Thursday, April 3, 2008
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
The Enforcement Of New York State’s Domestic Violence Laws By Westchester County And The Need For Legislative Reform - Part I
By Matthew Kletter, Esq.
In August 2006 my wife commenced an Article 8 Family Offense proceeding against me in the Westchester County Family Court at the urging of a case worker employed by the Child Protective Services Unit of the Westchester County Department of Social Services (the “DSS”) together with the assistance of an attorney employed by Legal Services of the Hudson Valley as well as certain support provided by the Northern Westchester Domestic Violence Shelter (the “NWDVS”). This proceeding was subsequently followed by an Article 10 Neglect proceeding commenced against me by the Westchester County Department of Social Services.
It should be noted that the underlying pleadings did not contain any allegations of my having physically nor sexually abused my wife nor my children and there were no allegations that I directed any profane language towards my children. Neither the local police nor the Westchester District Attorney’s Office were party to the action (i.e. no criminal proceedings were commenced). The proceedings filed against me by both my wife and the County were commenced upon the recommendation of the Child Protective Service Unit of the Westchester County Department of Social Services (“CPS”) following a neighbor’s complaint to CPS upon overhearing a marital argument. From what my wife has told me she was coerced into cooperating with CPS under the guise that my children could be placed in foster care if she did not cooperate with the County.
More than eighteen months have passed since these proceedings were commenced against me (seven months of which were spent in supervised” visitation held in a government office building in White Plains). I am pleased to report that due to the actions taken by the Judges presiding at the Westchester County Family Court, the Westchester County Attorney’s Office, the Westchester County Department of Social Services, Family Services of Westchester and the Law Guardian appointed by the Westchester County Family Court, I am seeing my children the way most divorced fathers do, every other weekend, unsupervised, together with mid-week visitations and proper access during holidays and vacations. Today, I continue to be “monitored” by the Westchester County Department of Social Services. Based on my experience with the “system”, I believe that most of the people who run the system are good people. It’s thanks to the fairness of the people who run the system that I am where I am today, seeing my children properly (unsupervised). However, I remain very concerned based upon what I experienced. The “system” here in Westchester County, in particular, the Child Protective Services Unit of the Westchester County
Department of Social Services and the Northern Westchester Domestic Violence Shelter, each need to be investigated by State authorities to determine the extent to which they are collaborating in conducting gender-biased investigations of citizens here in Westchester County resulting in false “indications” of individuals at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and thereby resulting in the deprivation of those individuals’ constitutionally protected access to their children and property. New York State’s Domestic Violence Laws need to be reformed so that they are less susceptible to abuse by people who seek to play the system to their advantage.
Gender Bias; The Ultimate Revenge of the Feminists; Who Needs Men Anyway?
It’s common knowledge that the system for implementing New York State’s Domestic Violence Laws is gender-biased. The women’s rights advocates who were successful at causing the underlying domestic violence laws to be adopted here in New York State had little desire to have it any other way. As a result, Westchester County Family Court has The Enforcement Of New York State’s Domestic Violence Laws By Westchester County And The Need For Legislative Reform - Part I become ground-zero for male bashing in this County. It’s irrelevant what a female spouse may have said or did that may have caused any altercations between a couple. In the Westchester County Family Court there are no mitigating circumstances. Whatever a female spouse sets forth in her verified affidavit in furtherance of a Temporary Order of Protection (“TOP”) is presumed by the system to be true and a TOP is granted often preventing the husband or boyfriend from accessing
his home and children There seems to be a philosophy prevalent among certain feminist social workers here in Westchester County that many men in our society are “abusers” and that permanently breaking-up their families and subjecting such men to supervised visitation for as long as possible is in the best interest of their children (naturally with the disenfranchised spouse continuing to pay child support and maintenance). From their point of view such men need to be sent-off to spousal abuse workshops before they can be reunited with their
children. These feminist social workers/women’s advocates currently occupy positions of power at many of the social service organizations in Westchester County. They currently exert an undue influence on the system.
The principal institutions responsible for spearheading this gender-biased approach to these matters in Westchester County are the Northern Westchester Domestic Violence Shelter (the “NWDVS”) and My Sister’s Place. Granted, certain women and children go there who are truly in need of their help, and what they do for those people and their children is truly important. However, these institutions have evolved into places where women in the County regularly go to “play the victim” and “play the system”. These organizations offer women assistance, often legal advice on how to obtain a TOP. It is not their present policy to contact the men who allegedly have abused these women to verify the facts. To make matters worse, Westchester County’s Child Protective Services division coordinates directly with the NWDVS and My Sister’s Place in the legal attack on these men. It appears to be a situation where DSS employees are overworked and underpaid and so to a certain extent they have come to rely on the NWDVS and MSP for assistance in managing cases. Many of these women who come to the NWDVS and My Sister’s Place are in need of psychological help. Many of them are undiagnosed cases of Borderline Personality Disorder (“BPD”). Instead of investigating the allegations of these rogue spouses, these organizations presume that the information they are receiving is bona-fide and provide assistance to these imbalanced individuals. Often the actions these organizations recommend result in fathers (often the bread winners) being forced out of their homes and forced to see their children in supervised visitation without a hearing ever occurring.
Women who go to the NWDVS for help frequently enroll their children for “child counseling” without the knowledge of their husbands. “Child Counseling” takes place while the women attend workshops with women’s advocates. A children’s counselor at the NWDVS meets with the children without having ever had a discussion with the accused husband about what transpired at home and without having seen a copy of the forensic report often ordered by the court. In other words, the counselor who is meeting with the children often
doesn’t know the other side of the story. It’s a form of counseling wherein the father has no input. The father is left completely in the dark. They are getting away with this due to the fact that not enough citizens or governmental officials are objecting.
NWDVS as well as similar organizations such as My Sister’s Place are institutions that are, in large part, funded by New York State and Westchester County. For all intents and purposes what is taking place at the NWDVS is state-sponsored brainwashing. The NWDVS without even meeting with the alleged abuser are counseling their children ad infinitum. My case is a case in point. Even though my Family Offense proceedings are over and I am no longer under an Order of Protection, my children are being subjected to “counseling” at the NWDVS months and months after the fact (18 months after the fact). The fact is that here in Westchester County due to the action being taken by the CPS Unit of the DSS with the support of the Westchester Family Court System families are being destroyed on a daily basis and children are being left with one parent instead of two (even when both parents are fit).
Due Process-What Due Process?
It’s also common knowledge here in Westchester County that “Temporary Orders of Protection Are Given Out like Candy”. The Judges issue TOP’s and Support Orders on an ex-parte basis (i.e. without the person who is being accused of wrongdoing even being present to defend themselves). Most often the person who has been targeted by their spouse with the assistance of one of the local domestic violence institutions referred to above and does not even know what’s about to hit him/her until the police arrive at the individual’s doorstep serving him/her with papers demanding that he/she move-out (often within minutes of their arrival at the premises).
Little or no due process is being accorded to respondents in Family Court. In Westchester County a respondent to a Domestic Violence proceeding is presumed guilty until proven innocent. It often takes months until a hearing is schedule on Family Offense proceedings, and most often such hearings never occur due to the fact that matters often get settled and generally, neither the Judges nor the lawyers have any desire to hold hearings due to the time hearings require and the attorney’s costs involved. Due process appears to be a luxury for the rich in civil actions. As a result, the Petitioner rarely is forced to testify under oath and be subjected to cross-examination, and the Respondent rarely is provided an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. The female Petitioners are advised by their counsel to say nothing in Court. As a result the Judges and the Legal Guardians rarely get a true sense of the Petitioner’s personality. Between no hearing taking place and the Petitioner remaining silent in Court there is little way for a Judge to assess the character of the Petitioner. As a result, rogue spouses
play the system with impunity.
Power and Influence and The War of The Roses
Many women in the County are being victimized by the system as well. All a wealthy man has to do is engage the “right” law firm in the County to harass his wife. The law firm encourages their client to exaggerate minor deviations in behavior of the spouse in affidavits, appear in Court before a Judge who presumably is a friend of the litigator, or take an incidental matter and blow it out of proportion with the local police and then it’s a done deal. It’s that easy. The end result is that the innocent spouse may find herself vacated from her home and seeing her kids in supervised visitation for an indefinite period of time. A retainer of $25,000 paid to the right law firm in White Plains can often go a long way.
Based on numerous conversations I have had with women who are being victimized by their husbands, it appears that women are being fleeced by the local matrimonial attorneys. It’s not merely that they are being taken advantage of; its way beyond that. In the
case of indigent women who are victimized by rogue spouses, support systems are firmly in place to assist such women (e.g. Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, the NWDVS and some prominent feminist lawyers based in the County). However, middle class women in Westchester County can not access free legal services and find themselves being financially bled dry by their lawyers, literally bankrupted.
Abuse of Power-The Plight of United States Citizens Here In Westchester County; The Mechanics of Evil
The fact is that in every Precinct in Westchester County, police departments are sitting on literally dozens of Orders of Protection restricting individual’s rights to access their homes and children. It’s become part of the modern way of life here in Westchester County, the new norm.
I have posted on-line to get feedback from other men and women in the County who are being subjected to this heinous procedure. And, I have met quite a few of these people in person. The story is generally the same in each case.
• A disgruntled spouse files a bogus petition for a TOP based on bald faced allegations (often with the assistance of women’s rights attorneys or legal aid (e.g. Legal Services of the Hudson Valley or the Northern Westchester Domestic Violence Shelter); • A TOP is issued by a Family Court Judge ex-parte, without the Respondent being present;
• Upon receipt of the TOP, the respondent is generally ordered to leave his/her home. Often the respondents to such actions move temporarily into a local Suites Hotel (e.g. Marriot Residence Suites); • The Respondent appears in Court a few days later;
• At that hearing, the TOP is sustained by a Judge in the Westchester Family Court system without the Accuser being asked to take the stand to testify under oath or the Respondent being given an opportunity to cross- examine the Accuser.
• The TOP is not as “temporary” as it appears; they are most often renewed over and over by the presiding Judges without any hearing or sworn testimony having been offered on record. I have yet to meet one Respondent whose “Temporary” Order of Protection lasted less than one (1) year;
• A legal guardian is appointed for the children. The legal guardians are not operating under a uniform set of standards. Presently, the way the system operates there is no assurance that the children’s conversations with the Guardian will be private and confidential
and there is no assurance that a good faith attempt will be made by the Legal Guardian to hear the Respondent’s side of the story-once again a lack of due process;
• If the Respondent has children, the Respondent is then Ordered to participate in “supervised visitation” (irrespective of whether the allegations against this individual have been corroborated or whether the alleged conduct involved the children in any way whatsoever);
• Those Respondents who are affluent who want to see their children at home or a place of their choosing are required to pay $250-$400 per visit to see their children. The usual amount is $262.50 per session;
• Those Respondents who are middle class or lower class often see their children for a lesser fee at the local YWCA;
• The Respondent’s family is then sent to a forensic psychiatrist often at the Respondent’s expense, by court order;
• In most cases the Respondent never sees the forensic report;
• In the meantime if the Respondent has been “indicated” by CPS (which is often the case and is a very unfortunate position to be in for the innocent spouse), the Respondent can assume it will be months and months before the State conducts an administrative hearing of your matter (most often 12 months). Of course that assumes that the Respondent’s representatives are smart and diligent enough to follow-up on this key aspect of the proceedings (which is usually not the case). I met one person recently that did not know until he met me that he had been “indicated” (even though he was “indicated” nine years ago). Not one person I have met to date realizes that 75% of the “indications” made by the DSS are ultimately proven to be “unfounded”;
• In the process, the typical Respondent finds himself/herself having been forced out of their home and having to spend $50,000-$150,000 defending themselves in this process; • Along the way, social workers, the local YWCA, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health clinics, high paid lawyers, 18-B lawyers, legal aid lawyers, accounting firms, real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, stock brokers, hotel chains and owners of storage unit facilities make their fees off the victims.; and
• Often times a Respondent’s assets will be sold for less than their market value at the Order of the Court.
The facts speak for themselves. In Westchester County TOP’s are being utilized by rogue spouses to force innocent spouses out of their homes when one party has refused to voluntarily move-out. In these same instances, the rogue spouse utilizes the judicial system to distance the couple’s children from the innocent spouse. The rouge spouse essentially turns the children into pawns and makes a land grab for them under the pretense that the other spouse is deemed guilty due to the fact that he/she has been under a TOP and/or has been “indicated”. The system supports this position by avoiding hearings, failing to enforce the perjury laws, treating the Respondent as though he/she is a criminal (i.e. guilty until proven innocent), not holding the Legal Guardians to a strict code of conduct and rarely placing the Petitioner on the stand to be cross-examined by the Respondent’s attorney.
Ed. Note: Part II will appear in an upcoming issue.