Williamson County

Commissioners Respond to ‘Extortion’ Complaints

 Commissioners Respond to ‘Extortion’ Complaints

But discuss only cost of Williamson County Domestic
Relations Office, and claim need for judges to buy in

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2016
Part 3 in a Series
Posted Tuesday April 26, 2016 4:03pm

Lisa BirkmanAfter months of hearing from parents who claim they are being ripped off by racketeering in the family courts of Williamson County, Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman briefed the Commissioners Court about research she had done to explore the possibility of establishing a Domestic Relations Office (DRO). That is a goal advocated by the Texas Association for Children and Families (TACF).

Birkman described the duties of the professionals who are appointed by courts to assist in making decisions about child custody. The person appointed will interview the children, parents, and others and report to the judge, she said. In Williamson and most other Texas counties the person appointed would be an attorney or other licensed professional in private practice.

She noted that the Family Code allows the Commissioners Court to establish a DRO, such as the one operated by Travis County. Among other services provided by the Travis County DRO, it has employees qualified to be appointed as guardian ad litem to advise the court on the best interests of children.

“There's only a few counties that do it that way and it's expensive,” Birkman said. (Actually there are eight such counties in Texas, per the Texas Association of Domestic Relations Offices.)

Birkman cited cost figures for three DROs:

• Harris County (Houston) has 42 employees and a $3.3 million annual budget.

• Tarrant County (Fort Worth) has 83 employees and a $7.2 million budget.

• Travis County (Austin) has 51 employees and a $3.6 million budget.

“The way we do it in Williamson County, and most counties in Texas, is the parents bear the cost,” Birkman said.

Judges not yet responsive

Parents Demand Halt to ‘Extortion’

 Parents Demand Halt to ‘Extortion’

Texas Association for Children and Families and
parents demand reforms under threat of lawsuit

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2016
Part 2 in a Series
Posted Monday April 18, 2016 9:12pm

Williamson County Commissioners Court. Judge Dan Gattis (center) and Commissioners (left to right) Lisa Birkman, Cynthia Long, Valerie Covey, Ron MorrisonTomorrow morning the Williamson County Commissioners Court is scheduled to hear yet again from the Texas Association for Children and Families (TACF) about alleged corruption. The organization claims that for years a “racketeering enterprise” has been operating right under the noses of family law courts in Williamson County, wrecking the lives of children and parents, and ruining them financially.

The court-appointed professionals named by the TACF as being involved in the alleged scheme who were reached for comment have denied any wrongdoing.

This will be the fourth time representatives of the TACF and parents have appeared in person since last December 1 to complain about alleged injustices and plead for help. Previous appearances have yielded only disclaimers that these problems are beyond the power of the Commissioners Court to remedy.

This is a last-ditch attempt to get a so-far resistant Commissioners Court to establish a Domestic Relations Office, similar to one operated in Travis County for decades. This office would provide essential services focused solely on achieving the best outcomes for Williamson County parents going through divorce and child-custody disputes.

Joseph GaleJoseph Gale, TACF’s executive director, will tell commissioners that parental rights are being abused and children are being damaged by a number of professionals involved in family law cases in Williamson County, who are allegedly more interested in extracting fees than achieving the best outcomes.

TACF and these parents seek the Commissioners Court’s cooperation in initiating a remedy. If that assistance is not forthcoming by June 1, TACF says Williamson County will be named as a defendant in a lawsuit.

Gale will deliver signed letters to the Commissioners Court on behalf of TACF, four mothers, and one father. These and possibly other parents are expected to be plaintiffs if a lawsuit is necessary. The parents claim their families and their children were and are being harmed by the failure of the Commissioners Court to supervise the judges and court appointed professionals.

‘Racketeering enterprise’ alleged

A Tale of Two Counties

 A Tale of Two Counties

Child custody cases get help in Travis County but in
Williamson and most other counties you're on your own

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2016
Part 1 in a Series
Posted March 15, 2016 1:22pm

In the State of Texas in 2013 there were 76,423 divorces involving 59,135 children, according to statistics provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Center for Health Statistics. Some of those divorces resulted in amicable arrangements for child custody in which the parents rose above self-interest and focused on sharing their responsibility to shepherd happy and well-adjusted children into adulthood.

But there is all too much evidence of divorce cases in which the bitterness bestowed by bickering parents pervades every aspect of their children’s lives. In those cases, money may be the least of concerns in the combat for control and custody of children borne out of love and delivered into the war zone of a contentious divorce.

Divorces are emotionally exhausting and can leave parting parents drained, both emotionally and financially. When minor children are involved, the romance may have ended but the parents remain connected to jointly look after their custody, housing, education, medical care, and emotional well-being until they come of age.

Even long after the divorce is final, the ties that bind divorced parents together over issues of child custody may fray and grow contentious.

Divorced parents may continue to struggle for control over critical issues: Where will the children live? Where they will be educated? In which extracurricular activities will they participate? What kind of medical care will they will receive? Not the least of these stressful issues is which parent will pay for these and the myriad other expenses involved in raising children?

When one parent’s behavior appears to threaten or endanger the children—or for whatever reason becomes unacceptable to the other parent—the deadlocked former mates may jump to hire lawyers and seek to air their grievances in a court of law.

The children’s welfare—the thing that should be uppermost in the minds of deadlocked parents—may get shoved aside, become a casualty of family warfare. At that point the overriding goal of looking out for the children becomes a concern for the court. The judge may choose to appoint someone to look after the best interests of the children.

Whoever’s appointed has to come in and objectively examine the circumstances and then make an informed recommendation to the court about what’s best for the children. That person is usually an attorney ad litem or a guardian ad litem. Translated from the original Latin, ad litem means “for the lawsuit.”

The key difference between the two types of ad litems is explained in an informative guide for parents published online, along with a lot of other information important to divorcing couples, by the Travis County Domestic Relations Office:

The Guardian Ad Litem, who is often a licensed professional counselor, focuses on the child's best interests in making recommendations to the court, even if that is not what the child says he or she wants (emphasis added).

An Attorney Ad Litem is appointed by the court to represent the child's best interests and wishes. However, if the child's best interests are different from the child's wishes, the Attorney Ad Litem will represent the child's wishes (emphasis added).

Typically a given custody case would involve one or the other of these kinds of ad litems and not both.

Once appointed, the ad litem will investigate, complete written reports for the court, and testify in court hearings.

Judge Gatttis Removal Lawsuit Dismissed

Judge Morris’ Opinion States Considered All Filings But Provides No RationaleJudge Rick Morris of the 146th Judicial District Court of Bell County today issued...

Complaint Filed on Williamson County Attorney

Posted Monday January 17, 2011 8:19pm

Complaint Comes On Heels of Lawsuit
to Remove Williamson County Judge Gattis

Lawyer Files Complaint on County Attorney Duty
as Removal Lawsuit Awaits Go-No Go Decision

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog

Attorney Kerry E. Russell of the Georgetown law firm Russell & Rodriguez LLP filed a criminal complaint with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, alleging that Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty committed a Class A misdemeanor offense through “intentional destruction of a local government record.”

 Jana Duty“...I am requesting that you file charges and prosecute Ms. Duty for this violation,” Russell states in his January 13 letter addressed to Bradley. The record referred is a memorandum dated June 1, 2008, that Duty sent to three Williamson County Court at Law judges. A copy of that memorandum, with gaps in the text indicating that some of the content is missing, is included Attachment B to Russell’s complaint.

Dan A. GattisCounty Attorney Duty said Russell’s criminal complaint is without merit and was lodged as a means of retaliating against her in response to her civil lawsuit to suspend and remove Williamson County Judge Dan A. Gattis from office for alleged incompetence and official misconduct. The lawsuit alleges five instances of incompetence and official misconduct by the judge, who issued a statement indicating there has been no misconduct or violations of law. The Austin Bulldog reported on that lawsuit December 29.

Rick MorrisThe removal lawsuit is pending a decision by Judge Rick Morris of the 146th Judicial District Court of Bell County about whether to have Judge Gattis served citation. If Morris decides yes, the lawsuit will proceed. If he decides no, then the lawsuit dies and that decision may not be appealed. Information about Judge Morris was published by The Austin Bulldog January 3.

Whether Russell’s complaint was filed as retaliation for the lawsuit cannot be determined but circumstances indicate that’s possible. The Williamson County Sun reported yesterday that Gattis said he gave Russell a copy of the letter. Gattis also told the Sun there needs to be an investigation of possible misconduct by Duty, but that he is not involved and did not ask Russell to pursue it.

John BradleyDistrict Attorney Bradley told the Sun he has a duty to evaluate the complaint.

Duty thinks otherwise. She says the statute of limitations for a Class A misdemeanor—if one was actually committed—is two years. The Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 12.02(a), states “An indictment or information for any Class A or Class B misdemeanor may be presented within two years from the date of the commission of the offense, and not afterward.” Duty’s memorandum was dated June 1, 2008, more than two and a half years ago.

“Bradley should have said he looked at the complaint and said there’s nothing he can do because the statute of limitations has run,” Duty says.

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