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Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."
–Supreme Court Justice Brandeis

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Protesters say NJ court denies justice to women

Protesters say NJ court denies justice to women

Participants allege ‘bias’ in decisions involving abuse


Women picket outside the family court building in Newark, demanding justice for women and children who allege abuse.

Photo by Robert Wiene

by Robert Wiener
NJJN Staff Writer

April 30, 2009

More than 100 women, many active in several local and national Jewish organizations, picketed outside the family courts in downtown Newark Monday, demanding that its judges give more equitable treatment to alleged victims of physical and mental abuse.

Organizers charged that male judges often side with their fellow men and tend to disbelieve women’s allegations that they and their children have been physically and sometimes sexually abused by former husbands.

“We are very concerned that custody is given to abusive parents, especially fathers who abuse their children. There are judges who are biased, and terrible things are happening. Women are not believed when they or their children are abused,” said Sylvia Steiner of West Orange, a principal organizer of the demonstration.

In an interview after the rally, Irene Weiser, executive director of a website called StopFamilyViolence.org, told NJ Jewish News that “New Jersey is no better or worse than other states” when it comes to judges’ gender bias.

Citing national studies, she said “there is a history of domestic violence involved in child custody disputes in a majority of high-conflict divorce cases….”

“When abusive men contest and fight for custody, too often they get it. Judges ignore evidence of family violence and sexual abuse, decide mothers are lying, and order children into the hands of an abuser. It defies all logic and any semblance of justice,” she said.

IMPORTANT: The following audiovisual piece includes real-life interviews featuring disturbing verbal content and statements on child abuse and domestic violence. Viewer discretion is advised.

Prof. Garland Waller produced "Small Justice: Little Justice in America's Family Courts" which is an independent documentary that explores the relationship between domestic violence, child sexual abuse and custody laws in America. To learn more about the stories of the women seen in this 10 minute clip, please go to


Weiser urged that independent panels be appointed to investigate abuse allegations to avoid judicial bias.

Gathering on Washington Street shortly after 11 a.m. and rallying through the lunch hour, the demonstrators chanted, “We demand justice for battered women and children.”

Among those at the rally was “Rebecca,” who did not wish to be identified because her case is still pending in family court.

She identified herself as a suburban Jewish woman with a professional career. She alleged that her ex-husband sexually abused their two children.

After a custody battle lasting three years, Rebecca said, she lost her home and most of her assets. She and her husband currently take turns caring for their two young girls.

“I have not been given a fair trial in family court,” she told NJJN. “I am trying to protect my daughters. I believed they were harmed. I am so scared of retaliation.

“I have invested every resource I’ve had and fought long and hard within the system. I do believe there was a lot of evidence in support of our allegations of abuse and violence, but it was swept under the rug.”

Many in the crowd said they had joined the rally to demand fair treatment for Rebecca and her children.

Shelli Brosh of West Orange, an organizer of Mothers for Legal Justice, told her sidewalk audience that the judge in Rebecca’s case denied an independent investigation of the child molestation charges, which were confirmed by six of seven experts who examined the children. The seventh said the evidence was inconclusive.

“Citizens of New Jersey have a right to demand higher standards for our judges,” Brosh said, “particularly when the lives of a mother and two little girls hang in the balance.”

Others who carried signs demanding greater justice for women and children told NJJN they had faced their own problems in family court.

“I’ve seen, as a school teacher, children who have suffered from the injustice of court decisions that are tearing them apart,” said Elaine Brown of Florham Park, a former director of education at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills. “We should take a look at the justice system so that we can have a more impartial, unbiased system. The focus should be on what is best for the children without judicial bias” or reference to “money or influence.”

Following the rally, Superior Court assignment judge Patricia Costello told The Star-Ledger that family court judges are fair-minded people who make “tough decisions.”

“All judges are bound by the rules of evidence, and their rulings must be based on careful consideration and backed by detailed documentation,” she said. “All the while, the family court judge must remain dispassionate during proceedings that are often highly emotional.”

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