Letter: Social media shows possible bias in family court

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To The Editor:

Letters1Last year, there were approximately 34,000 divorces in the state of Pennsylvania.

Divorce can be literally one of the most stressful situations any of us can experience in our life and it is traumatic for both a couple and or the children of the marriage. Most often, it is not just the emotional toll of ending a relationship but the complications of custody that often occur with ending a marriage with children that compounds the stress.

Separating and dealing with personal emotions, financial and legal issues between spouses is a complex process and even when a divorce is amicable, it results in a dramatic life change for everyone involved, especially the children.

It is a process that leaves me wondering when a spouse or parent feels that a Master or a Judge has shown partiality or bias to either plaintiff or defendant or the attorneys for that matter, where can a party go to report the alleged corruption.

The only recourse set up by the court is for the party to petition the court with a motion. Filing a motion in family court is often a process that is not only laden with fees but takes weeks if not months to complete and usually ends with the same Master or Judge hearing the case and a back to square one decision.

Yet, a motion does not address the alleged or potential corruption that could go on between judges, masters and attorneys working together to fix cases. The FBI recently indicted nine elected judges including Mark Bruno, Chester County Magisterial District judge. Is Family Court another division for the FBI to investigate?

Social media and Facebook in particularly has become the sleuth in picking out biased judges shedding new light to the quote “show me your friends and I will show you who you are.”

This was the case when Charles Hayden, a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge dismissed a DUI case involving State Representative Cherelle Parker after she was found driving with a Blood Alcohol level twice the legal limit. After finding that Judge Hayden was friends with the defendant on Facebook, his decision was overturned and another judge made the DUI charges stick.

Had Judge Hayden recused himself from the start, his credibility as a judge would still be intact. In a recent article I wrote for wheresthefairness.com I questioned why Chester County family court Master Rich Lombardi had so many complaints from divorcing parties embroiled in custody battles.

Complaining parties chief objections were that Lombardi allegedly uses one or two custody evaluators he can control and that he shows partiality to parties whose attorneys are his friends/colleagues. A few clicks into research I learned Lombardi has a Facebook account also and like the Philadelphia Municipal Judge who displayed his friends (one of which was  State Rep. Parker, charged with a DUI, as noted above).

Lombardi’s Facebook also displays his friends, many of which are family law attorneys who bring cases before him in family court. And again like Hayden, Lombardi is hearing cases in which friends are involved when he probably would do better to recuse himself. Rochelle Grossman, another Chester County family court Master, also has a Facebook account that displayed her various friendships to family law attorneys.

After wheresthefairness.com asked both Masters for their comments about their Facebook friendships both Masters refused to reply with comment and changed their Facebook profiles to private settings. At the very least it is worth asking the Masters: Why? What have they to hide? Given the number of complaints registered on blog sites, and the emotional trauma that results from so many divorces, there needs to be better checks and balances on Family Court Jurists. Without even a set of rules for how jurists can profile themselves on Facebook,  perhaps Chester County Court finds themselves operating separate and apart and even above the laws the rest of us are made to follow.

The complete post from wheresthefairness.com can be read at http://www.wheresthefairness.com/2013/02/12/chester-county-court-a-call-for-an-investigatio

Marnie Hall

Philadelphia

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