The president of Veterans In Politics International, Inc., Steve Sanson, sent a letter to the Chief Judge of the Eighth Judicial District Court, Elizabeth Gonzalez, with copy to all Nevada Supreme Court Justices, Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Division of Public Corruption, Aaron Rouse, on behalf of all litigants with pending cases in Family Court. Steve Sanson is not just concerned about matters of injustice against veterans in Nevada, but about all matters involving citizens, especially when there are children involved.
Years ago family court cases were handled by the District Court, which was a total disaster until January 1993 when the Family Division of the Eighth Judicial District Court was created, and a total of 20 judges preside over family and juvenile cases. The Family Court helps people with divorce, annulment, child custody, visitation rights, child support, spousal support, community property division, name changes, adoption, and abuse and neglect.
In his letter Steve Sanson wrote: “We are writing to bring to your attention what appears to be a dire situation in Clark County’s family court system. As the Chief Judge, we urge you to please take immediate steps to investigate the situation. As you may be aware, Veterans In Politics International, Inc. (“VIPI”) is a government watchdog organization and media outlet. Pursuant to numerous past and recent complaints we received about abuses by family court judges, we recently put together a team of court observers to sit in on various family court hearings. What we found surprised even us.”
We always believed that Family Court was a big disaster, but what we just found out really shocked us. We are reprinting some of the paragraphs of Mr. Sanson’s letter to bring awareness to the many litigants in family Court, many of them representing themselves in proper person.
Violations of the 5th Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination The Fifth Amendment guarantees our right against self-incrimination.
Yet, family court judges are routinely violating this right by ordering civil litigants to undergo drug testing. In some cases, litigants agree to take these tests out of fear that the Court will deny custody and/or visitation with their child should the litigant refuse to take a drug test. Yet, it is well known that civil courts cannot order a litigant to undergo a drug test, and should not make any inference from the fact that a litigant may not want to submit to one. Drug testing is reserved for criminal cases, not civil cases.
Misadjudication of Military Veterans Benefits Exemptions Military service connected disability benefits are exempt under federal law, and more recently under Nevada law as well, from all garnishments including taxes, collections, bankruptcies and levies. In Clark County, however, family court judges count these disability benefits towards child support and alimony. VIPI lobbied for Assembly Bill 140 and 271, which passed into law, stating that a veteran’s service-connected disability benefits cannot be used in connection with alimony payments. However, family court judges are disregarding this law.
Over-Priced Third Party Service Providers; Children Being Held Hostage Until Payment is Made; Violations of Relocation Rules Judges in family court appear to be ordering litigants to use court-appointed third party service providers, such as family
therapists, at prices that appear excessively high.
D-05-331190, the Velasco case: Judge Mathew Harter ordered the parties to retain third party therapist, Claudia Schwarz, M.A., L.M.F.T., for a child custody evaluation at a price reportedly set by the evaluator at a flat $8,000. Judge Harter ordered each party to pay half of the fee. When Mom couldn’t pay her half of the fee, the judge awarded full custody to Dad and told Mom that she wouldn’t see her child until her half of the bill was paid. Consequently, Mom has not seen her child for several months. Not only is holding the child as hostage for bill payment unlawful and outrageous, but our investigation indicates that the typical court appointed evaluator should only cost $800 to $3,000.
On what basis was $8,000 ordered, and who is receiving these extra fees? We recently filed a Judicial Disciplinary Complaint about this, and a complaint against Ms. Schwarz with the Nevada State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy.
D-10-424830-Z, Abid v. Abid: Our information is that Mathew Harter in 2013 granted an evidentiary hearing on dad’s motion to relocate with the child. It’s our understanding that notwithstanding that dad never produced elements of relocation like a job, housing and proof of improvement for the child due to relocation, the judge nevertheless ordered a custody evaluation to be performed by psychologist Dr. John Paglini. This psychologist reportedly charged the litigants $14,000 for an evaluation. Afterwards, dad indicated he didn’t want to relocate and the parties settled. Judge Harter then reportedly ordered that if there were any further issues between the parties, they would have to retain a private Parent Coordinator, have the Parent Coordinator handle the issue (and often write a report), all to be paid for by the parties before he would allow them to go to court.
Since neither party had requested this, it appears unlawful to essentially place a financial barrier on litigants’ access to court.
D-13-488682-D, Pelkola v. Pelkola: Dad is a retired USAF Sergeant in good standing, and is now a civilian contractor at Creech AFB. We are advised that Judge Jennifer Elliott took the following unwarranted actions in this case based on mom’s beliefs instead of based on evidence.
a) Dad was ordered to not drink any beer at least 12 hours before his visitation and during his visitation; this was based on mom’s belief that dad’s DUI three years prior meant that he was an alcohol abuser. We are advised that there was no evidence of present alcohol abuse.
b) Dad was ordered to take gun safety classes even though he had 20 years of military firearms training, and ordered LVPD to inspect dad’s gun storage at his residence. This was reportedly based on mom being afraid of guns and upset that dad bought their 7-year-old son a BB gun. Dad reportedly bought the BB gun to teach his son self-defense
and only let him use it under supervision.
c) Judge ordered the removal of a service dog from the home; the dog belonged to a household member who has Asperger Syndrome. We are advised that there was just an allegation, but no evidence, that the dog was violent or posed a threat.
Hearing Masters Issuing Bench Warrants
We observed Hearing Master Sylvia Teuton stating that she is “issuing a bench warrant” when hearing masters are not allowed to issue bench warrants. We have seen bench warrants that were actually signed by the hearing masters themselves.
This is clearly beyond the authority of a hearing master.
D-12-467820-D, Silva matter: The mother is a pro-se-litigant and Clark County family court Judge Rena Hughes removed the mother from the courthouse property and proceeded with the hearing adjudicating custody of the child with only the father and his attorney and the minor unrepresented 12-year-old daughter present. The Judge harshly interrogated the young girl as the girl sat alone at counsel table without her mom or any representation and lied to the girl, threatening to throw her in jail at Child Haven. Not only did the judge traumatize the child, but this was a complete violation of the mom’s rights and constituted a court-ordered ex parte communication/hearing with the judge.
Judge Mathew Harter: According to an incident report written by an officer of the Police Department, Judge Harter’s son was found to be in possession of stolen property inside Judge Harter’s home, including a hand gun, ammunition, and drugs. The property was from a burglary of a police officer’s home. Several teens who were friends of Judge Harter’s teen son were arrested and convicted in connection with the incident, yet Judge Harter’s son was never arrested, and was whisked off to live with his mom in Utah, which is surprising given that in divorce papers Judge Harter reportedly stated that she was a drug abuser. In any event, we ask that you look into whether Judge Harter used his influence to keep his son from being arrested and prosecuted.
We hope all the recipients of Steve Sanson’s letter, especially Attorney General Adam Laxalt, will pay close attention to this problem for the sake of all Nevada children.
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Perly Viasmensky is the General Manager of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Perly Viasmensky, email her at email@example.com.