Family Court: Dad Initially Labeled Abuser Wins Appeals Case on Custody

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Scott Bakal
In last month's cover story on perceived male bias in family court, Seattle Weekly told the case of "Richard," a dad who faced protection orders and domestic violence treatment classes in the course of his custody battle. Eventually, he won that battle, but his ex-wife appealed. Now, the appeals ruling is in.

"The overwhelming amount of the evidence the trial court heard and read supports the court's decision to make [Richard] the primary residential parent," the state Court of Appeals opines.

Like the trial court, the appeals court makes short shrift of a putative domestic violence finding against Richard by an "expert" risk assessor named Doug Bartholomew. The evidence to support an abuse finding "is not substantial," the appeals judges say. Indeed, even Bartholomew himself now seems to agree, telling SW during an interview for the cover story that his seemingly damning conclusions did not add up to domestic violence.

The appeals court also rejects another key part of the appeal filed by Richard's wife: the "irregular" behavior of her attorney at trial. Jan Dyer was so "sarcastic,"according to the trial judge, that he took the rare step of admonishing her on the record. And then things got really crazy. The appeals court ruling relates:

Dyer was 'sobbing' in the courtroom and, apparently, made such noise by slamming furniture that the court reporter noted 'loud crash' on three occasions. Also during [parent evaluator Jennifer] Keilin's direct examination, Dyer's cell phone rang, causing the court reporter to note a 'barking cellphone interruption.'

As one might guess from her cellphone ring tone, Dyer is known for her aggressiveness, particularly when it comes to domestic violence cases.

And so, the appeals ruling goes on to observe: "Dyer's antics stopped when she began her cross-examination of Keilin." Indeed, the court says that, in general, Dyer "thoroughly examined" the witnesses and "provided competent representation."

Keilin had submitted an extensive report recommending that Richard be the primary parent, based on what she judged was his stronger relationship with his son. Unlike with Bartholomew's report, the trial and appeals court judges gave her findings great weight.

So, in the end, the system worked for Richard. But it had him pegged as an abuser for more than a year-and-a-half, giving him an uphill battle to fight. A successful engineer, he had the money to keep going. Many men, lawyers say, can't do the same.

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