Archive for the ‘Tracie Nelson’ Category
Why don’t the courts act in an ethical and judicially correct way in Marion County? Why don’t the family law courts in Marion County follow Indiana Code with respect to custody? Why do the judges have such a hard time doing the right thing for children in Marion County? Part 3 of Tracie Nelson’s story, from The Indianapolis Recorder:
Indianapolis mother Tracie Nelson’s fight to regain custody of her daughter has been difficult, and the concerns she has raised could place select individuals in the Marion County court system on the defensive.
Nelson, however, maintains that every motion filed in court and every complaint presented to various agencies has only been used for the best interest of her daughter, Kay (Not her real name. The Recorder does not publish names of minors in court cases.)
Nelson insists her goal is to have Kay removed from the home of her father, who was questioned for (but has never been charged with) sexual abuse. At the least, she would like more visitation with her seven-year-old child. “I’m not out to try to hurt or anger anyone,” Nelson says, holding back tears.
“All I’m asking for is justice and safety for my beautiful daughter. I raised Kay from her birth until she was taken, and she and I have a special bond that can’t be erased.”
As written in previous segments of this series, Nelson said her main obstacle to getting a fair assessment of her situation was conflict of interest in local paternity and civil courts, allegedly due to close ties between particular judges and the attorney of her ex-boyfriend.However, Nelson is also disappointed with the assistance she has received from individuals charged with ensuring the protection of children.
Specifically, she is unhappy with Kay’s Guardian Ad Litem. The guardian ad litem is a person asked by the court or attorney to represent a child and independently assess their needs during a legal dispute between parents.
At the request of Nelson’s attorney, a guardian ad item was appointed for Kay. According to public records, Nelson recently filed a petition for the dismissal of that guardian ad litem, Denise Hayden.
Nelson says she has information that Hayden had served as a pro tempore judge in a court case involving her custody dispute, and therefore cannot be impartial. She also claims Hayden has refused to return her phone calls, has not actually spoken with Kay since July and refused to recommend counseling for the girl following allegations of abuse.
“If there were nothing to hide, what would it have hurt?” said Nelson.
Nelson said she asked Hayden’s attorney, Claire Deichman to appoint another guardian ad litem but was told another was not available. Neither Hayden nor Deichman could be interviewed. Inquires were directed to Kid’s Voice, a not-for-profit organization that provides representation for children, as well as parent-child visitation, programs for volunteers serving at-risk youth, and legal resources for attorneys.
Nelson said Kid’s Voice is a good organization, so she can’t understand why Kay couldn’t get another guardian ad litem.
“We are asked to provide information for judges in a manner that shows no prejudice against either parent. Our main goal is to take care of the child and look at what we can do to help them,” Rivers said.Kid’s Voice has a staff of five attorneys who are responsible for different programs, as well as a team of volunteers.
“People choose to serve as a guardian ad litem on a volunteer basis, and we train our volunteers extremely well before we let them work with children,” said Rivers. “We conduct background checks to prevent any possibility of conflict on interest. We take that seriously.”
Nelson also says the Marion County Department of Child Services (DCS), which is part of the Indiana Department of Child Services, has not stood up for the protection of Kay.
DCS had been contacted twice to file reports of sexual abuse, after the girl gave details of how she was allegedly touched to a forensic interviewer and detective.
In January 2008 a CHINS (child in need of services) case was filed to investigate, and Kay was moved from the father’s custody to her grandmother’s home temporarily pending the investigation. Two month’s later however, the CHINS investigation was suddenly dismissed, and custody of Kay shifted back to the father.
Nelson said at first DCS joined her in expressing surprise when the CHINS case was suddenly dismissed without a fact-finding hearing, which is required by law. She was hoping that after its review, DCS would support her in demanding a strong investigation of the abuse allegations and call for the removal of Kay from the father’s home.
But Nelson is upset that following a review last month, DCS determined that abuse allegations against the father are “unsubstantiated,” and the fact that the courts dismissed the CHINS case, even though the case was dismissed by a judge accused of conflict of interest.
At the same time, the review said concerns about Nelson fostering an endangering environment for Kay are “substantiated,” adding that being at the center of a custody battle and hearing damaging accusations could impact Kay’s mental stability.
“They are letting the person who is hurting my child get away, but they’re trying to penalize me for fighting,” said Nelson.
Ann Houseforth, director of communications for DCS, said she can’t speak specifically about anyone’s case, but explained that since 2006 the agency has reviewed cases using a procedure under CAPTA (the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act).
When a report of abuse or neglect is made, the agency goes to a child’s home to determine their safety. Different individuals and experts familiar with the case are interviewed about the allegations.
A report is then issued that will either substantiate or unsubstantiate the allegations. Individuals unhappy with the report can ask for information to be removed through a review process or administrative trial.
However, even if a parent has negative information substantiated (upheld) against them, it does not mean an automatic change in custody.
“If you have a substantiation on your record, it wont mean that your children will be permanently taken away from you or that you can’t get them back,” said Houseforth. “They may be removed temporarily until conditions improve, but the parent will not lose them forever.”
Houseforth said DCS also works with community service organizations to help parents provide a more healthy and safe environment for children.
In addition to requesting a new guardian ad litem, Nelson is trying to get her case assigned to a new court.
Nelson’s family is hopeful that such action will be another step taken to get Kay home. Minnie Blaylock, Nelson’s mother and Kay’s maternal grandmother, describes her granddaughter as smart, funny and genuinely interested in connecting with other people.
Blaylock says it doesn’t make sense that she and Kay are in the same city, yet haven’t seen each other in months. (Nelson can have paid supervised visits with Kay, but Blaylock and anyone else from Nelson’s family are not authorized to participate.)
A mother’s journey for justice
By BRANDON A. PERRY, Part 2 of 3
Published: Thursday, February 12, 2009 11:56 AM CST
Indianapolis mother Tracie Nelson has faced several obstacles in her effort to regain custody of her daughter since August of 2007. That year a custody struggle began between Nelson and her ex-boyfriend over guardianship of their daughter Kay (this is not her real name; the Recorder does not publish the names of minors involved in court cases).
The custody case was assigned to the paternity court of Judge Alicia Gooden. Nelson said she lost custody of Kay in Gooden’s court due to conflict of interest. Kim Bacon, the father’s attorney is a pro tempore judge in Gooden’s court, and Nelson alleges Bacon is the girlfriend of the father’s best friend.
“We never stood a chance in getting the help we need,” Nelson said. She filed a complaint against Bacon with the Indianapolis Bar Association, and against Gooden and two other judges with the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which investigates complaints against state and local judges.
Adrienne Meiring, a staff attorney and spokeswoman for the commission, confirmed that a case like Nelson’s complaint is under review, but it cannot be discussed publicly.
“Admission and Discipline Rule 25 prevents us from discussing a case before formal charges are made against someone, unless there is a threat against an individual or the public,” said Meiring. “Until a complaint is verified or dismissed the details and course of investigation are confidential.”
At Recorder press time Gooden had not responded to an attempt to reach her for comment. Bacon has stated that neither she nor Kay’s father will comment on the case.
Nelson’s attorney, Dana Childress-Jones, successfully filed a request for change of venue (or change of judge) and the custody dispute was transferred to the civil court of Judge Gary Miller in the fall of 2007.
Nelson said Miller appeared to be fair, granting her request to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (impartial child advocate) for Kay. After a March, 2008 meeting with Gooden, however, Miller changed course and made rulings throughout 2008 that upheld the custody rights of Kay’s father, dismissed a child in need of services (CHINS) investigation on the father, held Nelson in contempt of court and suspended her visits with Kay (although in August he did authorize paid supervised visits).
Miller’s rulings against Nelson occurred despite police and Child Protective Services’ (CPS) investigations against the father for abuse, as well as a document filed with the court that included the statements of a forensic investigator, and Jim Dalton, a local psychologist hired by CPS, who supported the validity of Kay’s detailed claim of being touched by her father. “It’s like no one is looking out for the best interest of my baby,” said Nelson. Miller’s term as a county judge expired at the end of December, and he was unavailable for comment.
Since Nelson went public with her case, several parents have expressed similar frustrations with select judges and attorneys. One of them, Tamara Davis (not real name), has spent nearly $30,000 in legal fees to keep custody of her daughter from an ex-husband who has not yet received court ordered treatment for alcoholism.
“The Marion County Court system is a disaster and I also think it is biased against Black mothers,” Davis said. “I’m in the process of preparing for a custody fight with a man that the same court will only allow to have supervised visits with my daughter once a month. It doesn’t make sense.”
Davis said the court has allowed her ex-husband’s attorney to lie for clients and use contempt proceedings to extort money from mothers in custody cases. “The court has the mentality that if a Black father is interested in his child, even if he has shown no interest previously, that it is such a unique situation that the mother must be wrongfully interfering,” said Davis. “I am a licensed attorney, and I have never seen the level of incompetence displayed in the family law cases of this county. These things don’t happen in other counties.”
Meiring said complaints about judges filed with the commission are definitely not uncommon. “We generally receive in the neighborhood of at least 300 complaints each year,” Meiring said.
If a complaint is upheld, the offense will be reviewd by a court that will decide what kind of action should be taken, from a simple censure to the suspension of a law license.
“We get different complaints, but they are usually from people who are simply unhappy with the judge’s ruling,” said Meiring. “Most of these complaints are dismissed because there is lack of substantiation that the judge acted in a prejudicial manner.”
In part 3: Nelson, Kay and the child welfare system.
Also see Part 1 of Tracie’s story.
From the Indianapolis Recorder:
A mother’s journey for justice
By BRANDON A. PERRY
Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009 4:09 PM CST
Following a recent hearing inside a Marion County paternity court, Tracie Nelson learned that things would not change anytime soon: Her daughter still won’t be coming home.
While leaving the court chamber with her attorney, Nelson appears frustrated and sad.
“I’m so tired, I don’t know what else to do,” Nelson says with tears in her eyes as she is embraced by her mother, Minnie Blaylock.
Nelson has learned that an ex-boyfriend will retain custody of her seven-year-old daughter, Kay. An ugly custody battle involving allegations of molestation and mental illness continues.
However, as the two discuss the case with attorney Dana Childress-Jones, Nelson recovers her strength, recognizing that she can’t give up even if the odds seemed stacked against her.
“If I do not fight for Kay, who will?” said Nelson.
When most Americans find themselves involved in the court system, they expect justice to be administered based on the law and compassion.
Nelson, however, says she and Kay have not received anything resembling justice.
According to Nelson, biased judges and attorneys have refused to remove Kay from the father’s home, despite serious allegations of abuse in that household. Nelson, who raised Kay for the first six years of her life, believes custody should be returned to her or to Blaylock, Kay’s maternal grandmother.
“Right now all we’re asking is for someone to stand up and do what’s in the best interest of Kay,” said Blaylock. “She’s a wonderful child, and deserves to be in an environment where she is safe and cared for with love.”
Nelson wants to share Kay’s case with the community because, she stated, she’s not only fighting for her daughter, but hopes to provide a testimony to help parents who find themselves in similar situations.
In May, 2001, Kay was born to Tracie Nelson and ex-boyfriend Billy Dupree (Dupree refused to speak with the Recorder regarding the case). From Kay’s birth Nelson had sole legal custody of her. Although the relationship between Nelson and Dupree ended, Nelson said she understood the importance of a father’s presence in a child’s life and encouraged Dupree to visit Kay.
In September 2004, Kay began exhibiting unexplained sexual behavior, which a nurse at Community North Hospital later stated was very unusual for a girl her age. This puzzled Nelson because she knew her daughter had no reason to be with any man other than her father, who occasionally had Kay at his home for overnight visitations.
In written documents submitted in court, Nelson said Dupree “was very guarded when I spoke with him about these concerns, and told me if I kept looking I would find what I was ‘looking for.’”
Family members wanted Nelson to contact child authorities immediately to investigate Dupree, but Nelson said she urged caution, wanting to give Dupree a chance to defend himself and help in discovering if anyone did molest Kay.
Nelson took Kay to a therapist, and expressed her concerns to paternity court Judge Alicia Gooden, who suspended Dupree’s overnight visitations. Then, for the first time, Dupree expressed an interest in having custody of Kay.
According to Nelson, Kay later told a forensic investigator, child psychologist and police detective that Dupree had touched her inappropriately, and that Dupree’s stepson had been “playing house” on her.
An employee for the Marion County Prosecutor’s office, who has to remain anonymous, believes Kay’s story is legitimate, but could not take action due to the custody dispute.
In August 2007, following a hearing, Gooden granted custody of Kay to Dupree.
Nelson believes Gooden’s decision was based on a conflict of interest.
She said Kim Bacon, Dupree’s attorney, was given preferential treatment during the hearing because she is a pro temp judge in Gooden’s paternity court. She also claims that Bacon’s boyfriend is Dupree’s best friend. Nelson says she has been a target ever since she filed a complaint against Bacon with the Indiana Bar Association.
“The judge’s decision was based, not on the best interest of Kay, but on Gooden’s bias against me and her relationship with Bacon,” said Nelson.
Bacon and Dupree have declined to talk publicly. When contacted by the Recorder to get Dupree’s version of events, Bacon firmly ruled out a discussion about the case.
“What we’re seeing right now is a situation where the private business of a seven-year-old girl is being dragged out into the public, and that’s not right,” Bacon said. “Neither my client nor I will be a part of that. We decline to comment.”
According to court records, Dupree has strongly denied any allegations of abuse, and he and Bacon assert that Nelson is mentally and financially unstable. They also believe that Nelson has coached Kay into saying certain things to bolster her case.
Nelson’s attorney, Childress-Jones, requested a change of judge, and Kay’s case was passed to Judge Gary Miller. Nelson alleges that Miller appeared to be fair at first, but after speaking with Gooden and Bacon, has refused to grant even temporary custody to Nelson, despite the investigation into alleged abuse.
To date, Nelson has only occasional supervised visits with Kay that she must pay for, and Kay is not allowed to keep gifts or other items.
Nelson says she has had several attorneys helping her, simply because they get hopeless after a short time working on her case. Shortly after Nelson lost custody of Kay, one former attorney, Dylan Vigh, stated on WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos” show that her case was “by far” one of the “greatest injustices” he has ever seen, and that Nelson has been “railroaded” in the courtroom.
Still, Nelson says she is not surrendering the fight to get Kay back home. She is seeking to move her case to the court of a third judge with no connections to Gooden. She is also seeking removal of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a representative appointed to serve as a nonbiased guardian of a child in a custody dispute. Nelson says the GAL has not acted in Kay’s best interest.
“I have a divine right, as Kay’s mother, to protect her,” Nelson said. “All I’m trying to do is get her life back to normal and keep her safe.”
Coming in Part 2: A closer look into the case.
Note: Kay is not the child’s real name. The Recorder does not publish names of minors involved in pending legal cases.
Tracie dear, if you see this, get ahold of us. We’ve got some ideas here to work on with you that may help.