By Dr. Leon R. Koziol
Sorry that I have not posted a column on this site in awhile. As followers of Leon Koziol.com know, I have spent the past month on assignment in far away places. In San Francisco, I worked with moms and dads to promote public awareness of divorce corruption at the Super Bowl. We’ve seen all the focus on breast cancer and other worthy causes. Now it was our turn to be heard.
Then it was on to Hawaii where the bulk of my time was spent working on a book which is expected to be published soon. Starting as a sort of autobiography, it has now matured into a joint effort upon our Justice Department to investigate the abuses of Title VII-D funding in our nation’s divorce and family courts. More important, it is a mission to unite all parents behind an anti-corruption movement so that vast harm to our children can be prevented.
Rather than tell you about our work here, I have elected to leak our first chapter for your next read. You should digest the short text which follows to gain valuable insight on a growing epidemic. Hopefully you will help us spread the word to other victims, parents and injured families. Hopefully you will join a movement that is sparking interest across the country. Hopefully we can secure a proper place in the presidential debates and elections issues.
The new format came about unexpectedly as I got to know my book client better. A bit apprehensive about the invite at first, looking back, it made all the difference in the world, indeed a world of difference between what is and what might have been. But hey, let’s be real, who wouldn’t accept an invitation to Hawaii in the middle of winter? President Obama’s birthplace is a truly spectacular paradise.
The character in this opening chapter is fictitious because the real victim has asked to remain anonymous until formal release. There are reasons for this. Some of them you will find in your read. As a published author with two decades of experience as a trial attorney, I have applied relevant skills to voluminous transcripts and court documents, interviewing witnesses and distilling it into a marketable product. Some of the added intrigue will be obvious.
As Alec Baldwin emphasized in his 2008 best seller, A Promise to Ourselves, no one likes to revisit the horrors of their family conflicts in divorce court. Then again that is why the abuses continue and actually escalating at an alarming pace. I get the stories daily from victimized parents around the country. Just when I think I saw it all, another shocker comes along. That’s why I have offered my professional services so that these stories can be properly told, so that reform can finally become a reality. If you are interested in retaining me for your ordeal, contact me anytime.
Leon Koziol @ Parenting Rights Institute. Com
HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A MOM IN DIVORCE COURT (Tentative Title)
Cumulous clouds were progressing resolutely over earth’s horizon as the jet engines signaled their approach to Kuhalui Airport. It was late January but you wouldn’t know it from the topography of this island. Cloaked with emerald majesty, it grew with each thousand foot descent. Only days later I would make a dive through a similar cloud formation riding shot gun in a silver Nissan, a car operated by the person who invited me here.
Okay, that may sound implausible, even insane, but this was no ordinary assignment. It was something intended to reform America’s divorce and family courts, to make them more child- friendly as opposed to lawyer-friendly. It was the making of an odd couple joined by an unquenchable mission for justice, to expose corruption masked by a trillion dollar industry, to intercept every parent before that fateful visit to a law office.
Putting it in perspective, say you received a reliable tip on September 10, 2001 about a squad of terrorists set to board passenger jets the following morning. Would you spend the rest of that day warning authorities or the victims soon to enter the towers? Quite a choice if you had it, but you would be considered a fanatic yourself with either option. At least with the victims you stood a chance of saving real lives, however few you might convince even after the ’93 attack.
That analogy might seem a bit extreme but it aptly described what we were doing. My new client could not have anticipated the horrors of divorce court which awaited her back in 2001, and the number of premature deaths traceable to an antiquated custody system well exceeds the number of parents lost on 9-11. The problem is that there has never been a study to prove this, and the reason for that is the money which this lucrative system generates for lawyers, government and other beneficiaries. Like sheep to slaughter, parents sacrifice their life’s savings here for the logical reason that their offspring are made the prize in a war that so often never seems to end.
The public has been fed an overdose of propaganda behind the propriety of a custody award for countless disputes involving children. Shared parenting and mediation alternatives are routinely crushed in nearly every state by high powered bar associations which have cultivated this gold mine. Their preferred framework is not so complicated despite chapter and verse. Custody is awarded to the parent who could best destroy the other in a barbaric contest reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum while aligned spectators cheer and the government band plays on.
When you stop to think, it really is a barbaric process for a nation which styles itself as a civilized one. And the collective injuries to our schools, communities and productivity are mind-boggling. Politicians are quick to condemn needless surgeries, over-medicated patients, global warming and ever-elusive terrorism, but what about these barbaric courts? Why are they being so protected despite overwhelming evidence of their devastation to American society?
So ours was an ambitious effort to shake up moms and dads, to get them out of these courts before their careers, bank accounts and sanity collapsed before their very eyes. It was a vital cause for families of every kind; traditional, intact, separated or progressive. We had both sustained divorce ordeals at different times in far apart courts with similar outcomes. As a result, she became a born-again feminist and I a staunch traditionalist.
Yes, Cheryl Collins and I were destined to clash or crash like Gloria Steinem campaigning for Donald Trump, two polar opposites out to slay a family court system that excreted injustices like sewers do toxic fluids. And by the way, that car in the clouds. It actually occurred- with a woman driver no less. I’ll explain later. You can read any made-up John Grisham story, or you can gain valuable insight with this one, a real, life-altering challenge that could leave us dead or behind bars.
Everyone peered out of any window in anticipation of the gorgeous afternoon awaiting us. It was a six hour flight, for me thirteen, from New York with a lay-over in San Francisco. Judging by morning conversations in our fuselage, most passengers were tourists. The couple seated behind me was newly married and the row ahead was occupied by a young group of Asian athletes. Across the aisle, well, about the only thing I noted were three babies nurtured by expert moms with no eruptions. I liked those moms, felt almost drawn to convey compliments, but I passed on it as we arrived at the terminal.
Inside, as expected, everything was bright. Sun radiated from giant picture windows. No one exiting the jet bridge seemed interested in any diversions. Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, busy in most other airports, were eerily vacant here. Hardly a note was taken of the Welcome to Maui sign by a herd of primates making a mad dash for the baggage check. I watched momentarily, curious to know how many minutes would be gained before they were stopped dead in their tracks. After all, what can you do while the cargo was being deplaned?
I was not in any such rush. I had hardly slept in more than three days. There were reasons for this, but for now it was necessary for me to visit the rest room. A basic shave, cleaning and shedding of mainland attire would improve my chances of recognition. Sherry had promised a placard to draw attention to her, but it was often difficult to tell when she was serious. My name was not visible in any direction, and that suited me just fine. I needed major overhauls.
A half hour later, I was at the baggage conveyor, recognizing only a couple stray passengers of United Flight 1725. Neither my luggage nor Sherry was anywhere in sight. Only a few items remained on the belt. This situation was new to me. I always found my belongings at numerous airports over the years. As for Sherry, it was more peculiar because the flight was on time, she assured me of her punctuality to a fault and had toiled for a year to get me here. Now that it finally happened, a notion was growing that she had bailed.
Well it could be worse. I might have been at an airport in Moscow or Alaska, maybe even Antarctica given the fugitive status we both suffered at different times of our ordeals, and for the same reasons. Perhaps she got cold feet, maybe she had an accident. Whatever the possibilities that raced through my mind, this was an okay place to shop for new clothes and an excellent escape from subzero temperatures back home. Confident in my resourcefulness, I began charting a course of action.
“So I see they lost your baggage.”
Sherry declared time and again that Maui was a spiritual place, but I never thought she meant to prove it this way. I had just made another 360 degree search for her with no one left to block my view. She might as well have been an angel descending from the high ceiling, standing suddenly beside me to announce my misfortune. Slender, attractive for her age, and wrapped in a white summer dress, she smiled in a manner wholly at odds with that fearless gladiator I had been dealing with electronically, the custody warrior who took on the California divorce system.
I could only conclude that I was meeting Glinda herself from the Wizard of Oz, pleasantly afraid of no one. Then we embraced. Apparently we had met at a parenting convention in D.C., at least that’s what she insisted during our phone chats in the year since. There was a still a trace of that stoic character I had been anticipating. However I was now convinced that we had never met previously. I would have remembered it, angelic indeed. Maybe I got caught up in the hustle and bustle of workshops. Then again maybe she was spinning a web I had never seen before.
Her statement was very “matter-of-factly,” and although I could be mistaken, there was even a cynical half grin directed at my newly discovered predicament, as if Mona Lisa herself knew this would happen. She came across as one who could shift demeanor without warning, suddenly emotionless and creeping up on you like a lioness with body-piercing eyes. You just knew that she could dominate any board room. Well acclimated to life’s complexities, lost baggage was simply nothing to get into a twist about.
“Hey Sherry,” I replied happily and hoping to discount the now empty black belt of the conveyor. “I’m sure it’s still coming out. I was a bit late getting here so we’ll just have to wait. No problem.”
“Yeah, well don’t wait too long. See that sign in the baggage window over there? Recognize anything?”
It took a minute squinting in the direction she was pointing, but there was the anticipated placard with my name on it, not the way I expected, yet undeniable in verifying my predicament. Having experienced this before, Sherry was quick to guide me through. She took charge of the staff inside the reclamation office and they seemed to respond as if the NSA had just arrived. My early impressions of her were being vindicated.
“This is completely unacceptable, Miss (glancing her shirt) Tupalai. My guest is expected to be in court this afternoon, and he can’t do that in khakis and an NYPD shirt, although (turning briefly to me), I like the shirt. Come to think about it, it might scare off some of those stalkers on the beach. We’re going to get him proper attire while we wait on his baggage.”
The attendant came unglued as if her skirt zipper had just busted loose. It was bad enough that some irate local was giving her a scolding but a New York cop, soon-to-be lawyer at her side? This was not good. “We’re on it, mam, it should be here by eight o’clock, and I’ll personally see to it that you get priority. Just give us your address.”
Her nightmare was only getting started.
“Eight o’clock? The judge will be in bed by then. Look I know the FAA supervisor at LAX, he gave me all the protocol I need for this sort of thing. We’ll be making a claim and I want the names of the baggage handlers. It’s well into the 21st Century! How is it these things are still happening?”
“Here’s the form you fill out on the claim,” a visibly shaken Miss Tupalai offered as she multi-tasked the situation. I almost felt sorry for her. After all, none of this was her fault. Then again it was not mine either. I was sort of enjoying this female face-off.
“It is what it is,” Sherry replied with a more lady-like tone. “No time to dwell on it. Here’s my information and cell. We’re going shopping, and I love to shop.”
With repeat apologies that were beginning to appear more like condolences over a dead body, arrangements were made to have my luggage delivered to Sherry’s home. Confirmed on the next plane from San Francisco, it occurred to me after that exchange that my host was abundantly familiar with court rooms. It also demonstrated how easily she could inflame any judge especially when custody over her own child was being threatened.
“Sherry, not for nothing, but I don’t recall any court appearance on our calendar for this afternoon.”
“There isn’t, not yet anyway, but there will be if they don’t get that baggage problem cleared up. This is not the way I expect my special guests to be treated.” She placed an emphasis on “special” while sending an alluring smile in my direction as if there were other surprises in store for me.
“Don’t you think you were a little hard on her?”
“Not at all. Look she’s probably a very competent person, but if you don’t put the fear in them, they’ll get lax on you. You might never see your belongings again.”
We left the terminal with only my carry-on, replete with lap top, electronic devices and modern weaponry intended to wage war on a dysfunctional court system. Sherry had worked long and hard to get me here. She had a singular purpose that only she knew, and it would not be denied. A fifteen year divorce and custody battle had cost her precious years with an only child, fugitive status which took her to countries around the globe and an ordeal which nearly took her life.
It was an ordeal orchestrated behind closed doors, suppressed from accountability and remanded to a twilight zone of obscurity. There were many cases of court corruption I had come across in my years as a trial attorney but none like this. Sherry was the divorce court equivalent of a wrongfully convicted murderer released from prison by the Innocence Project. She certainly deserved a remedy but was entitled to much more, a release from the injustices which had plagued her for so long. Indeed society owed this to her.
My job in this project was to expose Sherry’s horrific journey through a corrupt divorce system so that other parents would not suffer a similar fate. As a victimized father myself, still in the heat of battle, I knew that little had changed since her annulment in 1997. In my reports to the Justice Department, I made the convincing case that it had only gotten worse. Profound investigations would have to be commissioned by our federal government to reverse decades of state sponsored family abuse which it had ironically caused through a funding law.
I also knew our joint mission would invite grave consequences. After 23 unblemished years in the legal profession, I was made subject to a witch hunt by ethics lawyers for exposing misconduct in New York’s divorce and family courts. That “hunt” was so inept that it made Dick Cheney out to be an expert marksman. I reported regular misconduct to their bosses, a high court and its appointed Committee on Professional Standards. They never flinched to give it credence.
A maliciously protracted investigation designed strictly to discredit my reform message drove me to career suicide. As you read on, you will learn of alarming whistle blower activity that was suppressed by these lawyers and mainstream media. At hearings before the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, I described my attackers as an “unethical ethics committee.” Before they could retaliate for that offensive but accurate depiction, the chief counsel and deputy lawyers engaged in this witch hunt were fired for falsifying their time sheets.
That’s right, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, the standard-bearers of lawyer ethics fired by their own ethics committee, people charged with overseeing unscrupulous billing practices and orchestrated conflict which have harmed more families than adultery, nagging and domestic violence combined. Like Bernie Madoff, they were the foxes watching the chicken coup. And if you can stomach that, try this: no public charges, ethical or criminal, were ever prosecuted against them.
Now if that had been you or I stealing money from any government agency, let alone a court of law, we would have been sentenced to a prison term. In one of my cases, a city worker was fired for exposing executive raises and charged with a felony for taking a $16 gas card reimbursement two hours later. At the Moreland hearings, I compared my client’s acquittal to Bernie Madoff’s $70 billion crime before he was finally convicted. Instead of setting a proper example, these ethics lawyers were allowed to resign while I sustained far worse retributions for exposing them.
Don’t go away, there’s more, and it’s all true. You can look it up on the internet in minutes. On the domestic side, more than thirty (30!) trial judges were disqualified from my (also protracted) divorce case, one for “political espionage” later removed from the family bench for admitting to sexual misconduct on his handicapped five year old niece. Now there will be a lot of court corruption related in this book, but you have to ponder that last one a bit longer. I was able to keep my young daughters out of a meeting in this judge’s chambers where parents are not allowed in. Countless other parents were not so fortunate. What sort of thought was Judge Bryan Hedges giving to all these little girls over so many years?
Every aspect of my life was therefore being scrutinized when I flew into this airport. Here I was adding to my ordeal with Sherry’s plethora of corruption carefully preserved in a voluminous record. Before getting to that, I had been a main speaker at a parental rights convention in our nation’s capital along with former Georgia Senator Nancy Schaefer. Like me she had been exposing vast injustices and had just published a book entitled, The Corrupt Business of Child Protective Services. She never made it to the podium due to a highly suspicious murder-suicide involving her husband of 52 years. Did I mention I was writing a book here?
Sherry’s past was no less daunting although I would have liked to know certain details prior to boarding at JFK. There was a main character of our book which could not be avoided, her ex-husband. He had been prosecuted for attempted murder after putting a number of bullets into another man’s body. He was surprisingly acquitted, and during Sherry’s later ordeal, thugs were sent to find her. One of them even pulled a gun on a neighbor in order to coerce her location. Did I mention I was staying at Sherry’s home?
There was another aspect to this book which rendered it unlikely for completion. Sherry announced after my arrival that she might change her mind often about our approach. As she explained it, this was a right derived from her female status. I was okay with that, after all she was paying for such a right. But there was no way I could insert fifteen years of court transcript and documents to meet her demands while making this book appealing to the general public. On one occasion, entire chapters had to be revised. Did I mention that Sherry was a woman?
So that pretty much summed up my predicament on a small island in the middle of the Pacific. Just another day in paradise. With all that I had endured over the years, I began to ask whether I had made the right decision to come here. That question was already answered by the countless family victims beneath my flights from New York to Hawaii. I know what you’re thinking. Why would I risk my career, relationships and life itself over a David-Goliath battle whose outcome was so unpredictable? The answer is the same for all those parents and would-be parents who sacrificed in foreign wars only to return to this sort of human oppression.
For our mission to succeed, I would have to find a way to pierce a shell layered by years of pain and suffering which had protected Sherry for so long. If I was successful, she would become an ideal representative in the court of public opinion. The judges, lawyers and agents responsible for the ordeal you are about to read have long forgotten Cheryl Collins. But she never forgot them, and this was no princess at the baggage counter. It is said that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” So out the airport we went, into the burning heat of this day, to war with a modern day Satan loosened from the fires of hell.