May 23rd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Dr. David Vandenberg lost his daughter to a corrupt and possibly illegal New Hampshire family court almost three years ago. Although never adjudicated to be unfit or lacking as a parent, his daughter was taken from him and it took him 2 1/2 years to get even minimal visitation with her. All that has cost him some $150,000. The outrageous story of how all that came to pass appears in this video interview of Dr. Vandenberg (YouTube, 5/8/12).
Over three years ago, Vandenberg’s daughter Emily complained to him about her mother and expressed the desire to live with her dad. Despite his asking her not to, Vandenberg believes Emily told her mother that she no longer wanted to be with her, and that triggered a chain of events the only proper reaction to which would be “that can’t happen in America.” But it can. It did.
First, Vandenberg’s access to his daughter was denied by the court in an ex parte hearing. That’s a hearing in which one party is not present; in his case, Vandenberg was the missing party. Now, in every court I’ve ever practiced in, ex parte hearings are strictly forbidden. Judges want to avoid the appearance of impropriety and there are few things less proper than deciding a litigant’s rights or duties when that person is absent. But in the interview, Vandenberg describes sitting in court one Friday afternoon while half a dozen women came in with ex parte orders against their ex-husbands. ”They hand them out like candy” is how Vandenberg described the process.
That’s what happened to him. His wife leveled false allegations at him when he was absent and couldn’t defend himself; the allegations were taken as proven by the judge and a restraining order was issued against him contradicting his rights under his visitation order.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that, outrageous as that is, such an ex parte order is only temporary. And you’re right; in New Hampshire, such orders have a maximum duration of 60 days. Then Vandenberg was entitled to a hearing, right? Right, he was entitled to one, but there was a catch. Judge John Arnold, who’d issued the ex parte order, refused to give him one. And that too is apparently common in New Hampshire. In one of the most astonishing claims I’ve seen in a long time, Vandenberg says that judges simply cherry-pick which cases they will hear and which ones they won’t. Vandenberg’s ex claimed he had harmed their daughter, and Judge Arnold believed her without hearing from Vandenberg.
Plus, Vandenberg made the mistake of thinking he had rights in New Hampshire family court. So he began filing motions, and that made Judge Arnold even angrier than he already was. So he sat on the case. Months passed with no action and every minute of the time, Emily was without her kind, loving and fit father.
But it’s not that nothing was being done. There was plenty being done by everyone but the judge. There was the Guardian Ad Litem, for example. Even though New Hampshire court rules place a maximum fee for GAL services at $1,000 per case unless application is made for more, the GAL in Vandenberg’s ended up charging him $40,000. At least twice the judge threatened to throw Vandenberg in jail if he didn’t pay her fees immediately, even though he’d never seen the bill and didn’t know what it was for.
And what it was for! Earlier this year, Vandenberg finally managed to get a hearing in his case. By law, he’s entitled to have a copy of the GAL’s entire case file prior to the hearing. He requested it, the judge ordered her to produce it, and she flat refused. Three weeks after the hearing, Vandenberg finally got her file and it revealed her to be working hand-in-glove with his ex-wife to manufacture evidence against him. That’s what his $40,000 went for.
Another busy person was the psychologist the court appointed to perform a psychological evaluation on Vandenberg. He charged some $15,000 and promised to provide Vandenberg a copy of his report. But as the hearing approached, he’d never done so, so Vandenberg gave him a call. It turned out that, because his ex-wife hadn’t paid her share of the fee, he refused to provide anyone the report. When Vandenberg pointed out that he’d agreed in writing to provide his report and that if he didn’t, he’d have to sue him, the psychologist altered his view of Vandenberg, deciding that this meant he wasn’t a good parent.
Over two years after the court first took his daughter from him, it finally held a hearing. Vandenberg now has supervised visitation. He sees his daughter minimally and then only with another person present. In the ensuing years, the girl’s grandparents were also refused all contact with her. Eventually, her grandfather passed away and her mother refused to allow her to attend his funeral. She still hasn’t seen her grandmother in over 2 1/2 years.
Despite all this, that’s frankly common practice in New Hampshire family courts, Vandenberg says he’s optimistic. That’s because the state has what’s called its Redress of Grievances Committee. The Committee is now in the process of hearing complaints about Judge Arnold and other family court judges. My understanding is that it has the power to impeach those judges.
Because of the Committee’s work, Vandenberg has encountered many people with similar complaints. As the host of his interview says, “they’re coming out of the woodwork.” One such person is the bailiff in one family court who says he’s seen “widespread corruption” among family court judges.
Watch the interview and learn what family law is like for fathers in the Granite State.