District 6 Council candidate Don Zimmerman injured, alienated daughter, court records state
Investigative Report by Ken Martin
Updated Wednesday October 15, 2014 7:42pm
Editor’s note: Don Zimmerman, through his attorney Stephen Casey, on October 10, 2014, sent a letter to The Austin Bulldog stating this article published October 9 subjected Zimmerman to defamation and demanded retraction. There is no reason for The Austin Bulldog to retract its report about the judicial proceeding that Zimmerman was involved in earlier this year.
The Austin Bulldog does listen to criticism of its reports, in this case, like all others. Therefore, in the interest of making this report the best possible fair, true, and impartial account of information contained in court records, we have updated it with additions (shown in underlined text) and deletions (shown in text with strikethroughs).
The update also includes a link to the Docket Sheet, which is the Travis County District Clerk’s official record of every action taken in this District Court case. Examination of the Docket Sheet, along with the records already linked to this report, reflects the fact that The Austin Bulldog had already published and made accessible to readers every substantive court filing made this year, starting with Casey’s filing for client Zimmerman of the Respondent’s Motion to Enter Final Order on March 10, 2014. All of the remaining court records and orders that were the basis of the story are included in the links below.
District 6 candidate Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman, founder of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, is an aggressive leader who as president of a municipal utility district brought two lawsuits, one of which resulted in winning a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But aggression in disciplining his then 12-year-old daughter, Marina Zimmerman, resulted in documented physical and emotional damage and permanent loss of parental rights through civil court action. Although by court order he remains a “parent possessory conservator,” with rights to certain information about his daughter, the order explicitly states that Don Zimmerman “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child, who is now 15 years of age. Absent Zimmerman obtaining a new court order, such denial of access is permanent while the order is in effect.
The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (daughter Marina Zimmerman).”
In response to the petition, an Agreed Order issued by the court June 16, 2014, states, “The Court finds that the material allegations in the petition to modify are true and the requested modification is in the best interest of the child. IT IS ORDERED that the requested modification is GRANTED.”
The court records of the proceedings in 2014 contain no evidence that Zimmerman contested the allegations of having a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse of his daughter. In fact, Zimmerman signed the Agreed Order beneath this statement: “APPROVED AND CONSENTED TO AS TO BOTH FORM AND SUBSTANCE.”
Yet in an interview for this story as originally published Zimmerman repeatedly characterized the allegations as lies. His protestations are left intact in this update so that readers can judge the facts for themselves.
Three documented incidents
Files from a Travis County District Court case (linked at the bottom of this report) include three reports from Deborah Neitsch, MD, from early 2011. The reports, created each time the physician examined Marina Zimmerman, state that on separate occasions Zimmerman inflicted bruises, pulled Marina’s hair, pushed her, and “threatened to kill her.” The records indicate the doctor would contact Child Protective Services (CPS). Such reporting is required within 48 hours by Texas Family Code Section 261.101, which states, “A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make this report.”
“I got a call from CPS and consulted a couple of attorney friends and was told when lies are made you should demand proof of the allegations and if don’t get proof you should not cooperate,” Zimmerman told The Austin Bulldog in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Three documented incidents
The first incident occurred just three days after Marina’s twelfth birthday, then twice more, all within a three-week period in January and February 2011, according to the medical records. She weighed 84 pounds at the time. Each incident occurred during evening or weekend visits when Zimmerman had sole possession as authorized in the divorce decree (also linked at the bottom of this report).
Asked if he did those things to his daughter, Zimmerman replied, “Those are unequivocal lies. They are outright fabrications and absolute lies.”
Doctor’s first examination—January 24, 2011, the physician’s record indicates a “very minor bruise” was found on Marina’s right forearm. “There are concerns that her father is being physically and emotionally abusive to her when she is visiting him.” The record further states, “We will contact the CPS caseworker that is in charge of her case. No serious injury seems to have occurred but I worry about the psychological toll on her.”
Doctor’s second examination—January 28, 2011, the doctor found that Marina had a bruise on her left shoulder blade and a stiff neck. “He wanted to take her phone away and she walked away and he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around and pushed her backwards…He pushed her from behind and now she has a bruise on her left scapula (shoulder blade). Her neck is stiff after he pushed her….”
“[C]ontinued concern of her dad being physically forceful with her,” the record states. “[W]ill keep document for CPS case worker.”
Doctor’s third examination—February 11, 2011, the record states, “Her dad was harsh with her yesterday and pushed her against the microwave and now she has right hip pain and right shoulder pain. … Her dad has been yelling at her and threatened to hit her but didn’t. He has threatened to kill her and she has fears of (him) shooting her…Her parents are worried that she needs therapy but her dad refuses.”
Zimmerman’s threat to hit Marina was overheard by her mother and stepfather in a phone call that she made to her mother during that confrontation, according to a sworn affidavit filed by her stepfather, Eric “Ani” Fox. (The affidavit is part of the court records linked below.)
The February 11, 2011, doctor’s record also states, “Concerns of abuse with hip and shoulder strain. Recommended if CPS does not intervene this could lead to a life threatening situation. I recommend they persue (sic) legal full custody as soon as possible. We will contact CPS about the situation.”
For prevention the doctor stated, “Counseling: Domestic violence, warned this was the most common cause of homicide in Texas and in our area and needs to be taken seriously. [T]he situation seems to be escalating quickly due to CPS investigation.”
When questioned in the Tuesday interview about the alleged threat to kill his daughter, Zimmerman replied, “That’s an outright lie. None of this has ever been shown to me.”
When reminded that the cited medical reports are in the files for his divorce case, Zimmerman replied, “These allegations are news to me. I’ve never seen them before. These are offensive lies and I’ve never seen them before. I’m not afraid because these are lies.”
Marina fears of being shot?
Zimmerman said he has a license to carry a concealed handgun and he has guns and ammunition in the house.
“(Bochenkova) demanded I move all guns and ammunition out of the house,” Zimmerman said. “Why would that demand be made? I can agree to do it or refuse to do it. She’s a brilliant manipulator and liar. If I agree to move the guns and ammunition out of the house, then I’m agreeing I’m a violent person who can’t be trusted around guns and ammunition. If I do not agree, I’m in denial and won’t acknowledge that I’m a violent and dangerous person. The demand is a lie.
“I’m 54 and never in my life have I been violent against anyone. I’ve never shown violence. I get angry. I’m angry now when someone lies and attacks my character.”
Met, married seven years, and divorced
Zimmerman met Kateryna “Katya” Bochenkova in Kiev, Ukraine, when he was there teaching English as a second language. She was one of his students. They met again when she was a student at Texas A&M University in College Station. They were married in Brazos County December 6, 1997, when he was 38 and she was 20.
Marina was born in January 1999.
A Final Decree of Divorce was approved May 27, 2005. The marriage was “dissolved on the ground of insupportability,” which is defined in Family Code Section 6.001 as “without regard to fault.” (The divorce records are linked below.)
Mother followed doctor’s advice
The doctor recommended pursuing full legal custody and Bochenkova quickly did so. On February 16, 2011, five days after the physician’s last examination, she petitioned for a Temporary Restraining Order. Included in an accompanying Petition to Modify Parent-Child Relationship was a request for the court to order Zimmerman to attend parenting classes and anger-management classes.
Bochenkova told The Austin Bulldog she wanted Zimmerman to take those classes so that he “could modify the behavior that brought us into that conflict situation in the first place.”
Asked if he took those classes, Zimmerman replied, “I did not.”
In response to Bochenkova’s February 16, 2011,petition for a Temporary Restraining Order, the court instead that day issued an Agreed Temporary Injunction to bar Zimmerman from contacting or communicating with his daughter or taking possession of her, rights that had been established by the divorce decree granted in 2005.
Asked to comment on the injunction, Zimmerman said, “The crux of it is that with people willing to lie under oath I’m not going to see my daughter any more. If I persist what would have come next would be false allegations of sexual abuse,” Zimmerman said.
“I’ve seen this bad movie before,” he added. “I won’t see my daughter anymore. I won’t let you play this game.”
There has been no communication between Zimmerman and his daughter in more than three years, both he and Bochenkova said.
Dormant case revived, concluded
Zimmerman’s divorce attorney, Cecilia Wood, filed a motion to withdraw as his attorney of record January 13, 2012, stating that Zimmerman no longer desired her services. An order approved January 26, 2012, granted the request as agreed to by Zimmerman.
Nothing else was filed with respect to this case until March 10, 2014, when Zimmerman’s new attorney, Round Rock-based Stephen Casey of the Casey Law Office PC, filed a motion to enter a final order in the case, stating that Zimmerman’s “relationship with the minor child has become fairly non-existent. … Respondent remains willing and able to communicate but until it is initiated by the minor child there is no interaction.”
Bochenkova told The Austin Bulldog that Marina has not seen her father in more than three years and does not want to.
The girl’s mother responded to Casey’s motion by filing petitions of her own in April and June of this year.
In a final Agreed Order filed June 16, 2014, the court appointed Zimmerman a “parent possessory conservator” with certain rights and duties but ordered that he “shall have no possession of or access to the child.”
As part of that order, the court found that Zimmerman owed nearly $15,000 in arrearage for the child’s medical support expenses, and that “Bochenkova has agreed to waive all past medical support.”
“We wanted Don out of our life and that was the easiest way to achieve that,” Bochenkova told The Austin Bulldog. “It was the easiest way to close the deal, and we gave up that money in exchange for the freedom of our daughter.”
The court action in June also removed the requirement for Marina to live in Austin. She recently moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey, with her mother and stepfather.
On the “About Don Zimmerman” page on his campaign website, Zimmerman states, “I have one remarkable daughter, Marina Lorna Zimmerman.”
But the girl long ago quit using her father’s name. In 2012 and 2013 she won medals in fencing competition and performed classical piano music as Marina Bochenkova, her mother’s maiden name.
“She says she will take my name legally when she is 18,” Bochenkova said.
Final Decree of Divorce In the Matter of the Marriage of Kateryna and Donald Shelly Zimmerman (24 pages, with redactions)
District Court 201st Judicial District, Travis County, Texas, No. D-1-05-000710 (52 pages, with redactions. The doctor’s records are on pages 12-16)
Travis County Taxpayers Union