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Friday, October 28, 2016

A MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE: HOW FAMILY COURT BULLIED PROTECTIVE MOTHER, PAIGE STVAN, AND CUT HER OFF FROM THE DAUGHTER SHE LOVES, PART III!

The custody proceeding that cut Ms. Paige Stvan off from all access to her daughter is most notable for its complete lack of due process and judicial integrity.  The resulting miscarriage of justice consisted of the following elements:

THE LACK OF AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING: 

Ms. Paige Stvan lost all access to her daughter in an ex parte custody proceeding.  So let's look at the Form JD-FM-222, the document that must be filled out in order to obtain the kind of ex parte change of custody that Thomas Stvan requested and received. On the last page of this document there is a notation that 14 days after the ex parte motion is granted there must be a proper evidentiary hearing with both parties present where the respondent has a chance to defend herself from the charges leveled against her.  Thus, the following statement at the end of the form:

"The court orders that a hearing be held at the time and place shown below, which, if relief on the application is ordered ex parte, shall not be later than 14 days from the date of such order for hearing."  

As it turned out, the ex parte motion was granted on September 25, 2015 and there was a hearing scheduled for October 8, 2015.  However, on that day, there was no hearing on the legitimacy of the ex parte order for a transfer of full custody from Mother to the Father, Mr. Thomas Stvan.  At no time during the October 8, 2015 hearing did Judge Gerald Adelman  address the issue, or allow Ms. Paige Stvan to present evidence or testimony in order to challenge the change of custody that occurred with the ex parte motion.  In effect, the Court simply ignored the legal requirement of an evidentiary hearing on the matter and, indeed, there never was such a hearing.

THE LACK OF COMPLIANCE WITH THE ADA:

In addition, if you look at the upper right hand side of the Form JD-FM-222 re an exparte motion there is a notification regarding the ADA which is as follows:  "The Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you need a reasonable accommodation in accordance with the ADA, contact a court clerk or an ADA contact person listed at www.jud.ct.gov/ADA."  

The important point to note here is that once the Superior Court had identified Paige Stvan as a person with a disability, which it had by granting Mr. Thomas Stvan's ex parte motion, it had the obligation to make sure that Ms. Stvan had access to the ADA Designated Responsible Employee, and also that she had the opportunity to make arrangements for her reasonable modifications in order to have access to the legal proceedings.  This was not done.  To all intents and purposes, this means, in other words, that Ms. Stvan was essentially excluded from the legal proceedings.  

Even worse, from the report Ms. Stvan has given to me, even though she repeatedly requested ADA modifications, ADA contact people at the Courthouse repeatedly evaded her inquiries and denied her requests.  

This is simply illegal.  

If the Judicial Branch is going to state on every document it produces that it will comply with Title II federal ADA law, it really needs to do so.  

Returning to Judge Gerald Adelman's January 8, 2016 memorandum, one of the grounds that Judge Adelman cited as a reason that he decided to cut Ms. Paige Stvan off from all access to her daughter is that Ms. Stvan did not comport herself properly in Court.  As he put it, "the defendant had repeatedly demonstrated an inability to control herself requiring the court to stop the proceedings many times to remind her of proper courtroom decorum."  I did not see that when I read the transcripts, but be that as it may.  You have to ask yourself, was that before or after Judge Adelman told Ms. Stvan that she would never be able to see her child again.  I am aware that, at one point, the proceedings had to be stopped because Ms. Stvan burst into tears and had to leave temporarily.  I suppose Judge Gerald Adelman found that behavior outrageous.  

However, I don't recall seeing any CT legal statute that states showing "proper courtroom decorum" is a requirement for being a parent.  In fact, I've seen all sorts of parents walking into family court, some with their pants falling down, others with their midriffs showing, some chewing gum, many who directly argue with the Judges at length and challenge their decisions. These people don't lose custody because of that behavior. So why is Judge Adelman making demands on Ms. Stvan regarding decorum that are not made of other litigants, and that are independent of the law!  

More important, it is a standard complaint of Court personnel who are dealing with folks who have disabilities that people with disabilities lack decorum during legal proceedings. It is standard for Judges to find fault with the person and demeanor of individuals with disabilities because they do not understand what is going on with a person who has a disability, particularly when it is an invisible disability.  This is why Courts are required to offer these reasonable modifications under Title II of Federal ADA law as promptly as possible as soon as either side raises the issue of disability.  This Judge Adelman did not do.

Eventually, on December 4, 2015, Ms. Paige Stvan was finally able to figure out how to access her reasonable modifications, and the first request she had was the opportunity to have a person sit next to her and take notes during court proceedings.  However, the ADA advocate she hired soon quit because the Court treated her so badly she left.  This is the point where Ms. Elizabeth Richter signed up to work as Ms. Stvan's advocate, but she chose to withdraw as well for the same reason stating, "The atmosphere of family court is so hostile towards Certified ADA Advocates that I simply cannot provide the kinds of necessary services that my client needs."  

What this means, basically, is that, according to the law, the entire time that Ms. Paige Stvan has been going to family court regarding this matter, all the legal proceedings have been null and void.  

So the problem here isn't Ms. Stvan's demeanor, the problem is Judge Gerald Adelman's ongoing failure to comply with ADA law.  This has excluded Ms. Paige Stvan from even the barest modicum of due process in regard to these legal proceedings.  

THE DENIAL OF THE RIGHT TO LEGAL COUNSEL
UNCALLED FOR CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

Not only were there very basic violations of ADA law and fundamental due process in Stvan v. Stvan, Ms. Paige Stvan was also denied her right to legal counsel which fundamentally undercuts the legitimacy of the legal proceedings in her case. Also, her own attorney slandered her reputation without any justifiable grounds and wrongly compromised her legal position.  The story of how this happened is as follows:

Five days after the ex parte change of custody to the father, on September 30, 2015, Ms. Stvan's attorney, Christopher Brennan, filed a motion to withdraw.   He then scheduled this motion to withdraw for October 8, 2015, the day which  was supposed to be for the hearing on the ex parte motion.  In order to avoid an evidentiary hearing on the motion to withdraw, and to evade any accountability from his client, Attorney Christopher Brennan requested a Matza Hearing in order to withdraw from the case.  What is interesting is that, Attorney Brennan didn't say anything about needing a Matza Hearing in his motion to withdraw, so it came as a complete surprise.  This meant that Ms. Stvan had no opportunity to prepare for such a hearing.  The first time the Matza hearing got mentioned was in Attorney Brennan's opening statements on the the day of the hearing.

You've never heard of a Matza Hearing?  Well, neither had I before I read the transcript of the October 8, 2015 hearing and I'm sure neither had Ms. Paige Stvan!  She and I were completely clueless, as I am sure Attorney Brennan knew we would be.

I had to dig really deep and spend a several hours on research before I figured out what a Matza hearing is. This is the story--and by the way, this has nothing to do with passover (a Jewish attorney friend of mine had to make that joke!)  

The Matza Hearing arises from the case of Richard A. Matza v Jane W. Matza 226 Conn. 166 (1993).  In this case, the Defendant, Jane Matza attempted to implicate her attorney in hiding approximately $196,000 from the Court by falsifying her financial affidavit.  Her attorney then wrote up a sealed affidavit to this effect and discussed the matter with the judge in chambers, who then allowed the attorney to withdraw from the case. This ultimately led to a situation where the defendant, Jane Matza, was forced to represent herself.   

Once the case was concluded and the results were not to Jane Matza's liking, she appealed stating that she had been denied an evidentiary hearing in regard to the withdrawal of her attorney and she objected to the in chambers hearing which occurred instead and did not allow her to present her side.  

The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court which, in its decision, quoted rule  1.16 (b) which states that "a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client..."  However, one of the exceptions to that rule kicks in if "The client persists in a course of action involving the lawyer's services that the lawyer reasonably believes is criminal or fraudulent..."  

The question the Court was faced with is, if an attorney has a reasonable basis for believing that his or her client might be engaging in something criminal or fraudulent, is Superior Court required to hold an evidentiary hearing in order to confirm the factual underpinnings of the attorney's claim.  In Matza v. Matza, the Supreme Court stated that there is no need for such an evidentiary hearing, because the claim doesn't have to be proven in full;an attorney merely needs to establish that he has a reasonable belief that it is credible.  The Supreme Court pointed out that Jane Matza knew what she was accused of and never attempted to dispute the truth of it.

What Attorney Christopher Brennan did, therefore, by requesting a Matza hearing, is essentially indicate to the Court that he had a reasonable belief that Ms. Paige Stvan was intending to do or had done something criminal or fraudulent.  Of course, Ms. Stvan had no idea that this is what he meant and she was completely unaware that she was being accused.  Since she had no idea she was being accused, she had no idea that she needed to defend herself, and certainly she had no idea what it was that she was supposed to have done!  Talk about a complete denial of due process!  Then, merely by requesting the Matza Hearing, he proceeded to  convey to everyone involved in the case that Ms. Stvan was a person of poor character capable of doing something either criminal or fraudulent.  How more damaging to his own client can this behavior get, and how more unethical could he be?  How is Paige Stvan supposed to find another attorney to represent her with this kind of unresolved accusation hanging over her head?

At this point, the Matza case and the Stvan case diverge. In the Matza case, the Defendant Jane W. Matza was well informed regarding the issue that led her attorney to withdraw.  In the Stvan case, Ms. Paige Stvan had no idea what was involved because her attorney never  told her and she was excluded from the in chambers hearing.  The Judge, Attorney Christopher Brennan and her ex-husband's attorney,  Nancy Aldrich were at the hearing, but Ms. Stvan was told to remain outside the room in the hallway.  This meant that while even Ms. Stvan's ex-husband and his attorney knew what Paige Stvan was accused of, no one saw fit to inform Ms. Stvan herself.  

Second, when the Judge in Jane W. Matza's case allowed her attorney to withdraw, he then granted a continuance in the case in order to allow Ms. Matza an opportunity to obtain alternative counsel.  In Ms. Paige Stvan's case, she was not given a continuance and she was not given additional time to hire another attorney to represent her despite the fact that some major decisions were made during that October 8, 2015 hearing.  

Further, how is Paige Stvan supposed to obtain alternative counsel when her attorney, Christopher Brennan, left her burdened with the implication that she either had or  intended to commit some criminal or fraudulent action in her case, the nature of which is completely unknown since the hearing on the accusation against her was all done behind closed doors.


The bottom line is that Mr. Thomas Stvan, his Attorney Nancy Aldrich, and the GAL, Attorney Rosa Rebimbas have made many claims in this case. However, their claims have never faced the challenge of an evidentiary hearing, which is legally required before such claims are acted upon.  Aside from their unfounded, unverified statements to the Court, which are hearsay, for the better part, there is nothing to justify or prove their claims.  

Meanwhile, Ms. Paige Stvan has been cut off from her daughter for over a year now independent of any legal grounds.  The injury this separation has done to Mom, Ms. Paige Stvan, and the emotional damage inflicted on her daughter as a consequence, are incalculable and will continue to unfold.  This case is and remains a disgrace and a moral blight on the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.

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