For the last two months, Connecticut has held open meetings to find ways to better protect children in that state’s family courts.
Although the original plan was to have the study done by January, task force member Ms. Jennifer Verraneault says, “It might be a year-long thing.”
As Ms. Verraneault spoke those words, most task force members probably dreaded the thought of volunteering their time for an extended period. Yet every few weeks, the task force meets and another can of worms opens with reasons to continue the study for as long as it takes.
According to Connecticut Special Act No. 13-24, the task force is to study:
(1) the role of a guardian ad litem and the attorney for a minor child in any action involving parenting responsibilities and the custody and care of a child,
(2) the extent of noncompliance with the provisions of subdivision (6) of subsection (c) of section 46b-56 of the general statutes and the role of the court in enforcing compliance with said subdivision, and
(3) whether the state should adopt a presumption that shared custody is in the best interest of a minor child in any action involving the custody, care and upbringing of a child.
Such study shall include, but not be limited to, an examination of state statutes applicable to an action involving the custody, care and upbringing of a child, and the costs associated with contested divorce actions, including, but not limited to, expert witness fees and attorneys’ fees including the fees of guardians ad litem and attorneys for the minor children. Such study may include recommendations for legislation on matters studied by the task force.
Another can opened this past Tuesday, when Co-Chair Sharon Wicks Dornfeld spoke about her knowledge of the use of “Private Special Masters” to hide tax fraud in Connecticut family courts. She told the group:
“There are some individuals — I can think of several retired judges — who are, make themselves available to serve as private Special Masters, but it is not a volunteer thing. It is a program in which the parties pay them and whatever their agreed upon hourly rate is.
Uh, there have also been circumstances in which I can recall that there are lawyers who will say that, for whatever reason — and I will give you a classic example of a reason — where it becomes apparent that one or both of the parties have been engaged in essentially tax fraud that would be very adverse to their clients’ interest if it were to come before a judge who would be required to make a referral to the state’s attorney or to the IRS for example. There are circumstances in which the attorneys will say, “Let’s try and get this out of the judicial system. Let’s hire a Special Master — not necessarily a retired judge, sometimes it’s very experienced family attorneys — and see if we can, you know, make it happen that way.”
Since the filmed meetings are available for public viewing online, there’s now public knowledge of a credible witness who knows about Connecticut’s attorneys and retired judges hiding tax fraud in child custody cases. Judgments in those cases will need to be set aside, federal authorities will need to investigate and Ms. Verraneault will have been proven right about how long all of this is going to take.
An AP article in the Wall Street Journal last May might explain why Ms. Wicks Dornfeld speaks so comfortably about her colleagues hiding tax fraud.
According to the author of the article, Connecticut lawyers:
“are shielded from fraud lawsuits under absolute immunity, a doctrine dating back to medieval England. The doctrine was intended to promote people speaking freely at judicial proceedings without fear of being sued and to avoid hindering an attorney’s advocacy for his or her client.”
The task force is obliged to take its time – and as many task forces and committees it takes – to protect Connecticut’s children and families from what looks like a lawless system. Considering the disclosure noted above, Connecticut legislators should form another task force or allow the current task force to form an ad hoc committee. The new task force or ad hoc committee can be called something like, “Committee to Study Types of Fraud Currently Allowed in Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children in Connecticut”.
Thousands of victims of various kinds of fraud in Connecticut’s family court system would appreciate the opportunity to participate in such a study.