Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Court: County referee "grossly" mishandled child custody case (Livingston County, Michigan)

Fathers rights corruption in the courts.

Court: County referee ‘grossly’ mishandled custody case

Lisa Roose-Church, Livingston Daily 9:50 a.m. EDT September 29, 2015

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling says a Livingston County attorney referee violated a mother’s due-process rights in a custody hearing and committed numerous legal errors.

In its opinion, the court found that Friend of the Court referee Lori Marran “grossly” mishandled the custody case. As a result, the court vacated Marran’s order giving physical custody of the couple’s child to the father.

“The manner in which the change of custody was ordered was grossly improper,” the court added. “The order is vacated and the child shall be returned to the primary physical custody of the mother.”

Attorney Christine M. Heckler, who represents the father, said the appeals court "made obvious errors" in its ruling and as a result unfairly impeached "the character of a well-respected judge." In particular, she said, the “most serious criticisms raised in the decision … are verifiably untrue.”

Heckler said the appeals court noted that Judge David Reader added word “interim” to an order entered on March 4. However, she said that is untrue because the March 4 order “very clearly” indicated it was an “interim” order and was not added later as the appeals court noted.

She also noted that the judge personally signed the order, not the referee.

“I am troubled that the COA could make such an obvious error, especially when impeaching the character of a well-respected Judge,” Heckler said Tuesday.

“Furthermore, these parties had been before this judge prior to the March 4, 2015, order, so to state that he ‘knew nothing about the case’ is factually inaccurate and unfair,” Heckler added.

The appeals court found the referee failed to find the father had proper cause for his request to change custody and Marran failed to give the mother time to appeal her decision by rubber-stamping Reader’s name on the court order, which put the custody change into immediate effect.

The appeals court also found that the practice of allowing a referee to stamp the judge’s name on an order is improper because the referee “had no authority to issue an immediately effective order changing custody, and the judge cannot give carte blanche permission” for the referee to sign the judge’s name without ever seeing the order or being knowledgeable about the case.

The appeals court noted that the judge did later review the case and recognized that a full hearing needed to occur. However, the court said, the judge did not vacate Marran’s improper order, but rather ordered that a hearing “be continued.” Despite that order, a hearing was not completed.

According to court documents, a court order was entered Nov. 4, 2010, granting the mother sole legal and physical custody of the couple’s child. In December that year, the father sought to have it changed to joint legal and physical custody, but the motion was dismissed when the pair came to an agreement in 2011 that granted physical custody to the mother but joint legal custody to both parents.

In April 2014, the father again filed a motion to change custody when his 5-year-old child was accidentally locked out of the mother’s home while she was sleeping. He also alleged the child’s mother had a substance abuse problem, but Child Protective Services was unable to substantiate that claim and a CPS social worker later testified that the mother’s home was safe and the lock-out incident was accidental.

When the parties convened in March for a “parenting time hearing,” Marran entered an order transferring primary custody to the father. However, the appeals court vacated that order as a “result of numerous legal errors.”

The first errors, the court noted, violated the mother’s due-process rights. Specifically, the court found that Marran granted the change without proper motion since the father’s initial motion had been denied and not appealed.

The appeals court went on to say Marran took testimony from the family’s therapist, who repeated the father’s allegations, but the referee failed to allow the mother’s attorney to cross-examine the therapist and did not allow the mother to present any witnesses.

“The referee made several substantive errors in the course of making her ruling, including what appears to be a complete disregard of the substantive law governing a court’s decision when considering a change of custody,” the appeals court wrote in its decision released this month.

Reporter's note: This story has been updated to add comments from the father's attorney, who was not available at the initial time of writing.