Many Florida readers will recall media coverage of an unusual custody battle in which three children were placed in juvenile detention. The matter received widespread attention, as holding a child accountable for adhering to a child custody order is an approach that is virtually never taken in the family court setting. In a recent turn of events, the judge who made that call has taken action to remove herself from the case.
The custody fight has been ongoing for several years, and the parties had come before the judge on multiple occasions. An order was in place to allow the father to have scheduled visits with his three estranged children. When the time came for one of those visits to take place, the children refused. When the family came back before the judge, she took the unorthodox approach of finding the children in contempt and sentencing them to juvenile detention.
When media coverage placed the case under a spotlight, the judge amended her order to allow the kids to go to summer camp. They were eventually placed in the custody of their father — the same man to whom they refused to speak. In court, the judge compared the eldest child, a 14-year-old boy, to Charles Manson. She also made circular gestures around her head to indicate that the boy was mentally ill.
The reason behind her decision to step aside lies in an investigation by the state’s Judicial Tenure Commission. The Commission looked into the case, and it found that the judge did not act in a manner that was courteous, patient or dignified. They also found that the judge had made multiple misstatements of fact, including telling the kids that their case would not be subject to review until they turned 18. While the judge did not admit any wrongdoing or bias, she stated that she felt that her continued involvement in the child custody matter could lead to an “appearance of impropriety,” which is a belief that many in Florida share.
Source: Bloomfield-Bloomfield Hills, Mi. Patch, “Judge Who Cuffed Kids for Missing Lunch with Dad Disqualifies Herself“, Beth Dalbey, Dec. 28, 2015