FCLU WINS MAJOR VICTORY OVER TOXIC LAW GUARDIAN, REUNITING FATHER AND SON AFTER 7-YEAR BATTLE
New York, July 21, 2017 - The Families Civil Liberties Union has helped a seven-year-old boy discover the loving home of his father for the first time in his life. Yesterday, in Brooklyn Family
Court, the public gallery clapped, cheered and called “God bless you,” as Judge Sharon Bourne Clarke signed an order granting "sole legal and physical custody of the Child" to Edmund Welch, a Brooklyn resident and parental rights activist.
Judge Clarke’s ruling ends an excruciatingly painful ordeal for Mr. Welch. For seven years, and under the gavel of six different judges, the family court has punished him by denying him meaningful time with his son. The judges issued their orders on the basis of unfounded allegations of physical and sexual assault made both by the child’s mother and by the “attorney for the child” (AFC) Dawn Post.
"Dawn Post accused me of assault, child pornography and hating women," said Welch after the hearing. "She used these allegations to persuade various judges to separate me from my son, causing huge harm to us both. Post needs to be disbarred for perjury and negligence.”
Ms. Post is the co-director of the Brooklyn office of the Children’s Law Center (CLC), a non-profit law firm which receives $65mn of taxpayer money to “represent indigent New York children” involved in custody cases. The CLC wields enormous power in the court system, because judges are directed to believe that CLC attorneys truthfully communicate the wishes and ‘best interests of the child’.
Faced with intensifying public outrage, Ms Post did not dare to appear in court yesterday. Instead, she sent Christopher Imperioli, the only male attorney at the CLC. Also present was the CLC’s deputy director Martha Schneiderman, and two female CLC staff-members. Throughout the hearing, Mr Imperioli stood up to consult with Ms Schneiderman, and texted on his phone, presumably to Ms Post.
In a display of judicial independence rare in New York’s family courts, Judge Clarke did not accede to the AFC’s demands or recommendations. She rejected three different motions made by the CLC. First, she refused to hold a conference with the attorneys off the record, and out of earshot of the public and press. Second, she refused the CLC’s demand that she affirmatively instruct the press and public not to record the hearing. And third, she denied a written motion presented by Mr Imperioli that would have obliged the father to provide medical records of the child to the CLC, and to present the child for periodic interrogations by Ms Post and her colleagues.
“You’re in the driving seat now,” Judge Clarke told Mr Welch. “If you agree to a final settlement, you don’t have to have anything more to do with these attorneys.”
David Schorr, who was the attorney representing Mr Welch, politely informed Judge Clarke of the havoc that the CLC has caused to the child’s life. “It would be very much in the child’s interests for the CLC to remove itself from this case, and for the court to assign another public defender to represent the child. The CLC has become a serious obstacle to the case and the child.”
Families Civil Liberties Union – The National Voice of Families
As they left the court, jeers and cries rained down on Mr Imperioli and Ms Schneiderman: “Shame on you!” “CLC child-abusers!” “Disbar Dawn Post!” “Defund the CLC!” The attorneys had to be escorted away by armed court officers.
A major reason for yesterday’s ruling was that the child’s mother, Rachel Taylor, was incarcerated on Rikers Island on Wednesday. It was Ms Taylor’s allegations of physical and sexual abuse, which Ms Post repeated and escalated to keep Mr Welch from meaningful time with his son. In May, the New York Criminal Court sentenced Ms. Taylor to two-years in prison after finding her guilty of burglary, harassment, and assault with a deadly weapon on Patria Ayton, a social worker from the Administration of Children Services. Ironically, Ms Ayton had been investigating Ms Taylor’s own allegations that Mr Welch had struck her with a crowbar and her allegation in open court that “my child was made to perform a lewd act on [Mr Welch] and his friend.”
When Ms Ayton reported the ACS’ findings, exonerating Mr Welch, but with grave criticisms about the mother as an unfit guardian, Ms Taylor retaliated violently. On March 4, 2016, after months of telephone and email harassment, Ms Taylor went to Ms Ayton’s mother’s house and kicked and punched Ms Ayton.
Not once did Ms Post express any concerns to the court about Ms Taylor’s character or conduct, even when Ms. Post first learnt of her assault on Ms Ayton, sixteen months ago. Ms Post’s only interest in the case seemed to be punishing Mr Welch for criticizing her and the CLC through his parental rights organization, Disgusted Dads.
Although Ms Taylor must now face two years hard time, Judge Clarke has not yet imposed any sanction on her chief conspirator, Dawn Post. The record shows that Post not only echoed Taylor’s false allegations, she escalated them.
“Dawn Post accused me in open court of distributing child pornography and inciting violence against women,” Welch said. “She used those crazy, unfounded allegations with the vindictive purpose of punishing me and my son for publicly criticizing her conduct. She needs to be disbarred for perjury, neglect, and violation of her duty to responsibly represent her client.”
Sebastian Doggart, President of the New York chapter of the FCLU, stated: “False accusations are a
‘silver bullet’ used by many parents and AFCs to legally kidnap our children, forcing them to grow up in single-parent families. The New York family courts are handing out restraining orders like candy. We hope this ruling will send a clear message that false accusations will be severely punished, and that everyone needs to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.”
Peter Lomtevas, an experienced attorney in custody cases, commented: “Dawn Post is the evidence fabricator in family court. She is the master of the free cross which means she can assume any facts she wants during trial to shape the case the way she wants to.”
Another family court attorney in attendance, who asked for his name to be withheld for reprisals from the judicial establishment, said: “I have worked closely with Dawn Post over several years. She should not be representing children. She is a very disturbed woman.”
Yesterday, Judge Clarke also dismissed a petition for custody made by Diane Lyman, the maternal grandmother. She had cited the false allegations made by Taylor and Post, to support her own petition to win custody of the child herself. Judge Clarke’s dismissal was issued “with prejudice”, which is legalese for meaning “your allegations were a pile of horse manure.”
Mr. Welch is due to be reunited with his son tomorrow at 2:15pm, after the child’s summer school ends.
Mr. Schorr said after the hearing: “This case is about the extraordinary power that AFCs can wield and the pressure they can exert on even the fairest minded judges. Happily, Judge Clarke showed today she is not only fair, but has a big heart. I am her biggest fan.”
Mr. Doggart was less effusive: “Judge Clarke may have made the right call today, but she should have done this a year ago, when she first took over the case. Instead, she extended the child’s separation from his father, working on the assumption that the CLC and the mother were telling the truth. And Judge Clarke failed to set timely dates for a hearing on the allegations against Mr Welch. She may have corrected her mistake today, but there remain many serious questions about her conduct. Why did Judge Clarke not give the father more parenting time when she found about the mother’s conviction for assault? Why did she not intervene to help with the child’s transition to the father’s home until AFTER Ms Taylor was sent to Rikers? How is the judge going to give back the lost time to the boy? And how is she going to punish the CLC for its lies and false accusations?”
One observer, Brooklyn business-owner and father-of-two Mark Gerbush, whose daughter was represented by the CLC from 2013 to 2016, said: “The CLC is pure evil. They kept me from my daughter for two years. They traffic children, and spout false accusations with impunity. They have interest only in paying themselves fat salaries. They need to be shut down.”
The CLC receives a whopping $65mn from New York State, through payments from the New York State, via the Office of Court Administration (OCA). Although CLC has tax-exempt status as a nonprofit firm set up “to help indigent children”, it pays its directors huge salaries. Ms Simmons receives around $250,000 a year, and Ms Post $205,000. These are unheard-of salaries for publiclyfunded non-profits.
“We need to stop this huge fraud,” Welch said after the hearing. “The State of New York needs to shut this poisonous agency down.”
Lee Carda, a railway worker and parent separated from his eight-year-old child because of the actions of Lauren McSwain, one of Ms Post’s CLC staff attorneys, stated: “I am delighted for Eddy Welch. But the CLC continues to be negligent about my son. It has dragged out my case for three long years. It has turned a blind eye when the mother failed to make my son available for me to see. And they’ve taken no steps to help my son deal with the parental alienation he is suffering. I’ve begged the CLC to help get into counseling to deal with his anger and hatred, but its attorneys have done nothing.”
Mr Doggart said: "This case shows how the CLC has become a cancer in the New York court system. The OCA’s huge grant of money to the CLC was done recklessly and improperly, without any public competitive tender. The OCA appoints the CLC to represent all the children in custody cases in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. It gives them free advertising for their
‘adoption services’ on the walls of the courthouses. It gives them mail in-trays in every courtroom. It gives the CLC free office space. And it allows them to have secret, ex parte conversations with the judges and their court attorneys. But the CLC has abused this power and defrauded the state and the taxpayers. It aggravates parents, divides families, and wrecks homes. The CLC ‘churns’ cases to maximize the money it can claim from New York taxpayers. And they hide beyond a complete lack of oversight. Governor Cuomo needs to audit and shut this agency down immediately.”
The OCA refuses to provide any records of pending family court cases. But the FCLU knows of numerous cases where the CLC is preventing children from growing up with both parents. In one case, Renz v Little, Ms Post has blocked film-maker and father Rik Little from seeing or communicating with his daughter for nine years. Ms Post refuses even to forward monthly cards and gifts that Mr Little sends to the CLC. This callousness is made even more egregious because she is violating a court order to act as the intermediary for such gifts. Mr Little’s trial is due to commence in September in front of Judge Dean Kusakabe, a former AFC himself, with close ties to the CLC.
Mr Doggart commented: “Judge Kusakabe’s court attorney is Sara Waing, who worked at the CLC for five years before coming to the CLC. Waing has a close relationship with Ms Post, who is Mr Little’s chief prosecutor. What chance does Little have for a fair trial? What chance does his 16 year old daughter have of ever knowing her father?”
Aleah Holland, a registered nurse, and author of a book about the New York family court, A little lynched: A judge ordered kidnapping,” commented: “The CLC gives Aleister Crowley style protection for children. This is a tragedy and a human rights nightmare.”
Ms Holland’s son was represented by one Ms Post’s staff attorneys, Genevieve Tahang-Behan, who used an allegation that she had let her three-year-old “play with guns” to strip her of custody of the boy. Ms Holland says: “The CLC gleefully conspired to invent a fake story about me. Genevieve Tehang-Behan did not give two cents about the safety of my son. She liked to smile frequently and creepily while creating false allegations against me. She is incompetent, mean-spirited and evil minded. I still have nightmares of her saying wicked bad things about me and my family while acting powerful, pompous and protected by her quasi-judicial immunity.”
Ms Holland filed suit against the CLC in US District Court in 2012. The CLC used two of its own attorneys, operating at the NY taxpayers’ expense, to fight Ms Holland. The Federal court eventually dismissed the suit on grounds of “the family relations exception”, which means that the federal government may not provide oversight on the States’ abuses of constitutional rights in cases involving family disputes. And the court also accepted the CLC’s claim of immunity.
“The CLC mis-used the eleventh amendment to the Constitution to excuse their hatefulness, viciousness and venom towards me and my children,” said Ms Holland. “They basically stated that, no matter how wicked, dirty, nasty, ruthless, or illegal their breach of the law was, they were immune from punishment.”
Judges also use this claim of immunity to protect themselves from being sued, citing the notorious case of Stump vs Sparkman, where the US Supreme Court ruled that Judge Spark could not be found liable for an order he made to remove the reproductive organs of a young woman, because he had absolute judicial immunity.
Ultimate responsibility for CLC’s misconduct, and for its abuse of privilege and quasi-judicial immunity lies with New York State, and Governor Andrew Cuomo. He has failed either to take action to correct CLC’s misconduct, or to set up any body that provides oversight on the CLC.
Harriet Weinberger is the director of the Attorney for Children Program for the Appellate Division, Second Department and oversees the work of most AFCs in New York. But CLC has managed to get its attorneys excluded from their oversight. “I’ve not heard of any CLC attorney ever being disqualified, sanctioned or disbarred,” she said. “But our office does not have jurisdiction over the CLC. Technically, that would be the Grievance Committees or the Office of Court Administration.”
The FCLU has filed, or reviewed, numerous complaints about the CLC to various New York Grievance Committees. None has been investigated. This is hardly surprising since the Grievance Committee shares an office with the Office of Attorneys for Children.
Sign outside NY Grievance Committee offices, Brooklyn, New York
“Judicial corruption has plunged to such depths that New York State does not even try to cover up its cronyism,” said Mr Doggart.
The FCLU has filed detailed, facially meritorious complaints – and reviewed other such complaints filed about the CLC -- to the NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; the New York Charities Bureau; the NY Unified Court System; and the New York chief judge Janet DiFiore. None of these agencies has investigated those complaints, let alone taken remedial action.
That leaves the Office of Court Administration – the state body that actually pays out our taxpayer dollars to the CLC. The FCLU emailed this article to David Bookstaver, Head of Communications at the OCA, requesting a comment. He returned our call and said he had no comment, but referred us to Lucian Chalfen, the OCA’s so-called ‘Director of Public information”. We left a message on the number provided by Mr Bookstaver, and emailed him, but received no reply.
Meantime, the CLC has ensured that supposedly independent attorney-review sites like avvo.com will not allow legal consumers to criticize the performance of their AFCs. Complaints about CLC attorneys are removed within a few hours, apparently because CLC has an alert system set up to prompt an immediate complaint. An avvo.com spokesman stated: “Further to complaints and threats of legal action, and to protect children, we do not allow reviews on law guardians or AFCs.”
Mr. Welch is now planning to challenge the CLC’s immunity – and protect New York families. Together with the FCLU, he is preparing a suit in the Court of Claims against Dawn Post, the CLC, and, unless its officers take immediate action, New York State. He is seeking financial damages for negligence, fraud and compensation for the harm for the time that Mr. Welch and his son have lost together. And he is seeking a court order shutting down the CLC, to stop further waste, fraud and abuse of public money.
“I will not rest until the CLC is shut down,” a determined but delighted Mr Welch affirmed. “And I will not rest until there is no risk for other parents and children to have their rights violated by Dawn Post and her staff.”
The FCLU emailed Karen Simmons, executive director of the CLC, for a comment on this article. She did not respond.
Meanwhile, Mr Welch had nothing but praise for the FCLU and his attorney, Mr Schorr: “I have a dream-team of David Schorr and the FCLU. I would recommend them to anyone who comes up against the broken family court.”
Dream Team: Sebastian Doggart, Edmund Schorr, Mark Gerbush and David Schorr
Mr Doggart also praised Mr Schorr: “David is one of very few attorneys in America who have earned the FCLU’s title of Certified Ethical Matrimonial Attorney. His courtesy, honesty, integrity and genuine compassion for the children at the heart of each case are exemplary. The American Bar Association has become a school for scoundrels. If only he had more attorneys like David Schorr.”
First and last pages of the order signed yesterday by Judge Clarke (the mother signed separately, shortly before she was remanded to jail on Rikers Island)
Judge Clarke calendared 9:30am on September 26th as the date for parties to return to court, to convert the temporary stipulation into a permanent order. The court will also decide whether a full trial will proceed on Mr Welch’s two pending violation petitions, and a petition for modification of custody. If the CLC does not accede to Mr Schorr and Mr Welch’s calls for it to remove itself from the case, the court will also hear a motion to disqualify and sanction the CLC.