Letters for April 4, 2002

Father knows best

Re “Mothers, Interrupted” by Chrisanne Beckner (SN&R Cover, March 21):

As I am child-free, I believe that my opinion on the article “Mothers, Interrupted” is not skewed by parental bias. However, it is apparent that the reason for choosing these women for your main feature was skewed by bias.

Had these five women been fathers rather than mothers, I am confident I can say that there would have been no attention paid to them by the media whatsoever. What about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fathers in Sacramento County who are denied even visitation rights? How about a feature article focusing on their fight regarding visitation, custody, alimony and child support?

The epidemic of bigotry towards men in the family court systems never fails to appall me. There was no mention of the women in the article having to pay child support. I am also confident to say that if they were men, they not only would have had to pay for their visits, they would have also been ordered to pay child support. Nobody pays attention to rights of fathers or ever questions mothers having primary custody, but as soon as fathers are treated equally, everything is analyzed, probed and contested until mothers get their way once more. It is about time that society starts to realize that with more children in day care than ever, mothers are no longer the primary caregivers, and that fathers can be just as competent, if not more so, in child rearing. It is about time that people pay attention to the rights of the father as well.

Julia Baum
via e-mail

Spreading the word

Re “Mothers, Interrupted” by Chrisanne Beckner (SN&R Cover, March 21):

I am so grateful and impressed by Chrisanne’s Beckner’s writing in the article about the women fighting the mediator, Burrill. It has been so difficult to get media attention on such matters involving family court, and you hopefully have opened a can of worms. I smile as I say this because more articles such as Chrisanne’s desperately need to be written as there are so many of us suffering under the tyranny of the family court system. (My case is in Solano.)

Most journalists ignore such stories and I don’t understand how families being split up in our country and children being kept from their parents and abused can be so unimportant. How strange, our country’s priorities. But please know your article will be forwarded to share with many. Sharing her article with others will help educate others about this devastating system.

Suzanne LeBoeuf
Fairfield, CA

The mouthpiece

Re “Mothers, Interrupted” by Chrisanne Beckner (SN&R Cover, March 21):

I was thoroughly disgusted after reading this article. It is apparent that Ms. Beckner either has a personal ax to grind against fathers or simply did not do a competent investigation of the facts. The result is one of the most scandalous pieces of tabloid journalism I have read outside of the National Enquirer.

Ms. Beckner apparently did not interview any of the fathers, attorneys or judges involved in the cases of the five women with whom she worked. It would also appear that she did not review the court’s files, which contain a great deal of information on the custody proceedings. But what is most glaring is that these five women did not provide Ms. Beckner with a copy of the confidential mediation reports generated by Janelle Burrill, the target of this “investigation.” The family law judges, attorneys and mediators, including Ms. Burrill, spend a great deal of time investigating and evaluating the minute details of the issues bearing on the custody of the minor children in these and all of the cases in the courts. They are thorough and conscientious. The overriding concern in all of the cases is the best interests of the children. So rather than “fighting back” and “calling for an investigation,” perhaps these five women should look at their own behavior to evaluate what they may have done to put themselves in their current situations.

In just one hearing and during her “investigation,” Ms. Beckner concluded that Jacqueline Vorce “may need help from therapists.” Ms. Beckner even goes so far as to say Vorce “may in fact exhibit poor impulse control.” Does Ms. Beckner think that perhaps this very behavior might have something to do with the results of mediation and court proceedings? Rather, Ms. Beckner totally omits discussion of the reasons these five women did not get the custody arrangements they desired. Is that because Ms. Beckner did not ask the women? Or is it that the women simply did not tell? Or, worse yet, did the women disclose the facts, but Ms. Beckner omitted them because she felt that disclosure of this information would show justification for what Ms. Burrill recommended and the family law courts ordered? Did Ms. Beckner feel that legitimizing what was in fact done in these cases might take away some of the scandal and “human interest” she was trying to create.

Articles like this only create the reputation that the News & Review is a tabloid journal. The goal here was obviously to create scandal rather than to inform.

John M. O’Donnell

Chrisanne Beckner responds:

Mr. O’Donnell, who also acts as Ms. Burrill’s lawyer, has accused me of bias against fathers. It was in fact the behavior of his client and the mothers that drove the story.

Mr. O’Donnell also claims that I did not interview all parties. Most of the story focused on Ms. Vorce, so I referred to her court record, which is the best place to find the facts and statements from key players, including the attorneys.

Ms. Burrill chose not to respond to phone calls, e-mails or multiple visits to her office. Mr. O’Donnell, who filed the lawsuit against the women in the story, also declined.

Mr. Arthur, Ms. Vorce’s ex-husband, was kind enough to grant me an interview. Details of that interview are included in the story. Mr. O’Donnell also attempts to use phrases from the article to suggest that Ms. Vorce’s behavior “might have something to do with the results of the mediation.” That is a fair interpretation, and those phrases are there to give an accurate view of the parties involved. Were I attempting to “create scandal rather than to inform,” I might have omitted the very phrases that Mr. O’Donnell finds key.

This is mediation?

Re “Mothers, Interrupted” by Chrisanne Beckner (SN&R Cover, March 21):

Thank you for a thorough review of what appears to be a horrible abuse of power by the mediator; a failure by judges to do some of their own work when deciding these sensitive cases; and a case of arrogance on the part of County Supervisor Dickinson.

I recommend that the women proceed with their legal actions against Ms. Burrill and see it through to the end. Since Ms. Burrill filed a suit against these women (even though she claims she has withdrawn it), she cannot possibly continue to serve as mediator in this or any other case. Seems like a conflict of interest to me.

Why is there a need for a mediator anyway?

Judges need to earn their living by making decisions based on information they themselves can gather by questioning these adults directly. If that is too much work for them, they should consider another line of work. In the meantime, the parents involved should have equal custody of their children without supervision. If one parent becomes aware of child abuse by the other, let them pursue their charge in court.

I was most incensed by the cavalier and rude attitude of Supervisor Dickinson. I hope his constituents remember this when he is up for re-election (I know I will). Perhaps the women can start a re-call drive once they regain reasonable custody of their children.

Bob Balliet

Pie in Craig’s eye

Re “Sounds Good on Paper” by Craig DeLuz (SN&R Guest Comment, March 21):

We were outraged by Craig DeLuz’s uninformed statements wherein he described Senator Deborah Ortiz as the “Queen of False Hope” based on his erroneous understanding of her efforts to assist the 570 families who were given 30 days’ notice to move.

First, Mr. DeLuz’s entire description of her bill was wrong. SB 617 would require any single landlord evicting 50 or more families from rentals within a five-mile radius to give the tenants 90 days’ notice. The bill does not give tenants until December 2003 to move or place a 3.9 percent lid on rent increases, as Mr. DeLuz asserted. He claims that SB 617 is simply one more effort by Senator Ortiz to get her name in the paper, rather than a serious effort to assist her constituents.

Mr. DeLuz should have talked with some of the community people, housing advocates, and legal service attorneys who worked with Senator Ortiz around the clock attempting to craft constitutional legislation that would protect these tenants. In the end, ACORN organizing, the legal services lawsuit, the media attention and the Ortiz bill worked together to persuade the landlord to give the tenants what her bill sought—90 days’ notice to figure out how to relocate their families to other homes.

Mr. DeLuz calls on Senator Ortiz to offer “real solutions” rather than “pie in the sky.” He has not taken a very close look at her legislative record.

Christine Minnehan
Western Center on Law and Poverty

Marcus Brown
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation