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family court abuse/corruption

Archive for July 13th, 2011

Prince Charming Doesn’t Live Here Anymore By Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP

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“Some day, my Prince will come” goes the song. But what if he came – and went — and took half of everything with him? That’s the dilemma of the woman on her own again. And once bitten, twice shy, she may not want to rush into a new marriage.

Most women can expect to spend at least a third of their adult lives on their own. That means they had better get savvy about saving and budgeting, and do it quick.

Saving sounds simple. Spend less than you make, then put the rest away in smart investments. But like the standard advice about dieting (eat less and exercise more), simple advice is deceptively hard to follow. The first step to saving is budgeting.

To diet, before you can cut back, you have to know what you eat. And to begin budgeting, first you must analyze where your money goes. Use Quicken or another financial management computer program if you like, or make the calculations by hand.

To do your own calculations, make columns on paper and list at the top of each column the budget categories that apply to you. Your budget categories might include:

  • Mortgage
  • Rent
  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Gasoline
  • Insurance
  • Credit card payments
  • Installment loans
  • Repairs
  • Clothing
  • Medical
  • Personal and beauty care
  • Books and magazines
  • Entertainment
  • Gifts
  • Charity
  • Hobby expenses
  • Taxes
  • Miscellaneous
  • Savings and investments

To this list add budget categories that are uniquely yours.

Then go through your checkbook for the past year and list each check in its proper column. Add each column, and you will have a summary of your spending by category for the past year.

If you have kept your credit card bills, put each credit card charge into a category, instead of lumping your entire payments under “credit card payments.” Although this may, at first glance, seem like a demanding task, you will be surprised to find that most of your charges fall into just a few major categories, such as dining out, clothing, and so on, and so the monthly bill can be categorized easily.

Decide where to cut back and which categories you expect will increase. Divide the revised amounts by twelve to arrive at your preliminary monthly budget.

Adjust and readjust the figures until your monthly budget equals your monthly income. This may take some doing, but persevere. Be sure you allocate as much as possible to the category “savings and investments.”

If your income doesn’t cover your expenses, a budget will force you to make some hard choices. When you make a budget, you will have to decide what is most important to you and what you can live without. A budget won’t give you more money each month, but sticking to it will leave you with more at the end of the month.

Each month, tally your checkbook and credit card expenses for each category, just as you did here for the year. Then prepare a four-column worksheet that lists your budget categories in the first column, your budgeted expenses in the second column, and your actual expenses in the third column. In the fourth column compute whether you exceeded your budget or came in under, with an explanation.

If you consistently exceed your budget, you must adjust your spending habits or find a way to increase your income so you can accommodate your extra spending.

If full-blown budgeting sounds like too much trouble, you may want to use a shortcut method to control your expenses. Because some expenses, such as your mortgage payment, your car payment, most utilities, and even most groceries, are beyond your control, the shortcut method doesn’t focus on them.

Budget only a few categories – the ones you can control – and analyze your spending each month for those categories only. Though this method is simpler, be sure you periodically review all your monthly expenditures to ensure that your total spending doesn’t exceed your income.

You’ll find more ways to boost your income and cut expenses in my book The Way to Save, available at your bookstore or through


Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Should parents lose custody of super obese kids? By LINDSEY TANNER AP Medical Writer The Associated Press

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CHICAGO (AP) — Should parents of extremely obese children lose custody for not controlling their kids’ weight? A provocative commentary in one of the nation’s most distinguished medical journals argues yes, and its authors are joining a quiet chorus of advocates who say the government should be allowed to intervene in extreme cases.

It has happened a few times in the U.S., and the opinion piece in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association says putting children temporarily in foster care is in some cases more ethical than obesity surgery.

Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, said the point isn’t to blame parents, but rather to act in children’s best interest and get them help that for whatever reason their parents can’t provide.

State intervention “ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting,” said Ludwig, who wrote the article with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

“Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child,” Murtagh said.

But University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan said he worries that the debate risks putting too much blame on parents. Obese children are victims of advertising, marketing, peer pressure and bullying — things a parent can’t control, he said.

“If you’re going to change a child’s weight, you’re going to have to change all of them,” Caplan said.

Roughly 2 million U.S. children are extremely obese. Most are not in imminent danger, Ludwig said. But some have obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and liver problems that could kill them by age 30. It is these kids for whom state intervention, including education, parent training, and temporary protective custody in the most extreme cases, should be considered, Ludwig said.

Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Parenting with Dialectical Behavior Therapy Validation Strategies By CHRISTY MATTA, MA

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Do you encounter resistance in your family? Do you ever feel like you are single-handedly keeping your house from falling into chaos?


As a mother of 3, ages 5 and under, I often feel like I’m alone in the battle to keep order in our house. Requests for dishes to be put in the dishwasher, toys to be returned to toy bins and teeth to be brushed are often met with sullen attitudes, tears and refusals. At times, I feel that my only options are timeouts and withholding privileges, but I don’t like the resulting atmosphere of combat. My dream is to have a cooperative group effort, where we each contribute to the best of our ability.

I’ve learned to look at myself when our balance shifts from cooperation to conflict. I’ve usually gotten into “get things done” and “clean things up” mode, which means I’m asking only for change (for the kids to do something other than playing or what they want). It doesn’t work. Validation and active listening, on the other hand, are strategies to counter resistance, help our children collaborate with us and increase our understanding of our kids’ point-of-view. Once I slow down and shift out of my “get things done” approach, I realize that I need to appreciate everyone’s perspective, in order to have help around the house.

Validation strategies are core to many parenting techniques for good reason:

  1. Validation balances change.
  2. It increases communication and understanding
  3. It teaches our children to understand themselves.
  4. Validation and active listening decrease intense emotions, help us identify the right problems to solve, and propose strategies that fit our children’s ability level and personality.

What is Validation?

Validation is communicating to another person that their emotions, thoughts, or feelings are meaningful, understandable, and authentic. The essence of validation is to communicate to our children that their responses make sense and are understandable within their current life context, stage of development and situation. It is understandable to not want to pick up toys when you are 3 years old and engrossed in dressing dolls or building a tower.

Validating our children does not mean that we agree with them or believe their behavior was OK. It does communicate that we understand.

Look for specific validation strategies in my April 4, 2010 post.


Linehan M. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press, 1993.

Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm

5 Easy Steps to Start a Mindfulness Practice/ PSYCH CENTRAL

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In a recent post I mentioned the mental and physical benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice.  But if you don’t have experience with meditation or mindfulness, incorporating a practice into your daily life can seem daunting.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn makes recommendations on how to get started on establishing a mindfulness practice in your life.

  1. Start with your breathing.  Do an experiment for a few minutes on paying attention to your breathing.  Watch your mind.  Does it wander away and come back over the course of those few minutes?  Set aside 5-10 minutes a day to pay attention to your breathing.  You can do this sitting or lying down or in any comfortable position.
  2. Practice every day. You can continue to focus on your breathing or read books or listen to CD’s on the topic to get ideas for your mindfulness practice.  I will include a few resources at the bottom of this post.
  3. Bring awareness to routine activities, such as waking up, shopping, washing dishes or answering email.  Pick one routine a week and try to be fully engaged in it when you do it every time.
  4. Bring your awareness to your body.  You can bring your attention to your body through yoga exercises or through a body scan, in which you slowly scan your attention through all the regions of your body, noticing any tensions, pain or other sensations.
  5. Now that you’ve started a practice, make a decision about when, where and how long you want to practice on a regular basis.  Consider taking courses, reading or watching video’s about mindfulness to increase your knowledge and help you find ways to incorporate it into your life in a way that is helpful to you.

Mindfulness practice can have both mental and physical health benefits. Like many healthy habits, getting started can be the hardest part.


Full Catastrohpe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hahn

Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Is Your Pet The Emotional “Third” in Your Relationship? / By SUZANNE PHILLIPS, PSY.D., ABPP / PSYCH CENTRAL

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Katie and Rob, a couple in a second marriage for both, never planned to have a pet. They cautiously agreed to take Penny, a little terrier, when a relative became sick. Of course, they fell in love with her. When I asked them how Penny had impacted their relationship, their answer surprised me.

“Penny is our peacemaker. Before Penny we would stonewall each other and not speak for days after an argument.  It is funny what happens now – after an argument one of us will start talking about Penny to the other to break the ice. We never planned it – we just do it and it works.

The concept of the “Third” comes from relational psychology, specifically the work of psychologist, Lewis Aron who drew upon Jessica Benjamin’s work and applied the concept to couples. Aron offered the conceptualization of the see-saw. He considered that often two partners are stuck at opposite ends, moving up and down in terms of their own perspective, needs or opinions, but actually going nowhere and locked into a pattern that can’t bring them together.

In terms of couple’s therapy, Aron identified the therapist as the “third” to open the space. A closer look at partners and their pets invites us to consider that in an unexpected and uncanny way – pets also serve in that role.

Whether a couple has one or many pets, these furry friends often in a subtle way unlock negative patterns of relating between partners. As in the case of Penny, the peacemaker, they become a third point of reference and as such invite mutual focus, prompt feelings and illuminate behavior that expands relational and emotional space.

Is Your Pet The Emotional “Third” in Your Relationship?

Consider if you can relate to or add to the following glimpses of pets and partners:

Bridging the Gap

Moving to a new city for David to take a new position that involved travel was not a first choice for Mary. It was difficult enough for her to find a new job much less a connection. Clearly after a month the decision was not sitting well between them.

Enter Wilbur, a tiny black French bull dog with big potential to fill the gap. Not only did Mary feel comforted by her little companion when David was away; but both David and Mary were delighted to find neighbors who were initially polite become enthusiastically welcoming once Wilbur arrived and the three were out walking. Wilbur had bridged a tense transition and opened up the neighborhood!

Moving into the Moment

Given the pace and demands of this culture, it is no surprise that people end their days out of breath and literally out of patience. The problem as reported by so many couples is that the person who many find the easiest to ignore, vent to or dismiss- the person who is just supposed to understand that the train was late, the deal didn’t go through, or the kids were wild – is the partner.  Unfortunately this expectation usually adds tension to existing pressures.

Enter Tiger, the cat dragging a roll of toilet paper across the living room or Callie, the clever Jack Russell unzipping the tennis bag just dropped on the floor to get to the balls and there is a moment of mutual laughter, a push out of life’s race into a place of shared delight. A big thing? NO An important moment to grab? YES

Almost every partner with a pet reports that pets make them laugh.  Sharing a pet moment that invites mutual laughter with your partner is invaluable. It is different than replacing attention to the partner with delighted attention to the pet. When the pet invites shared enjoyment or a partner makes a point of sharing something funny about the pet to the other – a tense or tired mood can shift – space for the “WE” opens.

Different Needs vs. Mutual Love

Partners report that sometimes the need of the pet out trumps the need of both and  results in a valuable third choice.  Casey reported that the typical evening battle was Mark waiting to have dinner and her wanting to get in a run before dinner. Both felt guilty about their own demands. Neither was too willing to concede.

Enter Brooklyn and Arizona, two rescue shelties with the need to walk. Soon, Casey and Mark were solving the situation in an unexpected way with some mutual walking for all and some extra time for dinner to simmer. It’s funny but true that when pets are mutually loved their needs open doors.

Enhancing the Perspective

One of the problems with partners is that they really think they really know each other- an assumption that often precludes the possibility of knowing more.

One way that pets serve as the third is expanding the way that partners see each other. The view from across the yard of partner with pet is often a view from an unexpected vantage point that enhances love and connection.

“When I saw the way that man loved his dog – I knew I could marry him.”

“I’ll never forget how she nursed my cat back to health – the one that she wasn’t exactly in love with when we met!

“How can you not love a guy who sits on the recliner to watch the ball game with a tiny kitten sleeping on his chest?”

“What other woman would insist that I pull to the side of the road to rescue a puppy or remove an entire drain grate to save a panicked frog unwillingly attached?”

As the emotional “Third,” pets open the hearts and the emotional possibilities of partners.

Upcoming Radio Show about Pets and Partners:

Want to learn more about how pets can help improve your relationship? I will be speaking about pets and partners with Kelley Connors on her online radio show on Wednesday, July 6th at 12:30PM ET. Listen In and join in, Suzanne

Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Practical Ways to Handle Stress/ PSYCH CENTRAL

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Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.

1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.

Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodge ball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.

Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?

By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.

2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.

While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.

The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.

Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.

Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.

3. Do what you love.

It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Manage your time well.

One of the biggest stressors for many people is lack of time. Their to-do list expands, while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.

Here are Vanderkam’s seven steps to help you check off your to-do list and find time for the things you truly enjoy.

5. Create a toolbox of techniques.

One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.

Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.

Here’s a list of additional techniques to help you build your toolbox.

6. Pick off the negotiables from your plate.

Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities, or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes, and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”

Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”

Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.

7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?

Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, ““Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”

So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.

8. Preserve good boundaries.

If you’re a people-pleaser like me, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn. Here are some tips to help. And if you tend toward people-pleasing, these tips can help, too.

9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.

Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushrooms into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.

Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D, talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & CommitmentTherapy. “Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it,” whereas caring is taking action. “When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.”

LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”

Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.

Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, LeJeune includes an activity where readers list responses for each one. For example:

Worrying about your health involves…

Caring about your health involves…

Worrying about your career involves…

Caring about your career involves…

10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.

Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.

As researcher Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth” and it’s not self-improvement.

Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”

Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.

?How do you handle stress?
What are some of your
best tips?

Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Guarding Against International Parental Child Abduction / Travel.State.Gov

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Parental child abduction is a federal crime.  It is also a tragedy that jeopardizes children and has substantial long-term consequences for the “left-behind” parent, the child, the family, and society. Children who are abducted by their parents are often suddenly isolated from their extended families, friends, and classmates. They are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Similarly, left-behind parents experience a wide range of emotions including betrayal, loss, anger, and depression. In international cases, they often face unfamiliar legal, cultural, and linguistic barriers that compound these emotions.

In this section of our Web site, learn about the measures you can take to prevent your child from being wrongfully taken to or wrongfully kept in another country.  In addition to the materials below, also see these important links:

International Parental Child Abduction Is Illegal

Under the laws of the United States and many foreign countries, international parental child abduction is crime.  Removing a child from the United States against another parent’s wishes can be considered a crime in every U.S. state.  In some cases an abducting parent may be charged with a Federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).  This can be the case even when neither parent holds a custody decree prior to the abduction. Nevertheless, a custody decree can be helpful to prevent an international parental child abduction, or to recover your child if he/she is abducted.

The Importance of a Custody Decree

A well-written custody decree is an important line of defense against international parental child abduction. In your custody decree, it may be advisable to include a statement that prohibits your child from traveling abroad without your permission or that of the court. Ask your attorney if you should obtain a decree of sole custody or a decree that prohibits the travel of your child without your permission or that of the court.  If you have or would prefer to have a joint custody decree, you may want to make certain that it prohibits your child from traveling abroad without your permission or that of the court.

If your child is at risk of being taken to a country that partners with the United States under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction(Hague Abduction Convention), your custody decree should include the terms of the Hague Abduction Convention that apply if there is an abduction or wrongful retention (see country list).

The American Bar Association also suggests requesting the court, if the other parent is not a U.S. citizen or has significant ties to a foreign country, to require that parent to post a bond. This may be useful both as a deterrent to abduction and, if forfeited because of an abduction, as a source of revenue for you in your efforts to locate and recover your child.

REMINDER: Obtain several certified copies of your custody decree from the court that issued it. Give a copy to your child’s school and advise school personnel to whom your child may be released.

Two Parent Signature Law for a Passport

The United States does not have exit controls on its borders for holders of a valid passport.  This makes preventing a passport from being issued to your child without your consent very important.  Generally, if your child has a passport, it can be difficult to prevent the other parent from removing the child to another country without your permission.

U.S. law requires the signature of both parents, or the child’s legal guardians, prior to issuance of a U.S. passport to children under the age of 16.  To obtain a U.S. passport for a child under the age of 16, both parents (or the child’s legal guardians) must execute the child’s passport application and provide documentary evidence demonstrating that they are the parents or guardians.  If this cannot be done, the person executing the passport application must provide documentary evidence that he or she has sole custody of the child, has the consent of the other parent to the issuance of the passport, or is acting in place of the parents and has the consent of both parents (or of a parent/legal guardian with sole custody over the child to the issuance of the passport).

EXCEPTIONS: The law does provide two exceptions to this requirement: (1) for exigent circumstances, such as those involving the health or welfare of he child, or (2) when the Secretary of State determines that issuance of a passport is warranted by special family circumstances.

Read more: Passport Requirements for Minors

Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program

You may also ask that your child’s name be entered into the State Department’sChildren’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP).  Entering your child into the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program will enable the Department to notify you or your attorney if an application for a U.S. passport for the child is received anywhere in the United States or at any U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. If you have a court order that either grants you sole custody, joint legal custody, or prohibits your child from traveling without your permission or the permission of the court, the Department may refuse to issue a new or renewal U.S. passport for your child. The Department may not, however, revoke a passport that has already been issued to the child. There is also no way to track the use of a passport once it has been issued, since there are no exit controls for people leaving the U.S. If your child already has a passport, you should take steps to ensure that it is kept from a potential abductor by asking the court or attorneys to hold it.


  1. The United States does not have exit controls.
  2. The Department of State may not revoke a passport that has been issued to a child, but you can ask a court to hold onto it.
  3. There is no way to track the use of a passport once it has been issued.
  4. Your child might also be a citizen of another country (dual nationality).  Even if he/she does not have a U.S. passport, your child may be able to travel on the other country’s passport.  .

The Privacy Act and Passports

Passport information is protected by the provisions of the Privacy Act (PL 93-579) passed by Congress in 1974. Information regarding a minor’s passport is available to either parent. Information regarding adults may be available to law enforcement officials or pursuant to a court order issued by the court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with (22 CFR 51.27). For further information regarding the issuance or denial of United States passports to minors involved in custody disputes, please contact Passport Services.


Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers

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Biased Family Court System Hurts Mothers

By Garland Waller

WEnews contributor

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Behind closed doors of the family court system, thousands of women each year lose child custody to violent men who beat and abuse mothers and children. The writer says family courts are not family-friendly and betray the best interests of the child.

Commentator Garland Waller

(WOMENSENEWS)–Studies show that in approximately 70 percent of challenged cases, battering parents have been able to convince authorities during custody battles that their victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody, according to a recent report published by the American Judges Foundation.

That statement would have once shocked me, but no more. Nor am I surprised when I read that a family court judge has awarded custody of a 3-year-old girl to the father who has violently beaten her mother. I do not even lift an eyebrow when a 2-year-old boy, who comes home from unsupervised visitation with his dad, has a diaper filled with his own rectal blood and that same child is later turned over to his father on a full-time basis. And when a mother is thrown into jail, denied the right to ever see her children again, because she brought up the issue of child abuse in a family court, I’m sickened, but not shocked.

These injustices are commonplace today in the closed-door family court system. These courts often claim to operate in a manner consistent with the “best interests of the child.” In practice this often means that a judge, often a male judge, biased and imperious, defines that phrase. These judges decide, time and time again, when a woman raises the allegation of sexual abuse in a custody dispute, that it is she who will lose her children forever.

I used to think that the family court system was basically fair. That was before my childhood friend, Diane Hofheimer, asked me to consider doing a documentary on the family courts. She had taught herself the law so that she could work with her attorney husband, Charlie Hofheimer, in their Virginia law practice.

Thousands of Mothers Lose Their Children to Abusive Fathers

Representing only women in divorce and custody cases, Diane and Charlie began my education with one grisly case. I thought it was a fluke, but I agreed to look at some of the legal documents. And so began my journey into the dark world of family courts.

What I learned was that thousands of women are losing custody of their children to men with histories of violence and sexual abuse. Sure, these cases are complicated, but it doesn’t take a legal genius to figure out that it’s not good for kids to watch daddy break mommy’s jaw. Research shows a high correlation between domestic violence and child sexual abuse.

For more information:

Diane Hofheimer and Charlie Hofheimer:

Divorced From Justice:

California Protective Parents Association:

Family Law

Stop Family Violence:

“Domestic Violence and the Courtroom: Understanding the Problem … Knowing the Victim,” American Judges Association and American Judges Foundation:

“Small Justice: Little Justice in America’s Family Courts,” award-winning documentary by Garland Waller:

Garland Waller Says: We need a real overhaul, but let’s start with some basics:

  • Open the courtrooms to the public and make judges accountable for their rulings.
  • Get rid of the “best interests of the child” as the standard for custody and replace it with a new concept called the “approximation standard.” That means that the judge should try to approximate the same setup for the children that existed before the divorce. If mom was with the kids 70 percent of the time before the divorce, she would be with them 70 percent of the time after the divorce. In non-contested custody cases, the mother and father generally agree to this on their own.
  • Most significantly, the allegation of child abuse in a custody battle must be considered a rebuttable presumption, that is, that the sworn testimony of a parent or child claiming abuse is presumed to be true unless and until the accused sufficiently challenges its veracity.

“We have created a system that purports to be a gatekeeper–keeping victims from victimizers–but the system is really the welcome mat for victimizers to have access to the victims,” says Richard Ducote, a nationally recognized child advocate and attorney. He adds that there has been virtually no change in the process during the past two decades.

In fact, a pilot study in the early 1990s by the California Protective Parent Association and Mothers of Lost Children found that 91 percent of fathers who were identified by their children as perpetrators of sexual abuse received full or partial unsupervised custody of the children and that in 54 percent of cases the non-abusing mother was placed on supervised visitation.

One primary reason for what many consider a disastrous outcome, Ducote and other experts say, is the popularity of the theories of Dr. Richard Gardner, whose ideas are apparently more persuasive to judges than the testimony of battered women and victimized children.

Gardner’s brainchild is Parental Alienation Syndrome. This is the name given for the practice of one parent saying disparaging things about the other parent in an attempt to alienate the child from the ex-spouse. This so-called syndrome is based on anecdotal evidence. Gardner’s books on the subject are self-published, something that should give judges and experts pause, even though he does look good on paper.

He’s a professor at Columbia Medical School and has been publishing papers for two decades. Fathers’ rights groups love him.

Not addressed by Dr. Gardner and his adherents are what a mother should say to a child raped by her father. They merely discount all such allegations as examples of parental alienation syndrome, or some variation of it under a different name such as SAID (Sexual Allegations in Divorce) Syndrome, Malicious Mother Syndrome or some other fabricated condition.

These experts are certainly free to believe whatever they wish to, but much to the harm of thousands of children and their caring, protective parents, these ideas have been accepted by personnel in most of the family courts in the country: the judges, court-appointed lawyers charged with protecting the child’s interests, and custody evaluators such as psychologists and social workers.

In essentially every case in which courts place children with abusers, despite substantial evidence of sexual abuse or domestic violence and no evidence of fabrication on the protecting parent’s part, it is the parental alienation syndrome that is used by the judge, the evaluator or the child’s lawyer to ignore and discount the abuse evidence and to wrongfully construe all of the child’s symptoms as evidence of alienation.

Parental Alienation Syndrome Used to Wrongly Blame Mothers

My colleague Hofheimer is convinced that the so-called syndrome is to psychology what voodoo is to surgery.

“What would a good mother do,” I asked Dr. Gardner two years ago when interviewing him for the documentary, “if her child told her of sexual abuse by his or her father.”

His answer: “What would she say? Don’t you say that about your father. If you do, I’ll beat you.”

That’s on tape and I have a signed release.

In researching my documentary, I have met many honest, caring and courageous mothers who, for speaking the truth, have been publicly called crazy, hysterical and delusional, and labeled with all kinds of pseudo-disorders for being strong and for fighting for the safety of their children.

Yet some of them have been nearly broken by the family court system, and the damage to their children is immeasurable. We must act now to begin reforming our family courts.

Garland Waller is an assistant professor in the Television Department at Boston University’s College of Communication. She has produced more than 10 award-winning documentaries

Sick Joke or Sick Reality?

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Sick Joke or Sick Reality?

Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy

May 17, 2007

I know you think I’m talking about “Opie and Anthony,” recently suspended from their radio talk gig for “joking” with a guest, “Homeless Charlie,” who said he wanted to rape Condoleezza Rice and Laura Bush. The hosts encouraged these horrifying remarks — in fact they laughed and imagined “the horror” on Rice’s face as she is held down and punched in the face.

No, I’m talking about another sick reality. Let me ask you first: Would you trust a guy who wrote that rape victims “gain pleasure from being beaten, bound, and otherwise made to suffer” as “the price they are willing to pay for gaining the gratification of receiving the sperm?” A guy who published his belief that “the child who has suffered bona fide abuse may very well have enjoyed the experience…”? A guy who claimed that incest is not harmful, (citing Shakespeare) only “thinking makes it so”?

And I know I don’t even have to ask this — but would you trust this guy with your kids?

I thought not. Which leads me to ponder how on earth the “theory” this guy thought up has found its way into court rooms across the country, and is currently influencing child custody decisions, especially those involving child abuse. That’s right, this guy, a psychiatrist named Richard Gardner — who, by the way, also asserted that adult-child sex is normal AND beneficial for both parties as well as for the survival of the human race — is being given credence in cases involving the fate of children and families.

And believe it or not, it seems that nine state governors have jumped on Gardner’s pro-pedophilia bandwagon. In Florida, Indiana, Connecticut, Kentucky, Nebraska, Iowa, Maine, and Nevada, there is now reportedly a whole day officially dedicated to raising “awareness” about Gardner’s theory called Parental Alienation Syndrome, in which the very reports of abuse by a child against a father are themselves evidence that the child is being brainwashed by the mother (and if the child is angry at the father, or doesn’t want to visit, that’s even more evidence) and the only “cure” for this syndrome is to force the child to live with the abuser and deny ANY contact with the protective mother, who has no history of abuse.

C’mon, you’re thinking, what judge would buy this crock? Doesn’t it matter if the abuse really happened? Apparently not.

Although it may sound like it, this is no sick joke. It’s a sad, sick reality. And anyone who cares even a little about children’s human rights and the epidemic of family violence should take note and take action.

Let’s start with the lowdown on “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS), which is also being called “parental alienation.” Like I said, Richard Gardner thought it up. The late Dr. Gardner was a child psychiatrist who liked to tell people he was a full professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Actually, he was an unpaid volunteer. But hey — professor, volunteer; child sexual abuse, fun adult-child sex — hey, what’s the difference? If you’re Richard Gardner, not much.

But I digress. While Gardner was volunteering at Columbia in the 1980s, he formed some opinions and made some personal observations that, together, he decided to call “parental alienation syndrome.” He defined PAS as a condition arising from one parent’s (mostly mothers, he said) “programming” of the child to wage an unreasonable “campaign of denigration against” the other parent (most of the time, the father, according to Gardner). PAS, he said, arises most often during child custody disputes, usually involves false allegations of child sexual abuse as part of the programmer parent’s attempt to turn the child against the other parent, and causes “enormous grief” in the alienated parent.

Gardner’s diagnostic criteria included finding out from the child the parent’s “frequency of programming thoughts” and the parent’s “success in manipulating the legal system to enhance the programming.” The ridiculousness of these criteria goes without saying. Gardner was insistent that the “programming parent” is the mother, and that the alienated parent is the father. He opined that treatment involve forcing the mother to stop expressing negative views about the father and granting custody of the child to him and denying any visitation to her. No part of the PAS diagnostic process involves examining the father’s psychiatric history or conduct, or even inquiring whether he had actually engaged in abuse.

According to an article by Dr. Paul J. Fink, past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Hon. Sol Gothard, retired judge and former faculty member for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges:

“Parental Alienation Syndrome has been used nationwide by batterers as a courtroom tactic to silence abused children by attempting to discredit their disclosures of abuse. This theory is not recognized as valid by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, or the American Medical Association. Parental Alienation Syndrome is not accepted as a psychiatric diagnosis, and has been rejected by the mainstream psychological community. Parental Alienation Syndrome is junk science; there is no valid research or empirical data to support this unproven theory.”

To date, none of the studies necessary to judge the validity of Gardner’s so-called syndrome have been conducted. In 2006, the Children’s Legal Rights Journal (a multi-disciplinary journal published in conjunction with the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, the National Association of Counsel for Children, and the Loyola University School of Law) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges each published analyses finding no scientific or legal basis for the use of PAS.

And yet, PAS keeps making appearances in courts across the country, subverting and perverting the pursuit of justice one family at a time. According to the Children’s Legal Rights Journal, a North Carolina court incarcerated a teenage girl who refused to visit her father, and a New Jersey court suspended a mother’s contact with her two children, granting sole custody to the father despite “‘foreseeable emotional upset and possible trauma'” to the children (Hoult, 1). In Pennsylvania, a court ordered a teenager into “PAS treatment,” and he subsequently hung himself.

Young people who have suffered due to inhumane court rulings involving PAS are speaking out.

They are not the only ones. This month, the NOW Foundation joined other leading organizations working on family law and family violence in a complaint filed against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The complaint charges that U.S. courts are failing to protect the life, liberties, security, and other human rights of abused mothers and children by frequently awarding child custody to abusers and child molesters. PAS is one predominant strategy being used by lawyers to place children in such danger. A recent Newsweek article noted the finding of a Harvard study that in custody cases involving documented spousal abuse, 54% granted custody to the batterer, and parental alienation was used as an argument in nearly every single one.

This is not a trend that will fade away. It’s junk science that’s gaining momentum, amassing victims, fooling powerful government officials, and even attracting an unfortunately famous ally or two like Alec Baldwin. PAS advocates play down the theory’s unquestionably absurd roots in Gardner’s pseudo-science, pathologize and punish mothers fighting to protect themselves and their children, and stand faithfully by fathers’ so-called right to unfettered access to their children despite any history of assault or abuse. And the judges and the media are buying it hook, line and sinker.

Do something about it. Contact the governors who’ve proclaimed “Parental Alienation Awareness” days and raise their awareness about what’s in the best interest of our families. Contact the media outlets who are giving PAS advocates like Alec Baldwin a platform to lie to the public. Pressure your judges to educate themselves and get our justice system back on track.

Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I’m definitely pissed off about PAS and hope you are, too. It’s just what we need to set our families free from junk science, junk justice, and sick realities.

Written by pmashilohlopez

July 13, 2011 at 8:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Chamber Of Secrets By Rebecca Leung

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(CBS)  Frieda Hanimov’s American dream was once a big house in a swanky New York neighborhood. It’s a world away from the poverty where she grew up.

Her parents fled Russia, emigrated to Israel, and at the age of 18, this young nurse made her way to America. Just a few weeks later, she met the man she would marry, Yury Hanimov, whose business was diamonds. They would have three children, Yaniv, Sharon, and Natti.

Life was good. But after 13 years of marriage, Yuri announced to his wife that his business was failing. The dream house had to be sold, and they moved to a small apartment in Brooklyn.

Frieda says her husband told her they had to pretend to be divorced. She claims it was part of a scheme to hide their assets. “He gave me diamonds,” she says. “He told me that it’s worth over $6 million. He told me not to show it to anybody.”

“They shine. They’re gorgeous,” adds Frieda, showing Correspondent Lesley Stahl the diamonds.

But one day, Yury didn’t come home. Frieda says he just disappeared with his clothes, and was unreachable by phone. And the diamonds? “Zircon,” says Frieda.

The diamonds were fake, but the separation papers Frieda signed were real. And she says she had unknowingly signed away her rights to any of her husband’s assets.

“This is a crime. What he did to me was a crime,” says Frieda, who hired a lawyer to try to stop the divorce.

She pinned her hopes on the wisdom of a New York State Supreme Court justice, Judge Gerald Garson. “He would see that this is a set-up,” she says. “And you know, a woman married to her husband, a mother of three, will get her rights.”

But when she walked into his court, her hopes were shattered. “The judge tells me that I better settle this case and I don’t have any chances,” says Frieda. “He told me if I’m not gonna settle, I’m gonna end up in jail.”

The judge chastised her for renting an apartment she co-owned with her husband, without his permission. Stunned by the judge’s behavior, Frieda says she saw no choice but to agree to the divorce.

“I said, ‘To hell with the money. I’m a nurse. I’ll make it. As long as I have my kids, I’ll just continue with my life. It’s not the end,'” says Frieda.

Two years later, Frieda fell in love, got married and became pregnant.

Frieda says her ex-husband got jealous, and began trying to convince the children they would have a better life with him. Her 13-year-old son, Yaniv, liked the idea.

One night, when Frieda came home from work, her ex-husband called the police on her. “[They said,] ‘Your son said that you hit him with a belt,'” recalls Frieda.

Yaniv was standing outside with his father, and told the police his mother had beaten him with a belt three days earlier. Frieda says her son had a fresh red mark on his face, one that looked like it was new: “My ex-husband pointed to my son and said, ‘You see? You see the red line? This is mommy hit him with a belt.'”

She says she has no idea how the red mark got on her son’s face: “I don’t know. Kids play basketball, they jump. I don’t know.”

“I never hit my kids. Never ever. I’m against it,” adds Frieda. “My kids are well dressed. Very clean. Honors in school. I’m proud to be their mother.”

Frieda was arrested, and at that point, she says her son protested. “He said, ‘No, no it was a misunderstanding.’ Then he went to my ex-husband and started hitting him and saying, ‘Daddy, you lied to me. You said they’re not going to hurt Mommy,'” recalls Frieda.

“They put me in a cell with I will say 30-50 people. All knocked out. Me shaking. Pregnant,” says Frieda. “Sitting and crying and I can’t believe my son did this to me. It’s for no reason. I never hit my son.”

Then the news got even worse for Frieda. Her ex-husband filed for custody; he wanted all the children. And the man deciding the fate of her family was Judge Garson.

“When Judge Garson called me into his chamber room, he asked me who I wanted to live with, my mother or my father. So I told him my mother,” says Sharon. “He told me that he’s an adult and he decides, whether I like it or not. So what’s the point of me talking to the judge if he didn’t even want to hear what I wanted to say?”

“I told him my mom,” says Natti. “And he said, ‘You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s up to me.'”

Frieda says she wasn’t going to sit and wait: “I’m not going to lose my kids.” She heard about a man, Nissim Elmann, who could help, a businessman who was boasting around town that he could influence the judge.

“I said, ‘Let me call him,'” says Frieda. “And he tells me that this judge is in his pocket.”

Frieda says Elmann told her he could prove it by dialing the judge himself. She listened in to the conversation, and says she heard a man say that she was going to lose her children in 30 days. She then hung up the phone, terrified.

Frieda began calling every law enforcement agency she could think of, including the FBI. “I was very hysterical,” she says.

She was directed to Bryan Wallace, Kings County assistant district attorney, who was the first investigator to take Frieda seriously. “There was a businessman named Nissim Elmann who claimed that he had influence in Judge Garson’s part,” says Wallace. “Of course, my antennas went up.”

“We’re not talking about a traffic ticket here or someone jumping a turnstile. We’re talking about corruption in the court system. And the pawns that are being played with here are children,” says prosecutor Noel Downey, who works with Wallace in the Rackets division.

“We explained to her that we needed to, in essence test her, to see if what she was telling us was the truth,” says Michael Vecchione, Downey and Wallace’s boss, who knew that proving corruption in the courts would be difficult.

“I told them, ‘Put wires on me,'” says Frieda. “I’ll prove you this judge is corrupted.”

“We couldn’t cover her inside the warehouse. It’s a rather stark and daunting place. It’s kind of brick and closed up and so once Frieda went in that location [she was on her own],” says Vecchione. “Her allegations were that a Supreme Court Judge had been bribed. She was about to lose children.”

Frieda, three months pregnant, was on an undercover mission to expose corruption. She headed to a warehouse in downtown Brooklyn to meet with Elmann.

“We didn’t really know what Nissim Elmann was about. We didn’t know what he was capable of,” says Vecchione, who assigned detectives Jeanette Spordone and George Terra to Frieda.

The detectives wired up Frieda. “She was a tiger. She was protecting her cubs,” says Spordone. “It was ballsy of her to go in there. We pulled up and watched her go in. We really didn’t know what was going on inside that warehouse.”

Frieda found Elmann right in his office. Their conversation was mostly in Hebrew. Elmann tells Frieda that the judge is looking at papers submitted by her ex-husband. Frieda then pleads with Elmann, who shows her his cell phone, with Judge Garson’s phone number on the screen.

Elmann, an electronics salesman, guarantees she’ll win custody of her two younger children, but it will cost her.

Two weeks later, Frieda, wearing a wire again, visits Elmann to negotiate a price for her children. The price to keep custody of Sharon and Notti was $9,000.

Frieda says it worked. She says Judge Garson and Paul Siminovsky, a lawyer assigned by Garson to represent her children, soon began treating her differently. “I was seeing results,” says Frieda. “In the beginning, I was so dangerous. Now, I’m a very good mother.”

“She saw such a difference, how people treated her from top down,” says Downey. “We noticed it as well.”

Now, it was up to the district attorney to figure out how an electronics salesman from Brooklyn could possibly be influencing custody decisions. They put a tap on Elmann’s phone.

On tape, Elmann assures Siminovsky that he’s working to get him money from various divorce litigants. Simonovsky also brags about boozing it up with Judge Garson.

Detectives begin tailing Siminovsky, who is seen in a surveillance tape hugging Elmann. “Siminovsky and Elmann have a very tight relationship,” says Downey. “Siminovsky has a very tight relationship with the judge.”

Investigators believed they had figured out the food chain, literally. Vecchione showed 48 Hoursthe bar where “Siminovsky and the judge would meet for lunch, drinks and dinners.”

“They were very well known at the Archives because they were there every afternoon,” adds Spordone. “Very friendly. They were buddies.”

“I’m talking about an attorney who would bring the judge out to lunch, to drinks, to dinners,” says Downey. “Not once, but we’re talking several hundred times. Every time, Siminovsky paid.”

“Paul Siminovsky would pick up the tab. It was a given,” says Terra. “People know that this lawyer is before this judge on a case. It’s wrong. It’s inappropriate. It’s unethical.”

If this was what going on in public, authorities wanted to know what was happening behind closed doors. Were judicial decisions being bought?

On a cold December night, detectives from the district attorney’s office made their way into Judge Garson’s chambers. They placed a tiny camera in his ceiling.

“We had a microwave dish that would read signals going back to our office,” says Vecchione. “We had people who were monitoring it, all day long and into the evening.”

Just weeks after Frieda, terrified she was going to lose her children, started working undercover to try to prove whether Judge Garson was taking payoffs, the district attorney began surveillance of the judge and his meetings with Siminovsky.

“You have this attorney Siminovsky getting inappropriately cozy with a judge who’s appearing before, that he has cases with,” says Downey.

One of Siminovsky’s clients was Sigal Levi’s estranged husband, Avraham Levi. Detectives secretly listened in as Judge Garson told Siminovsky that his client would win the family home – and that Levi would “walk away with nothing.” At a later date, Garson instructs Siminovsky how to write a memo on the issue.

According to investigators, the judge and the lawyer said things about other women, too. “The way he spoke about women was really just beyond sexist,” says Downey. “I think it borders on disturbing.”

Investigators say they heard Siminovsky tell Elmann what Garson said about Frieda. “The judge was admiring her lips,” says Vecchione.

But the worst thing that was going on in Garson’s chambers, according to investigators, were the kickbacks – in the form of lucrative work. “You see Siminovsky’s assignment numbers almost triple,” says Vecchione.

Investigators say all the wining and dining of the judge paid off for Siminovsky in a big way. If a child needed representation in a custody case, Garson would assign Siminovsky as the law guardian – and the divorcing parents or the taxpayers would foot the bill, often tens of thousands of dollars.

Garson’s behavior was especially appalling for Joe Hynes, the district attorney in charge. For him, the investigation was personal.

“I saw the way the courts treated my mother when she was being beaten up by my father. I have a very special interest in making damn sure that kinda stuff doesn’t continue,” says Hynes. “Frankly, I was shocked that it was going on at all. I thought that there had been significant changes in the way the courts acted towards women litigants and their kids.”

The district attorney thought he had the goods on Siminovsky, but he wanted Judge Garson. He told his staff to offer Siminovsky a deal and get him to flip. They would recommend that Siminovsky serve no prison time.

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Simonovsky took the deal; he would wear a wire and go see the judge.

The district attorney bought a $275 dollar box of cigars. “And one afternoon, after Siminovsky went to lunch with the judge, and after he paid for the lunch again, came back to the robbing room, gave him the box of cigars,” says Vecchione. “And said, ‘This is thanks for your help in the Levy case.'”

Next, Siminovsky brought $1,000 in cash as a thank you to Garson for referring a case to him in another court.

“You see him reach into his pocket and he takes out a thousand dollars, and he hands it over to the judge and the judge takes it and put it into his pants pocket,” says Vecchione, describing what is happening on the tape. “Siminovsky leaves, and the judge takes it out of his pocket. Takes a couple of bills and puts it into another pocket and puts some in an envelope.”

Judge Garson then calls Siminovsky back to his office. He tells Simonovsky that it’s too much money and tries to give it back. But Siminovsky insists, and in the end, Garson keeps the money. “What we had all suspected he would do, he actually did,” says Vecchione.

“Joe Hynes, the district attorney in this case, would like nothing better than to tag Jerry Garson with the fact that he accepted a bribe,” says attorney Ronald Fischetti, who represents Judge Garson, and says the judge’s behavior may look bad, but there’s nothing illegal about any of it.

“He never fixed a case. He never accepted any money on any cases whatsoever. The $1,000 was a referral fee that Paul Siminovsky said, ‘You referred me a case. I received a fee. And here’s the $1,000 dollars.'”

Are judges supposed to take referral fees? “Absolutely not. And he tried to give it back three times,” says Fishetti.

“But he didn’t try to give it all back,” says Stahl.

“He did. The whole $1000,” says Fischetti. “You see him counting it out. Put it in an envelope, opened a drawer, gave it back to him. That’s our position.”

But Garson ended up taking it. “You’ve heard of the law of entrapment, I’m sure,” says Fischetti, who adds that Garson showed Siminovsky no special treatment in exchange for all those meals.

“The only bribe he’s accused of taking is lunch and dinner with Paul Siminovsky in order to have favorable treatment for Paul Siminovsky and give him law guardianships. Now I tell you, I mean, that it is so ridiculous on its face. A person like Jerry Garson, who’s a Supreme Court judge, is not going to throw on his robes for a hamburger.”

“But the judge is on tape telling and coaching Siminovsky on how to win the case in front of him,” says Stahl. “He’s giving him lessons. He’s telling him how to write memos. That’s on tape.”

“I understand that. He had made a decision regarding the property in that case, and what he was doing is telling Paul Siminovsky, in his own words, that he had ruled his favor, and you’re gonna win. And that’s wrong,” says Fischetti.

“He says, ‘Your client’s gonna win. But he doesn’t deserve it,'” says Stahl. “It sounds as though he’s saying, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this. But because of our relationship, I’m going to.”

“That’s not correct,” says Fischetti.

But 48 hours after Judge Garson took that money, detectives picked him up and brought him to a place they call “the Gulag.” The $1,000 was still in his pocket.

When Judge Garson saw what investigators had on tape, they say he offered to cut a deal. But in the end, it fell apart.

Nine months after Frieda went undercover, the authorities arrested Garson and charged him with receiving a bribe. Accepting all those free lunches could put the judge behind bars for up to seven years.

When investigators raided Elmann’s warehouse, they found a treasure trove of documents. “When these drawers are opened, you feel like you’re in a satellite file room for the matrimonial court,” says Downey.

Investigators arrested Elmann, retired court clerk Paul Sarnell, and Judge Garson’s court officer Louis Salerno. They were accused of taking bribes to steer cases to Garson’s court.

A surveillance tape shows Salerno accepting a bribe, a bag full of electronics, right on the courthouse steps.

“It’s a conspiracy, first and foremost,” says Downey, who adds that the unraveling of it all started with Frieda.

But there were dozens of women who say that because of Judge Garson, they lost custody of their children.

Sigal Levi, the woman whose divorce Garson was discussing in the undercover tape, had always suspected corruption. In fact, she’s the one whose tip to Frieda about Elmann started Frieda on her crusade.

Garson was arrested before he ruled on Levi’s case, but her estranged husband pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe the judge. “He told me he went to the right people to take care of me,” says Sigal Levi.

Her husband paid Elmann $10,000. Ironically, he says he’s the victim, and that he only did it because Elmann threatened him and said he’d lose everything if he didn’t pay up.

“I knew about Sigal’s divorce probably before she did. I knew her name, what was going on,” says Lisa Cohen, who knew because she and her husband were friendly with Elmann.

“I knew that he had the judge in his pocket. I knew that he was very friendly with the judge as well as he had a very intimate rapport with Paul Siminovsky. … From the horse’s mouth, he told me, ‘Any favor you need, the judge is in my pocket.'”

So when Cohen and her husband went through their own divorce later that year, she says she was terrified: “I received the notice in the mail to appear in Supreme Court. And sure enough, Judge Garson’s name was right there. Said that’s it. I’m doomed. I’m fixed. And it’s all over.”

The district attorney has not charged Cohen’s ex-husband with any wrongdoing, but she still believes her husband’s friendship with Elmann hurt her. She feels Judge Garson shorted her on child support.

Garson has not been charged with fixing any decisions, but an administrative judge has been appointed to review his divorce and custody rulings.

Elmann, the man alleged to be the gatekeeper of Garson’s corrupt court, sat down with 48 Hours 


for his first interview. He had his lawyer, Gerald McMann, by his side.

Did he ever bribe Judge Garson? “Absolutely not,” says Elmann.

And Siminovsky? “I was not under the impression that I was bribing him,” says Elmann.

In fact, Elmann has been charged with conspiracy to bribe practically everyone in Judge Garson’s court, from employees Salerno and Sarnell, to Siminovsky, to Judge Garson himself.

But Elmann says he never really knew the judge, and that he was just trying to hook people up with a lawyer the judge seemed to favor: “I was really showing off that I’m a big shot, and that was my biggest mistake that I live was showing off.”

“When you told Frieda that if she didn’t pay, she was going to lose her kids in 30 days, what did you mean,” asks Stahl.

“There’s no question that his responses to her on many occasions, if they were true, would be criminal. But they weren’t true,” says McMann. “He was telling these people that ‘I have the judge in my pocket. Oh, I just got off the telephone with Judge Garson. I just did this.’ None of these things were true, not a single one.”

Did Elmann mislead Frieda? “I might have done that,” he says. “Just to calm her down.”

Elmann now says he lied to Frieda when he told her that her ex-husband had already bribed the judge. And in fact, there is no evidence that her ex slipped anyone any money, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Still, Elmann convinced Frieda that her ex was up to no good, and took $9,000 from her. He says he gave it all to Siminovsky.

“Not even one cent [did I keep],” says Elmann. “Everything, I give it to, not even one cent.”

“What did he do for anybody except his pocket. That’s it. What did he do? He destroyed children’s lives, and I don’t have answers for my children. I just don’t,” says Cohen.

But Elmann and his attorney believe that if anyone’s motives should be in question, it should be Frieda’s.

“Frieda Hanimov is not a crusader, trying to clean up corruption in Brooklyn. Nor is Joe Hynes,” says McMann. “Frieda is a useful tool so that Joe Hynes can get publicity for his case.”

Is McMann suggesting that Frieda is not a very truthful person? “I’m not suggesting it,” says McMann. “I’m stating it categorically. She’s a liar.”

McMann calls Frieda a child abuser who found a way to get the charges dropped. Did she hit her child? Vecchione says, “None of us believe she did. She felt that the husband had been manipulating her child, which is what happened.”

But Frieda still has to convince the court that she’s the better parent to raise her oldest son. And for two years after Judge Garson’s arrest, she’s still fighting for custody.

Finally, Yaniv, who still says his mother hit him, agrees to live with her because he wants to be near his school.

“I got my son back. It’s like my heart is like jumping up and down. This is every mother’s dream,” says Frieda. “You know, to have kids back. I can’t express that. This is a big win for me. A big win. I’m so glad. We got it.”

It seems that women all over the country have heard about what she’s done.

“I’m just a mother, who fight the system and won,” says Frieda, who’s being compared to Erin Brockovich.

Every month, women gather at Frieda’s house. And if Frieda hears what she thinks is evidence of corruption, she calls her new friends in law enforcement.

“If I can help those people,” she says. “I was there once. If I can help those women, why not?”

In the wake of Judge Garson’s arrest, court administrators have formed a new commission to reform New York’s divorce court. On this day, Judith Sheindlein is speaking. Before she was TV’s Judge Judy, she was a family court judge in New York for 25 years.

She says Judge Garson’s case is a wakeup call for New York and the rest of the country. “I don’t know all the facts. I only know what I read in the paper,” says Sheindlein. “But certainly, here is a man who has brought the judiciary into disrepute because of at least his stupidity. At least his stupidity.”

And she says she’s met plenty of judges with bad judgment. “There’s no question in my mind that decisions are made every day in cases, made because of cronyism,” says Sheinlein.

Whether or not Judge Garson is found guilty, the district attorney credits Frieda with forcing the leadership of the court to re-examine how they pick judges, handle custody cases, and train law guardians.

“Has Frieda done that? You bet she did,” says Hynes. “Were it not for Frieda, I doubt very much if anyone would have known about it.”

Now, Hollywood has come calling. A screenwriter is following Frieda around.

The script line is simple: A Russian immigrant, for whom English is a third language, exposed a potential sewer of corruption in an American court.

Electronics salesman Nissim Elmann has pleaded not guilty and goes on trial next week.

Retired court clerk Paul Sarnell was found not guilty of all charges. Court officer Louis Salerno was convicted of receiving a bribe and is awaiting sentencing.

Judge Gerald Garson has pleaded not guilty and will be tried this fall.



Written by Janice Levinson

July 13, 2011 at 3:59 am


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