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Monday, May 22, 2017

RECENT APPELLATE COURT RULING DENIES FAMILY COURT LITIGANTS FUNDAMENTAL DUE PROCESS RIGHTS!



ENTITLED "COURT TIME IS VALUABLE, DON'T WASTE IT" AND WRITTEN BY ATTORNEYS ALEXANDERMAKES ZERO ATTEMPT TO ADDRESS THE PERSPECTIVE OF LITIGANTS, THE ARTICLE BELOW COPIED FROM THE CT LAW  TRIBUNE MAKES LIGHT OF THE FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF LITIGANTS.  
WE ARE WELL AWARE THAT DIANNE HART-D'AMATO HAD A LEGITIMATE CLAIM AND THAT THE OUTCOME IN THIS CASE WAS WRONG AND WILL CAUSE ONGOING HARM AND DAMAGE TO FAMILY COURT VICTIMS.
SEE BELOW:
"Courtroom time is invaluable, and particularly so in family cases. Courts only have so much bandwidth, and what exists must be maximized in the pursuit of justice. For litigants and counsel, courtroom time means having their "day in court": the chance to finally be heard by someone who can grant relief.

What relief can there be, though, when the system is clogged?
Connecticut's courts have long recognized the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. For a parent awaiting a determination of custody (or even just waiting weeks and months to have a hearing) as long days pass without proper parenting time with a child, nothing could ring truer.
Time spent on the bench by a judge means time not spent writing decisions or attending to other judicial duties. Time spent in the courtroom may mean that a judge is forced to take other work home, at the expense of personal endeavors. It may mean that parties must wait longer to receive written decisions. In sum, such courtroom time should not be incurred lightly. Yet, our family courts must struggle every day with limited means to cull out meritless claims which suck up courtroom time.
The Connecticut Appellate Court has recently issued a guiding light to reduce bench time for family judges without offending notions of due process:  D'Amato v. Hart-D'Amato , 169 Conn. App. 669(2016). In D'Amato, a disgruntled litigant filed a smorgasbord of motions, including a motion to open the judgment, all of which the trial court denied without a hearing. Naturally, the party appealed, claiming that she was entitled to her day in court.
The Appellate Court in D'Amato shut down the due process claim as follows: "Pursuant to Practice Book §11-18(a) … whether to hear oral argument on motions in civil matters is a matter within the discretion of the court, except in limited circumstances, not relevant here, in which argument is a matter of right. … The trial court's decisions not to hold evidentiary hearings with respect to these motions were, by the rules of practice and case authority, within its discretion." Id. at 675-76. In a footnote, the D'Amato court stated that while "notions of due process include the opportunity to be heard … the defendant patently was afforded the opportunity to present her points of view in writing. Such opportunity satisfies due process." Id. at 689 n. 2.
The potential impact of this case for family courts is huge. For example, baseless motions to open can be denied without forcing a judge onto the bench — and without requiring incredibly expensive preparation by counsel for a needless evidentiary hearing. A judge could similarly deny associated claims to allow postjudgment discovery pursuant  Oneglia v. Oneglia , 14 Conn. App. 267 (1988). If the underlying motion to open is without any merit, it cannot have the "minimal indicia of merit" required to entitle the litigant to postjudgment discovery under Oneglia. Such a frivolous motion can be dispensed with expeditiously, thus avoiding a derailment of other proceedings in the case for months without just cause. This is but one vortex sucking up precious court time which D'Amato can help eradicate.
D'Amato reaches its result on the strength of the sometimes forgotten notion that a litigant's written submission can itself constitute due process. If a motion on its face does not entitle a party to relief, then why does a hearing have to be held to reach that same conclusion? Civil judges have much broader authority to decide matters "on the papers," without offending notions of due process. Surely due process is the same in both the civil and family context, as D'Amato indicates. Surely a family court judge's bench time is at least as valuable as that of a civil judge.
D'Amato, by itself, may not be enough to convert the backlog of time-consuming hearings into a neat pile of pleadings instead. Family law judges are no doubt hamstrung by Practice Book §25-34, which seemingly mandates a hearing on everything except discovery. In comparison, Practice Book §11-18 leaves it to the judge's discretion as to whether there should be a hearing, except for a limited class of motions — and even those only get more than a read-through only if additional requirements are met. A family court's hands are also tied with respect to many of the mechanisms that serve civil courts well to ensure that only meritorious claims reach the courtroom, such as motions to strike, requests to revise, and motions for summary judgment. Consider again the parent awaiting a determination of custody. Why should that be delayed for even a second while the court grapples with motions that fail to properly even state a claim?
Each short calendar day, the family judge is swarmed with cases marked ready. A mere fraction are actually reached; of those, a fraction will conclude on that day. The unfortunate remainder are destined for a certain date, only adding to the backlog. On that certain date, numerous contenders for court time will show up, likely to find that the court may be double- or even triple-booked. Even the eventual "winner" of court time on that day may find valuable hours eaten up on their court date while it is figured out which case should be heard. The resulting waste of court time and counsel fees for needless hearings must be stopped, if the Connecticut family courts are to be as effective as they can be. D'Amato  is a worthy companion to the Appellate Court's approval of a court's authority to limit the filing of redundant, vexatious, frivolous, and abusive pleadings in  Strobel v. Strobel , 92 Conn. App. 662 (2005). D'Amato is a step in the right direction of strengthening the authority of a family judge, but it is not enough.
Until Practice Book §25-34 is more closely aligned with §11-18, the full impact of D'Amato will remain unrealized. Similarly, the family court should be given greater tools to manage their dockets, and allow for the elimination or revision at an early stage of frivolous claims — at the very least to the extent available to a civil judge. Practice Book §1-25, addressing sanctions for frivolous claims, is a recent and relatively unexplored addition to the court's quiver of options. Perhaps it can grow to rival Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which serves as a famous deterrent to the filing of frivolous claims in federal court. In doing its extraordinarily important job, the family court can certainly use all the help it can get."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

PUBLIC HEARING ON NOMINATIONS FOR JUDGES!

Judiciary Committee 
PUBLIC HEARING AGENDA
Monday, May 22, 2017 
9:00 AM in Room 2C of the LOB 

NOMINATIONS FOR REVIEW


I. To be an Appellate Court Judge:
1. The Honorable Nina F. Elgo of West Hartford
2. The Honorable Maria Araujo Kahn of Cheshire

II. To be a Judge of the Superior Court:
1. Barry F. Armata of Suffield
2. Matthew J. Budzik of East Haddam
3. John L. Cordani of Wolcott
4. Matthew D. Gordon of West Hartford
5. Ernest Green, Jr. of Norwich
6. Kimberly A. Knox of West Hartford
7. Margaret M. Murphy of West Hartford
8. Shari Murphy of North Branford
9. Tammy Nguyen-O'Dowd of Bloomfield
10. W. Glen Pierson of Hamden
11. Walter M. Spader, Jr. of North Haven
12. Elizabeth J. Stewart of Hamden
13. Thomas J. Welch of Shelton

III. To be a Family Support Magistrate:
1. The Honorable David A. Dee of Avon
2. The Honorable Michael L. Ferguson of Meriden
3. The Honorable Frederic Gilman of East Hampton
4. The Honorable Gladys Idelis Nieves of New Haven
5. The Honorable Norma I. Sanchez-Figueroa of South Windsor
6. The Honorable Jed N. Schulman of Farmington

IV. To be a Family Support Referee:
1. The Honorable Katherine Y. Hutchinson of Andover
2. The Honorable Harris T. Lifshitz of East Hartford
3. The Honorable Sandra Sosnoff Baird of New Haven
4. The Honorable William E. Strada, Jr. of Stamford

V. To be a Workers' Compensation Commissioner:
1. Robert A. D'Andrea of Litchfield
2. Brenda D. Jannotta of Southport
3. Peter C. Mlynarczyk of Haddam
4. Charles F. Senich of Woodbury

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CHANGES TO CT PRACTICE BOOK SEC. 25-60 RE FAMILY SERVICES EVALUATIONS PUT LITIGANTS AT RISK!

PAGE 42-43 SUGGESTED PRACTICE BOOK REVISION-THIS WOULD BE ADDED TO SECTION 25-60 ON FAMILY COURT PRACTICE AND POTENTIALLY RESTRICT LITIGANTS' ACCESS TO VITAL INFORMATION NECESSARY TO ARGUE THEIR CASES!  SEE BELOW THE SUGGESTED ADDITION:


"(d) The file compiled by the Family Services Unit in the course of preparing any mediation report or conflict resolution conference report shall not be available for inspection or copying unless otherwise ordered by the judicial authority. The file compiled by the Family Services Unit in the course of preparing an evaluation or study conducted pursuant to Section 25-61 that has been completed and filed with the clerk in accordance with subsection (b) shall be available for inspection only to counsel of record, guardians ad litem, and the parties to the action to the extent permitted by any applicable authorization for release of information; and further provided that copies of documents, notes, information or other material in the file shall only be provided to such individuals if they make the request in writing and certify that it is requested for legitimate purposes of trial preparation and/or trial proceedings in the case in which the evaluation or study was filed. For purposes of this section, the word ‘‘file’’ shall include any documents, notes, information or other material retained by the Family Services Unit in any format.

(e) Any information or copies of the file disclosed pursuant to this section shall not be further disclosed unless otherwise ordered by the judicial authority or as otherwise authorized in this section." 

THE CT JUDICIAL BRANCH'S COMMENTARY ON THIS SECTION'S INCLUSION:

COMMENTARY: The changes to this section clarify what information from Family Services files compiled in connection with the reports, evaluations and studies under this section are subject to inspection and copying and by whom, to whom those copies can be provided, and for what purpose can they be requested. The changes also provide that any information or copies disclosed may not be further disclosed except as otherwise ordered or authorized.* 

*In other words you can be subjected to endless, unnecessary obstruction to your access to vital evidence in your case.  While issues of confidentiality regarding certain documents is important, I think the wording of this revision is so careless it could end up restricting family court litigants from accessing important information they need for their own cases.  If the purpose of this revision is to safeguard confidentiality, it must be rewritten to ensure that it does not inadvertently end up cutting off the parties themselves from being able to review important documents in their cases.  As it looks now, the way this revision is worded, the latter could very easily happen.

UPCOMING PUBLIC HEARING ON PRACTICE BOOK REVISIONS! MAY 15, 2017!


NOTICE

Public Hearing on Practice Book Revisions Being Considered by the

Rules Committee of the Superior Court


On May 15, 2017, at 10:00 a.m., the Rules Committee of the Superior Court will conduct a public hearing in the Supreme Court in Hartford for the purpose of receiving comments concerning Practice Book revisions that are being considered by the Committee. The revisions proposed by the Rules Committee are posted on the Judicial Branch website at http://www.jud.ct.gov/pb.htm.

Pursuant to subsection (c) of section 51-14 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the Supreme Court has designated the Rules Committee to conduct this public hearing also for the purpose of receiving comments on any proposed new rule or any change in an existing rule that any member of the public deems desirable.

Comments may be forwarded to the Rules Committee by email at Joseph.DelCiampo@jud.ct.gov or may be forwarded to the Rules Committee at the following address and should be received by May 11, 2017:

Rules Committee of the Superior Court 
Attn: Joseph J. Del Ciampo, Counsel 
P.O. Box 150474
Hartford, CT 06115-0474



Each speaker at the public hearing will be limited to five minutes. Anyone who believes that they cannot cover their remarks within that time period may submit written comments to the Rules Committee. If written comments are submitted, ten copies should be provided. 

DIRECT LINK:
http://jud.ct.gov/Publications/PracticeBook/pblj_7843.pdf

FAMILY COURT INITIATIVES - ADDENDUM 2017! WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CHANGES!

The CT Judicial Branch reports the following changes in their report on Family Court Initiatives.  Is this enough?  Should we have more?

  • Reducing the reliance on the Guardians Ad Litem
  • Waiving service of process for a marshal to deliver a complaint to a party in a divorce
  • Intensive Case Management
  • General Case Management - reducing delays
  • Individual Calendaring - Single Judge in a Case
  • GAL accountability - Creation of standing committee
  • Family Volunteer Attorney Program
  • Divorce Navigator - Website Assistance
For more details on these programs, please click on the link below:


http://www.jud.ct.gov/family/Family%20Initiatives%20-%20Addendum%20to%20report%20-%20April%202017.pdf

IS THIS ENOUGH OR DO WE NEED MORE?  SHARE YOUR VIEWS IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU EMPOWER A BULLY: THE TRAGEDY OF MATHEW COULOUTE!

There are few cases that present the spectacle of the foolishness of family court here in CT quite as effectively as the Mathew Couloute versus Lauren Haiden versus Stacey Blitsch cases.  

Mathew Couloute, for those who are interested, is a native son, born and raised here in CT and said to be an associate of Gov. Dan Malloy.  An attorney and formerly a state prosecutor, Mr. Couloute is a talented, intelligent, capable if not brilliant professional with some unfortunately fatal character flaws, one being an inability to maintain a steady and law abiding career path, and the other, a complete inability to maintain a decent and courteous relationship with the mothers of his two children currently aged 11 and 5.  

These flaws have led to constant moves from state to state, several career changes, and more recently extensive and complicated litigation in CT Family Court including several custody evaluations conducted in Family Relations at both Hartford, CT and New Milford, CT, not to mention additional proceedings in other states, i.e. Florida, Georgia, and New York.  

For those of you who are interested in knowing what this case all comes down to in a nutshell, I'd say it all comes down to character.  It's so obvious, it flies right into your face and smacks you on both cheeks.  

Now, I am not saying that the two ladies involved in this case--Lauren and Stacey--are so fabulous, because no they are not.  They have gotten on my nerves many times.  

Of course, all that adds up to is a bit of irritation.  

On the other hand, Mathew Couloute?  Here is a man who has demonstrated well into his forties that he is completely incapable of maintaining a relationship with a woman for any notable period of time.  For his entire life up to this point, he has simply bounced from relationship to relationship to relationship.  Any time it gets tough for him, he just leaves and goes on to the next one.  

Of course, co-parenting children with the mothers of the children he left behind requires a little bit more "stick to it iveness" than Mr. Couloutte has been able to demonstrate thus far.  

So where is family relations on this point?  

What is interesting, of course, is that during all the family relations evaluations and court hearings that have taken place in this case, no one has actually focused in on this point, which is, of course, the most important point--the fact that Mathew Couloute is not capable of a mature, adult, respectful relationship with a woman on a long term basis.  

Furthermore, on Mr. Couloute's part, there has been a lot of demonization of his ex partners, but no specific demonstration of any intent to work with them to raise their children.  

For instance, I read Mathew Couloute's recent motions to the CT Family Court for sole custody where he goes into detail regarding his layman's understanding of Lauren Haiden's mental health condition.  What he fails to mention is that, not only has he demonstrated his severely compromised mental health condition by his manner of living his life, which is pretty obvious to anyone, but also he does have his very own record of mental health problems which, since he is a highly capable and knowledgeable attorney, he has been able to suppress from the record in the case. 

Unfortunately, this has been a big problem, i.e. the way in which Mathew Couloute has been able to play around with how the Court understands his case.  

For instance,  in the year leading up to his divorce from Lauren Haiden in 2015, he was supposed to be in therapy with a master's degree psychotherapist who was supposed to assist him in communicating more effectively with his ex wife.  In the months leading up to trial, this therapist stated that Mathew Couloute had been highly successful in his therapy and that the work they'd done together was a big success.  

But how could that therapy possibly be a success if Mr. Couloute failed to demonstrate in his life any concrete indication of improvement in his ability to communicate with the mothers of his children.  In fact, the emails sent back and forth during that timeframe, many of which were provided to the custody evaluator, demonstrate clearly the fact that Mathew Coulloute speaks to the mothers of his children in a mean, vicious, cruel, and unkind manner and is, at this time, incapable of coparenting because, so far, no one has required him to.  

Witnesses who have heard Mathew Couloute rant and rave on the phone to the mothers of his children have also stated that he is both frightening and abusive towards them.  

So far the Family Court in CT and its family relations department have maintained the position in regard to Mathew Couloute that whatever he wants to do he can do.  

For instance, it appears that up to this point Mr. Couloute has placed his son of 11 years old in 9 separate schools, almost one for each year of his life.  Is anyone going to object to that?  Several credible studies have linked school changes to serious psychiatric difficulties in children.  See link:

http://time.com/8854/study-switching-schools-may-make-your-kids-psychotic/

Anyone with a fundamental understanding of child well being should.  

Then there is the fact that when his son was four, Mr. Couloute was able to wrest custody from the mother who had been taking primary care of the child up to that point.  You'd think he would then spend more time with the child.  But no.  Instead, he continued on with full time work and gave responsibility for the care of the child to his brand new 22 year old girlfriend.  

Just in case you are wondering, I have met the boy's mother, Stacey, and she is a wonderful person, clearly perfectly responsible and capable of taking care of her child.  In fact, the court pretty much said that at the time, prior to irrationally giving the child away to the father.  

Anyway, not to take up your whole day with this, although there is so much more to say.  

Right now this case is being wrangled between the State of CT and the State of NY and I receive frequent updates on the progress of the case.  

Apparently, what led to this debacle is that after the divorce, Mathew Couloute failed to pay any court ordered child support for a year, and then last Fall 2016 he moved to Georgia, established residence, and enrolled his son in a private school.  

After a few months, given that Mr. Couloute was no longer in the State of CT, Lauren Haiden gave a notice to the court that she was leaving the state temporarily because she had no money or a place to stay.  Her father came and picked her up, along with their little girl, and they moved away to Buffalo, NY.  

She then filed for sole custody in New York state even though the State of CT has jurisdiction. Now that seems foolish to me, but that's because I've been hanging around court systems for so long.  Given that Lauren Haiden is a non-attorney, and unfamiliar with the Court, her actions should be understood as simply a product of convenience and not ill intended.

Nonetheless, in response, instead of attempting to work the situation out, Mathew Couloute returned to Connecticut from Georgia and filed a police report claiming that Lauren had fled the state with the child and that he was concerned about the child's wellbeing, blah blah.  As a result, he was able to get her arrested.   Of course, he knew she hadn't fled anywhere, but you know, if you can get away with shit, why not try?  I guess that's what he thought, and he was right.  The CT Family Court system was only too willing to snatch up the bait.

Anyway, so here we have more legal drama, more dysfunction, more hoopla, and who suffers here?  The kids, you've got it.  

The problem, as I see it, is where you give a fairly unwise and unstable individual complete authority and the ability to get away with any nonsense, while leaving the other parent helpless in the face of bad decision making and interpersonal bullying.  

What is necessary for post-divorce tranquility is that there is proper cooperation combined with an equal balance of power between the parents in order to promote an atmosphere the children can thrive in.  When you empower a bully, as the CT Judicial Branch seems readily prepared to do with this family, the spreading ripples of pain and destruction for this generation and the next are endless, and virtually unstoppable in the absence of common sense.  

Would it be possible to order therapy for the parties based upon actual facts rather than Mr. Couloute's fantasies or the highly edited statements of mental health professionals who are so low on the professional totem pole they are vulnerable to coercion?

This statement here is not my standard approach to writing a blog.  Usually, I like to have all my facts lined up in advance, and I only speak when I have everything perfectly prepared.  But it seems we have an emergency, so I'm speaking up now while the CT Family Court system has time to correct its mistakes and resolve this matter in a way that benefits the children.  I don't want it later said that I stood witness to this travesty and said nothing against it.  

This is what I have to say to CT Family Court.  It is time to stop the nonsense, to stop the politicking and grandstanding, and stop the hyperbole and do what is right for everyone concerned in this case, particularly the children.  For the better part, this includes putting the brakes on Mathew Couloute's bullying.  Enough already.