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Playing Legal Musical Chairs and Other Games
We went back to court in Tennessee on my appeal of the father's petition for custody. The referee ruled in November to give him temporary custody and I appealed that decision. The original hearing was set for February 4th, 2003.
At that time, the father failed to appear in court, and the case should have been dismissed, but the DCS attorney and caseworkers showed up again, on a matter they claim to "not be involved in" and bluffed their way through it, insisting that they had filed a petition "in conjunction" with the father's, although I was never served with such a petition, and no such petition has ever appeared on the court docket.
The judge, herself, noted that there were missing docket numbers, but still allowed the DCS people to remain in the courtroom, and continued the matter to March 19th.
I requested, and received, another court appointed attorney, although the DCS attorney tried to insist that I couldn't have counsel.
Not that it did our case much good to have counsel. The attorney appointed to me, did not take me seriously, and from the very first day, his best piece of advice was "Drop your appeal. I don't think you can win." I wrote him an extensive letter, pointing out the facts, and directing him very specifically in how I wanted him to handle my case. He repeatedly told me that my legal arguments were not valid, (though other attorneys have said they were completely valid) and that I should just "cooperate" with a non-existent case plan from DCS.
A few days before the hearing, we got a letter from him, asking to be released from the case, or he would ask to withdraw before the judge. I refused to fire him, and the judge refused to allow him to withdraw (since he didn't have a valid reason to).
Of course, he was assuming that he wouldn't have to represent me, and was angry at not being allowed to withdraw (he'd actually gone so far as to schedule another hearing in another courtroom, he was so sure he wouldn't have to represent me) so he was completely unprepared to handle the case, had not subpoenaed any of the witnesses I had requested, and basically did everything he could think of to damage my case.
At any rate, we went through a ridiculous half-day of testimony, during which the caseworkers lied repeatedly, and were not expected to present any sort of documented evidence. The same "witness" was called back from the original trial in November, and she also perjured herself on the stand again. Her husband was subpoenaed to appear, but refused to show up. (I think he may realize that lying in court again was only going to make things worse for him.)
The only "evidence" they could present was pictures of my children's bedroom in an apartment we have not lived in for almost a year.
The DCS attorney seemed to be grasping at straws. The line of questioning included things like:
Now, I ask you... what does any of that have to do with my ability to be a good parent? Basically, what it boiled down to, was an attack on my character and that of my husband, and had nothing to do with the case itself, or the accusations of neglect, and it seemed that even the judge was aware of that, as several times she had to do my own attorney's job, and remind them that certain things were not relevant, or that hearsay was not admissible in court.
Oddly enough, the "state's" case made the father look even worse than they tried to make me look. It finally came out that the father has been unemployed since September, has been on food stamps and AFDC (fraudulently, I might add) and that he had terminated child support.
When I pointed out that his termination of child support was illegal, the DCS attorney said, "He can do that! He had the kids in his care!"
Unfortunately, the law states that children must be voluntarily placed in someone else's care for at least 6-months before a modification of child support can be made, and even then, it must be done with the permission of the custodial parent. It cannot be done ex-parte, after having the children 23-days.
That shows how much of the law this attorney knows ... or cares about. Spouting off that he "can do that" was basically saying that any weekend he had visitation, he could walk into court and have child support terminated, since he had the children "in his care" at that particular moment.
The judge then said she would review the case for approximately a week and let us know her decision at that time.
My attorney rushed off without giving me a chance to ask any questions or make any plans, and the DCS people rushed out of the courthouse as if their asses were on fire.
The next day, we went back to the clerk of court's office (on the advice of Governor Bredesen) and filed our own sworn affidavit, pointing out the real facts, and the illegal and reprehensible behavior of everyone involved in the case.
We waited till a clerk delivered this document directly into the judge's hands, and then left the courthouse.
The judge has once again ruled against us in this matter, despite total lack of real evidence against me and total lack of documentation on the part of DCS, and despite all of our documented evidence against them, and the sworn testimony of both myself and my husband (which seemed to be completely disregarded).
My court appointed attorney has sent a letter stating that he will not represent me if I appeal the matter outside of juvenile court, so we have filed a notice of appeal on our own, and will be preparing our own appellate brief, despite the legal complexity of doing so. We have no other choice. We cannot afford to hire competent counsel, and we refuse to give up on my children and our family. The harder we fight to get my children returned, the harder the system fights back, refusing to admit their mistakes or accept responsibility.
No one will admit to being responsible for this fiasco, and everyone we turn to for help, refers us back to the very agency that caused the problems to begin with.
Even when I have tried repeatedly by e-mail, US mail and phone to contact DCS in Tennessee, no one responds to me in any way. I even requested my records, via a FIOA (freedom of information act) letter to the commissioner's office. No response. Then a few weeks after the final court date in March, I get a letter from DCS saying that I have now been substantiated in a sexual abuse case.
Excuse me?? I thought this wasn't a DCS matter? I thought it was the children's grandfather who they alleged had sexually abused my children? How is it that suddenly I am guilty of sexual abuse? I have filed a request (certified, return receipt mail) for a commissioner's office review of the case, and so far, have heard nothing back from them regarding this review. It seems that they still do not want to accept responsibility for this, or be accountable for anything.
Update March 29, 2003