by Attorney David Grossack –
Federal courts have one thing in common with the United States military. They only use a tiny fraction of the power they have, and they can leave unprotected people in harm’s way as a consequence.
The federal courts have a doctrine known as “the domestic relations exception.”.
It means that even when serious examples of denials of due process and equal protection, intrusions into family autonomy and some pretty horrible human rights violations occur, the federal courts essentially say ‘ don’t bother us “.
The doctrine is well over a hundred years old and is based partly on a second doctrine known as “comity’ which I will loosely defined as the mutual respect state and federal courts have for each other’s turf. Federal courts say that state courts are best qualified to deal with family law matters but it is far from always the case.
What goes on in family courts often involves judicial favoritism of a vile kind. It is also a place where character assassination is the expected way litigation is conducted, where men’s lawyers often try to portray women as “nuts and sluts ” and every man is at risk for being labeled a child molester or wife beater. Well liked lawyers will see their clients treated better, and relations between female lawyers and male judges are known to often result in, well, use your imagination.
People are permanently destroyed in the process…children, parents, families, and extended families while lawyers make money in the process and judges enjoy immunity from civil rights lawsuits, even for injunctive relief, i.e. even from a federal court order telling them to stop violating a litigant’s rights.
No matter that men often wind up sleeping in their cars because of outrageous child support orders. No matter that children can be torn away from their mothers or fathers without a shred of evidence that they are unfit, no matter that a lawyer will mouth answers to a witness being cross examined or read papers on an opposing counsel’s desk when his back is turned, ad nauseum.
Critics of the family court system, including this lawyer, have been harassed, including false and malicious charges leveled at my girlfriend who suffered a stroke as a consequence of a frivolous investigation requested by a politically connected lawyer and ordered by a judge formerly of Norfolk County. She was cleared, but still had to spend a week in the hospital recovering from the stroke. I received a bar complaint for merely criticizing judges in Norfolk County in pleadings I filed in federal court. Fortunately, the bar recognized the complaint for what it was and I emerged unscathed.
Scandals abound. Family court judges in Brooklyn were eventually subject to wiretap and caught fixing cases, for very small bribes.
More recently, a female litigant was found to have been having relations with a judge who was presiding over her divorce. The husband’s lawyer tried to sue the creep in federal court and ran into the immunity doctrine, which is now on appeal to the US Supreme Court. The immunity doctrine also usually applies to court clerks, Guardians At Litem and probation or ‘ Family Services ‘ offices.
But even if one passes the immunity obstacle, there is still the ‘ domestic relations exception.” The worst kind of civil rights violations can occur in Family Court, the destruction of a parent and child’s life by perjury, character assassination and dishonest judges. The Appeals process is usually useless. Judges can write their decisions in a manner that can be almost impossible to appeal from, and the Appeals process offers no avenue for damages. Family court cases have driven people to suicide, to homicide, to substance abuse and to nervous breakdowns.
Suing spouses, ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends in federal court, and the lawyers who corruptly aid and abet civil rights violations in Family Court should not be impossible. Nor should it be impossible to sue court officials or the GAL’s who do horrific damage to people’s rights.
Christina Harms is now a former judge of Norfolk County. She went so far as to order a woman to be sterilized and to have an abortion. She was widely exposed, and resigned but did incalculable damage to a lot of people during the too many years she was on the bench. She reported me to the bar for criticizing her court in federal court. The fact that she thought she could exercise so much control over what a woman would do with her own body or what a lawyer would write on pleadings in another court typifies what happens if the wrong people get appointed to the bench. (for life, in our state).
Federal courts have the power to tame some of the bad actors in this scene. Its time they use it.
The author, general counsel of the National Writers Syndicate, has a law practice in Newton, Massachusetts. He is the founder of the Citizens Justice Association and author of How to Win a Lawsuit Without Hiring a Lawyer. In 1999, he received a Lawyer of the Year Award for his civil rights work on behalf of men in domestic cases in the United States District Court.