We see false claims of domestic violence in family courts every day. For decades now, attorneys in family courts have been telling us that claims of domestic violence are routinely made to gain an advantage in custody cases. That’s another way of saying that many of those claims are made up. But of course, those claims will continue to be made for the good and sufficient reason that they work. They achieve the desired result – separate the other parent (almost invariably the father) from the child. Once that’s accomplished with a temporary order, it becomes much easier to make sole maternal custody permanent. After all, the child hasn’t seen his/her father since the start of the divorce action, so why change that when the permanent orders are made?
But what’s always amazed me and countless other observers of family courts is the utter failure of family court judges to care that they’re being lied to. As routine as those false claims of domestic abuse are, they’d be squelched in an instant if judges started using the powers they’ve always had to punish perjurers. The fact that they don’t is one of the many disgraces that hang around the neck of family law in this country like scarlett letters.
So pleased with perjury are family law judges that the very suggestion that they do something about it is often met with defensive scorn. The highly respected Canadian jurist Harvey Brownstone once claimed that he couldn’t discipline mothers because their children wouldn’t like it if he put them in jail for perjury, interference with visitation or some other violation of the court’s orders.
So desperate to cling to his pro-mother/anti-father position was Brownstone that he hid behind the pretense that the only thing he could do to a parent was jail her. Needless to say, he has far more tools in his kit with which to encourage recalcitrant parents to obey his orders and the law of the land than just jail. Australian historian John Hirst made the exact same point about the family judiciary in his country. They too pretend that punishing perjurious moms is beyond their ability.
But even if jail were the only punishment available to them, is it really true that the children would hate the judge and Dad if Mom spent a week behind bars? The concept is absurd. Chances are the kid would spend the time with Dad and never know that Mom’s fashion choice for the week was an orange jumpsuit and flip-flops. Even if he/she found out the truth, the likely conclusion would be that Mom had done something wrong and the judge had punished her. Simple as that.
All of which brings me to this amusing article (Denver Post, 3/22/12). It seems that one Susan Cole was called to jury duty one day and, like many people, that wasn’t a welcome prospect. So she decided to avoid performing her public duty. Her method of choice was to show up in court looking like a street person.
Her hair hung askew in curlers. Her shoes and reindeer socks mismatched. Heavy makeup was smeared on her face.In other words, the ruse worked. A little clever costuming and the words “domestic violence,” and she was home free.
Denver District Court Judge Anne Mansfield — presiding over jury selection June 28 — quickly dismissed the woman, who explained in disjointed speech, “I broke out of domestic violence in the military. And I have a lot of repercussions. One is post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Well, not quite. The prank went bad because Cole decided to gild the lily. She’s a cosmetologist, and she shared her trick with the ladies in her salon. They were amused, so, encouraged by their positive feedback, Cole went on the radio.
Months later, on the evening of Oct. 17, Mansfield was listening to callers describe avoiding jury duty on 850-KOA’s Dave Logan Show and heard a familiar tale.Judge Masnfield, unlike her family court counterparts, was not amused. She made sure Cole was charged with two felonies, perjury and attempting to influence a public official.
A woman identifying herself as “Char from Denver” related how she’d shown up to court disheveled in an attempt to appear mentally ill, according to the affidavit.
“Char went on to describe how she shared this experience with clients at her hair styling business, and that they all found the story amusing,” according to the affidavit written by an investigator for the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
It didn’t take investigators long to discover “Char from Denver” was Cole, who admitted she used “Char Cole” as her pen name.
“It moves from just being a serious civic responsibility to a potential criminal matter because potential jurors have taken an oath to answer questions from the judge and attorneys truthfully,” said Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office.Well, lying to a court under oath becomes a criminal matter if the judge wants to make it one, but family judges rarely do. As John Hirst makes all too clear in his essay “Kangaroo Court: Family Law in Austalia,” family judges ignore perjury and the violation of visitation orders because they have a bias against fathers and in favor of mothers. It’s a scandal there; it’s a scandal here.
Judge Anne Mansfield just proved it doesn’t have to be.
Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.