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October 3, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Nebraska State Bar Association President Marsha Fangmeyer continues to come under withering fire for her frankly inconsistent and apparently false statements about LB22, the bill that would require judges to maximize parenting time for each parent in a child custody matter or explain why he/she didn’t do so. Fangmeyer’s been playing fast and loose with the facts about LB22 all year. Her latest barrage of disinformation came in statements here by her and other opponents of children’s rights to real relationships with their fathers (Star Herald, 9/25/13).

I roasted Fangmeyer and the Star Herald reporting on LB22 here and emailed the paper’s editor, Steve Frederick about my concerns. The article, written by Maunette Loeks, amounts to little more than a tissue of lies, half-truths and exceptionally poor reporting. Loeks swallowed the NSBA’s misrepresentations about LB22 hook line and sinker. She never once bothered to pick up the telephone and call, for example, Nebraska Senator Russ Karpisek, who’s a sponsor of the bill or Sen. Galen Hadley, who’s its author. Neither did she call Dr. Les Veskrna who’s as knowledgeable about the bill as anyone. Any of those gentlemen could have set her straight on the facts of LB22 which are utterly at odds with the claims of Marsha Fangmeyer, et al. Failing that, Loeks could have simply gone to the website for the Nebraska Legislature, clicked her mouse a couple of times and read the bill for herself. Such basic acts of journalism were beyond her, with the predictable result that her article served as a mouthpiece for opponents of LB22.

That might not be so bad if Fangmeyer, Snyder and Mueller had told the truth about the bill, but they didn’t. The NSBA’s spin on LB22 is that it either requires or “begins with” a presumption of 50/50 parenting time for mothers and fathers. It does no such thing. Truly, take five minutes out of your day and read the bill. There is not one word that in any way suggests such a thing. That leads to the unavoidable conclusion that either (a) Fangmeyer, et al haven’t read the bill or (b) they’re openly lying about it. Either is bad, but the latter is an outrageous attempt to sway public opinion, not on the basis of principled opposition, but on misrepresentations about the clear terms of the bill. As I’ve said before, if you have to resort to lies, your position isn’t very strong.

Having become a mouthpiece for Marsha Fangmeyer’s unprincipled opposition to LB22, it’s come to my attention that the Star Herald plans a follow-up article that will more accurately reflect the facts about the bill.

But there’s more; with Marsha Fangmeyer, there’s always more. LB22 was originally filed earlier this year and assigned to the Judiciary Committee. Of course family lawyers in Nebraska, as in other states, see the prospect of fathers and children having real relationships post-divorce to be the dawn of the Apocalypse, so they swung into action opposing the bill. But, as I wrote about here, they didn’t stop with simple opposition to the bill; they took a more comprehensive approach. They appointed an ad hoc committee whose purpose it is to study current child custody law and, of course LB22.

The transparent point of the ad hoc committee is to give opponents of shared parenting the ability to say “Look, we’re not the ones opposed to LB22. The committee examined the bill and rejected it.” It’s classic buck-passing while providing Fangmeyer a fig leaf of respectability.

All that of course is why Fangmeyer has been touting the committee to the skies. She’s instructed committee members to “keep an open mind and listen” about all aspects of shared parenting.

Nonsense. That’s for public consumption only. What’s going on behind the scenes (or sometimes right out in public) is that the ad hoc committee has no intention of keeping an open mind. After all, as it was originally configured, Fangmeyer’s fig leaf committee had precisely zero members who supported shared parenting out of a total membership of 34. Someone apparently pointed out to them that that made the actual purpose of the committee all too clear, i.e. to rubberstamp bar opposition to LB22.

So a grand total of two proponents of shared parenting were added. Talk about a fig leaf.

As if that weren’t enough, one of the members of the committee is divorce lawyer Paul Snyder who was quoted last week by the Star Herald thus:

“This new proposed legislation, if enacted, I think, is going to take us back 30 or 40 years. A presumption that both parents should have 50-50 (custody) is a presumption that they are both fit and proper, that they both have been actively involved and those presumptions are hardly ever true. Hardly ever true,” Snyder said.

He said that the presumption that parents should have shared custody “starts out in la-la land.”

Now, I won’t go into all the many ways in which those statements are just so much claptrap. Again, the 50-50 presumption is simply false. No such presumption appears in LB22 or anywhere else in Nebraska family law, so Snyder’s assertion is utterly at odds with the truth, a fact I suspect he knows.

But more important is the fact that Snyder’s one of those ad hoc committee members who’s supposed to “keep an open mind and listen.” He’s doing anything but, which once again reveals the true purpose behind the committee’s formation in the first place.

Which brings us to the fact that LB 22 proponent and co-sponsor, Senator Russ Karpisek is none too pleased about the NSBA’s, Fangmeyer’s and the committee’s blatant misrepresentations about the bill or the committee’s role in squelching it. As this article reveals, he wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Brad Ashford, in which he excoriates the ad hoc committee for being exactly what I said it is – a Trojan horse for the bar’s opposition to shared parenting (Lincoln Journal Star, 10/2/13). Here’s some of what Sen. Karpisek said:

I cannot tell you how disappointed and upset I was when I saw a recent article from the Scottsbluff Star Herald newspaper with the headline: “NSBA opposing Parenting Act changes.” In the article, a Scottsbluff attorney who is a member of the NSBA’s House of Delegates and is on the Parenting Ad Hoc Committee appears to have already made up his mind by saying that the bill’s assumption that parents should have shared custody “starts out in la-la land.” I guess he didn’t get the memo from President Fangmeyer directing him to “keep an open mind and listen.”

The main thing that I find offensive in this article is that “officials” with the NSBA allege that the motivation behind the bill has to do with reducing child support and not focusing on the best interests of the child. I would like to know which NSBA official said that because it shows a complete lack of understanding regarding the issues that LB 22 was intended to address. In fact, I would argue that in the current system, some parents already fight for custody because of the child support that follows. I think you would see more amicable custody arrangements if the child support could somehow be uncoupled from custodial rights. But until that happens, we are left trying to make the current system fairer. As for the best interests of the child, I agree that if a parent is deemed by the court to be unfit, that should negatively impact that parent’s custodial rights. But I also believe that when possible, having both parents involved in a child’s life is in that child’s best interest, and that should be where the discussion of custodial rights begins…

However, I do not have the same faith in the NSBA’s Parenting Ad Hoc Committee. Based on the comments by unnamed NSBA “officials,” it would appear that the Parenting Ad Hoc Committee is simply a vehicle to be used by the NSBA to legitimize its preconceived conclusions – in other words, to simply “prove” what it already believes.

At this point, it’s hard for the NSBA to blow it any worse. They’ve lied repeatedly about LB22; they’ve been caught stacking the ad hoc committee with anti-shared parenting stalwarts; they’ve offended elected representatives who see the committee for exactly what it is; and the committee is scarred with numerous ethical and legal violations like conflicts of interest and failure to hold open meetings. If they’d set out to pass LB22, they could hardly have done better.

But there’s still more. On September 30th, there was a hearing before the Nebraska Supreme Court to de-integrate the state bar. The bar now is an integrated one which means membership, and the dues that go with it, are mandatory. NSBA lobbying against LB22 has gotten so blatant that a proceeding was begun to de-integrate the bar, i.e. make membership voluntary. The experience of other de-integrated bars is that de-integration reduces bar income by about 60%.

And then or course there’s the pesky matter of that lawsuit against the NSBA based on its lobbying activities that seem to violate members First Amendment rights.

How many times can Marsha Fangmeyer shoot herself and the bar in the foot?

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