Thursday, December 17, 2015

Appeals Court: Give custody of special needs child back to mom (Cuyahoga County, Ohio)

Shame on Magistrate Eleanore Hilow and Juvenile Court Justice Judge Thomas F. O'Malley.

This is all too typical of the cronyism that exists between the pro-abuse fathers rights crowd and judicial corruption.

Abuse of discretion: Appeals court orders special-needs child returned to mother after improper decisions by Juvenile Court magistrate and judge

Cuyahoha County Juvenile Court Magistrate Eleanore Hilow and Judge Thomas O'Malley have now had 11 decisions related to custody cases overturned since 2011.

By Rachel Dissell, The Plain Dealer
on December 16, 2015 at 2:21 PM, updated December 16, 2015 at 3:24 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -– An appeals court ordered a special-needs child returned immediately to her mother, citing an abuse of discretion by a Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court magistrate and judge who supervises her.

The Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals this week said Magistrate Eleanore Hilow awarded full custody to the child's father even though "there was no evidence to support her decision."

(Read the decision here or in the document viewer at the bottom of the story.)

The court said Hilow improperly considered evidence that was never introduced during a custody trial.

Her decision, the court found, was based on her review of reports not in evidence and the unsworn statements of the father to whom she awarded custody.

Juvenile Court Judge Thomas F. O'Malley, who is supposed to review Hilow's decisions independently, failed to do so numerous times during the case, according to the opinion authored by Judge Kathleen Ann Keough.

O'Malley approved Hilow's decisions without reviewing transcripts of hearings. He also let stand her decision to immediately jail the child's mother, Jennifer Rocks, on multiple occasions for contempt of court -- despite the fact a magistrate doesn't have the power to do so without a judge's approval, according to the opinion.

It was after one of those instances, in 2013, that the child's father asked for custody. He argued that the mother was in jail and couldn't care for her. Hilow later awarded him full custody.

The father, who was not represented by an attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

"This woman has destroyed me mentally, physically and emotionally," said Rocks, who fought for two years to regain custody of her daughter who has epilepsy.

Rocks said Thursday that her daughter is now back with her, and for that she's grateful.

John V. Heutsche, who represents Rocks, told the appellate court that "in the more than 40 years this practitioner has been licensed and engaged in family law, he has never witnessed such a gross miscarriage of justice or such an abuse by a magistrate office or lack of oversight by a judicial officer."

He likened O'Malley's behavior to that of an "absentee landlord" in a November Plain Dealer story that chronicled numerous complaints and a higher-than-normal number of custody cases -– nine since 2011 -- stemming from Hilow's courtroom later overturned by the appeals court. Counting this week's case, the number of overturned cases is now 11.

Through a court spokeswoman, Hilow and O'Malley have said it is improper to comment on cases before the court.

Multiple attorneys told the Plain Dealer that O'Malley rarely agreed with objections to Hilow's decisions.

But things may have changed since that November story.

In one high-profile case involving an infant removed from her mother, who used marijuana tea during pregnancy, O'Malley ordered the baby returned home.

In the five weeks since November, he's twice sustained, or agreed, with objections her decisions.