For Protective Parents. Your source for news and information on the broken Family Court System in Connecticut. I am NOT an attorney. This blog does not constitute legal advice. Blog spirit: In the words of Emiliano Zapata,"I would rather die standing than live on my knees!"
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During the 1990s, as a child of 4, Jonathan was in the center of an extremely controversial custody case in which his mother, Linda Wiegand, accused the stepfather, Thomas Wilkinson, of sexually abusing his stepson, Jonathan, and their younger son, Ben (3). At one point, Ms. Wiegand fled to Las Vegas and two years later was discovered and charged with custodial interference.
Jonathan P. Wiegand
This case set the stage for future custody switching schemes in which protective mothers in the State of Connecticut have lost custody, and indeed, all access to their children who are then transferred into the sole custody of the fathers who abused them. The players in her case subsequently went on to become involved in other cases where good parents lost custody of their children. This includes Judge Herbert Barall, Dr. Kenneth Robson, Attorney Louis Kiefer, and Dr. James C. Black.
In the Fall of 2012, Elizabeth A. Richter filed a Federal ADA Complaint with the Connecticut District Court stating that she had been repeatedly denied accommodations for her disability and faced disability based discrimination during her divorce case which took place in Hartford Superior Court and the State's Appellate Court from 2006 until 2012. Ms. Richter's Federal Complaint was dismissed in March 2014 and has now been appealed to the Second Circuit Court in New York City.
Elizabeth Richter's original Federal Complaint was filed against the following Defendants: The Connecticut Judicial Branch, an attorney firm O'Connell, Attmore & Morris, LLC, and also an individual judge, Herbert Barall, the same judge who presided over the Linda Wiegand case.
Ms. Richter brought the action in Federal Court to obtain redress for these Defendants' violations of Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and as Amended in 2008. The Americans With Disabilities Act is a civil rights law which is intended to enfranchise the many millions of Americans who have disabilities throughout the United States. Further, Ms. Richter also brought the action based upon Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an early version of the ADA, and also based upon the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States constitution.
As a result of the violations of due process and her right of access to state court legal proceedings, the Plaintiff, Elizabeth A. Richter requested that the Federal District court provide her with declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. She also requested the reversal of her state court judgments as well as monetary compensation for the intentional infliction of emotional distress which she endured as a result of the Defendants' actions.
Elizabeth Richter's struggles with discrimination began over 30 years ago when Ms. Richter was misdiagnosed as having a severe mental illness she did not have and locked up in a psychiatric facility for a little more than two years. Ms. Richter spoke of this incident before the Task Force on the Care and Custody of Minor Children which took place last year. See the link below:
Despite the fact that this hospitalization was mistake, throughout her divorce the opposing side in the case repeatedly brought the subject up as the basis for denying Elizabeth Richter custody. The opposing attorney in her case also repeatedly attempted to have Ms. Richter declared incompetent and to have a Guardian Ad Litem appointed to make decisions on behalf of Ms. Richter.
Elizabeth Richter also brought up the fact that she experiences so much discrimination and stigma as a result of that incident that, over the years, she has had to have counseling for the stress and anxiety it has caused her.
Despite this extensive history which qualified the Plaintiff for protections under Title II of the ADA, the Superior Court at Hartford where Ms. Richter's case was adjudicated, refused to acknowledge that she was a qualified individual under the ADA and refused to provide her with any reasonable modifications during the entire six years that her case was going through the Court.
Elizabeth Richter also pointed out in her Complaint that the Connecticut Judicial Branch subjected her to a systemic pattern of discrimination and the denial of her ADA rights such that she was unable to obtain testamentary and participatory access to justice throughout her divorce. Most particularly, the Connecticut Judicial Branch hid documents Elizabeth Richter had provided to the Court which showed evidence of her disability and explained what accommodations were necessary for her.
Furthermore, Ms. Richter reported that she experienced discrimination from her own attorneys who failed to provide her with adequate representation and made statements regarding her which were intended to incite a bigoted response from the Court. In particular, her attorney, Attorney James T. Flaherty, who was named in the lawsuit, failed to inform her of her rights under Title III of the ADA, failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations so that she could access the attorney firm's legal services, and also discriminated against her based upon her disability, and also based upon the firm's false perceptions of the disability they thought she had. The attorney firm also refused to protect her from discrimination based upon the false perceptions that arose from the misdiagnosis she received over 30 years ago.
During her post-judgment matters in her divorce, Elizabeth Richter complained that Judge Herbert Barall refused to provide her with reasonable accommodations, discriminated against her based upon the perception of disability, and interfered with her ADA advocate when he tried to do his job. She also complained that Judge Barall used derogatory language while referring to her two children who have a disability and refused to acknowledge that they are legally blind although this fact was well documented and he was fully informed of their disability.
In addition, in her Complaint, Elizabeth Richter brought to the attention of the Federal Court the fact that the Connecticut Judicial Branch does not have a publically identified ADA Coordinator as required by ADA law according to II-8.5000 of the Title II Technical Assistance manual. Further, it has provided confusing and misleading responses when asked to identify one. Also, the Judicial Branch does not have a meaningful grievance procedure.
Finally, Elizabeth Richter complained that the Connecticut Judicial Branch has been restricting ADA law to Title I of the ADA, instead of Title II as required by federal law, in an attempt to avoid providing the broader based and more encompassing modifications it is required to provide under Title II.
It is also important to note that since Ms. Richter filed her lawsuit in federal court, the Connecticut Judicial Branch has subjected her to interference and harassment in her role as an ADA Advocate in support of litigants with disabilities. This is also a violation of ADA law.
Ms. Richter's initial filing of her complaint was in November 2012 and then she Amended her complaint in April 2013. Despite that, the decision of the Federal Court dismissing her case was issued a full year later at the end of March 2014. Apparently, according to Ms. Richter, this is quite typical of legal proceedings. As she stated, "The Courts regularly drag out proceedings and delay responding to motions until the very last day because they hope that by doing so litigants will become discouraged and give up. That way the Court can avoid taking proper action and avoid bearing the consequences for a wrong decision."
And in this particular case, the decision really was wrong.
As Ms. Richter explains it, "What the federal court basically did was declare that I do not have a disability which is just totally ridiculous. I have been a person with a disability, and have a record of receiving treatment for anxiety over a period of many years, particularly since my misdiagnosis and wrongful hospitalization which ended in 1980. Furthermore, during the divorce I was diagnosed with acute stress disorder as a result of the legal proceedings as well as legal abuse syndrome. There is no way that I did not have a disability prior to the legal proceedings as well as during those proceedings. And I am continuing to take a pounding as I pursue my legal rights in Federal Court."
Ms. Richter continued on to say, "Even if you grant what the Federal Court said that I currently don't have a disability, that isn't even relevant. Under ADA law it is recognized that a misdiagnosis such as the one I had many years ago still qualifies you as having a disability." Nonetheless, the federal court decision of March 2014 denies that this is so.
Not only that, there is more to why the Federal Court made a completely misguided decision in Ms. Richter's case. Apparently, to be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Otherwise, a person must have a history or record of such an impairment, or be a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. "What the Court did," stated Elizabeth Richter, "was argue that I only had temporary anxiety and it ignored my statement that I'd basically had a 30 year history of anxiety on and off. It twisted my words around and deliberately misinterpreted them."
Also, the Federal Court essentially argued that a temporary disability is not covered under ADA law. This is, in fact, untrue. Many temporary disabilities are covered under ADA law. Not only that, according to Elizabeth Richter, "The Federal Court simply refused to discuss the second and third categories under which I could have been held to be eligible for ADA protection, i.e. the fact that I had a record of a disability from my earlier psychiatric hospitalization, let alone my subsequent treatment for anxiety, and also my complaint that I was perceived as having a disability I did not have."
"What this really amounts to," stated Ms. Richter, "is the Judicial Nullification of Federal ADA law on the highest level."
This is particularly outrageous granting the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Essentially, Congress enacted the ADAAA of 2008 because it wanted to stop the mini-trials on whether a person had a disability or not and instead wanted to force attention on the merits of the case. This means that the Federal Court's extensive focus on whether Elizabeth A. Richter did or did not have an eligible disability was completely in violation of the law.
Furthermore, according to Chai R. Goldblum, a national expert on ADA policy, since the passage of the ADAAA in 2008, "The primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not on whether the individual meets the definition of disability." In its decision in Ms. Richter's case, the Federal Court simply refused to address the fact that The Connecticut Judicial Branch failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations and it failed to consider any of her other complaints. The Federal Court decision solely focused on whether Ms. Richter had a disability or not, in direct opposition to the spirit of the ADAAA.
What is even more ridiculous about the Federal District Court's decision in this case is that finally, after years of stonewalling, on December 7, 2012 a Judge of the State of Connecticut confirmed the fact that Elizabeth Richter has a disability that entitles her to the protections of Federal ADA law. As Ms. Richter stated, "Given the fact that a State Court judge has already confirmed that [I have] a disability based upon the same information that District Court has before it, how can the District Court then contradict that decision?"
This is not the first time that the Connecticut District Court has ruled that an individual everyone knows has a disability does not have a disability. For instance, in a recent decision in Andrew Adams v. Fun Festival Parks (Lake Compounce), the Court ruled that Mr. Adams was not disabled despite the fact that he'd been developmentally disabled since birth and in special programs throughout his public school education. In making its determination the Connecticut District Court cited exclusively pre-ADAAA of 2008 case law to justify its decision. This is exactly the same thing it did in the Richter case.
Even more troubling is the remark Elizabeth Richter made about the decision in her case in Connecticut District Court when it came out. She stated, "I am not even sure that a Judge wrote this decision. It shows such a profound lack of insight into Federal ADA law, it doesn't seem possible that a Judge wrote it. My guess is that the Judge had her clerk write it and then just signed off on it with just a cursory glance. That is a pretty outrageous way for our Federal Courts to be operating. Of course, I have no proof, but that is the way the decision looks and reads."
In ruling as it did in complete violation of Federal ADA law in these two cases, the Connecticut District Court has essentially signaled to CT State Government and its Agencies as well as to businesses throughout Connecticut that they are free to violate Federal ADA law.
People with disabilities better watch out, because it is open season on eliminating their human rights, their civil rights, and their constitutional rights.
Still, Elizabeth Richter has not allowed her complaint to end there. She has continued on with an appeal to the Second Circuit Court where she just submitted her final brief. We will eagerly await the results of that appeal.
My introduction to this case took place when Jane pulled an official envelope from her coat pocket, took out a legal document and handed it to me. It contained all sorts of demands, indicating that John Gil, who had spent over a decade using the legal system to persecute his ex wife, was now planning on continuing that pursuit against his daughter.
Jane and I also talked further about her plans for college. But of course, so much of the funds for a college education for Jane ended up being consumed by the legal system.
Just to review some of the facts in the case, on April 5, 2004, Mr. John A. Gil won his case against Karyn Gil for parental alienating him from his daughter. He succeeded essentially because Judge Herbert Gruendel denied Karyn the opportunity to put on the stand her expert witness, Jane's current therapist, Dr. Laura Ginther. But then, here is the irony, six months later, after his ruling had driven Jane to the point of suicide, this very same judge allowed Dr. Ginther to testify to the effect that there was no parental alienation in this case.
More notable is that fact that the judge then decided to terminate permanently John Gil's visitation with his daughter.
There were other factors involved in that decision such as the judge was sick and tired of Mr. Gil's game playing, but the bottom line is that, in essence, the judge reversed his ruling in the case.
Still, the later decision reversing his orders had no impact on the earlier April 5, 2004 decision which continued on to Appellate Court where it was upheld by the judges of the Appellate Court on March 14, 2006.
Meanwhile, in between these two decisions, on April 29, 2005 Mr. John Gil demanded that family court order a genetic test because he claimed that he was not Jane's father. The court allowed him to undertake the test and the results indicate that he is, in fact, Jane's father.
And this is the absurdity of the situation. Here is a man who acknowledged on the record that he had never bonded with his daughter. Here is a man who chose to question his paternity of the child to the point where he demanded a genetic test. Yet Judge Herbert Gruendel saw fit to rule that the mother had parentally alienated the child from him? What nonsense!
Nonetheless, on March 14, 2006 the Appellate Court reaffirmed the trial courts decision. Of course, that was predictable since only .5% of trial court decisions ever get overturned by the Appellate Court, no matter how ridiculous. This decision led to the next issue in the case. As you may recall, Karyn Gil was determined to have committed parental alienation, she was judged to be in contempt of the parents' visitation agreement, and the opposing side was granted attorney's fees.
When it came to the determination of the amount of the attorney's fees, guess who was the opposing attorney who was due to get the money? Yes, our friend, Attorney Lou Kiefer who represented the alleged abuser, Tom Wilkerson, in the Linda Wiegand case!
In order to determine the amount of attorney's fees to be awarded to John Gil's attorney, the case then went before Judge Herbert Barall, another familiar face. As many of you who have been reading my blog for a while will recall, this was the notorious judge in the Linda Wiegand trial who manipulated the case and suppressed evidence, i.e. the Massomeno report, so the outcome ended up in favor of the alleged abuser. In other words, this is a judge who has a lengthy reputation for bullying, harassing, and disrespecting the constitutional rights of the litigants who appear before him, particularly women.
Apparently, Judge Barall held several hearings on the issue of attorney's fees in the Gil case during June 2007 and then decided to fine Karyn Gil $30,659.54 to cover a combination of the attorneys fees in the trial court case and the appellate case.
And this is where the story gets really interesting. Naturally, there was discovery at this point. Then in court testimony regarding attorney's fees, it came out that the opposing side's attorney, Lou Kiefer, had established a retainer agreement with John Gil in which Attorney Kiefer agreed to charge solely $1.00 per hour as long as John Gil continued to take Karyn Gil back to court on motions for contempt. According to their agreement, Kiefer then could collect his attorney's fees through money recovered on the basis of a finding of contempt.
Of course, in her defense Karyn Gil argued that if Attorney Kiefer charged his client only $1.00 an hour for his services, that is all he should get. Anything else would represent a kind of contingency agreement which is a violation of Connecticut's Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(d)(1) for attorneys. This is, of course, absolutely true, but you know since Karyn Gil was not the favored party in this case, she wasn't able to win that one!
Hop, skip and jump to the end of the decision, the Appellate Court upheld the award. But, of course, when don't they support attorney and judicial wrongdoing when it comes to the nonsense that goes on in family court.
So the retainer agreement for $1.00 per hour explains John Gil's full fourteen years and ongoing legal abuse of his ex-wife and child.
In my case, my attorney would demand a huge chunk of money such as $30,000 on the spot for his retainer. Once that money ran out, the attorney would come to me and pretty much say, if I don't get another $30,000, I'm no longer representing you in this case. I had multiple attorneys, but I recall one attorney--Attorney Eliot Nerenberg (if you want to know) memorably said to me, "If you don't write me a check for another $25,000 retainer on the spot, this conversation is over!"
Understandably, I was unable to proceed with fourteen years of litigation because my various attorneys immediately stopped working as soon as the money ran out!
In contrast, my ex-husband's attorney gave him some kind of cut rate--I'll never know because I never once saw one of his bills. But at the same time, I never saw him sweat an attorney bill either, or attempt to solve our legal problems out of court due to pressing attorney fees like I did.
Family court makes a show of respecting the concept of making sure that there is a "level playing field" between the parties in a family court case. One thing is sure, however, if one party in a case is only paying $1.00 per hour while the other is paying $250 per hour or more, you certainly do not have a level playing field.
If one party has unlimited resources because they are only paying a token amount, while the other is paying in full for all legal services, you simply cannot begin to talk about fairness in such a case.
Judges are absolutely aware of this, and Judge Herbert Barall was certainly aware of this when he imposed the fine of $30,659,54 on Karyn Gil.
Undoubtedly, the Gil case represents some of the worst injustice happening in our family courts today. It is a case of a father stalking his ex wife and daughter through the family court system, leading to permanent psychological damage for both. And I have no doubt that the physical damage as a consequence of stress generated by this case remains an issue for Karyn Gil who was already physically disabled well before the case began.
Judge Herbert Barall, Judge Herbert Gruendel, Attorney Campbell Barrett, and Attorney Lou Kiefer have led the charge when it comes to attacking the fundamental human and constitutional rights of women litigants in family court. I have no doubt that Attorney Lou Kiefer used Gil v. Gil as a means of establishing a strong precedent for using Parental Alienation Syndrome as the basis for punishing other protective mothers in family court throughout the State of Connecticut. Since I began this blog, I've received multiple reports of abuses of this kind taking place in family court.
Ultimately, the Gil case, more than any other, exposes the fundamental gender bias against mothers that penetrates into every aspect of litigation in Connecticut Family Court.