Opinion: Vargas and Gonzalez Say CT Family Court System Is Broken


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State Representative Edwin Vargas (D) Hartford says state’s family court system must be fixed.
Pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain. All is well in Connecticut’s family courts.
It’s so swell in family court, the administration of justice is probably even better than that of this state’s outstanding purveyor of kleptocracy, the probate court.  Just kidding.
This ground is incredibly fertile for responsible legislators and reporters to uncover which court shafts citizens worse – probate or family. Both courts share the shield of doing much of their business out of public view.

Aggrieved parents who have not been able to see their children for years put so much heat on the legislature and the judicial branch that even Chief Justice Chase Rogers has acknowledged some sort of reform is needed. Rogers characterized the system as not “totally broken.” Many of these parents trapped in the system have shelled out huge sums – tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars – not only to regular lawyers, but also to court-ordered and unsupervised guardians.

For example, a Torrington parent testified on Jan. 9 before a legislative task force that he has spent more than five years and $50,000 unsuccessfully trying to enforce visitation with his child. That’s small change compared with many of the horror stories told during a 15-hour hearing that day.
The task force also heard testimony regarding an entity called the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) which allegedly functions like a
State Representative Minnie Gonzalez (D) Hartford has long been critical of the state’s Family Court System.
vendor and has had questionable practices, ties and relationships with judges, guardians and other court officials. Questions about AFCC have been raised in news reports by The Washington Times, which posted a 2013 opinion by the Connecticut Commission on Judicial Ethics stating: “An appearance of impropriety would arise if a Judicial Official serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization or member of the Judicial Office’s staff were to refer clients to the nonprofit organization.” At its worst, the AFCC operations have been likened to that of a racketeering enterprise. This could be fodder for the U.S. Justice Department, which disclosed to parents in January that it is conducting a review of the training that Connecticut judges and support staff receive regarding family court cases relative to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As expected, lawyers, judges and guardians have circled the wagons to protect their turf. Lackeys in the Legislature can always be counted on to help. This is particularly true in the Judiciary Committee – traditionally a stepping stone to a judgeship – where 25 of the 44 current members are lawyers. All too often, these supposed representatives pull their punches or, worse – attack the complainants – when the subject is judicial misconduct.
How dare citizens demand to hold their public servants accountable, especially those who wear robes?
Still, something had to be done to contain the outcry. Why not form a task force to study the problems?
How about rigging the task force by putting those alleged to be at the heart of wrongdoing in charge?
That’s just what Senate President Don Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey did. They appointed guardians at litem and attorneys Sue Cousineau and Sharon Dornfeld as co-chairs of the so-called Task Force To Study Legal Disputes Involving The Care & Custody Of Children.
This is not honest government. This is just a charade. This is proof that citizens cannot trust the Legislature to protect them – they have to act on their own.
Sadly, this is business as usual. Our alleged leaders used a similar process in the ongoing decimation of the state’s Freedom of Information law.
Every now and then, however, some legislators step up for justice. In the probate courts many years ago, it was a young representative named Chris Shays, who was jailed in his quest to expose corruption.
Today, we are blessed to have at least two legislators with the courage to speak the plain truth without regard to their own standing or well being. I call them Minnie Quixote and Edwin Quixote. They are state representatives Minnie Gonzalez and Edwin Vargas, both of Hartford. Coincidentally, like Shays, they are not lawyers.
“The system is broken … the system is letting these people down … they are losing their houses, they are losing their money,” Gonzalez said to Al Terzi and Laurie Perez on Fox61’s Real Story, telling of tearful testimony by victims of family court who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers and guardians with virtually no hope of justice.

To read full article: http://www.middletownpress.com/opinion/20140331/cool-justice-courageous-legislator-on-ct-family-court-it-sure-aint-america
Photo; courtesy of CT House Democrats
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