In August, 2008 I received a call from a woman named Carol who is a real estate broker. We spoke at length about a custody case that was before Judge Alan Dickey in Seminole County. I explained to her that we focus on the criminal and injunction courts, though we hope to have enough volunteers and funding to expand into the domestic hearings at some point in the future.
Once she shared with me some of the miscarriages of justice that her friend was experiencing, I told her we would try to attend the hearings as much as possible. Considering some of the allegations involved, and the fact that there are two young children (a 6-yr old boy and 8-yr old girl) being victimized, I am not going to reveal the names of the family involved. Carol was assisting the father, whom the mother claimed had abused her and the children. Interestingly enough, allegations of abuse didn't start until the mother's immigration attorney advised her what she needed to do to be granted citizenship in the USA (police reports alleging abuse and being accepted as a resident into a DV shelter are needed).
Multiple witnesses - the neighbors, the police and even the independent psychologist - testified they never saw one single sign of abuse being perpetrated by the father. The children never indicated any abuse by him either. All the abuse allegations were by people testifying based on what the mother told them. Witnesses alleged that [the mother] has told the children to cross busy 6-lane highways against the lights where motorists have yelled "Lady are you trying to kill your kids?!" The father is terrified she will "accidentally" kill them. Additionally, the daughter alleged that sexual improprieties by a member of her mother's church had occurred while she was in her mother's care. DCF and the judge chose to disregard her allegations because she didn't verbalize them during the interview.
The father's first attorney was less than aggressive in advocating for his client, and Carol believes this is one reason for the judge's seeming bias against him. Carol, as well as our volunteers who monitored the hearing last month, believe that the fact that the father is from Iran worked also against him (the mother is from Turkey).
CourtWatch had two volunteers in Judge Dickey's courtroom for the 2-day hearing held in July. Carol told me after the hearing "I am sure that having 2 courtwatchers sitting there the whole 2 days with the big CourtWatch badge really helped. He [the judge] really seemed (for the first time that I have seen in this case ) that he was really trying to be fair! I was just so pleased that this time he let [the father] speak and didn't shut him up and speak rudely to him this time."
CourtWatcher #1 said "Judge Dickey in my estimation had already made a decision, and possibly before the hearing started. In his ruling he made mention of a previous ruling and declared that he stood by it. . . He believed that [the father] coming home to clean, wash and take care of the kids was controlling behavior. . . Apparently the Guardian Ad Litem was attacked during his testimony by [the mother's] lawyer as being biased in favor of the father. The judge explained, while making his ruling that the GAL had more opportunity to spend with the father due to the circumstances of the mother, her and her friends distrust of the GAL (reasonable or otherwise). Unfortunately the judge used this same explanation to minimize the GAL recommendation, that he [the GAL] didn't get to spend time with the mother, that his report ended at a certain date and it's the judge's belief that the relationship between the mother and the children got better after that date."
CourtWatcher #2 told me "Judge Dickey was fair and courteous to all parties. He did not behave as I had seen him a year or so ago when he would insult attorneys or their clients. The attorneys were well prepared and sharp. Those are my observations as a courtwatcher. Personally, I had no opinion on who should have the children until the last (15th) witness, the guardian ad litem for the children. He finally said what needed to be said and knew how to answer questions so the information did not get choked off or twisted by either attorney. Unfortunately, the children must remain with the mother for at least another week until the verdict is given. A motion by the GAL for immediate reversal of custody was ignored for about 2 months by the judge and he still does not seem concerned, so I do not know how he will rule. I do not know why the Safehouse has kept Mom for 10 months with no evidence of abuse. She seems to be taking advantage of the free lodging, groceries and childcare. The father obviously loves his children and had taken almost sole care of them when the family was together. DCF has apparently let this slide also."
CourtWatcher #2: "I was shocked by Judge Dickey's rulings in this case on Friday [July 31st]. He gave permanent custody to the mother who still lives at Safehouse and works 2 jobs at a deli and cleaning houses. She plans to attend SCC as a full time student this fall also. She has been severe in discliplining the children in the past, keeps few appointments with counselors, avoids contact with child care personnel, and apparently has little one-on-one time with the children. Judge Dickey explains all this as being the father's fault: providing her a car that breaks down frequently, not paying enough for child support, failing to get mother a green card, and being too permissive and lax with the children so they will not obey the mother. The judge says this is all a plot to keep control over the family. He believes the father is playing a game with money, hiding it from the Court. He cites this as the primary weapon of father's control. . . To me, it appears the judge reached his decisions early in this process and has conveniently fit all testimony to his pre-conceived story of control and deceit. It was a circular argument assuming the premise that the father has money no one can find. Expert witnesses were either denied testimony ( Dr. Tressler, child psychologist) or ignored (Mr. MaGill, guardian ad litem). Judge believes Mr MaGill was paid by father, but he was actually paid by the court. . . Perhaps in time his ruling will prove to be injurious to the children and we may need to call him to account. . . Perhaps the judge is right about the father having money he alone controls, but my alarm is that the judge was angry about that and sentenced these 2 children to a miserable life to punish him."
And from Carol: "[The father] hasn't been able to pay the last 2 months rent as it all went to the children's defense. He is giving away his stuff including lots of books, kids books, toys, and other items since he will be forced to move soon and is expecting to be put in jail on September 1st [for Contempt of Court - not paying his ex-wife's legal fees of $20k+]. If you know of anyone who could use these books and toys, let me know. . . No matter what, I do think you made a little difference as the judge wasn't as blatantly rude and biased as usual. I was hoping that meant he was really listening, but as we thought all along, he already had his mind made up."
Judge Dickey had a preconceived notion about this case and after 2 full days of testimony, stood by those preconceptions. What is the point of having a hearing if you're going to ignore the testimony presented? As one courtwatcher said, "Perhaps in time his ruling will prove to be injurious to the children and we may need to call him to account." Does a child have to be injured or killed before the judge is held accountable for this decision? The very thought chills me to the bone. Meanwhile, these two children are exhibiting inappropriate sexual behavior and Judge Dickey refuses to believe that being with Mom is not the in their best interest.
I hope the father in this case is able to appeal the judge's decision, even though his health is poor and he is destitute (he has relied on the generosity of friends to pay for his legal fees and heart medications). He is preparing to be put in jail next month because he simply cannot come up with the thousands of dollars that Judge Dickey seems to believe he can access. Perhaps a father's rights group will sponsor an appeal on his behalf.
If you know of resources that could be of use to him, please email or call me.