ATLANTA, October 22, 2014 — When pop-star Usher Raymond won sole custody of his two youngest sons, his family court case received international attention.
The outcome of Raymond vs. Raymond was not unique.
Fit, loving, capable parents like Tameka Raymond are losing custody of their children every day in family courts for the same reason that Tameka lost custody; their cases are tainted by money, power and influence.
Next month, court industry experts from around the country will meet at a family law reform conference in Arlington, Virginia to discuss possible solutions to improve the way the courts do business.
The conference will be hosted by the creators of the documentary Divorce Corp, which premiered to sold out audiences in 2014.
In Usher’s case, Georgia election records show Usher’s attorney John Mayoue sponsored a campaign fundraiser for Fulton County Superior Court Judge Bensonetta Lane that garnered 83% of the amount the judge had in her re-election campaign treasury for that year.
Lane’s orders removed the Raymond children from their mother’s constant care placing the two small children into the sole custody of a father who is only able to be present with his children 15% of the time.
If both parents are fit but only one parent is capable of being consistently present, why would the court require the children to spend 85% of their time away from both parents?
Although Judge Lane subsequently disqualified herself from hearing the Raymond case to avoid the appearance of impropriety, the damage to the Raymond family had already been done and her decisions have thus far been largely upheld.
A 2013 study conducted by Emory University Law School Professor Joanna M. Shepherd on the influence of judicial campaign contributions on judicial decision-making shows that the outcome in Usher’s case may be just business as usual when campaign money is at stake in the context of a court case.
Perhaps the most striking feature of an irregular family court case is that the professionals who will decide the fate of the family are actually disconnected from the parents, and most importantly, the children whose lives may be at stake.
By comparison, the triangular diagram below demonstrate how the professionals involved with their case is discreetly connected to the other through veiled relationships. Although these relationships often exist for legitimate reasons, this is not always the case.
Sometimes the inbred nature of the professional relationships may cause judges to decide cases based upon the best interests of the professionals on tab instead instead of using their discretion to weigh the evidence, the law, and the facts of the case as the law requires.
As documented in previous articles, the scales in corrupt cases tip in favor of profit, regardless of the parent’s gender. This is because courts that operate with integrity may find it difficult to place children in safe loving home environments, but also justify ordering families (even crime victims) to pay for services from legal, medical, and mental healthy industry professionals.
In tainted cases, unethical family court professionals misuse their influence and inbred professional networks to collaboratively create problems for family court litigants that they themselves can be paid to solve.
This can result in the unjustified loss of custody of children by a parent and the permanent alteration and destruction of those children’s lives. Court scams can also drive victimized families into bankruptcy and permanent ruin, causing them to lose their homes, their jobs, their life savings, even their freedom.
The most critical relationships in a tainted case is the relationship between each parent’s attorney and the judge, as this relationship may contain direct beneficiaries, indicating a “pay to play” scam is afoot.
As in Usher’s case, this type of relationship may exist if one parent’s attorney contributes money to the re-election campaign of the judge presiding over the case, holds a fundraiser for the judge or volunteers to be on the judge’s reelection committee. Depending upon the amount and degree of support contributed to the judge’s campaign, the judge has a personal interest in keeping the contributing attorney satiated and in not ruling against that attorney’s clients when the case comes before the court.
Another significant, yet less important, relationship in a tainted case is the relationship between the judge and the guardian ad litem, whose job it is to represent the will and best interests of the children.
For instance, problems may arise if the GAL contributed money to the re-election campaign of the judge presiding over the case to ensure the judge reappoints him to future cases. Likewise, if a GAL issues a recommendation to support the judge’s intended ruling, the judge has a personal interest in continuing to appoint the guardian to future cases.
Although a judge may not continue to appoint a specific GAL to future cases if the judge does not like the past recommendations of the guardian, this can be problematic where the GAL is well aware of the result desired by the judge in the case and conducts his investigation to effect that result.
While each parents’ attorney may consent to the judge’s appointment of the GAL, the court ordered payment of the GAL costs (and how those costs are structured) not only ensures continued employment for the GAL, but gives the GAL a vested personal interest against closing the case, and perhaps even ensuring one parent loses custody.
Detrimental conflicts of interest may also arise between the parents’ attorneys in cases where there is significant disparity between the financial conditions of the parents. In those types of cases, the wealthier party may be ordered by the Court to pay the attorney’s fees and costs of the litigation of both parties, or alternatively, the children’s interests as represented by the less wealthy parent may be starved out of court.
An award of attorney’s fees is not automatic and must be litigated unless the parties agree. In tainted cases, the wealthy parent’s attorney convinces his or her client to agree to pay the fees and costs incurred by the opposing attorney sometimes waiting until the end of a lengthy and costly pre-trial process.
In return, the less wealthy parent’s attorney fails to zealously litigate the issue of custody on their client’s behalf, or may even coerce their client to settle the custody issues under the threat of withdrawing from the case.
In some cases, professional trade associations in themselves may also pose conflicts of interest that are detrimental to the fair outcome of a case. For instance, if a judge were to sit on the board of an organization for family court industry professionals, and that organization was subsidized by fees and donations derived from members of the public or industry professionals who might appear before them, and/or functioned as a court vendor.
The conflict would arise because the judge would have a personal stake in not only the organization’s success, but the success of the organization’s members. Since any misconduct committed by the organization or its’ members might reflect badly upon the judge and/or the court as well, the business relationship between the judge and the organization could providing an incentive for the court and the organization’s affiliates to discourage oversight authorities from conducting usual due diligence on its’ members that might otherwise ensure the integrity of the court’s programs and services.
In many of these tainted family court cases, children who are victims of maltreatment and violent crimes have been placed into the custody of parents who are unfit, unwilling, even pedophile rapists and murderers.
The damages inflicted upon these children are unspeakable and will be evident for generations to come. To prevent this, the laws governing family court cases must change. And, with Divorce Corp’s November Family Law Reform Conference, it is very likely that change is a comin’.
Attorney Lisa Y.S. West and The West Firm P.C. serve Georgia families with a commitment to integrity & expedient conflict resolution. Attorney West represented Tameka Raymond in a custody modification action. The information presented and opinions are those of the writer(s).