Parents Rights in Georgia Law and Rule 22 Application

Rule 22 Governs Permission for Recording Court Proceedings

Parents in Georgia have rights that are often not applied in child custody cases, including when someone other than a natural parent is seeking custody of the children. But is anyone paying attention to this type of loss and trauma?

If you are paying attention or are interested in increasing this focus, contact me here.

Protecting the right to record and maintaining open access to courtrooms does improve protections for families and children.

The content to follow is a developing body of work revealing clear examples of the difference it makes to have cameras allowed in courtrooms and to avoid restricting our press.

While I have much more to do here I wanted you to have access now to documents and videos as I upload them and welcome your questions and feedback as this story unfolds. Your attention is needed to ensure we protect access to our judiciary and ensure our courtrooms remain open.

Two problems are ripe to be solved:

1. Missing clarification of Georgia’s laws on the rights of natural parents.

Georgia judges and domestic lawyers expressed interest in this case because it could help clarify what was previously an uncertain matter left to the court’s discretion. Let’s address this issue first.

In the case featured in this article, the lawyer for the maternal grandmother convinced the court that the children would be at risk if they were left in the care of their father. The father was able to receive help thanks to volunteer lawyers through the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and successfully appealed the trial court’s order giving custody to the grandmother.

With no evidence in support of the grandmother’s claims that the father was a violent man, the trial court gave custody for a second time to the grandmother. This time the Court of Appeals made sure the message was received, that the rights of natural parents should be taken seriously and that absent clear proof of ongoing or future danger to the children the natural parent’s rights are above those of a grandparent. Attached first is the June 24th ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, the final ruling driving home the instructions to adhere to the law and facts of the case. Additional filings and orders follow in reverse order.

Rights of Parents Georgia COA Jun 24 2016 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

2. A lack of transparency or ability to review proceedings in child custody matters

You might say this is the problem in all types of judicial proceedings, hence the attention given to the proposed amendments to Georgia’s Rule 22 governing decisions to allow filming or other types of recordings in courtrooms. Changes were proposed by Georgia’s judiciary and only a few organizations and individuals are focused on the flaws which could further restrict public access to court proceedings and discourage open records.

The focus here on child custody is due to the high volume of cases wherein children are used for leverage and/or to punish the other parent by moving to restrict rights, to cause pain and suffering or to avoid paying child support, for example. This is a widespread problem with almost nothing being done to curtail damaging tactics which exploit children and vulnerable parents.

Given the question of law governing the rights of natural parents and the opportunity to observe and film three pro bono lawyers fighting for a wrongfully accused father, I filed a Rule 22 Request to record this Hart County hearing. I learned about the case because the Court of Appeals had twice reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case.

When I began my investigation into the case history and factors that caused the reversal, I recognized the pattern of abusive litigation that is causing so many of Georgia’s children to lose access to loving, available parents. When you’ve seen this pattern of foul play unfold nearly one hundred times, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that intervention and transparency are needed.

There are several videos to this story:

Initially the hearing was set for late summer in 2016, and the grandmother’s attorney argued vehemently against having the proceeding filmed. This video portion will be added shortly.

After listening to her argument, the judge allowed the recording to go forward.  The lawyer was not about to give up on her strategy for denying the father custody, so another tactic was put into play that would either prejudice the court against the father or cause another delay, or both. This clip will be added.

Rather than allow the grandmother’s surprise expert to testify without fair notice and a deposition, the father’s counsel objected and moved to continue the hearing to allow for their deposition of this child custody psychologist Dr. Barbara Oxley.

The argument made by Athens attorney Ed Tolley is one often missed in similar proceedings. His argument and commentary from our interview will be added here.

The continued hearing was reset for December, 2016, and again the court ruled in favor of my Rule 22 Request, saying afterwards, “These days you’re afraid not to grant these things.” Interesting perspective and statement, but I’ll take it.

I’ll be back to complete this story and share the outcome, which will definitely surprise you!  In the meantime, please let me know if you’d like to contribute to additional use of Rule 22 Requests and other forms of increasing both public safety and especially better protections for parents and children.

The rest of the footage of the trial above will be shared in the coming days, and admittedly it will have much more meaning to children taken from safe parents, and for parents stripped of their right to nurture children without cause.

In the meantime, here’s another sampling of images and news reports that have meaning and which support protecting the intent and integrity of Rule 22.

Augusta Court Fails to Allow Due Process: Children Gone

The rest of the story in this Augusta case is much darker that at first believed. It is also similar to other troubling stories, the damages revealed by families throughout this judicial circuit. When we contrast the order and beauty inside of Augusta National with what is Outside the Gates, it is for this reason: parents are set up to fail intentionally and children are being left in harm’s way, when there was evidence, testimony and opportunity to prevent poor outcomes. This reality is the opposite of what the world thinks of when they hear Augusta or think of The Masters Tournament. This case and others are pulling back the curtain.

Civil or Criminal?

At one time it appeared that Atlanta attorney Kathy Portnoy was properly advocating for her client, one who appears to have not gotten a fair shake throughout this case. The issue featured here in this news report?

A DFCS report was made available to the court by the father’s attorney and used by the judge in reaching a decision as he noted. The problem for the judge was that the report was not made available to the mother and her counsel so that she had a chance to cross-examine the report and be fully informed in her case. The report was never put into evidence and therefore was not supposed to be considered by the court.

If this report had been put into evidence, the guardian ad litem on the case would have been able to refute it, as she knew it was created as a part of the father’s legal team’s strategy to wrongfully cut the mother out of the lives of her children. This issue was resolved when the appellate court agreed that the judge erred in considering this report. [See VIDEO at the bottom of this page.]

The bad news is that it didn’t matter; the fix was in on this case, and the judge gave the father permission to remove the children from the state before notifying the mother. The mother learned her children were gone when they did not get off the school bus. They did not even get to say goodbye.

We now know this was not merely an “error,” and that it was intentional to cause the mother and children this unnecessary trauma. It was also intentional that this mother was not allowed to know what was being said or used against her, denying her right to a defense.

Have you been allowed to know what was being used against you, or to know that all available evidence is being used to support your case? The more news reporter Nick Lulli investigated, the worse this case looked as evidence surfaced – – evidence that was either not being used by the mother’s counsel, or was being ignored by the court.

This is an ongoing and larger story than we first realized, as the court is now expected by the father’s team to force an agreement on the mother, an agreement which is different from what she was considering, and one which she did not sign. Her attorney used up all of her financial resources and abandoned her. The timing on her withdrawal and how her presence was used to keep this mother in the dark is telling.

Court Watch on Augusta Family Court – April 17th – 9am. If the court refuses to allow a continuance as requested by the mother so that she can find counsel to help her navigate and defend her rights, it will become even more obvious that she was never meant to have a fair trial on these issues, or to have a fighting chance at parenting her children.
WFXG FOX54 Augusta – Your News One Hour Earlier
How can parents prepare ahead of time to learn the pitfalls in managing family disputes, especially involving children?

Request more information to learn about the hiring the best team for your needs. This case is another glaring example of what can go wrong when you rely on word of mouth and online marketing to make hiring decisions. There currently is no real accountability for attorneys who allow their clients to fail by withholding evidence and avoiding opportunities to prevail, or for others who use special relationships with judges to reach outcomes that are damaging to children and to good parents. This is just “normal” for Augusta and for other judicial districts.

Learning to Prevent Child Abuse: Voice Today

My Advocate Center is aligned with several groups around the country that each have a specific focus.  The more we all learn about different issues that affect children and parents, whether it involves our court system or not, the more we can bring awareness, solutions and change.

Voice Today is in Georgia but is educating the public on a national level about how to identify situations where children may be at risk, and how to respond and to prevent injury.

Please watch this video, share and follow Voice Today to learn more.  

Join the movement to help protect children, intervene to prevent these dangerous cycles from continuing, and support My Advocate Center as we address and correct the bad practices in Family Court that enable and cover up this and other forms of child abuse.  Our mission involves supporting parents as they work, oftentimes against difficult odds and unseen forces, to provide for and to protect their children.

Unfortunately child abuse is a growing problem that is exacerbated by how certain court professionals are ignoring evidence and the needs of children. Voice Today founder Angela Williams has witnessed this in our cases.  

Please also support the policy reform that both of our groups are working on, as these improve protections for children and help families recover from abuse.  

Angela Williams just testified at the Georgia Capitol on HB 771 to extend the statute of limitations on civil child sexual abuse cases, so please encourage your elected officials to support this bill and this improvement that will help drive positive change.