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GENIA SHOCKOME CASE
Poughkeepsie, Duchess County, New York
Yevgenia Shockome, Case No. 29594
On Thursday, May 5, 2005, Yevgenia Shockome, a pro se battered mother seven months pregnant, who already had inexplicably** [liznote 1] lost custody of her children to her abuser three years before in Judge Damian J. Amodeo's Duchess County Courtroom, was jailed on Mother's Day weekend for objecting to Amodeo's order permitting her abuser to move with her children to Texas. [liznote 2]
TRANSCRIPT of Genia Shockome's May 5, 2005 hearing
that landed her in jail for 30 days
Links to more information about this case:
Honorable Damian J. Amodeo
Duchess County Family Court Judge
50 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Contact Sondra Miller, head of the New York State Matrimonial Commission, to express your outrage about Genia Shockome's case and to call for the removal from that commission of Judge Damian Amodeo, the judge who summarily threw this pregnant battered non-custodial mother into jail. Ms. Miller's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, see here; also news stories:
May 8, 2005: PETITION: PLEASE DISTRIBUTE FAR AND WIDE TO GET AS MANY SIGNATURES AS POSSIBLE TODAY. We are presenting this petition to the New York Matrimonial Commission tomorrow.
ANNOUNCEMENT: The Petition to free Genia Shockome from the Duchess County, NY jail and to stay the judgement rendered by Judge Damian J. Amodeo on May 5, 2005 allowing the removal of her children from the State of New York is now active and online to be signed by as many people as possible. http://www.PetitionOnline.com/FreGenia/petition.html
Liliane Heller Miller
Co-Founder and Vice Chair
Battered Mother's Custody Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 7, 2005
Judge Sends Pregnant Mom To Jail For Mother's Day, Gives Custody To Abusive Dad
On Friday, a seven months pregnant mother of two and former "Mother of the Year" was sentenced to a month in jail for protesting the judge's decision to allow her abusive ex-husband to move thousands of miles away with her children.
The judge currently serves on a commission appointed by the Chief Judge of New York State to improve the family court's handling of custody matters.
Judge Damian Amodeo, family court judge in Dutchess County, charged Genia Shockome, former Dutchess County Mother of the Year, with criminal contempt and sentenced her to thirty days in jail without bail when she objected to his decision to allow her abusive ex-husband to move with the children to Texas.
"In the divorce proceeding, Shockome testified that her husband forced her to participate in group sex and that he refused to change the children's diapers because he became sexually aroused -- charges which he never denied" said Barry Goldstein, Shockome's attorney. Reports by a court appointed investigator found that Shockome's husband had physically sexually and verbally abused her throughout the marriage and that Shockome suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Amodeo previously awarded custody to the children's father despite indications of his abusive behavior; that decision currently is under appeal.
"The actions by this court, which have placed two young children and a pregnant mother in great danger, represent an all too common minimization of the seriousness of domestic violence and an egregious misuse of judicial authority" said Irene Weiser, executive director of StopFamilyViolence.org, a national activist organization based in New York.
"It is frightening to think that the judge responsible for such reckless decisions has been appointed to New York State's Matrimonial Commission to help improve the way family courts address these serious family situations," Weiser continued.
Weiser has recently been asked by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to suggest revisions to their judge's guidebook that addresses investigation and decision-making in custody cases involving domestic violence.
"Research shows that half the men who abuse their wives or girlfriends abuse the children too, and there is no evidence to show that such abuse declines post separation. Children who grow up with abuse are more prone to behavior problems, depression, eating disorders, suicide, school failure and increased drop out rates, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, adult criminality, and are more prone to becoming involved in abusive relationships as adults," says Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Siena College, whose professional focus is on couples therapy and dynamics of abuse. Hannah is the organizer of the annual National Battered Mother's Custody Conference.
"The family court's first priority must be to protect the children's safety, not to punish the mothers who report the abuse," Hannah continued.
The Matrimonial Commission, created in June 2004 by New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye is charged with examining every facet of the divorce process in New York and recommending reforms to correct existing problems. The last public hearing of the commission will be held on Monday May 9th, from 11 am to 8 pm at New York County Lawyers Association, 14 Vesey Street (between Broadway & Church Street), New York, NY. Press is welcome to attend.
StopFamilyViolence.org is a national grassroots activist organization with over 30,000 members nationwide; 2500 members reside in New York state. StopFamilyViolence.org works to ensure safety, justice, accountability and healing for people whose lives are affected by violent relationships. The appellate brief on the Shockome case can be found at the following link http://www.batteredmotherscustodyconference.org/Important%20Legal%20Documents.htm
Stop Family Violence
331 W. 57th St #518
New York, NY 10019
the people's voice for family peace
Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D.
Chair, Battered Mothers Custody Conference
May 7, 2005: Genia Shockome, 7 months pregnant, has appeared hundreds of times before Duchess County Family Court Judge Damian Amodeo during the past four years. Genia will be sitting in jail this Mothers Day after being incarcerated for 30 days on the order of Judge Amodeo.
Her crime was "contempt of court."
Genia, who appeared pro se before the judge on Thursday, May 5th, was held in contempt for too-vigorously objecting to Amodeo's decision to allow Genia's abusive husband to move their two children (ages around 7 and 9) to Texas -- thousands of miles away from Genia, who had been their primary caretaker since birth, until around three years ago, when Amodeo gave the father sole legal and physical custody.
Having lost supervised visitation rights and having not seen her children for around eight months now, Genia may never see them again. All of this has happened to Genia, a Russian immigrant, IBM engineer, and former "Mother of the Year," due to the rulings of Judge Amodeo, which consistently have favored the children's father, despite good evidence that he abused Genia throughout their marriage (and, of course, throughout the separation as well, through abusive family court processes).
One shocking twist to this sad tale is Judge Amodeo's own admission that he -- and not the father -- induced the post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks that Genia suffers from. Amodeo made this claim to justify his determination that Genia falsely claimed that her husband's abuse had caused her to develop PTSD falsely (which is estimated to develop in around 75% of battered wives).
If Genia were to happen to be in jail when she gives birth to this next child (whose father is not Genia's husband), she stands a high risk of losing custody of that child to the state.
If you're not outraged, you haven't read this carefully enough. Register your outrage with Judge Amodeo and the Duchess County Family Court.
Barry L. Goldstein, Esq.
Attorney at Law
486 Midland Avenue
Yonkers, New York 10704
At the first Battered Mothers' Custody Conference, Yevgenia Shockome received a standing ovation for her courage in seeking to protect her children in the face of her abusive husband and even more abusive judge.
She received the Mother of the Year Award in Dutchess County in 2003 for the love and caring she gave to her children and outstanding parenting skills.
She is spending Mother's Day, seven months pregnant and with medical complications in the Poughkeepsie City Jail. Her children are spending Mother's Day scared and frightened; alone with the abuser on their way to Texas.
They will never see their beloved mother again during their childhood unless the Appellate Division intervenes and stops deferring to the biased Judge Damian Amodeo.
Genia's husband abused her throughout the marriage. He had little to do with the children before the separation, but did engage in physical and sexual abuse of the children. When the mother decided to separate from her abuser, he threatened that he would take the children and destroy her life. It would be one of the few times that he told the truth.
The abuser used phone calls to harass the mother and to create an illusion that she was interfering with his ability to speak with the children. He would call her a few times harass and threaten her and then call back immediately when she was angry to tape her response.
Judge Amodeo called numerous conferences to attack and berate the mother for interfering with the phone calls and the father's relationship with the children.
In July of 2002 the judge, law guardian and Genia's attorney pressured her to accept joint custody with her abuser. Once her Order of Protection from criminal court expired a few weeks after the settlement, he stepped up his harassing phone calls and other abuse. He filed a new petition for sole custody and to deny her any contact with the children and she obtained a new Order of Protection from a different judge.
At the first hearing the judge permitted the father's attorney to speak at length making many representations that they never even tried to prove at the trial. Amodeo never gave Genia a chance to respond, but instead stated he was inclined to take the children from her. She was yelled at, talked over and threatened. The court had moved up the first appearance forcing her to appear without an attorney.
On January 17, 2003 without an evidentiary hearing or any written explanation, Judge Amodeo took the children from the mother who had raised them and sent them to the abuser.
The mother was denied anything but supervised visitation and has never had a meaningful visit with them since. Having made this error, Judge Amodeo refused to consider any evidence that contradicted his views and instead relied on his bias, ignorance and closed mind to determine the outcome.
The trial did not start until June of 2003 and the judge gave out trial days sparingly so that there would be no decision until May of 2004. All the while the children were denied a meaningful relationship with their mother while the father could suppress the children's ability to express their feelings. The trial itself was unbelievably one-sided. The abuser was the only witness he presented to support his case. Much of his testimony concerned the phone tapes he made. He didn't realize that the tapes demonstrated his abuse. He called his victim 15 and 20 times a day as late as 1 AM. Even the court's evaluator who favored the father called the calls excessive and harassing.
The mother had 11 witnesses including five experts. The experts included the son's therapist (who was not selected by the mother) and a therapist who treated both parties based on the judge's own order. One of the witnesses was the school nurse who was also neutral but very concerned about the harm to the children of the judge's order. She described the daughter before she was taken from her mother as skipping around school laughing and giggling while holding hands with a friend. After she lost her mother she would walk around school alone, head down very sad.
In the middle of the trial Amodeo decided to appoint a new evaluator because the old reports were useless. I asked that the evaluator be someone with expertise in domestic violence and child abuse. Judge Amodeo said he wanted someone who knew a little about domestic violence and child abuse, but not too much because such experts always find abuse.
All of the experts including the evaluator concluded that the mother suffers from panic attacks and PTSD as a result of the father's abuse. The evaluator even acknowledged that the father abused the mother physically, verbally and emotionally throughout the relationship. She also agreed that there was no alienation. Nevertheless she said the mother was too angry to have custody because she continued to complain that the father fed the children too much junk food, did not dress them appropriately for the weather and let them watch adult-oriented television.
The evaluator testified that she assumed the mother's complaints were exaggerated. She assumed this because she relied on biased witnesses who had no personal knowledge. Later in the trial the father was seen by a witness permitting the son to run around outside without a jacket on a bitter cold winter day. Knowing he had been observed the father admitted that the boy did this frequently.
The mother's PTSD was crucial to the case because if the father abused the mother even the judge admitted she should have custody. PTSD cannot occur without either an extremely traumatic event or a long series of traumatic events. In other words if the father's behavior caused the mother's PTSD as all the experts agreed, the mother would have to have custody. Judge Amodeo got around this in his decision by constructing a bizarre conclusion that he (the judge) had caused the mother's PTSD. In fact some of the experts had testified that the judge retraumatized the mother with his abusive and threatening manner.
If a judge could abuse a person so severely as to cause her PTSD clearly that judge should never be involved in her case and in fact should not be a judge.
Judge Amodeo's decision maintained it as a Custody-Visitation Scandal Case. The abuser was given custody and the mother had nothing but supervised visitation. The decision demanded that the mother stop therapy with her present therapist and instead use someone selected by the court.
The case was immediately appealed and motions for immediate relief were filed. The Appellate Division has refused to grant any temporary relief and even refused to consider an Amicus brief filed on behalf of Justice For Children. At one point it was discovered that the court had erased two of the transcripts further delaying the appeal.
At this point we are waiting for a new order from the Appellate Division to require the other side to submit their responding briefs.
While the appeal has been pending, the abuser and the court have sought to continue to harass and abuse Genia. I had to make a motion to withdraw from the case in front of Judge Amodeo for medical reasons. His abuse and threats were endangering my health (I had a heart attack several years ago). He demanded medical proof and my medical doctor and therapist sent affidavits saying it was unsafe and unhealthy for me to continue given the particular circumstances in Amodeo's courtroom.
The law requires that when a party loses an attorney for medical reasons that she is entitled to at least a 30 day stay to obtain another attorney. Instead Amodeo continued to make her come to court unrepresented to face more abuse. After the 30 days had passed (with no stay) he decided that she had enough time to find an attorney.
That supervised visitation was designed to protect children from abusive or unsafe parents. Even the evaluator admitted that Genia is a safe parent. Supervised visits are inappropriate for protective mothers like Ms. Shockome. She was kicked out of the first program for allowing her children to hug and kiss her.
The next program was run by an unethical individual who is facing a criminal investigation. The courts no longer use her program. Nevertheless there was an incident in which the mother was taping the children while they played an air hockey game. The supervisor fell asleep during the game and the tape caught her sleeping in the background. When she woke up, she created an incident seeking to destroy the tape because she was sleeping. In the course of the commotion the children made negative remarks about the judge and law guardian (although nothing about the father). Judge Amodeo used the incident to further interfere with the mother's relationship with the children.
Later there was another unscrupulous visitation agency that demanded over $200 for a visitation (the mother's finances have been destroyed by excessive child support and legal expenses). During the visitation, the supervisor lunged at Genia and her son and knocked them to the ground. The police were called and they found that the supervisor had attacked mother and child. Nevertheless, Judge Amodeo used this as an excuse to end all visitation.
On May 5, 2005 the mother was forced to again come to court without representation. Judge Amodeo sought to issue a decision permitting the father to move the children to Texas even before the Appellate Division could rule on the appeal. Genia sought to protect her right for an appeal by objecting. She also mentioned that the judge was lying (which he was). The judge treated this as if it was contempt and ordered the mother, seven months pregnant and with health complications, to jail.
Judge Amodeo's abuse has had a disastrous affect not only on the Shockome family, but on all battered women. Already we have heard that women and staying with their abusers and being beaten by them because that is safer than having the abuser and judge abuse her like they did to Genia.
Domestic violence advocates have to warn women in Dutchess County that it may not be safe to seek an Order of Protection. We are asking people to stand up for this courageous woman. We must rally around her and TAKE BACK THE COURTS.
No woman should ever again be abused by the court system like was done to Genia. We welcome suggestions and involvement to change this system. I wish I could say that Damian Amodeo is the worst judge in the world and all we have to do is get him off the bench. The reality is that there are all too many Damian Amodeos. Let us work together to create a GENIA'S LAW to make sure the courts are safe for battered women and their children.
All text in this message is first amendment protected discussion of the law and procedures of the court. No text in any message may be construed to be legal advice within the meaning of any state unauthorized practice of law by any member. All text in any message is presumed to be first amendment protected freedom of speech on issues of importance to the civilian population of the United States of America.
STATEMENT from David Bookstaver, Communications, Director NY State Courts:
Your e-mail to the Hon. Damian J. Amodeo has been referred to me for reply. Pursuant to the Rules of Judicial Conduct, (Part 100 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator governing Judicial Conduct) a judge is not permitted to comment on a pending legal matter or consider ex parte communications.
With respect to the contempt finding made by Judge Amodeo against Ms. Shockome on May 5, 2005, it is crucial that you understand the facts [and not the hype]. Ms. Shockome was warned not once - not twice - but at least seven separate times to stop interrupting the Court and that if she continued in her behavior while in the courtroom that she would be held in contempt and face incarceration.
Judge Amodeo was aware, as are all judges, that contempt is a last resort. This explains why the Judge repeatedly warned Ms. Shockome before taking the step of last resort. Ms. Shockome not only obstinately disobeyed the Court's directives and warnings, but was disruptive to the Court process, a process with which she is very familiar, by interrupting the Court no less than 25 times before the finding of contempt was made. Judges are not dictators or tyrants, but there must be order and decorum during the process. In this instance Ms Shockome not only mocked the Court's inherent authority- but mocked the process itself, repeatedly accusing the Court of lying and fixing the case. The Court had no other alternative but a finding of contempt.
I have attached a copy of the transcript of the contempt proceeding. I believe the transcript speaks for itself.
NY State Courts
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** LIZNOTE: The court's 2004 order is available here. It is written in a speciously "considered" tone, and indicates that the judge placed -- above the best interests of the children -- deference to his own orders (albeit he was decidedly vague about how his orders actually were violated by the mother), to the father's hearsay alleging the mother's interference with the father's visitation rights (multiple telephone calls by the father as proof of maternal interference and not the harassment they are is a common and transparent FR litigation tactic), and to the assumed ostensible "need" of the children for significant involvement in father custody (in the complete and utter absence of evidence that they need this from a man who was observed kicking at the mother's door while screaming expletives, and who apparently lacks some parenting skills).
The judge recited no actual specific findings of fact indicating "interference" by the mother with the father's relationship with the children. None at all. He recites some hearsay of others claiming that she said this or that. And the judge went almost overboard with the lengthy opinion -- it takes a lot of pretext to justify a change of custody while hiding that the reason for it is that the judge has developed an intense dislike of the woman (an altogether irrelevant factor regarding whether the children would be better off in her custody.)
The judge's claim that his findings were not based on "parental alienation" is specious as well. The judge's order, while superficially comprehensive, is actually notable for what it omits: no findings as to why the children "needed" substantial timeshare with the father. No findings whatsoever as to how this would benefit them. No findings as to why the children are better off living in the father's custody. None at all. All the judge apparently had (which he recited in his deceivingly lengthy opinion) were a few hearsay statements about what the mother allegedly said about the father, often indirectly, coupled with allegations about the mother's credibility based on minor inconsistencies in testimony over years of litigation and the judge's formed belief that this was not a case in which Genia had been abused, contrary to the express testimony of another witness, and eyewitness testimony of the father's temper. If this is not "parental alienation" or "unfriendly parent" then what is it? Word games?
The judge repeatedly harped on about the mother's credibility and demeanor, while offering few significant specific examples, but made much ado about the few instances of discrepancy in the mother's testimony. Meanwhile, he utterly minimized the father's prevarications and obnoxious behaviors, the father's own false allegations of the mother's being a flight risk, the father's multiple harassing telephone calls (which the father was excused as only doing because...why?) and glossed right over eye-witness testimony of the father's scary kicking and screaming at the mother's front door, testimony about the children's lack of good appearance in his care, the children's own complaints about not being with their mother (from the judge's secret lengthy in-chambers interviewing of them and who knows what they said or what was emphasized or de-emphasized), evidence regarding the father's lack of equivalent caregiving skills, and evidence that the father had repeatedly in the past failed to demonstrate any strong compulsion to remain in the vicinity of his children. (Consider: the father apparently had had no problem moving far away to Russia, leaving his oldest child on the other side of the world, and the father apparently had no difficulty letting the Genia move to NY when he was in TX, etc. -- but the mother's failure to visit the children during the heat of litigation on several occasions was held against her). The mother is blamed for not prioritizing payment of child support when she was short of money because of the litigation, but nevermind that the father is apparently so inept he didn't pay his electricity bill and placed the children into actual potential danger with that (isn't there an equivalent deficit of "priority" of bill-paying here vis a vis the father?) All of the father's deficits just glossed over. All of the mother's rendered into brouhaha.
The judge is correct that the parties should never have had joint custody and that the custody battle itself traumatized (or also traumatized) the mother; but what the judge has ignored completely is that this woman never should have been subjected to any of this crap in the first place. Did Genia make mistakes? Perhaps. Is she personally likeable? I don't know. Is she a ball-breaking bitch with higher intellect and earning power than the father who can't get over her anger at his disrespectful and hostile behavior toward her after bringing her to the U.S. from Russia and turning her into his broodmare-plus-breadwinner? Maybe (especially when, as the judge acknowledged, the litigation and his own orders exacerbated the problem.) But so what. Think about that: so what. What in heck has any of it to do with whether the children would be better off in their mother's superior care (acknowledged by all.) The judge also spent much space reiterating his dislike for Genia's last attorney. Is this an appropriate reason to harm the children or the client? Is it important? It shouldn't be. Amodeo came off like a man on a personal vendetta himself. Apparently he does not hold himself to anything close to the standards he imposes on justifiaibly upset primary caregiving mothers who are litigating over their children.
How do you think most primary caregiving mothers are likely to act when their children are repeatedly yanked away by a hostile man demanding joint custody? Not great. Some better and some worse, but did anyone bother to find out WHY Genia was so spun up? Or do we just assume the ubiquitous "vindictive, lunatic woman" horseshit. Or just project men's control issues onto mothers? Why was this woman subjected to custody litigation in the first place, to joint custody demands in the first place? Because this father is so damn nurturing that he just couldn't stand to be away from his kids for a few days? Obviously not. This wage-earning non-mogul (read the decision; he couldn't even manage to pay his electricity bill) moved to... RUSSIA for... his... non-high-powered career, leaving his first son in Texas on the other side of the world.
What about this case required THREE custody evaluations and a parade of "experts" and therapists? What motivated this father? We could hypothesize. Control desires? Inferiority complex issues? (These would not be implausible because they fit the profile of many men who marry foreign women, especially when they've already been divorced once.) A hope to get child support or alimony? (Not implausible either, given that joint custody is well-known as an anti-child support tactic and this man was neither the marital primary caregiver NOR the primary wage earner.) Clearly -- clearly -- he was not motivated by a need to be with his children. Actions always speak louder than words. There is evidence against this one. So for what was all this shit necessary? It was obvious who was the children's primary caregiver, and who is the better parent. The joint custody was not in these children's interests and is not in any children's interests.
The law is an ass. And if you think Judge Amodeo's order is convincing, don't fail to remember that Judge Amodeo as a lawyer is as well or better-trained than the rest of us in marshalling and laying out one-sided facts just as if he were writing an appellate brief. Of course, this order was 2004, prior to the judge's outing of his own attitude when he threw Genia, seven months pregnant and unrepresented, into jail after essentially button-pushing her into extreme frustration.
Want to create good will between divorced parents? Try giving children's primary caregivers some peace and security post-divorce and telling men who are demanding their "rights" to lay off. Stop doing this to women and children. Show me the father who deserves custody because of his caregiving of the children while married, not because he successfully plays a litigation game and drives the mother of his children nuts, and I'll be the first in line to offer to represent him. Whoops -- I already do! See liznotes on joint custody.