Nebraska Decisions on Custody and Parenting Time: A Tale of Secrecy (and Corruption?)

June 15, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

In Nebraska, the forces of darkness, i.e. those opposed to children having reasonable time with their fathers post-divorce are withdrawing further and further into their dens. That’s in an effort to forestall the inevitable, but soon enough, the truth will see the light of day. Meanwhile, the situation grows ever more interesting, as this article deftly shows (Lincoln Journal-Star, 6/11/16).

Its themes are two – the secrecy in which the judiciary and the anti-dad zealots prefer to operate and the potential selling of state policy on child custody to billionaires, otherwise known as the sister and daughter of the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

Op-ed writer Ray Keiser forces facts into the open that may well be discomfiting to the opposition to shared parenting.

In 2004, the Nebraska Supreme Court created an advisory committee called the Commission on Children in the Courts, whose mandate is to study and recommend appropriate steps for the judicial system to undertake to insure that the courts are as responsive as possible for children who interact with, or are directly affected by the courts…

Five of the non-governmental members represent special interest groups that have permanent appointments. No other groups are represented on the Commission. No explanation has ever been given for how these groups were selected, who decided they should be included or even what they bring to the table.

Four of the five special interest groups receive substantial financial support from the Sherwood Foundation, which is run by Susie Buffett, the daughter of Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett. In addition, the Commission itself has accepted more than $440,000 in the last four years from the Sherwood Foundation.

Tomorrow, I’ll have more to say about just what Ms. Buffett and her foundation have to do with shared parenting. But for now I’ll simply point out that it looks suspiciously like back-room dealing when no one knows how or why someone is appointed to the commission that holds such sway over vital issues like child custody, parenting time and the like. That take is only made more likely by the fact that the Commission acts entirely in secret.

These issues are made worse by the Commission’s secrecy. Until recently, the Commission’s website said its meetings were closed to the general public and restricted to commission members only. This was curious because the Nebraska Open Meetings Act says the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret. Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the public in order that citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at meetings of public bodies.

Not content to hold its meetings in secret in apparent violation of state law, the Commission has now begun refusing to even post minutes of those meetings. In short, it’s about as deep in its den as it can go, raising the obvious question “What does it have to hide?”

But the Commission’s not the only organization with an interest in custody and parenting time issues that’s determined to act in secret.

These issues aren’t limited to the Commission. The Office of Judicial Branch Education (JBE) coordinates continuing education for judges. In response to persistent complaints about how judges decide child custody cases, members of the Unicameral asked JBE in 2012 to sponsor additional training on this topic. The content of this training was criticized, so JBE was asked in early 2014 to repeat the training with Prof. Linda Nielsen, who is a national expert and has trained judges in other states.

That’s an issue that’s important to me. How are family court judges trained regarding the one thing everyone claims to be paramount in deciding custody and parenting time – the best interests of the child? How do they know what promotes children’s interests and what doesn’t? After all, they’re lawyers, not mental health professionals, so on what do they rely to inform their decisions?

It’s one of the most important questions we can ask, because children’s welfare is so vital to the well-being of society. But it’s a question we can’t answer because judges, state bar associations, etc. keep the matter secret. Again the question arises, “What do they have to hide?” Doesn’t the public that pays their salaries have the right to know how they make their decisions regarding our kids?

In Nebraska, at least, we can draw some pretty fair conclusions about that.

JBE staff duly invited Prof. Nielsen to conduct the training but then shortly afterwards rescinded the invitation under the pretext of budgetary limitations. JBE staff then immediately hired Prof. Robert Emery to do the training instead of Prof. Nielsen. Who made that decision and why are unknown.

There are some interesting contrasts between Prof. Nielsen and Prof. Emery. Prof. Nielsen has experience training judges while Emery apparently does not. Prof. Nielsen supports the majority view among child development experts that shared parenting provides the best outcomes for children in most cases while Emery is in the small minority who oppose it. Perhaps most interesting, Emery is close to the Buffett family.

At a recent speaking engagement, Emery said, I know [Warren Buffett’s] sister pretty well. Indeed he does. The website for Emery’s academic center at the University of Virginia includes a prominent reference to Buffett Fellowships, which are funded by Mr. Buffett’s sister, who describes herself as a political activist. According to its IRS filings, Ms. Buffett’s foundation has given Emery’s center more than $325,000 since 2003.

That’s right, the scientist whose views line up with those of the vast majority of other researchers worldwide on the value of shared parenting to kids was first invited to train Nebraska’s judges and then disinvited. Dr. Linda Nielsen’s disinvitation supposedly was occasioned by a lack of money, but I know for a fact that she volunteered to pay her own expenses to conduct the training, but was still refused.

It’s no coincidence that she was replaced by that favorite of Warren Buffett’s sister, Robert Emery, who just happens to be one of a tiny minority of social scientists who claim that existing science can’t be relied on to make custody and parenting time decisions. It’s beginning to look like the Buffett billions may be playing a major role in keeping Nebraska’s children fatherless.

And of course…

After the JBE staff action came to light, JBE was asked for the training materials that were used and information about how the presenter was selected. JBE refused to disclose this information and was sued for violating the Nebraska public records law. The trial judge ruled against JBE and ordered it to disclose all records it was withholding except one email. Rather than comply, JBE staff appealed.

Like the Commission, the JBE opted for secrecy over public disclosure of information Nebraska law clearly says the public has a right to know. Yet again, the question arises “What do they have to hide?”




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.

#secrecy, #sharedparenting, #Nebraska

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