Brooklyn Supreme and Family Court at 320/330 Jay St. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
A man who stood by idly while his partner severely beat their 5-year-old daughter has been denied even supervised visits with his children.
Brooklyn Family Court Judge Alan Beckoff (See Profile), in a 10-page-decision, was also critical of the Brooklyn Defenders, which represented the father, for “conspicuously and curiously” failing to advise the court that a prior judge had relieved the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) from its usual duty to attempt family reunification.
Matter of Allison C., NA6111-14/11, began with an ACS petition in 2011 when it alleged that the mother had beaten the 5-year-old girl with a broomstick, yanked out her hair and burned her hand while the father did nothing to protect his daughter.
When the child, Allison, was seen by an ACS caseworker and a police officer, her hand was burned, she had cuts on her ankles, forehead and scalp, patches of hair were missing and there were scars on her buttocks and swelling of her jaw and ear, according to Beckoff’s decision.
The mother, Renee M., pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Supreme Court to first-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Justice Mark Dwyer (See Profile) issued an order of protection directing her to have no contact with Allison or her other children until 2030.
The father, Angel C., pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and was sentenced by then-Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango to 3 1/2 years in prison. DiMango also issued an order of protection directing him to have no contact with Allison or her siblings until August 2023.
Additionally, ACS obtained an order in 2012 from Brooklyn Family Court Judge Amanda White (See Profile) relieving it of any responsibility to reunite the family. White found that Angel abused Allison by permitting the mother to repeatedly abuse the child, and also held that the other children, ranging in age from one to 13, were derivatively abused.
In April, after Angel was paroled, and without notice to ACS, the attorneys for the children or a foster care agency, Brooklyn Defenders sought to modify DiMango’s order of protection to secure visitation and custody rights for the father, according to the decision. Supreme Court Justice John Ingram (See Profile), who replaced DiMango on the case, granted the motion.
Beckoff noted that an order of protection issued in connection with a criminal proceeding—as occurred in this case—can be altered in Family Court if there is a finding that reunification is consistent with the child’s best interests.
“Considering the severe and repeated abuse that Allison was subject to by her mother while her father looked on, failed to intervene, and then failed to seek medical treatment, this court is hard put to see how it is in the best interests of Allison and her siblings to allow him to have even supervised visits with them,” Beckoff wrote.
Beckoff said the father’s lawyer, Jessica Marcus, cast the motion as “one for mere modification of a dispositional order…completely glossing over the fact” that White had relieved ACS “of its obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunite the family,” including scheduling visitation.
“Even if respondent’s counsel had brought to this court’s attention the…order that Judge White had entered, that determination is the law of the case unless there is a showing of new evidence or a change in the law,” Beckoff wrote. “Neither is present here and therefore this court cannot reexamine the issue.”
Beckoff also said that Marcus had argued that Angel’s conviction to second-degree assault does not automatically strip him of visitation rights.
“This is correct as far as it goes,” Beckoff wrote. “But…it ignored (Family Court Act §1039-b (a)(4)), which allows the Family Court to enter a finding that reasonable efforts to return a child to his or her home are no longer required where, as here, the parent has been convicted of first or second degree assault and the commission of the crime resulted in serious physical injury to the child.”
Marcus was not immediately available for comment. There was no immediate reaction from ACS, which was represented by Nathaniel Guinn.
Also appearing were: Mary Jane Scalfani of Magovern & Scalfani in Mineola for Heartshare-St. Vincent’s, the foster care agency that had filed a successful motion to terminate the mother’s parental rights and has a similar pending motion involving the father; and Amy Serlin of the Legal Aid Society, who represents Allison and the other children.