January 28, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Many times we’ve stared aghast at the astonishing fees accumulated by lawyers in child custody cases. Just two weeks ago I reported on an Australian judge who excoriated lawyers for making custody and parenting time cases an excuse to protract litigation and increase fees beyond anything remotely necessary. He cited one case that saw a litigant pay $860,000 Australian.
The reason lawyers can get away with such outrageous behavior is that child custody cases are winner-take-all enterprises. One parent wins; one loses. They both know the situation going into the case and, egged on by lawyers who understand perfectly how well inter-spousal conflict can pay, fight tooth and nail to avoid being the one dubbed “visitor.”
Now we get some particulars on just how far lawyers can take the fear and loathing begotten by our child custody system (Daily Record, 1/26/18). John Murphy had an order from a Georgia family court giving him primary custody of his two children. His ex-wife wanted to modify that order and hired Atlanta lawyer Millard Farmer to represent her. Over the course of more than four years, Farmer scorched the earth. We know a few of the tactics he used because, after all was said and done, Murphy sued him under state racketeering laws. A federal jury recently returned a civil verdict in Murphy’s favor and awarded him $242,835 in damages.
The jury in the civil case determined by a preponderance of evidence that Farmer, as part of the racketeering enterprise, engaged in attempted theft by extortion, attempted bribery, intimidation of a court officer, influencing witnesses, interstate travel in aid of racketeering and interference with custody, according to the verdict…
But [Murphy’s lawyer, Buddy] Parker said he told the jury that Farmer’s litigation tactics amounted to “terroristic lawyering” designed to “exert as much financial pain and emotional pain” as possible over a custody modification petition that ultimately took four-and-a-half years to resolve…
The jury verdict included findings that Farmer:
Attempted to bribe Coweta Superior Court Judge Quillian Baldwin by suing his court reporter and then offering to dismiss the suit if Baldwin recused from the litigation and made his recusal retroactive to predate his 2012 ruling giving custody of the two boys to their father.
Intimidated Baldwin’s court reporter by contacting her lawyer, saying he would dismiss the suit against her if she persuaded the judge to recuse retroactive to the custody ruling.
Tampered with witnesses and court-appointed personnel by making inflammatory accusations intended to damage the professional reputations of two court-appointed guardians ad litem and three court-appointed psychologists, the judge, and Haugerud, John Murphy’s current wife, either with litigation, threats to sue or complaints to their respective licensing or ethics boards.
Attempted to extort funds from Murphy and his wife by allegedly engaging in efforts to impair their credit and professional reputations through the dissemination of information accusing them of criminal offenses, and making false statements over interstate wires to the media.
With any luck, Farmer will be disbarred into the bargain. Tactics like those found by the civil court jury should have no place in the conduct of any lawsuit. Sadly, they all too often show up in cases in which litigants rightly fear the worst – the loss of their children. Those parents have every reason to fear that because it happens as a matter of course. It shouldn’t. Reform of laws on custody and parenting time and the education of family court judges in the benefits of shared parenting to children would take most of the conflict out of divorce and child custody cases.
It would also mean lawyers like Farmer would be unable to convince their clients that what they do and the fees they charge are necessary. Of course the vast majority of family lawyers aren’t as despicable as Farmer seems to have been, but, when the system offers such rich rewards for bad behavior, no one is surprised when some take advantage.
Farmer abused the system. The main reason he was able to – perhaps the only reason – is the absence of a presumption of shared parenting.
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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.
#divorce, #sharedparenting, #racketeering