Fathers & Families is often critical of family law judges. Given the anti-father bias in the system and the lack of respect many judges display towards fathers’ loving bonds with their children, this criticism is appropriate. However, we also feel it is important to comment judges when they do the right thing, and we’ve done so on countless occasions.
One of the many judges Fathers & Families has defended is conscientious Virginia judge James Michael Shull (pictured). It’s a long story, but it’s an instructive one, and we’d like your action on the matter. In December, 2006 Shull smoked out a woman who sought to extend a restraining order based on false charges of domestic violence, and was removed from the bench for his actions in the case in 2007. I have examined the evidence in this case and it is clear to me that Shull was railroaded. He was also the victim of widely-disseminated misleading reporting. The case provides a sad but excellent example of what can happen to judges who take their responsibilities seriously when adjudicating domestic violence claims. Shull”s problems stem from a case which came before him on December 15, 2006. In that case, Tammy Huffman-Giza (aka “Tammy Giza”) had obtained a domestic violence protection order against her husband Keith Giza, claiming that he had stabbed her. At the time of the Giza hearing, the couple”s two young children, then ages three and five, were staying with their paternal grandmother. Keith testified that he hadn”t harmed Tammy, and that if she did have a wound, she had cut herself. Keith also testified that Tammy had committed a similar act on March 22, 2006, harming herself and then calling the police to report that Keith had attacked her. Shull reasoned that he had to find the truth in order to protect the children from either a father who had stabbed their mother, or a mother who is a psychologically disturbed cutter. Shull examined the wounds and found that they were four nearly identical razor blade-like slices in two sets of parallel lines spaced evenly apart–hardly the type of wounds one would receive in domestic combat, and entirely consistent with Keith”s allegations that Tammy had cut herself. Shull also examined the Wise County Sheriff”s Incident Report about Tammy Giza”s March allegations. According to the report, Tammy “gave a statement that she had done this to herself to get attention,’ and “admitted that she had self-inflicted her wounds.’ The report discusses charging Tammy with filing a false police report over the incident. Shull got in trouble because, according to the Virginia Lawyers” Weekly, Tammy and Teresa Castle, the deputy clerk, claim that, in order to inspect the wound, he directed Tammy to expose herself twice during the hearing. The Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission “summarily suspended’ Shull for “a substantial and serious breach of the dignity and decorum required in a Virginia courtroom.’ Shull and Daniel Fast, Keith Giza”s attorney, assert that Tammy had offered to lower her pants both times in order to show Shull the wounds. According to the VLW, neither side disputes that “the privacy curtains in the courtroom were pulled before Giza exposed herself.’ Tammy”s wound was on her right thigh, she was wearing pants, and the only way Shull could examine the wounds was to have her lower them. Perhaps Shull should have acted more cautiously. However, his need to protect the Giza children by ruling correctly in this difficult, contentious case vastly outweighs Tammy”s privacy concerns. Most importantly, no party in the dispute is even claiming that Shull made the wrong decision in finding that the wounds in question were self-inflicted. Shull”s conscientious pursuit of the truth in the Giza case, for which he was removed from office by the Virginia Supreme Court, was admirable. Huffman-Giza’s credibility and character can also be ascertained by viewing her later conduct. In 2008 she abducted her child from the custody of her ex-husband, and her case appeared on America’s Most Wanted. Huffman-Giza had been found guilty of welfare fraud and sentenced to prison. However, instead of going to prison, she was given two years supervised probation. From America’s Most Wanted:
According to police, Brayden was taken by his biological but non-custodial mother, 32-year-old Tammy Huffman-Giza the weekend prior, when Brayden’s father brought the child over to her apartment in Coeburn, Va. for a visit. Cops say when the father went to pick up Brayden, the apartment was empty — except for a letter Huffman-Giza allegedly penned before taking off with the child. In the letter, police say Huffman-Giza wrote she had met someone named ‘Richard’ online, and that she’d made plans to go to London, England to meet him. Police have issued a felony warrant for Tammy, charging her with child abduction.
Huffman-Giza was later caught and the 8-year-old boy returned to his father. This is the woman who cost Judge Shull his career. This is the woman Judge Shull tried to protect two young children from. I wonder how the Virginia Supreme Court feels about it now? To learn more about the case, including my newspaper column defending Shull, click here. Shull unfairly referenced in new newspaper article Shull was widely trashed in the media, particularly in a widely-disseminated Associated Press article which misrepresented the story. Probably based on this, a couple days ago Shull was again misleadingly referenced in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article Openness, input urged in choosing judges (6/7/09). Buried in a long article about the alleged need for reform in the way Virginia selects its judges, reporters Tyler Whitley and Olympia Meola write:
Judge James Michael Shull of Wise County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court was removed in 2007 after ordering a woman to pull down her pants during a custody hearing to show a wound on her thigh that she said her estranged husband had inflicted, and after deciding a child-visitation dispute by a coin toss.
As we saw above, Shull did what was needed to examine the wound and judge its authenticity in order to protect the children in the case. Regarding “deciding a child-visitation dispute by a coin toss,” what happened was this–a mother and father had shared physical custody of their children, and could not agree as to who would have them on Christmas Day. Shull urged them to come to an agreement themselves, but they were unable to. Normally at this point (or actually, long before it) the judge would’ve just decided to give the kids to mom for Christmas, but Shull told both parents that he considered both of them to be good, loving parents and that he did not want to have to choose between them. When they were unable to decide, he decided to toss a coin to make the decision, sending a clear message that the court was not going to favor one parent over the other. I applaud Shull for this, yet, amazingly, this non-event is one of the major charges against him. Also, according to Shull, the coin toss was not objected to by either of the two parties, both of whom were represented by attorneys. Shull determined who got the 1st week of Xmas vacation the first year, with vacation to be alternated thereafter. To write a Letter to the Editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch defending Judge Shull and challenging this negative reference to him, click here. If you have been the victim of a restraining order based on false charges, please include this fact in your letter. We suggest you reference some of the above facts in your letter which we recommend be 250 words or less. Also, please send your letter to reporters Tyler Whitley at email@example.com and Olympia Meola at firstname.lastname@example.org