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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

May 31, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Damian Kazazian case, in Bergen County, New Jersey, goes on and on and gets crazier by the day. Seriously, you’d think that, at some point, the many people interfering with his parental rights would notice what everyone else has — that their behavior is embarrassingly biased and illegal — and back off. But the simplest of lessons seems too difficult for them to grasp.

I first wrote about Kazazian’s case here. That was this past January, at which time the local police and prosecutors had abandoned all pretense of objectivity or impartiality. So had the Department of Youth and Family Services (now called the Division of Child Placement and Permanency), the state’s child protective agency. Indeed, only one judge seemed to be in touch with the basics of black-letter law.

By that time, Kazazian and his partner, Shirley Gonclaves, had pursued a volatile relationship whose low point was her stabbing him in 2010, sending him to the hospital. That bit of aggravated battery failed to get her charged by the police or prosecutors and, so encouraged, she last year presented Kazazian with a choice: he could pay her $55,000 and allow her to take their five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, to Brazil, or she would tell the police he’d sexually abused the girl.

Kazazian declined to pay the money or allow the move that he figured would result in his never seeing his daughter again. So Gonclaves notified the police of her claims. That began a series of actions by the police, prosecutors, judges and the DYFS that took anti-father/pro-mother bias to new depths of absurdity and abusiveness.

Despite there being no evidence of sexual abuse or abuse of any kind, and despite Gabriella’s denial of any wrongdoing by Kazazian, the police jailed him, the prosecutors charged him and a judge set his bail at $250,000, a sum he was unable to raise. So Kazazian remained in jail from April of 2014 to January of 2015. Meanwhile, Gabriella remained with her mother.

But that wasn’t enough for Bergen County prosecutors. They issued a press release blatantly misrepresenting the case against Kazazian in order to strongly suggest his guilt on the sexual abuse charge. Specifically, they referred to his daughter as an “acquaintance,” neglected to mention Gonclaves’ efforts to extort money, her previous battery against Kazazian or the custody case between the two. Plus, they told readers that Kazazian had in fact committed the crime for which they had no evidence and was in any case merely an allegation at the time the press release was issued.

Six months later, in October of 2014, Judge Roy McGeady demonstrated that he may have been the only lawyer in the county with even the dimmest notion of the law. Judge McGeady, based on Kazazian’s information, charged Gonclaves with seven criminal counts of extortion and coercion.

Despite that ruling, Bergen County prosecutors kept Kazazian in jail an additional three months for no apparent reason and based on no probable cause. That occurred in January of this year and prompted my first article on the case. Amazingly, despite his having been in jail for eight months, prosecutors never got around to presenting his case to a grand jury, thereby allowing Kazazian to remain in jail with no means of release.

That brings us up to the most recent developments in the case.

First and least surprisingly, Kazazian is suing everyone in sight, as this article reports (Bergen County Dispatch, 5/16/15).

Damian Kazazian, a Hackensack father that was charged with inappropriate sexual activity with 5 year old girl, has filed a notice of claim against Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli, Hackensack Police Director Michael Mordaga and members of both agencies. In the complaint, Kazazian says he was “wrongfully arrested, wrongfully charged, wrongfully prosecuted, defamed, slandered, libeled and had countless intentional and negligent torts committed against me”.

I wouldn’t be surprised if DYFS and various employees thereof turn out to be next on Kazazian’s list of civil defendants. That’s because, even though it’s been over five months since all charges were dropped against him and even longer that Gonclaves has faced criminal charges, DYFS still won’t allow Kazazian to see Gabriella for more than four hours per week.

Despite the Bergen Prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges against Kazazian, the well-respected local businessman remains in a battle with Bergen County’s Child Protection and Permanency (formerly known as DYFS). Through the actions of DYFS, Kazazian is limited to supervised visitation with his daughter of about 4 hours per week, and DYFS often cancels at the last minute according to Kazazian.

Kazazian has cooperated with all of the demands put on him by DYFS. With all criminal charges dropped and evidence that the allegations were manufactured, Kazazian and his daughter remain at the mercy of DYFS and a Bergen County Superior Judge. DYFS offers no allegations beyond those charges that were dismissed, yet still shows no signs that they will end their involvement and permit Kazazian to resume his role as parent of his estranged daughter.

In short, DYFS is refusing Kazazian his parental rights … just because. There are no charges, no allegations, no evidence he’s not a fit father. But DYFS is refusing him access anyway.

As usual, one of the reasons it can do that is that it acts in secret. So the citizens of New Jersey aren’t allowed to know what its “servants” are doing or why. The file is closed to public scrutiny and all courtroom activities are likewise secret.

When the Bergen Dispatch wrote the article I excerpted twice above, Shirley Gonclaves was offended. So she got the court that was hearing the DYFS case against Kazazian to issue a gag order requiring that it be removed from the paper’s website.

Now, every first-year law student knows that those types of blatant infringements on press freedom have to be directly related to some extremely important and immediate threat in order to pass constitutional muster. Reading the article, it’s hard to figure out just why a judge would issue such an order. There’s simply nothing in the piece that appears to be a threat to anything or anyone.

But we may never know why the gag order was issued. Why? It was done in secret, of course. Despite the fact that the Bergen Dispatch was the target of the order, the paper was given no notice of the motion, no notice of the hearing or any opportunity to present a defense of its article. That apparently is just how those people roll. They seem to think that, because child protection issues are secret, everything they do is.

But that’s scarcely the most ridiculous aspect to the case. No, as revealed by this article, that comes from the fact that the sole legal authority cited by the judge to support her gag order against the Dispatch is a statute that was repealed 35 years ago (Bergen Dispatch, 5/30/15). No, really. I couldn’t make that up. Here’s the language from the gag order that was issued on May 29:

“The May 16, 2015 article, "Bergen Father Fights to get Daughter Back After Wrongful Prosecution" that is posted in the "Bergen Dispatch", involving this litigation shall be taken down, on an immediate basis, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 9:8-1 et seq.

And here’s the language from the brief of the Dispatch’s lawyer in his effort to overturn the gag order:

[T]he only authority cited for the action was N.J.S.A. 9:8-1 et seq. This section is currently listed as the Following: “Chapter 8. Orphan Asylums; Guardianship and Indenture of Children [Repealed].” According to Westlaw this statute was repealed in 1980.”

In Judge Gallina-Mecca’s court, it’s the Original Amateur Hour. Fortunately, one day after its issuance, the Dispatch’s lawyer acquainted her with the law and the judge vacated her own gag order. Meanwhile, Kazazian still can’t see his daughter for more than a few hours each week, despite there being not even an allegation that he’s anything but a fit father.

I’ve written before about the propensity of child protective agencies to waste time on cases in which there’s no evidence of child abuse or neglect. Such a case is the one in Maryland in which Alexander and Danielle Meitiv are fighting a six-month battle against the local CPS despite having done nothing wrong in the rearing of their children.

Child protective agencies often (and rightly) complain that legislatures give them budgets that are too low to hire enough staff to deal with all the cases that come before them. That’s true enough, but one way to lighten their load would be to treat cases like Damian Kazazian’s the way it should be — as a non-case. All the person-hours spent on his case could have been devoted to real cases of abuse or neglect that sadly occur throughout the county. But no; they had to litigate in secret on behalf of a mother who’s apparently a criminal bent on keeping Kazazian out of his daughter’s life.

And of course I’ve written about the secrecy in which child protective cases play out. This is another example of a case that, had it been open to public scrutiny would likely have been nipped in the bud. The type of frank anti-father behavior by DYFS personnel is much more difficult to engage in publicly. Likewise, the type of legal incompetence on the part of the agency and the judge tends to flourish best in the dark. When people know they’re being watched, they tend to do their jobs better than when they know they’re not.  The idea that a newspaper can be ordered, in secret and with no notice to take down an article that in no way offends any aspect of the law and on the basis of a long-repealed statute is surely the stuff of secret proceedings.

I’ll continue to follow this case. Let’s see if the DYFS can continue to deny a fit father to a little girl who needs him.

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