This is a blog discusses the problems posed by high conflict divorce and the family court system in Connecticut, and seeks to find reasonable solutions to those problems. I am NOT an attorney. This blog does not constitute legal advice. It is purely commentary based on my own personal experience and can be contradicted by somebody else's personal experience at any time. The materials on this website are copyrighted. Unauthorized use of these materials is forbidden.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog is a bigotry free zone open to all persons, regardless of age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, political affiliations, marital status, physical or mental disability, age, or sexual orientation. Further, this blog is open to the broad variety of opinions out there and will not delete any comments based upon point of view. However, comments will be deleted if they are worded in an abusive manner and show disrespect for the intellectual process.
Karen Sloan of "The American Law Journal" reports as follows:
"Research suggests that lawyers suffer addiction at double the rate of the general population, but some experts fear the situation is even more dire. To find out, the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation plan to survey lawyers about addiction, anxiety and depression.
“It appears the problem may be growing even worse,” said Patrick Krill, who leads the Hazelden legal professional program. “It’s time to update the research and, in doing so, highlight the apparent need to devote more attention and allocate greater resources to this important issue.”
A 2012 report by Hazelden cited findings that, as of 1990, 18 percent of attorneys had drinking problems, compared to 10 percent for the general population. One-quarter of the attorneys who’d practiced for 20 years or more had an alcohol problem, and lawyers suffering substance-abuse problems were also more likely to face malpractice suits."
* Ms. Sloper notes: "This is in regard to a profession that regularly in family court uses the fact that a parent could be in recovery from mental illness or alcohol addiction as the basis for denying the parent access to his or her children, despite clear cut evidence that the parent is responsible and a fit parent."
After another year of observing the Connecticut Judicial Branch repeatedly deny Litigants with Disabilities their reasonable modifications in Family Court, it is with some skepticism that I picked up a copy of the 2014 Annual Report of the Judicial Branch's Advisory Board on the ADA. This report was submitted to Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers by Judge Patrick L. Carroll III who is the Chair of this Advisory Board.
My problem with Judge Carroll is that he seems to have taken responsibility for the Connecticut Judicial Branch's initiatives in regard to the ADA. Yet I have never heard of him speaking to an actual Person with a Disability directly in order to find out what is really going on with folks coming to hearings in Family Court who require reasonable modifications but are not getting them.
That is the bottom line here--the fact that the Connecticut Judicial Branch has published a complete annual report touting their "ongoing compliance with the ADA." while I continue to receive desperate phone calls and emails asking me if I have any idea how particular Litigants can obtain their reasonable modifications because the Judicial Branch is refusing to provide them. The inconsistency here is glaring--at least to me!
I mean take a look at this year's Report. The ADA Advisory Committee's Annual Report from last year contained 12 recommendations while the Annual Report from this year contains 16. Tell me something, not a single one of the recommendations possibly includes giving Litigants the reasonable modifications that they request? 28 recommendations in total and not one includes, stop denying Litigants with Disabilities equal access to Judicial services?
Because I certainly think I should see that one somewhere from the reports I am getting!
I mean, we have 28 recommendations and a 14 page report--but nothing about ensuring Family Court Litigants with Disabilities the opportunity to have testimonial and participatory access to the Court?
That's just so amazing!
How much paper and how many words can you generate over a period of years and still not accomplish anything at all to meet your obligation to provide reasonable modifications to Litigants who request them! Remember, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was around 40 years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 was 24 years ago, and the ADA Amendment's Act of 2008 was 6 years ago. How long is it going to take the Connecticut Judicial Branch to meet its obligation to Citizens with Disabilities in the State of Connecticut?
Recognizing that the Connecticut Judicial Branch is far from compliant with the ADA, what did this Advisory Committee possibly have to report to anyone about its activities? Well, it has built a lovely website online which is accessible to persons of all abilities (their words) and which includes the forms you need to submit in order to obtain reasonable accommodations, i.e. the ones they regularly refuse to provide.
And what is with the word "accommodations"? Aren't accommodations supposed to be offered under Title I for Employers?
What about the fact that the Connecticut Judicial Branch is a Title II entity which should provide reasonable modifications--not just accommodations--under Title II ADA law! Shouldn't The Branch be providing the more expanded and broad ranging supports required under Title II reasonable modifications? Even with something as simple as terminology the Connecticut Judicial Branch shows itself completely ignorant of the Title II Federal ADA law it is supposed to be following!
And there's the rub, the general, pervasive, and stubborn unwillingness of the Connecticut Judicial Branch to be compliant with Title II Federal ADA law or acknowledge what it requires.
For instance, according to Title II Technical Manual Sec. II-8.5000, the Connecticut Judicial Branch is by law supposed to have a Designated Responsible Employee whose job it is to coordinate the efforts of the Branch to comply with and fulfill its responsibilities under the ADA and also deal with complaints. In particular, the 2008 focus groups consisting of individuals who work directly with folks who have disabilities, focus groups which the Connecticut Judicial Branch itself organized, specifically mentioned the need for such a person who could take final responsibility for the implementation of the ADA within the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
Yet I can't find the name or contact information of a Designated Responsible Employee mentioned anywhere in this Annual Report for 2014, and I can't find the name of a Designated Responsible Employee mentioned anywhere on the Connecticut Judicial Branch Website that they are so proud of. Several people I know have formally requested this information and have received nothing but evasive and deceptive answers in response.
So how does the Connecticut Judicial Branch think that it is acceptable to flout this requirement?
What they told me when I inquired about this is that the Branch has five ADA Coordinators, and over a hundred ADA contact people whom they have assigned to fill the role of a Designated Responsible Employee. However, the problem with that response is that this is not what Congress intended when it framed ADA law. They were looking for a specific individual who would take the final responsibility for this job.
If you ask any employees of the Judicial Branch who is that person, they won't be able to tell you because there isn't one.
We have the 24 years of ADA law and the Connecticut Judicial Branch under the leadership of Judge Patrick L. Carroll III just blows it off.
I could attribute this to simple indifference or carelessness, but that is not what this is. What this has to do with in a very fundamental way is that Judge Carroll and the Connecticut Judicial Branch as a whole simply couldn't care less about People with Disabilities.
Of course, this isn't surprising. Judicial Systems around this country have fought ADA disability rights from its inception in 1990, interpreting the term disability with such extreme narrowness that practically nobody fit its definition. As a consequence, Congress had to go back to the drawing board and redraft the law in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 in order to correct the problem.
The bottom line is our Judicial Systems around the country can't stand being forced to accord equal constitutional and human rights to People with Disabilities; they think we should wait our turn and accept our role as fourth class citizens.
Meanwhile, the Members of the Advisory Committee, according to this 2014 Annual Report, think that we will forget all about our legal rights as long as we have a lovely Art Exhibit featuring the work of Persons with Disabilities. It is like, pat the dumb disabled folk on the head, let them post their art, and then they will forget all about their rights. You see, that's not how it goes, surprisingly enough--although, I know that this is a big surprise to the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
The 2014 Annual Report continues on with other areas where the Connecticut Judical Branch believes it has made progress in regard to the ADA. Signage, for instance. The Branch has better signs in its various court houses indicating that it is compliant with the ADA.
Oh, but we already explained that the Connecticut Judicial Branch is NOT compliant. Not that the truth was ever a bar to the Connecticut Judicial Branch saying whatever it wants.
The Connecticut Judicial Branch has also placed a Comments and Suggestions box on its website. Of course, if the Connecticut Judicial Branch is unwilling to provide reasonable modifications to litigants when they apply for them in person, I am not sure why exactly the Branch would be willing to respond more effectively to written requests for the same thing!
Looking at the Annual Report of 2014 in more detail, again it is notable that the preference among these Advisory Committee members is for those with visible disabilities. Their work reflects tremendous interest in individuals who are hearing impaired, visually impaired, or in wheelchairs. When it comes to people who have say diabetes, high blood pressure, traumatic brain injuries, or mental health issues, etc. this report refers to them in derogatory terms stating they have "so-called" invisible disabilities subtly implying that they are fabricated, imaginary, or not worth considering.
As of this writing, for instance, if you look up the list of Auxiliary Aids of Services on the Connecticut Judicial Website, you will see that the list only addresses the needs of people with visible disabilities. See below:
This is how the Connecticut Judicial Branch tries to play one group of Persons with Disabilities against another, seeking to undercut any organized protest against their actions. The Branch even seeks to do that within the mental health communities by promoting extensive training in regard to schizophrenia, but neglecting to provide that level of specialized training for any of the other mental health disabilities which are equally challenging.
Personally, I find it a demonstration of very poor character that the Connecticut Judicial Branch seeks to pit one group of vulnerable and fragile individuals against another.
I could continue in this manner. The Connecticut Judicial Branch has conferences and training sessions on the ADA, it communicates from one part of the Branch to the other about the ADA, it has meetings on the ADA and provides reports on it, and even makes speeches about it--thanks Judge Carroll--but the bottom line is that it does not obey it. What is more, it sure isn't holding itself accountable to organizations such as the National Council on Disability, that represent Persons with Disabilities to obtain feedback in regard to its compliance with the ADA. The Connecticut Judicial Branch's ADA activity represents a bunch of insiders celebrating among themselves and congratulating themselves for their own good work in regard to a subculture that they do not belong to.
This is hardly credible.
When it comes to people with mental illness, in particular, I want to make a quick point. The State has recently taken several initiatives to provide more treatment to People with Mental Illness and in a recent ADA agreement between the Office of Protection and Advocacy and the State of Connecticut, we will see more People with Mental Health Disabilities living in their communities. All of this is very important.
However, if Folks with Disabilities continue to see their constitutional and civil rights disregarded within the Legal System, if they continue to have experiences within the Connecticut Judicial Branch where they are discriminated against based upon disability, this will create widespread discontent.
This is not like the old days where Persons with Disabilities were grateful for anything they could get. African-Americans have spoken out and demanded their rights, and likewise Hispanic-Americans are demanding their rights. Women are no longer willing to be confined within gender stereotypes, and homosexual and transgender folks are demanding their civil rights as well.
We proud Americans With Disabilities are the next in line. We are no longer willing to accept charity. We want our rights as equal American Citizens. It is not enough to provide treatment. Americans with Disabilities want hope, and that hope can only achieve fulfillment through the provision of equal constitutional, civil, and human rights along with all other Americans.
It is not enough for the Connecticut Judicial Branch to declare that it operates according to the spirit and the letter of the ADA without actually doing so.
The Branch should be ashamed of itself attempting to fake compliance it does not have.
We Citizens with Disabilities want the reality of equality within the Connecticut Judicial Branch, and we will continue to fight for it and we will not be stopped by the Branch's lying PR, bureaucratic games, or fabricated annual reports.
As voters go to the polls tomorrow to make their choice regarding Connecticut's future Governor, I want to urge all Divorce in Connecticut readers to vote for John McKinney for Governor and Dave Walker as Lt. Governor. This is a ticket that has a strong commitment to ethical court reforms in our State's Judicial Branch. He is ready to go beyond rhetoric and take the actual steps that are necessary to create change and bring justice to family court here in Connecticut.
Senator McKinney is a strong, hard working candidate who is not afraid to take on the difficult challenges that are necessary to build an ethically sound, fiscally strong government for the State of Connecticut. McKinney's plan to reduce the State budget, to reduce the size of State government, and reduce the income tax for some of our harder working State families makes perfect sense. His approach will encourage business and industry leaders who need to know that the State of Connecticut has an investment in their well being and prosperity and the success of all of Connecticut's citizens not just a privileged well connected few.
So, again, I encourage every one of you to get out and vote tomorrow. Make sure you vote for John McKinney and Dave Walker who have a record of standing by Connecticut's citizens, and who are committed to you and to your family and to making sure that we have a strong, ethical, and economically sound government.
________________ Fox News Link on the elections today:
On March 16, 2011, Mr. Andrew Adams submitted a Complaint to Federal District Court in Connecticut against Festival Fun Parks, LLC (more commonly known as Lake Compounce) stating that while working for them, because of his disability, i.e. the fact that he'd been diagnosed as mentally retarded, he was subjected to sexual harassment by his co-workers including one named Justin Walters. The Complaint was brought under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Immediately, I was alerted to a problem because I wondered whether Mr. Andrew Adams' attorney James V. Sabatini of Sabatini and Associates had any idea of the Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 which considerably altered several aspects of the ADA of 1990 and should have been referenced in the Complaint. The ADAAA of 2008 broadened the definition of those deemed to be eligible for the protections of the ADA. It is now 2014, six years after the ADAAA was passed and yet so many people in the legal profession are unaware of the legislation, to the point where it is quite striking.
Is this occurring because of the judicial nullification of Federal ADA law in Courts across the United States today, including the State of Connecticut? The examination of two cases: Andrew Adams v. Festival Fun Parks, LLC and Elizabeth A. Richter v. The Connecticut Judicial Branch, et. al. could provide some insight into the answer to that question.
In the case against Festival Fun Parks (or Lake Compounce) in regard to Andrew Adam's disability, Item #7 of his Complaint stated that he "suffers from mental retardation."
Now, as a long time advocate, I of course flinched at the word "suffers"--shall we all get over the idea that folks with disabilities must be suffering and afflicted! Nonetheless, upon reading the court materials I could see very clearly that Mr. Adams had been identified as being intellectually disabled very early in life and on up to the present.
According to the allegations in his Complaint, a co-worker, identified as Justin Walters, called Mr. Adams stupid, and told him he didn't know what he was doing. This employee wrote the word "sucks" next to Mr. Adam's name on his blow torch. On another day, Justin Walters threw an apple at Mr. Adam's truck.
Further, Walters also told Andrew Adams that "being on his knees was [Adams] best position and that he liked being on his knees because he liked guys so much." Apparently, Walters would make comments like that when Andrew Adams was required to get on his knees to perform his job duties. Justin Walter also told the plaintiff that he "had" plaintiff's mother last night and that she was good.
When the Andrew Adams spoke to his immediate supervisor, John Fitch, about the harassment, Adams was told he would have to deal with it if he wanted to work in the department. John Fitch did nothing to stop the harassment. Then Mr. Adams spoke to Fitch's supervisor, Mario Abela, about the harassment and was told to give Walters a chance and that he was not so bad. Finally, Andrew Adams spoke to the general manager, Jerry Brick, and asked if he could transfer to the painting department, so he wouldn't have to deal with the harassment, but Mr. Brick stated there were no openings available. Eventually, Andrew Adams either resigned or was fired on October 31, 2009. Attorney Sabatini, Andrew Adams attorney, argued that Mr. Adams was put in a position where the environment was so hostile that he had no other choice but to resign.
Fast forward to the Judge Janet Bond's March 12, 2013 ruling to dismiss the case in response to Lake Compounce's Motion For Summary Judgment. Judge Bond ruled against Andrew Adams because she stated that Adams documentation which he used to prove that he had a disability, an evaluation by Dr. Cynthia K. Niedbala, at Newington Children's Hospital, was hearsay, and that his own testimony to that effect at deposition, or the statements he had made to his employers to that effect would be considered self serving and therefore not reliable. How ridiculous is that?
Here is what I don't understand about the March 12, 2013 ruling. Summary judgment should not be granted when there are genuine issues of material fact that exist, for example, the issue as to whether a person is disabled. So how could Judge Bond go ahead and rule on a motion for summary judgment when the facts of the case were still under dispute and could only be resolved through a proper trial including the submission of further documentary evidence and testimony?
Be that as it may, this case went on appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In response, several disability organizations: the National Employment Lawyers Association, The Arc of the United States, the National Disability Rights Network, the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, and Disability Rights Vermont filed an Amicus Brief urging the 2nd Circuit Court to reverse the District Court's decision denying that Andrew Adams had a disability. In making their case, these organizations pointed out that according to the broader and more liberal definition of disability provided by the ADAAA of 2008, Andrew Adams was covered by the ADA, and it also stated that in quoting case law the District Court had relied upon rulings that were pre-ADAAA of 2008.
The ADAAA of 2008 is very specific that it did not want litigants to be put through the wringer when it came to determining whether they had a disability or not. As Chai R. Goldblum, an ADAAA expert stated, "Congress passed the ADAAA because it wanted to stop the "mini-trials' on whether a person had a disability and to force attention on the merits of the case." Furthermore, Goldblum stated, "The primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not on whether the individual meets the definition of disability." He also quoted the ADAAA, C.F.R. Sec. 16301.4, in stating, "The question of whether an individual meets the definition of disability under this part should not demand extensive analysis." In other words, disability coverage under the ADAAA of 2008 is broad and extensive.
Very reluctantly, and cautiously, in its decision in this case dated March 21, 2014, the 2nd Circuit Court did state that "we are skeptical that the district court applied the correct standard in assessing whether Adams was disabled" but it continued on to state that it did not intend to rule on that matter "we do not reach the issue of whether Adams has shown that he is disabled for purposes of the statute." So the Circuit Court knew that the District Court determination in regard to Andrew Adam's disability was incorrect, but it wasn't going to accord Adams the benefit of acknowledging it formally in a way that could advantage his case.
Essentially, what we are left with is the understanding that Andrew Adams was identified as mentally retarded in early childhood, that he did have a report confirming his diagnosis written by a medical expert which needed to be presented to the court in obedience to court rules (even though it hadn't been up to that point), that he had self reported himself as having this diagnosis, and also he had told his employers that he had that diagnosis. Still, the District Court refused to acknowledge his disability.
There is something absurd where the law declares a situation where an object walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, has DNA like a duck, looks like a duck to everyone who runs into it, but is not a duck according to the legal definition of the court. Andrew Adams had been identified as having mental retardation very early in his life and spent his life with this understanding, as did everyone who knew him, but somehow for this court, it wasn't true!
It is also important to note that in the Richter case, same time frame, same kind of ADA claim of disability, the Federal District Court based its decision entirely upon the statements she made in her Complaint. The Court never made the demand that she provide documentation from an expert medical report or an expert witness to prove her disability as was required in the Andrew Adams case. There is no explanation for the shifting of standards from one case to the other, i.e. expectation documentation from one litigant and not for another, except for what I've heard many people say--the Court simply makes up the law as it goes along.
As an absurd finish to this case, representatives of Lake Compounce stated, "Lake Compounce cares deeply about its employees and guests, and does not condone or allow discrimination of any kind,...Lake Compounce firmly believes that [Adams] was extremely well treated throughout his many years of employment at the park, which is precisely why he wanted to be rehired." (See Law360).
They really ought to wake up to the fact that allowing sexual harassment of an employee with a disability does not add up to caring. Caring takes place when you make sure discrimination does not occur through your company policies and through the actions of your managers and supervisors who strictly prohibit such behavior on the part of their employees.
A very similar situation occurred in the case Elizabeth A. Richter vs. the Connecticut Judicial Branch, et. al. submitted in November 15, 2012. In this case, Elizabeth Richter stated that she had an anxiety disorder on and off for many years. She also reported in her Complaint that she had submitted a document from a medical doctor indicating that she had acute stress disorder, and again at a later time in her complaint she reported submitting information indicating that she had legal abuse syndrome, a form of PTSD. She stated that on the basis of these diagnoses that she was entitled to protection under the ADA during her family court case at the Connecticut Judicial Branch in Hartford. However, from 2006 until December 2012, she was told that she was not eligible under the ADA and even though she was occasionally provided with accommodations, this was not done so in an effective and consistent manner.
Similar to the Adams case, when Sandra Lugo-Gines at the Connecticut Judicial Branch denied Elizabeth Richter's requests for ADA accommodation, Lugo-Gines made repeated statements to the effect that the judicial branch will provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities when clearly it has not done so for Elizabeth Richter, and continues not to provide accommodations for the majority of litigants who apply for them.
Elizabeth A. Richter also stated that from October 2010 until around April 2011, she had a temporary physical disability for which she required major surgery and that when she asked for accommodations based on that disability, the Connecticut Judicial Branch failed to provide them. Also, she stated that in order to cover up their tracks, family court at 90 Washington Street and also the Appellate Court concealed the documents related to her physical disability and then ruled against her citing the fact that the concealed documents weren't there as the basis for their ruling.
The Federal District Court ruling in the Richter case was dated March 28, 2014, not long after the 2nd Circuit Court decision came out in the Andrew Adams case casting doubt on the District Court's pre-ADAAA decision in regard to whether Adams had a disability. In its ruling, Judge Janet Bond Arterton stated that she acknowledged that Elizabeth Richter had a disability according to ADA law, but stated that she was still not considered eligible under the ADA because her disability was only "a temporary result of the anxiety caused by the judicial proceedings, and not an ailment that would continue permanently even after those proceedings were completed." The District court in its decision, in the same way as in Andrew Adams case, cited a considerable amount of case law that was pre-ADAAA of 2008
However, since the legal proceedings had continued on for eight years, Elizabeth Richter's anxiety under that definition was well within the ADAAA of 2008 definition of temporary disabilities which are covered under Federal ADA law.
So again, the Federal District Court simply blew off the requirements of ADA law for its own purposes.
It did so even though it must have had sufficient knowledge through the Andrew Adams case that the Courts are required to consider the guidelines promulgated in the ADAAA of 2008. Judges of Federal District Court are not dumb--they are well aware of the ADAAA of 2008. Could it be that these judges simply refuse to acknowledge the obvious disabilities of plaintiffs because they simply cannot stand the ADA and they cannot bear the thought of according equal rights and opportunities to a group of citizens that they feel are inferior and should know their place?
Doesn't the denial of ADA eligibility which took place in the Adams and Richter cases essentially add up to the judicial nullification of the federal ADA law as a whole?
For those who are skeptical of this, I would point out the fact that Congress had to return to the ADA and write a whole additional set of Amendments in 2008 because the Federal Courts were disregarding the Will of Congress and interpreting eligibility standards far more narrowly than they were ever intended to be interpreted--see Sutton v. United Airlines and Toyota Motor Mfg. v. Williams.
Will it take another Act of Congress before the judicial system in this country finally realizes that equal rights extends to the disabled as well as to other racial, ethnic, and gender groups? I think so.
As an advocate who has worked for reform in the judicial system for many years, it is very clear to me that there is nothing judges and attorneys hate more than the ADA and the concept that they cannot use disability to deny citizens their civil and constitutional rights. This means that unless they are forced to do otherwise, judges will continue to judicially nullify the ADA and attorneys will continue to act as though it doesn't exist, unless, of course, their own interests are involved.