enter an Order requiring that the parties/counsels remove any and all recordings previously posted on the internet, obtain all recordings disseminated to third parties, and turn over to the Court all originals and copies of all Court proceedings that were recorded by the parties or in the possession of the parties…no later than March 3, 2021.
If Freiner does not obey this order, the judge is threatening to put her in jail for up to six months for contempt and, based on her previous decision to jail Freiner for two days, it seems likely she will do it unless some higher authority stops her. The court is not only silencing Freiner but also attempting to silence a minor child who is desperate for anyone to believe that she is not safe where the court has placed her.
Zellweger’s excuse for not wanting the public to know what is going on inside her fiefdom at the St. Louis County circuit court is that the case is a “paternity case.” This is news to people connected to the proceedings who say previously the case was a custody case until the YouTube video of Zellweger threatening Freiner and her child was posted online. In fact, court records refer to this case as a “custody case” up until the gag order, when records switched to calling it a “paternity case.” Did Zellweger change the type of case in front of her to trigger secrecy so the press cannot investigate her behavior on the bench?
Previous to the February 10 hearing, Freiner had been posting many videos of court hearings on her Facebook page. The judge had never commented about these videos, not even when Freiner posted one showing the guardian ad litem (GAL), Venus Jackson, admitting to Zellweger that the minor child reported that she was scared of her father and did not want to live with him because of the alleged abuse. That video is now unavailable to the public because Freiner removed it to comply with the judge’s orders. However, PJ Media reviewed the recording before it was deleted and can confirm that Jackson informed the judge of the child’s concerns. Zellweger is actively engaged in hiding the child’s pleas for help from the public by issuing the gag order.
Many questions need to be answered:
- Does a child have a right to due process and proper legal representation in a court of law? If so, the GAL should be removed and the child should have an attorney who represents her interests and her interests alone. If she were an LGBT minor who wanted a sex change, she would have the ACLU fighting for her. Instead, she is stuck with a GAL who is not only ignoring her but is on record in a separate video bragging that many of her clients complain about her but she isn’t concerned about getting sued because her clients are too poor to do it. “The clients on my GAL cases don’t have money. My clients complain all the time, but most of them don’t have money for [unintelligible] anything,” she said in a secret Zoom meeting. Her comments come at the 38:54 mark here. Is Venus Jackson an appropriate advocate for the minor child after that admission?
- Does the court have the power and the right to order a parent to remove something from the internet?
- Does anyone have the power or capability to remove content from social media and news platforms in different states or across the world?
- Is it reasonable to order a litigant to do so knowing it is impossible?
- Are examples of making humanly impossible demands upon litigants a pathway to giving custody to abusers and offenders under the guise of a) failure to comply with court orders, b) uncooperative conduct, and c) refusals to reunify a child with a parent with allegations of abuse or neglect?
- Does the higher level of confidentiality create a license for the GALs and the courts to act in a manner inconsistent with conduct that they might exhibit if there were cameras and press in the room?
PJ Media reached out to Zellweger’s office and the county spokesperson with these exact questions. Neither responded. Investigative journalist Michael Volpe attempted to question Jackson about her secret Zoom activities here.
Volpe is compiling statements of parents who have had the same experience as Freiner in St. Louis County. Many parents claim judges ignored children who claimed they are being sexually molested and remanded them to the custody of their alleged abusers. The stories of parents reporting the same patterns in St. Louis County Circuit Court are piling up. Here is one of many such stories on Volpe’s YouTube channel below. Judge Zellweger’s actions to attempt to stop the media from reporting what’s going on in the St. Louis County Circuit Court have only made journalists more interested in this case. What is Judge Zellweger trying to hide?
If you or someone you know is a victim of Saint Louis County court guardians, judges, or psych services, please reach out to [email protected].
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