Albany NY – Nothing empowers a battered mother more than to get together with other women and learn that she is not crazy, and that other mothers across America are experiencing exactly the same thing. In this ninth annual conference, professionals and mothers came together in an intense three-day conference in Albany, New York on January 6-8, 2012. In the words of Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D. Chair and Liliane Miller, Vice-Chair, this year’s theme was, “What have we been doing to change all of this? How well is it working? What else do we need to do?”
Mothers deeply entrenched in custody cases in America came to learn from doctors, lawyers, retired cops, investigators, and ex-judges. We learned it from the lion’s den first-hand. As Michael Bassett, J.D. said, “When ladies get together, amazing things happen”. With the help of visual media, the Holly Collins documentary certainly provided all of us with the inspiration we needed to stay motivated. The gripping tale of a protective mother who fled with her children to protect them from imminent death by abuse, then sought for immunity and was granted refugee status in the Netherlands – while in America, she became FBI most wanted criminal for kidnapping her own children. This gripping tale has now officially launched today. Garland’s “No Way Out But One” has a Facebook page with listings of all screenings. The movie trailer can be seen online too.
Toby Kleinman the third plenary speaker encouraged the many brave women in the room to forming alliances between them and uniting Protective Mothers by state. “Find the power you have, and then learn to use it effectively”. She recommended hunting out those internet listservs and various blogs, and join them so that you can keep learning. “Reach out to other mothers who are still facing the difficult challenges of litigation, and their refusal to integrate what we know about familial violence. Courts have romanticized notions of fathers who claim to want to spend more time with children, even though they are still abusing them, and mothers are still being blamed”. Alienation still gains traction and carries emotion, yet we are still stronger today than yesterday. Back in 1982, New Jersey developed a domestic violence statute, while in NY, we refer to the domestic violence offenses which are inadequate, since domestic violence should be addressed on a criminal level.
Ricky, a protective mother from NY expressed her grief with domestic violence centers and battered women centers such agencies in New York such as Family Justice Center and the YWCA, and Ohel. In response, Garland Waller who is the producer of the Holy Collins documentary No Way Out But One said that she donated a miniscule sum of $25 to a valuable organization, which in turn, earned her a spot into a whole new group dealing with domestic violence in in Massachusetts. “This small deed helps with getting yourself into a group, and into their email lists to navigate and negotiate the system”, she said.
The dynamic Dr. Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York opened was the second plenary speaker following the eloquent Dr. Lundy Bancroft. The author of fourteen book, Dr. Chesler is a pioneer in academic studies on honor killings and and the psychology on terrorism. In her speech, she discussed how greatly the system has failed, on a civil rights level because “women have chosen early on, to choose”. Women’s groups must focus on what they are doing, and what they are not. As an example, the petition by Survivors in Action in California, is urging people to sign a petition which will ask Lynn Rosenthal, about the need to track public anti-violence funds. The focus is on President Obama’s plan to assist with domestic violence, by allowing VAWA funds to go directly into the hands of our abusers. Mothers are not getting help from domestic violence agencies, and instead, these agencies are silencing mothers. These agencies are collecting all the moneys but are failing to service . This was already reported by CALA six months ago, titled, New Law in NY Allows men to get legal assistance as victims of domestic violence In this eye-popping amicus brief, a report on Columbia University’s Law Library identifies VAWA as a “primarily a source of grants” which has not reduced domestic violence.
On the subject of ethical complaints against a custody evaluator or attorney for the child, lawyer Nancy S. Erickson, Esq., J.D. (Brooklyn Law School, LLM. Yale Law School, M.A. Forensic Psychology) presented a do-it-yourself workshop. This casual round-table helped break the ice and make mothers feel comfortable, as names were shared and emotions were felt when horror stories were presented. This well prepared and fully informed and brave lawyer articulated the necessary steps on how to determine the hierarchical structure of grievances for each professional involved in a custody determination.
Barry Goldstein, the rare Y-chromosome at this conference, has gone all over the country to promote women’s issues. Goldstein is a NY/NJ lawyer who was retaliated against and had his license revoked five years ago. His presentation has the potential to change the world by merely changing the way we look at things. His report is titled, “From Poughkeepsie New York – a practical plan to reduce domestic violence by 80% and save 500 billion dollars every year”. Putting this money out there will create an incentive that we can have allies that we never dreamed of, and approach government agencies and courts, to give them an incentive to do what they should be doing anyway . The report is based on research for a chapter in the second volume of his book co-edited by Dr. Mo Therese Hannah.
The new book titled, “Poughkeepsie: Learning from unsuccessful response to Domestic Violence”. Quoting the Shokome cases which was very well covered in the news, mother Jenny Shokome, is the “Rosa Parks of the custody movement”. Jailed while 7 months pregnant, this bizarre story became an all time media circus. The media had a lot of fun by saying that there was no evidence of domestic violence in this case. However, they obtained that ‘credible’ information by speaking to Mr. Shokome or reviewing the judge’s orders. However, Mr. Goldstein had direct access to the court files, in which it is evidenced that the father used to call the mother 10-15 times each night while she and the children were trying to sleep. There was an admission from a supervisor that the mother suffered a panic attack when she unexpectedly saw the father. The court evaluator said on the record that she was influenced by her belief that the judge and law guardian wanted to influence her recommendation for custody to the father. All the while, the judge continued to maintain that he is neutral to all parties.
In a healthcare study on “what is the cost of domestic violence to our healthcare system?”, it was found that an abuser assaults their partner, and she then goes for treatment, and then there is a cost for that. This new study is more comprehensive, since diseases are caused or exacerbated by stress. And living with an abuser is severe stress by interaction on a daily basis. People might self medicate, develop emotional issues, which in turn require long term treatment and expenses. The cost is about $750 bullion a year nationwide, close to a trillion dollars. Without domestic violence, there would be no crime. The greatest tragedy is that these victims never reach their potential – stalked women go to jail, don’t go to school, children are failing, commit crimes to third parties who in turn, don’t reach their potential. To this miserable scenario, Mr. Goldstein earned a round of applause, since this rang so true to the hearts of the audience. Victims can’t do their job and contribute to the economy. We don’t know what these women could have accomplished.
For the research in this book, Mr. Goldstein used his experience in Poughkeepsie NY and how the courts handle the domestic violence, which was then compared to the domestic homicidal rates. In turn, the system was then compared to the Quincy Model implemented in Massachusetts.
The Quincy Model, established in the late 1970’s was successful in reducing domestic violence crime. Poughkeepsie NY, a small town with only 300,000 people had a shocking contrast. Immediately following the revocation of Mr. Goldstein’s license in Dutchess County, there were 9 d.v. related homicides, including a cop who was killed while trying to rescue a three year old boy from a d.v. Situation, resulting in a lot of tragedies. Even the community realized that there was a tremendous problem.
The Quincy Model was founded based on the proven research that reducing domestic violence crimes will reduce all crimes in the community. Court decisions were scrutinized, with the tremendous support of both communities. Furthermore, “incest and sexual abuse in children is true, and more widespread than we want to believe”, said Goldstein. The head of probation and the David Adams from the DA supported this model.
With strict enforcement of criminal laws, and restraining orders through prison, court orders carry weight and truly reduce crime. In one perfect example, a woman had a no-contact order of protection against her husband. Her wise-guy husband sent her flowers, and the court put him in prison for six months for violating the order. This is the only way that the system can work. When a defendant re-offended and was on probation, they would quickly file a violation of probation and he would be quickly arrested, and expedite the case to get away from his victim. These practices really helped move this model along to its success. As a result, this part of the program made if easier for women to leave through the help of strategically placed advocates. Domestic violence homicides went down immediately.
“Accountability and monitoring are the only two factors which if combined, are necessary for an effective model”, urges Goldstein. “We cannot keep blaming the systemic failures on budget cutbacks to prevent domestic violence because by cutting hundreds of thousands, creating problems that cost millions. – essentially, supporting abuse”. In his research for the book, Mr. Goldstein made a call to Mr. David Bookstaver (NY Courts Communications Director), While he was predictably rude, he also remarked, “this chapter will be the shortest chapter in your book”. At 113 pages, Barry is thinking of turning this chapter into a book for itself.
From Ohio, Michael Bassett, J.D. And Carol Pennington a protective mother, hosted a workshop focusing on how battered mothers can turn around their cases while entrenched in the horrors of a custody battle. In the given scenrio, a protective mother stands in a court of law and realizes, she just lost custody. Her immediate emotions at these terrible results are raw, shocked, upset, hurt feelings. Her first thought is, “I have to fix it, and I have to fix it now”.
Michael boldly said, you need to give yourself time, your kids time, give court time, and give the abuser time. Take stock now, and say, “I am a good mom, and I didn’t do something wrong to cause me to lose my kids”, and. “what things might I be doing that are easy nitpicky things that I am losing points for”. Is it the way I am communicating to my abuser?. Am I leaving myself open to him?. Think about that and think about what you need to changee. Networking with other moms in your area is critical. “When ladies get together, amazing things happen”.
Give court time – Michael’s guiding philosophy is that every motion you file in custody case, especially after a decision was entered against you, you should consider that to have a real cost with the judges against you. They will see you as litigious and difficult. While you have very valued reasons for filing these motions, resist the urge. Instead of “he didn’t show up for visitations”, give him three consecutive times to violate the order. You do not want to file a motion for a change in custody too soon, even if you have one good incident and you put testimony and then lose the chance because you don’t have the fifth or sixth incident to give it weight. In a nation full of Pro Se mothers, it is the 98% that gives the other 2% the bad name.
Why are you hypervigilant? They seem trivial to domestic lawyers, who are great at equitable division of assets. Do they practice law? Do they understand trauma and its intricacies? Do they understand your PTSD and legal abuse syndrome? Are they forcing to sit in the same room with your abuse and mediate? That is like asking Saddam Hussein to hold your hand, “for the best interest of the children”. Don’t fall for that story by your lawyer. It is coercion to get you to settle, and then they move on and retain a new client.
Give your kids time – indeed, this is the worst and most difficult time. Very quickly, you will see the results of the court’s mistakes, and this will pile up. Don’t run to court because there is sexualized behaviors after visitations, or your daughter is failing math, or when the step-mom is beating them up. All this will happen, so give your kids time. It’s brutally painful, but give it time to accumulate.
Give your abuser time – Put him in the box. Use email exclusively for communication. Sprint will no longer allow you to access your own text messages. For example, you need to communicate, “can you drop them off at three”… if you can do that in the email forum, he will still act like he always did. If you have a pile of emails and hand pick the ones where he beats you up on your parenting skills “all of the kids problems are your fault” you have a very powerful tool to get him on cross examination.
“Mr. Smith, would you say your ex wife is whore?”
“No, I want my kids to have a relationship with her”
“I would like to show you this email which you wrote on January 5th.”
“Who wrote this?”
“What did you write?”
“That she is a whore.”
While the court might not jump up and down on that, it is another element in your armor to use.
Discovery – if your attorney won’t do it, discharge them immediately. Dad should be deposed as soon as possible. Because they will say what they will do, and make it look like there is nothing wrong. They will insist that they cancelled your life insurance policy so that they can buy insurance for their girlfriend. Your attorney must know what to do and how to do discovery on the guardian ad litem, and on mental health providers. If they say it costs money, say, “you cost money too, and I insist”.
Sometimes a Guardian Ad Litem might petition for a protective order from being deposed, because it would put the kids in jeopardy. Instead, have your attorney do research on your local jurisdiction and what it says on the importance of cross examination on Ad Litem. Be prepared that your lawyer might tell you, “this takes a lot of work”, which is legalese for “a lot of money” and “people will be mad at me”. GAL’s can be deposed, except in NY where the use of lawyers as Attorney for the Child maintain client privileges are protected, and cannot be deposed. In turn, NY attorney for the Child must accurately present the ‘wishes of his client’ without making a custody making recommendation, or expression his or her opinion.
Carol Pennington, a protective mother joined Michael to explain how to put your abuser into a box, and then how you can think outside the box. What she learned through her association with Michael helped her survive. You cannot be anything for your children if you cannot care for yourself first. Give yourself time, give yourself forgiveness. This stuff makes you crazy, so acknowledge it for what it is. You will heal when you get out of Auschwitz, but in the meantime, attend a support group in the concentration camp. Use your time apart from your child to learn interesting things, so that you have ‘positive’ stuff to feed your child’s grey matter during visitations.
Behave every day as if it might happen today, and today you will get your kids back. Keep it on the forefront each and every day. Kids can get arrested, they can fail, get into a fight with step mom. Keep your ducks in a row constantly. Document emails, tape record everything, if you are allowed, but keep your documents in order at all times. Write your emails as if you are addressing the courts, because you are! Keep it very unemotional, very detached. He calls you a whore, move on, ignore it. Word your emails so that you are putting in a box. You will find that they will continue to insist on attention, like a two year old.
Keep ignoring it, and try to use the B.I.F.T. Method “Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm”, by lawyer Bill Eddy. Say, “I would like to pick up my on at 8:00 pm on Sunday for the school play”. He responds, “you stupid whore, you are never involved anyway”. You then reply, “I have not received a reply on my email, so I presume I am picking my son up at 8:00”. Michael says to reposition your thoughts to the main position of the email, “I am the mom, and I am boxing in my abuser” rather than, “I am the mom and I want to see my kids”. Use every opportunity at communication to change the nature of communication in your mind.
If possible, create a system where you have a three-way conference call with two other moms before you even open an email from abuser. When you are done crafting a piece of communication, only then should you hit send. TreasureMyText.com keeps emails in a central location to be printed for your attorney. PointOfMail.com makes you know that the abuser received the email. GoogleVoice is excellent for telephone communication. It is free, you can call from it, or receive calls on your unique phone number. Neatdesk is a program that allows you to scan your documents and then create searchable pdf’s. Keep your own records, make it easier for the attorney. Don’t pay him or their secretary to copy anything that you can do yourself. Make friends with your lawyer’s secretary., she will call your lawyer for you when it is really urgent.
Inside the Courtroom
In the Family court room, the first line of the attorney’s opening statement should be as follows, “your honor, today, you are going to be the first person who has ever heard what has happened to the Smith children”. Call in your case the primary witness. “What did you see, what did you do next?”.
You have to lay bare the assumptions they made, so that you can lay it out to the court in the form of system failure. This way, they judge becomes the first one to hear everything, rather than what the doctor said to family services, or the other way around. Keep in mind that with res judicata, retrying the same matter is “double jeoperdy” and if the issue has already occurred previously between the same two parties, you may not be able to raise this matter again. So if you brought in Police Officer Stevens to testify, “I watched him hit her”, you may not be able to bring this in again. Be prepared to have the other attorney bring this up and then you lose your case. They will tell you that to force you to settle. Know that there are ways to use previously used evidence in your case, before a final decree, and reintroduce to same judge, especially when there was a bad outcome. You can reframe yourself, and your attorney needs to be skilled.
Submit yourself to cross examination. You don’t have to answer questions fast. You need to take a bottle of water with you on the witness stand. When you hear a question, take a sip before you answer. Don’t answer anything except what you were asked. Do not offer any information at all. “What time is it?”, “12:15”. That’s it. Don’t say pm, say nothing! Don’t start pulling you phone out of your burps to check the time. Rather, say, “no, I do not know what time it is”.
Help your attorney by categorizing your documents, so you don’t overwhelm them. In order of date of court orders is best. Remember, you got out of an abusive relationship because you did not like being abused. So if your attorney is abusing you, AND charging you money, then you should put an end to that. You can use a highly skilled attorney from another state, as pro hav vice – appearing for your case only in your state., to avoid court rule for having another attorney from your state in there at all times. You need a lawyer highly skilled in trauma and domestic violence. Dr. Mo Hannah recommends contacting DV Leap for referrals. Professor Gaby Davis recommends The Battered Women’s Justice Project. If you have a case were social services says there is no evidence of abuse, call Seth Goldstein in California who is a former police officer and will testify on system failure. He works well with judges, and great to have there if your counsel needs someone else to shoot ideas with them.
After three intense days of this conference, the Protective Mothers Civil Rights Movement is finally scaring the bureaucrats, and rightfully so. When mother cougars unite to protect their cubs, stuff happens. A livestream of the event is now archived at this webpage.