March 19, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In the Fall of 2014, Measure 6 came before the voters of North Dakota. It was a shared parenting initiative for which supporters had gathered enough signatures to place on the ballot that Fall. In North Dakota, as in so many other states, the narrowest of special interests, including feminist groups like the American Association of University Women, domestic violence groups and, of course, the State Bar Association of North Dakota (SBAND) opposed the initiative.
As I reported in full that year, the opposition by SBAND and domestic violence groups that receive federal funding violated numerous federal laws. That fact was well known to the groups who illegally lobbied against Measure 6 anyway.
But SBAND’s opposition went further. It went so far as to create, out of thin air, an organization called Keeping Kids First that came into being a mere three months prior to Election Day and was almost entirely funded with Bar dues.
The opposition prevailed, in part because the initiative was very poorly worded. But shortly after the election, The Goldwater Institute filed suit against SBAND for violating its members’ constitutional right to free speech. The lawsuit was a slam-dunk winner as everyone involved could see, so SBAND settled by, among other things, agreeing to make changes to the way its dues were handled.
So, given that there is now a bill before the state legislature that would substantially equalize mothers’ and fathers’ rights in child custody cases, it comes as a bit of a surprise that SBAND and at least one domestic violence group are once again seeking to kill the bill, very possibly in violation of the same laws they violated in 2014.
This article fills us in on the details (LW4SP, 3/16/17).
An “Open Records Request” to SBAND has exposed additional irregular activity by SBAND and its member attorneys against the new reform bill, which passed the House Committee (15 to 0), the House of Representatives (71 to 21), and is now being reviewed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The communications suggest that the SBAND players hope to kill the bill in this committee.
Needless to say, the leadership of SBAND is aware of the problem of opposing this bill, but so desperate are the family lawyers that they’re seeking a way to do so regardless of the consequences. In an email, here’s attorney Jason McLean who headed the front group Keeping Kids First in 2014:
“Our [family law] section needs to be backed by SBAND as a whole. We need to have a united front. I understand the trepidation that comes with that step, but this is the type of legislation that needs the BOG’s (Board of Governors) position on. I ask that the BOG reconsider its current stance and oppose this bill.”
That “trepidation” of course came from the fact that they’d been sued by the Goldwater Institute and had, just a year ago, adopted a new policy on the use of members’ mandatory dues to bring SBAND into compliance with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. But it turns out that laws, lawsuits and SBAND’s own policy be damned.
SBAND leadership set aside their “trepidation” and acquiesced to Mr. McLean’s request despite their year-old policy against such action and despite the significant risk their action would result in more litigation against SBAND.
Stated another way, family lawyers in North Dakota are so afraid that a shared parenting law would cut their earnings by reducing conflict between parents that they’ve convinced the Board of Governors of the state bar to once again violate federal law. The next lawsuit on this against the bar should demand an injunction, violation of which would result in substantial fines and penalties and potentially send bar officials to jail.
The same goes for domestic violence groups that also show their open disdain for the law by lobbying against the bill while receiving federal funding.
Janelle Moos, the Executive Director of the domestic violence group CAWS, was also involved in the communications with SBAND and assorted members. In one communication, Ms. Moos confidently stated:
“If we have to amend the bill that’s fine Senator Armstrong will kill it in the Senate but I think if we can get enough committee members to support a do not pass in Judiciary that would be my preference.”
And when it comes to that behavior, the feds aren’t kidding around.
Federal law prohibits groups that receive funding under the Violence Against Women Act, such as CAWS, from using any portion of their federal grants to lobby. There are substantial penalties for violations, which range from a minimum of $10,000 to $100,000 per occurrence. It will be interesting to see how many separate communications Ms. Moos has had with members of the legislature since each communication could give rise to five figure fines.
Whatever happens with this bill, someone should alert officials in Washington and demand that fines be levied against CAWS.
And, just in case anyone buys the line from the family lawyers that courts are gender-neutral when it comes to mothers and fathers in child custody cases, attorney Jackie Stebbins has graciously admitted otherwise.
Apart from the open records request, Attorney Stebbins was also interviewed by Real World Divorce and made a similar statement that gender issues play a strong role in North Dakota courts:
"Gender issues are alive and well and young moms can do pretty well at shutting dads out."
The gendered trend was further substantiated in another recent article:
“Typically, child custody arrangements give one parent sole custody (usually the mother) and the other parent (usually the father) visitation rights.”
The bill passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 71 – 21. It’s now before the Senate Judiciary Committee and supporters seem agreed that the Chairman of the committee is intent on giving it a fair hearing.
More on this tomorrow.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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