Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thorntown sued for Civil Rights Violations

Stuart Showalter v Thorntown et al, 1:08-MC-1283

In what amounts to round five of the ongoing battle between a town resident seeking access to public records and town officials who refuse to disclose them, the resident filed a complaint against those officials in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The complaint, alleging that officials conspired to violate his civil rights, was filed with the Court on 24 September 2008, exactly two years after the town sued him for publicly disagreeing with a policy.

The complaint alleges five causes of action including "Violation of Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment" and "Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights". Showalter alleges in part:
"Upon information and belief, Defendants met with each other to plan a way in which they could work in concert to deprive Mr. Showalter of his constitutional rights by initiating legal proceedings against him without cause while allowing other residents to engage in similar activities who express viewpoints not opposed by the Defendants."

Although the town argued that Showalter's signs were a danger to the public because they could be seen from drivers on a state highway no lawsuit has been filed by the town against others with signs. Showalter has particularly complained about six locations including Stookey's restaurant. There 31 signs are visible from the roadway, some with printing as small as you are reading now.

The complaint cites as some of its factual basis;
"On 06 August 2006 Defendants Mike Leffler and Pat McPeak came upon Plaintiff’s property with a Thorntown Police Officer while he was working on a display and asked him what he was doing. They were then ordered off the property and went directly to Defendant Vaughn‘s house."
"On 07 August 2006 Mr. Showalter sent to the Town Council a No Trespassing Order 'against any and all elected officials, employees or agents of the Town of Thorntown barring them from entering upon the real property located at 725 West Main Street, Thorntown, IN without a written writ or order by a court of competent jurisdiction.' and copied such to the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office."
"At approximately 2300 [on 24-08-06] Defendant Officer Duane Lewellen, acting at the request of the Town and while in uniform, entered upon the property at 725 West Main Street and asked Mr. Showalter to remove the sign during the festival, which was occurring at that time, because the Council did not approve of the message although he stated that he personally didn‘t disagree with it."
"Officer Lewellen informed Mr. Showalter that he has a constitutional right to have the sign there and there was nothing against the law about it."

Showalter made an audio recording of the visit by Lewellen but never got a chance to play it since the suit was dropped. Mr Showalter has 120 days from the date of filing to serve the complaint on the defendants. Armed with the power of federal subpoena and enforcement authority Showalter will now be able to seek the records he has previously requested and have the assistance of U.S. Marshall's to obtain them if the town continues to refuse disclosure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Four stories on law and children strictly forbids the use of hyperlinks. Stories must be viewed by pasting the address provided.

Indiana Adopts New Code of Judicial Conduct for 2009

"The Indiana Supreme Court is adopting a new Code of Judicial Conduct based on the 2007 national model of the American Bar Association. The rules will become effective Jan. 1, 2009.

Indiana is the second state after Hawaii to adopt new rules based on the ABA's model. The new code provides more concrete guidance for avoiding 'the appearance of impropriety,' which has often been criticized as being too vague; includes ethical principles for judicial candidates to use as guidance; imposes clear requirements for public disclosure of income, reimbursements, and gifts; and other updated or new rules."

We do not think this will do much to change the frequency of judges ruling over cases in which they have a vested interest in the outcome. The new rules are available here

Teens share stories about Juvenile Justice System

Stories from Indiana teenagers involved in the Juvenile Justice System are shared here.

Divorce Gene

Is there a gene that makes you more prone to divorce? Researchers say the “divorce gene” plays a role in determining how the brain responds to a chemical that is central to the bonding process between a man and a woman.

Men with a variant of the gene tended to score badly on a questionnaire designed to assess how well they bond with their partner and were more likely to report having suffered marital difficulties.

The discovery raises the highly speculative possibility that scientists could one day develop drugs to target the gene in an attempt to prevent marriages from falling apart.

Mr Walum stressed that the gene could not be used to predict with any real accuracy how someone is likely to behave in a future relationship.
But he added: "The fact that the corresponding gene has proved important for similar behaviour in voles makes our findings even more interesting, and suggests that the thoroughly studied brain mechanisms that we know give rise to strong bonds between individual voles can also be relevant to humans."

The complete story can be viewed here

Indiana Court of Appeals issues opinion on shared custody

The Court stated that it cannot agree that splitting physical and legal custody of children is “unworkable”. The Court’s opinion and analysis is available here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

BCCA Testimony to Indiana Supreme Court - 18 July 2008

On July 18, 2008 the Domestic Relations Committee of the Indiana Supreme Court heard testimony as part of their mandate to review and adjust the Indiana Child Support Payment Guidelines every four years.

Individuals and representatives of organizations from around the state were each given about five minutes to present their views. There was virtually unanimous consent among the speakers on a variety of topics. That the guidelines place an amount to pay that cannot be met. That judges are using the calculator without examining the particular circumstances of the individuals that make the presumptive amount unreasonable. That incarcerating someone who can't pay does nothing to help that person pay. Also, that support should serve to benefit the children.

Robert Monday of the Children's Rights Council spoke of the need to ensure that children are being supported. The testimony of Stuart Showalter may be read here []

Use this link to view the proceedings:

Here is the time-line of the proceedings:
11:05 Hearing begins with introduction by Judge William C Fee.
12:20 Committee members introduce themselves.
14:30 Robert Monday - Children's Rights Council.
23:00 Donald Beatty - Parent.
27:55 Donna Lynn Frazier - Parent.
32:20 Stuart Showalter - Boone County Child Advocates
39:20 Tom Frohman, attorney - Indiana Legal Services
1:00:30 Gregg Keesling - Workforce, Inc.
1:14:00 Melissa Avery, attorney
1:18:10 Cheryl - Commissioner Indianapolis Paternity Court
1:21:05 Closing statements - Judge William C Fee

BCCA Testimony Indiana Legislative Child Custody Committee - 11 Sept 2008

Stuart Showalter, Legislative Liaison for Indiana Shared Parenting spoke to the Indiana Legislative Committee on Child Custody and Support at their 11 September 2008 meeting. Mr Showalter was questioned by members of the Committee following his presentation. His prepared text follows:

Madam Chairwoman and members of the Committee. I thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. I come to you today with what has been historically considered a Father's Rights issue because of the disproportionate custody arrangements based upon gender. However, I consider this more of a Parent's Rights or, more accurately, a Child's Rights issue.

Our Indiana Code is permeated with references to "the best interest of the child" but it provides no guidance as to what that is. I have worked with parents on cases throughout the state, before many different judges yet find no continuity among them as to what is considered the best interest of the child. I propose that the problem is that the language "best interest of the child" is a fallacy in that it treats the child as an autonomous unit which a child clearly is not. This has already been established through statute that mandates a parents responsibility to provide support to their children until the age of majority.

So can I define what is best for the children? Individually, no, that still needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis but collectively I propose that it is what is best for the family. That is both fit and loving parents having meaningful and regular contact with their children. Which, coincidentally, has been determined by our Supreme Court to be the right of the children. Currently there is nothing in our family law code that ensures what is called the best interest of the children. Indiana has provided nothing more to children than hollow words to feel good by. I assure you that it does not feel good for the children.

Just last week I was here in Indy with a concerned father at a CHiNS case where the FCM reported that the only food in the mother's house was what had been spilled on the floor, was infected with bugs and was being eaten by the toddler. That the adolescent girls report that the mother's boyfriend regular observes them in the bathroom, that the oldest child had run away and that all children feared living in that house. Yet this is what a judge had determined was in those "children's best interest".

I wish this was something that shocked me, was unusual or was an outrageous failure by the system. But none of that is so. This is common and statistics continue to show that children are neglected and abused more often when living in a maternal sole custody situation, then paternal sole custody, a Shared Custody arrangement and finally with married parents, in that order.

Our Indiana Supreme Court has recognized and promotes that children need Shared Parenting and that it is in their best interest. However, while that is being put into law and practice in other states Indiana has failed to do so and our children are being neglected because of it. Had the judge who ordered those children into the neglectful situation I saw last week instead been instructed, through statute, to submit findings as to why Shared Parenting would not have been best for these children then they likely would not be in that situation.

While other states have passed or debated Shared Parenting bills Indiana still has not although the need for this has clearly been recognized. Generally these statutes require family law judges to presume that both biological parents interacted with, provided for and supported their children. Instead of the parents having to show that they have done this, so custody can be awarded to them, the State would have to find that a parent had not done this before depriving the children of access to that parent.

I have provided to you along with my written testimony a proposal to amend Indiana's child custody laws in favor of Shared Parenting, statistics on the effects of single parenting and what some prominent people have to say about Shared Parenting. I anticipate seeing you in the future and hope it will be while we are working towards giving children what is truly in their best interest, what is best for the family.
-Stuart Showalter