Anyone who has been forced to deal with the Alice-in-Wonderland procedures of family courts knows that one enters a totally different world than what we expect American jurisprudence is to be. One federal appellate judge, after reviewing a case in New Hampshire family court stated, “This must be what courts in Bolivia do.”
But it appears that at least one group, the New Hampshire General Court, or legislature, is taking real steps to end the abuse of families in family court. They are impeaching judges and marital masters, who have failed to comply with state and federal statutes and ignored constitutional protections.
Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution provides for the Accountability of Magistrates and Officers. To that end, the legislature, instituted a procedure for the Redress of Grievances. About 150 years ago, this committee was retired, until now.
In November 2010, a supermajority of constitutional Republicans was swept into office by popular discontent with the lawlessness and arrogance of state officers violating the rights of citizens. And where better to begin, but in a venue in which certain rights were summarily suspended decades ago: family court?
However, even before hearings of the Committee for Redress of Grievances began, opponents came forward with calls to disband the committee, claiming that the family courts were just fine. The Manchester Union-Leader, the Concord Monitor, and the Nashua Telegraph published editorials to disband the committee.
Still, supporters of the committee point out that the Judicial Branch has no independent oversight provision by the people and few complaints to the Judicial Conduct Committee have ever been successful. As one legislator put it, the General Court has a responsibility to ensure proper procedures are in place in the form of laws and that state magistrates and officers comply with law. If the magistrates fail to follow the law, then the will of the people, as expressed through the legislature, will be corrupted, as is now the case in New Hampshire family court.
David Johnson says his daughter was removed from him almost completely–he can see her in supervised visits only–contrary to independent assessments of the mother’s abuse. Mr. Johnson provides the following narrative of his last ten years in family court:
The child’s primary care physician testified twice about the mother’s abuses and neglect. In addition, the child’s psychologist testified that the father should be the primary custodial parent, because of mental cruelty endured by the child, being coached by the mother to make false statements about the father. The child’s physician also testified on behalf of the father. The mother told the court she left the child and her young cousin in a vehicle with the keys in the ignition with a loaded revolver in the unlocked console.
Parenting time was divided fifty/fifty, the father voluntarily paid for private school and after-school care, and supported the mother after the separation, including all the expenses of the home, yet he was ordered to pay so much spousal and child support that he could no longer afford his own home for himself and his daughter.
Within 24 hours of the father’s motion for primary parenting authority, the mother counterclaimed alleging the father’s sexual abuse of the daughter. Twenty-four hours after that the mother made the same false allegations to the police and was ignored. At the next hearing, the physician and psychologist testified a third time and reported still more abuses by the mother. The court ordered primary parenting responsibility for the father, yet ordered him to pay child support, contrary to federal law.
The court appointed a new marital master, Phillip Cross, who is now the subject of impeachment. Mr. Cross started to incrementally take parenting time away from the father, violating his right to due process each time in preliminary hearings.
At the final evidentiary hearing, the father still retained primary parenting authority, yet was unlawfully ordered to increase his child support requirement. Medical authority was granted to the mother, even though she had refused to provide prescribed medication. Mr. Cross refused reports from the child protection agency and human services with additional abuses of the mother.
Mr. Cross held a criminal contempt hearing against the father, hearings for which a marital master has no authority and in which the father was denied a criminal defense. Mr. Cross later termed the hearing a civil contempt hearing. Yet the father had primary custody of the daughter, not the mother. The father was convicted and jailed for nearly ten weeks, resulting in the loss of his second home, most of the father’s and daughter’s personal belongings, and the transfer of the daughter to the abusive mother.
New Hampshire family courts are filled with such cases, which the judiciary has misruled on. The New Hampshire newspapers have come out specifically against hearings in this case, after these facts were made public. Marital Master Cross may provide testimony about this matter, or the judiciary may send counsel to the supreme court to represent Mr. Cross. Who arrives for testimony remains to be seen.
The chair of the committee, Paul Ingbretson, is Mr. Johnson’s representative and neighbor and apparently drove Mr. Johnson, who became homeless, to visit his daughter. Critics cite the driving of David Johnson, paying for lunch, and sitting with the father and daughter as indicative of Mr. Ingbretson’s loss of objectivity, requiring the entire committee to be shut down. Speaker of the House, William O’Brien, and other attorneys have reviewed the matter and determined no conflict of interest exists. Still, Mr. Ingbretson has recused himself from this one case. Yet, the calls for disbanding are still coming.
More cases are in the pipeline and will be reviewed by the committee. While newspaper editors have come out against these hearings, the people of New Hampshire, through their legislators, expressed their serious concern about the inexplicable and lawless behavior of many judges and marital masters.
These hearings will go forward and cases like David Johnson’s and others will be given a public airing, so that the people will know just exactly what kind of judiciary they have, whether it’s up to the standards we expect in the US, or whether it is more like what one expects in a Bolivian court of law.