Judge Judy: Family Court a 'Dumping Ground for Morons and Political Hacks' and Should Be Monitored by the Press
Judge Judy Scheindlin, a former family court judge and America's favorite small-claims TV justice has long been a source of wisdom and common sense. Thanks to her long career as an attorney in family court and then as a Manhattan judge, she is more than qualified to talk about the state of family courts in America. And boy, did she! With the growing outrage around the country about children being taken by out-of-control child and family services and kept separated by power-hungry judges in secret courts, Sheindlin's words from last year are more important than ever for the American public to hear. Sheindlin went on Norm Macdonald Has a Show and spilled the beans.
"I really felt that the family court was a place that should be open to the press," she told Macdonald. "At that time in New York and probably in a lot of other places it was sort of the dumping ground for morons and political hacks." She went on to shock the audience with the information that many of them don't even have legal backgrounds. "People who had gone around and collected signatures for politicians to get on the ballot, they said, 'you know we owe them a favor. Where are we going to put them? We can't put them in a civil court or the Supreme Court because the press goes in there to report. We have to put them in a place where nobody can see the morons we appoint to the court.'"
This is not surprising news to anyone who has stood in front of a family court judge in sealed proceedings where one's children are on the chopping block. My many investigations over the years into family court and child welfare have found constant violations of due process and parental rights, illegal orders, illegal seizures of children without warrants, reported child abuse in foster homes that wasn't investigated, parents intimidated by judges, judges placing children with predators, and even deaths of children covered up by the system. A recent example is the case of Illinois DCFS, which dropped the ball in the case of AJ Freund, who was beaten to death by his mother. The child welfare investigators had been to his house over seventeen times but failed to discover any abuse or neglect. These same people took Kara Witkowski's children and placed them with a man whom she had filed complaints with the police about after finding child porn on his computer. Despite children from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children being identified on that computer, police did not press charges and family court Judge John Dalton of Kane County placed Witkowski's children with him. In a matter of months, her two-year-old son was dead. The Daily Caller has excellent coverage of this case as does the Edgar County Watchdogs. Currently, police are not investigating the child's death as suspicious despite having no cause or official autopsy and the fact that Dalton had left Witkowski's daughter in the care of the man in whose custody her baby boy mysteriously died. The police are, however, finding the time to call Witkowski to harass the grieving mother about her Facebook postings.
A local Illinois reporter, Jeff Ward, has been in Judge Dalton's courtroom as an observer and writes about the abuses he has seen there. He reports that he has received countless stories, from women especially, who have been mistreated in that courtroom. "I’ve watched the Judge berate and belittle female plaintiffs and defendants to the point of tears. And if he has no problem being a bully when I’m in the gallery, you can only imagine what he’s like when I’m not there," wrote Ward. "Dalton also enjoys making blatantly sexist comments to female attorneys. I’d provide examples, but he’d figure out who my sources were and then he’d extract his typical pound of flesh." Ward describes him as "needlessly cruel and nasty." It's a common story nationwide.
"It was frightening to see the mentality of people who were impacting the lives of families and children. I thought it was a great idea to have cameras in the courtroom when I was a family court judge," said Sheindlin. "If I allow cameras in my courtroom perhaps that will open up the family courts so that people will be able to see what kind of justice is being delivered by this very expensive court system."
Sheindlin allowed 60 Minutes to film her family court proceedings when she was on the bench. This is very rare if not non-existent in our family courts that are often closed to everyone but the parties involved, seemingly for the privacy of the children, but it also serves to shield the state actors from any scrutiny or public oversight. Secret courts with no juries were one of the many grievances our forefathers named in the Declaration of Independence as one of the reasons for our break with England. Jefferson accused the king of "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury." Children are regularly removed from families on the order of one judge with no witnesses other than the parents and court agents. Parents are regularly denied a jury trial in family courts that have the lowest possible burden of proof. Parents are regularly required to prove their innocence instead of the burden being on the state to prove their case.
Another egregious case that received national attention was the Drake Pardo case in Texas, where a four-year-old medically fragile child was taken from his family and put into foster care because his parents sought a second opinion on his medical condition. The courts refused to place him with family while the case dragged on and Drake was traumatized by being separated from everyone he has ever known. Judge Michael Chitty, who is suddenly retiring next year, ignored the fact that CPS had failed to meet any legal standard to remove the child and even gagged the parents from talking to the press or posting on social media about what he had done to them. Gag orders are almost always an infringement of First Amendment rights but are rarely fought because the judges have the power to jail the parties involved. Pardo family lawyers had to file a mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Solicitor General weighed in on the absolute train wreck the lower court had forced on this family. "The gag order is unclear, untailored, and unsupported by evidence of effectiveness or less restrictive alternatives," wrote the Texas Solicitor General in an amicus brief. This is the kind of opinion you get when you go to actual experts on the law and not family court judges who think the law is whatever they say it is.
With the mandamus, attorney Chris Branson also filed an emergency stay of removal and that was granted this past October. Drake was returned home immediately by a state Supreme Court order to await a decision on the mandamus, but meanwhile, the family was still embroiled with CPS and family court until this week. Judge Tracy Gray in the district court finally signed an order of dismissal, which CPS agreed to on Tuesday, December 3, closing the case against the Pardos with no requirement to have a "family plan," or further interference from CPS. It is likely that CPS only dropped the case because the Supreme Court was likely to come down hard on them for their multiple outrages of justice against the Pardos.
But lacking this ruling from the Supreme Court, which is now moot because of the dismissal in the lower court, CPS has avoided this case being used as a precedent for other cases going forward. This is bad news for other families embroiled with the charlatan law-breakers in family courts. A Supreme Court ruling on the Pardo case would have filtered down into every court across the state and most likely would have brought positive changes in how family courts operate there. Without that, CPS and the family courts have not been held accountable for what they did to the Pardos.
Stories of family court abuses are exploding across the nation and one need not look far to find them. Hundreds of families are now coming forward to investigators at NBC News who have partnered with the Houston Chronicle and are regularly exposing these abuses involving child abuse pediatricians and medical kidnappings and the court system that fails to find fault with child welfare services when they clearly break the law. This is not one or two cases but a national crisis requiring immediate attention and remedy. Family courts and child welfare services have no oversights, no accountability, and ultimate power over American citizens and it must end now.
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo.” Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter