February 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Nebraska’s lawyers, including the state’s judges, continue to resist letting Nebraskans know what family courts are doing (Omaha World-Herald, 2/2/18). That actually overstates the matter somewhat. They’re actually uncomfortable with an informed public only in a couple of very specific areas. And how informative those two areas are!
Readers of this blog will remember the fight family court reform advocate Dr. Les Veskrna was put through by the Administrator for State Courts when he tried to find out how family court judges are trained regarding child custody and parenting time. Never mind that Nebraska’s law on public records is about as broad as it can be and clearly encompasses such non-controversial documents as the ones Veskrna sought. The Administrator fought his losing battle all the way to the state Supreme Court where he was unceremoniously “poured out.”
When the training materials were finally produced, sure enough, they revealed that judges were being given false information about overnights for toddlers and about the science on shared parenting. Perhaps more embarrassing was the fact that the Administrator had gone so far as to lie to Dr. Linda Nielsen, telling her the state couldn’t afford for her to travel there to give a workshop to the judiciary. He did so despite Nielsen’s voluntarily waiving her customary fee while paying anti-father advocate Robert Emery to go to Nebraska to discourage meaningful relationships between children and fathers post-divorce.
In the linked-to piece, Veskrna tells us that the judiciary, despite the Supreme Court ruling, still wants to keep its training materials secret from the public.
Unfortunately, it appears the judicial branch’s zeal for secrecy continues. The Nebraska Supreme Court just proposed a rule that would allow it to keep judicial training materials secret notwithstanding the outcome of the earlier case.
That’s Specific Item No. 1. Against the backdrop of a public records act and legislative history that leaves no doubt about the Legislature’s intention to keep citizens informed about the doings of state government, the Supreme Court wants to carve out an exception strictly for judges’ training materials. Not those of doctors, CPAs, architects or even lawyers, just judges.
And of course that issue only arose with the publication of training materials aimed at one narrow area of interest – child custody and parenting time. Significantly, the issue never came up before.
But the judiciary isn’t done announcing its disdain for an informed public. It also opposes Legislative Bill 879.
Legislative Bill 879, introduced this session, would provide more transparency about child custody cases by collecting parenting time and domestic violence data about every child custody case.
If passed, the bill would add one item to a questionnaire that divorcing couples already fill out now and since 2003. One item. According to the judges and the state bar association, that one additional item is excessive. The existing form is fine, but apparently that one additional question is the proverbial straw that would break the camel’s back.
Dr. Veskrna doesn’t buy it.
The judges argued the data might not be accurate since they would be provided by the parties to the case and not verified by court staff. This argument seems disingenuous since the judges opposed a similar bill several years ago because it would have required involvement by court staff.
In short, the judges oppose gathering the data if it’s provided by the parties to a case and they also oppose it if court personnel provide it. Say, it’s almost as if they simply oppose letting Nebraskans know what judges are doing about custody and parenting time. That conclusion is only made clearer by this:
The judges also argued the data collected shouldn’t be reported by individual judges since it might subject judges to “targeting.” This argument seems disingenuous since the Nebraska State Bar Association itself collects and publishes feedback from lawyers about individual judges every two years before Election Day.
Yes, we can’t have an electorate that’s informed about judges’ behavior when voting on whether or not to retain those very judges. Do the judges realize that that is precisely what they’re arguing for – an uninformed public?
Plus, Veskrna doesn’t allow readers to forget what they judges are arguing against.
Collecting these data is critically important because research shows that children who spend less than 35 percent of their time with either parent have significantly higher risk of poor outcomes, including early mortality, lower educational attainment, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol use and juvenile delinquency. Every year, defective child custody decisions hurt thousands of Nebraska children. Based on DHHS data, we estimate these decisions cost Nebraska taxpayers more than $500 million every year.
In light of the importance of these data, then-State Sen. Brad Ashford asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to perform a comprehensive study of child custody awards from 2002 to 2012. This study found that mothers were awarded custody in 72 percent of cases, while fathers were awarded custody in 13.8 percent. Joint custody with shared residence was awarded in only 12.3 percent of cases. The average parenting time for noncustodial parents was about 17 percent, which is only half the minimum parenting time recommended by mental health research.
That’s Specific Item No. 2. Judges oppose allowing the public to know what judges are doing.
It’s not a pretty picture. At every turn the judges have opposed the good and promoted the bad, the destructive, the dysfunctional. They want to hide the content of their training and the results of their rulings. But if they were trained better, they’d make better decisions and not have to fear the public’s knowledge. And of course they’d contribute mightily to children’s well-being, the very thing they claim to do in every order of custody and parenting time they issue.
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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