Nebraska Judiciary Unethically Lobbied Against Shared Parenting

man repairing girl bike smallMay 23, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Just when you thought it was safe to come out from under the bed, comes this (Omaha World Herald, 5/9/13) and this (Omaha World Herald, 5/19/13). Put simply, all those who make money off divorce and custody cases have pulled out all the stops to make sure children don’t get the right to a real relationship with their dads post-divorce.

LB 22 would have established a presumption of shared custody in Nebraska, but the Judiciary Committee was deadlocked on the bill, so it died without a hearing before the full unicameral body. So far we’ve learned that the Nebraska State Bar Association and its outside lawyer, William Mueller, lobbied vigorously against the bill.

In due course, the president of the NSBA, Marsha Fangmeyer, soiled the pages of the Journal Star with an op-ed that falsely claimed the bill seemed to require joint custody when it plainly did not. She also claimed that judges would be forced to order shared decision-making. Again, that was just plain false as even a cursory glance at the wording of the bill makes clear to any literate person. Finally Fangmeyer claimed to be open to reading the studies on the benefits of shared custody, but neglected to mention that Dr. Les Veskrna and his organization, the Chidren’s Rights Council, had provided many of those studies to her a year ago. All in all, Fangmeyer’s piece was as disgraceful an exercise in rope-a-dope as we’ve seen in a long time. It’s clear that Fangmeyer’s strategy is to lie to Nebraskans and hope they won’t notice the truth.

But that wasn’t the extent of the Nebraska legal establishment’s attack on the children of the state, not by a long shot. The last piece I posted revealed for the first time that, for two years, there’s been a largely secret committee working to whitewash the existing Parenting Act. Again, that looks to be for the sole purpose of protecting the pocket books of stakeholders in the current system of custody decisions. The Parenting Act mandates mediation in all custody cases. That directly benefits mediators and anti-domestic violence advocates. The former are required by law to receive training in domestic violence awareness at the hands of the latter. Unsurprisingly, both mediators and DV activists want to see the mandates of the Parenting Act to remain in place.

I won’t go into all the ways that committee is illegal and riddled with conflicts of interest, but here’s my post on it. Suffice it to say that the committee has plainly set out to give a clean bill of health to a law that systematically deprives children of their fathers and lines the pockets of attorneys, mediators and DV activists.

But there’s more. Now we learn that members of the Nebraska judiciary have gotten into the act. They’ve lobbied the unicameral legislature in opposition to LB 22. That’s almost certainly in violation of the rules of ethics that supposedly govern the behavior of judges, but, as you might expect, everyone from the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court on down has rushed to defend the practice.

To be clear, judges aren’t entirely prohibited from lobbying activities, but that’s usually strictly confined to issues like the proper conduct of courts, potential conflicts between laws, and the like. And of course, if the legislature solicits their input for some reason, they’re not precluded from responding.

But that’s not what the Nebraska judges did. Unasked, they lobbied against LB 22 and that is almost certainly a violation of the canons of judicial ethics. After all, it would clearly be grounds for recusal if LB 22 had passed and a judge who’d lobbied against it was faced with a parent demanding equal parenting time. As a practical matter, that might mean recusal in every single custody case that came before that judge. Judicial lobbying also raises the issue of he separation of governmental powers. The legislature is meant to pass laws; the judiciary is meant to interpret them.

A state lawmaker says several Nebraska judges have violated their own professional rules by lobbying against pending legislation.

But Nebraska’s chief justice says the judicial code allows judges to offer input on bills that directly affect the courts.

The divided opinion is the result of a bill that could change how parenting time is awarded in child custody disputes. Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber prioritized the bill, which failed to get out of committee and won’t be considered again this year.

Karpisek said about six judges lobbied on the bill, most of them in opposition…

The bill that brought the issue to the forefront would potentially affect a vast number of cases in Nebraska. The proposal would require District Court judges to aim for equal parenting plans when deciding contested divorces.

Based upon the best data available, judges give sole custody of children to mothers in about 60 percent of cases and to fathers about 10 percent of the time. Joint parenting arrangements make up the rest…

A Hastings attorney who supports the so-called “shared parenting” bill recently sent a letter of complaint to Heavican, the chief justice. Chris A. Johnson’s letter asserted that judges must keep their gavels out of the Capitol halls.

“This lobbying raises serious constitutional separation of powers and judicial ethics issues,” he wrote in the April 29 letter…

With that in mind, Johnson said he thinks the judiciary can properly share input with lawmakers on issues such as court staffing, budgets and related matters.

“But on matters that govern the substantive rights of litigants, I cannot see any instance where a member of the judicial branch may properly lobby the Unicameral,” he wrote. “I believe that crosses a line.”

He pointed to another section of the judicial code, which says judges should not engage in activities that would appear to “undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality.”

Now, remember that Karpisek said there were about half a dozen judges who’d lobbied against the bill. That may be true, but it may also be only a matter of perception.

Requests for interviews with judges who lead the District Judges’ Association were referred to their lobbyist, William Mueller of Lincoln.

He said the association took no position on the shared parenting bill.

Yep, that’s the same William Mueller who’s the lobbyist for the Nebraska State Bar Association, the organization that did lobby against the bill. Say you’re a member of the state legislature and Mr. Mueller comes into your office for a sit-down about LB 22. He tells you – and you probably already know – that he’s working for the NSBA and the District Judges Association. So just how clear does he make it, when he’s speaking against the bill, that he’s wearing his NSBA hat, but not his DJA one? My guess is not very. And that perception would only be enhanced by the knowledge that individual judges were themselves lobbying against the bill.

So why would judges oppose shared parenting? Well, the most obvious reason is that shared parenting has the potential to bring down child support payments and when they’re brought down, so is the stream of revenue to the state from the federal government’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. The OCSE sends about $5 billion per year to the states (nothing to be sneezed at) so it’s clear that everyone in state government and those who live off its largess have a stake in sole custody.

And hey, the only ones holding the short end of the stick are children and fathers, and what are they compared to a healthy stream of taxpayer’s dollars?

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

The National Parents Organization is a non-profit organization that is educating the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents and extended families. If you would like to get involved in our organization, you can do so several ways. First, we would love to have you as an official member of the National Parents Organization team. Second, the National Parents Organization is an organization that believes in the importance of using social media as a means to spread the word about shared parenting and other topics, and you can visit us on our Facebook Page to learn more about our efforts. Last, we hope you will share this article with other families using the many social networking sites so that we can bring about greater awareness of shared parenting. Thank you for your support.

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