Editor’s note: The author of this letter is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a former clerk for a federal judge and a former tax lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City. Last fall, he was involved in legal proceedings in which he and his lawyer challenged the fees and conduct of a GAL involved in his divorce case.
To The Editor:
I read with great interest the recent column (“In Defense Of Family Judges, Connecticut Law Tribune, March 10) by Connecticut Bar Association president Kimberly Knox about the recent debate in the General Assembly regarding the reappointment of Judge Leslie Olear and, more broadly, the need to reform our state’s very flawed family court system. While I was not in Hartford for the debate, I followed the matter closely via CT-N. I have no personal experience with Judge Olear, and I share Ms. Knox’s concerns about maintaining the integrity of the reappointment process. But I also believe we should maintain the integrity of the public discussion of these issues.
While Ms. Knox wrote that Judge Olear “[b]y all accounts” “is the type of judge that Connecticut deserves and needs,” the debate was to the contrary. State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez and other legislators spoke of having received a large number of complaints from parents about Judge Olear. In the debate and in related communications, legislators and parents attributed the scarcity of formal complaints about the judge to fears of retribution and frustration with a judicial complaint process that parents view as a waste of time.
Likewise, Judge Olear’s positive evaluations from the Judicial Branch are not meaningful if, as I understand, such evaluations are based on lawyers who do business before her but not the pro se litigants who appear in more than 80 percent of family law matters. Sen. Jason Welch based his opposition to Judge Olear on a couple of questionable opinions she issued which were reversed on appeal. And parents protesting Judge Olear distributed flyers detailing concerns specific to the judge. In short, many parties expressed sincere concerns about Judge Olear.
Ms. Knox wrote that courts “occasionally involve guardians ad litem or other professionals to protect the children’s interests.” Testimony before the Task Force To Study Legal Disputes Involving Care and Custody of Children and statements by legislators indicate that, in fact: judges routinely assign GALs and an army of other individuals who purport to act “in the bests interest of the children;” that, in practice judges permit those individuals to exploit financially — and even bankrupt — families in difficult situations; and that such individuals and the judges who supposedly supervise them are not accountable in any fashion.
While Ms. Knox wrote that “[t]hose individuals have a thankless job,” in fact those individuals have extremely lucrative jobs. Ms. Knox’s defense of the current system is a misguided effort to protect those lucrative positions notwithstanding the resulting harm to families.
Ms. Knox’s discussion of the task force established to review family court matters was, at best, misleading. The task force was formed to advise the legislature (and not, as Ms. Knox suggests, the Judicial Branch) about three specific issues. However, its hearings revealed the need for complete reform of our family law system.
As Rep. Juan Vargas noted in the Olear debate, the task force was chaired by two professional GALs and consisted largely of divorce industry workers who have a vested interest in preserving the current system. Ms. Knox suggested that the legislators wait for the Judicial Branch to consider and act upon a task force report written by divorce industry workers. Instead, the legislators should reject the institutions that created the current family law system that destroys so many Connecticut families, including the organization Ms. Knox purports to represent.•