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The Family Court Judge Who Threatened a Mother With Contempt of Court for Getting Her Child a COVID-19 Test

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The United States grows increasingly strange.  Marshall Allen and Rachel Dissell report in ProPublica:

Ohio juvenile court Judge Timothy Grendell has been outspoken about his belief that the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown.

At a protest rally in May, just steps away from where he presides over family court, Grendell proclaimed that public health restrictions to contain the pandemic were unconstitutional and “we should be allowed to get back to our lives.” The following month, he testified to state lawmakers in Columbus that health authorities and a “drumbeat” of media coverage had “created an atmosphere of fear” surrounding the virus.

But Grendell hasn’t confined his views to the public square. A few weeks after he testified to lawmakers, he referred to the pandemic as a “panic-ademic” in the midst of a custody proceeding in his courtroom in Geauga County, outside Cleveland. And he has claimed that 15 mothers in his court have used the virus as an excuse in custody cases to “mess with” their exes’ parenting time.

Then, on Oct. 2, Grendell made an order that legal experts call unheard of, and medical experts say could cause harm. The judge banned two parents, who were wrangling over custody of their young boys, from having the “children undergo COVID-19 testing” without his approval, according to the court record.

A doctor subsequently ordered a coronavirus test for one of the boys before admitting him to a children’s hospital for severe breathing problems. When Grendell found out, he threatened to find the mother in contempt of court, a move that could lead to her being thrown in jail.

Legally, judges have wide discretion to resolve disputes between parents. Some courts have issued standing orders that general concerns about COVID-19 should not disrupt established parenting schedules. But medical experts told ProPublica that a COVID-19 test is often essential for health care providers to protect themselves and to decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

“We are unable to provide the right kind of care without it,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s basically blindfolding us or asking us to take care of someone with an arm tied behind our back.”

Judges around the country have received media attention for their rulings related to the pandemic. ProPublica reported in July that a Michigan judge sent a 15-year-old girl to juvenile detention, ruling she violated her probation by failing to complete her homework while remote learning. The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release later that month.

In April, a judge in South Florida temporarily took custody away from a doctor because she treated patients with COVID-19, the Miami Herald reported. In Iowa, a judge sentenced a mother to 10 days in jail for refusing to follow a child visitation ruling due to COVID-19 concerns, according to the Sioux City Journal. And another judge in South Florida required a mom to wear a mask if she wanted to see her child, wrote the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The conflict between public health precautions and individual freedoms has been extreme in Ohio, which was among the first states to issue sweeping health orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Rising discontent with the orders this spring led angry citizens to march on the Ohio Statehouse, chanting “Open Ohio” and breaking several windows. Protesters showed up at the suburban Columbus home of Amy Acton, then the director of the Ohio Department of Health. Some carried rifles. One woman carried a sign with an anti-Semitic message aimed at Acton, who is Jewish. Acton later resigned and some conservative lawmakers turned their attention to Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, with some demanding his impeachment and his arrest, to no avail.

Grendell’s wife, Diane, an Ohio state representative and former appellate judge, introduced legislation to terminate the state COVID-19 emergency public health orders.

Infection numbers were low early on in Ohio, but since October the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases has spiked tenfold, to about 10,000 on Dec. 13. Daily deaths and hospitalizations also have jumped to record highs.

Timothy Grendell, a Republican former legislator who has been on the bench for more than a decade, has long been a polarizing figure in Ohio political and legal circles. That reputation extends to his courtroom. ProPublica has spoken to mothers and grandmothers in four additional cases who said Grendell has been unfair to them. Some said they have filed complaints against him. Investigations are confidential until concluded; Grendell has not been disciplined by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In May, Grendell sent Stacy Hartman’s two teenage sons to juvenile detention after they refused a court-ordered visit with their father. The judge also threatened to hold Hartman in contempt of court and jail her if she didn’t take them to the visit, according to a court transcript. Hartman told ProPublica that she begged that her two boys not be locked up during a pandemic. After the local ABC television affiliate reported on the story, Hartman said mothers and some grandmothers started to call her with stories about their cases in Grendell’s courtroom. Each of the cases was different. But Hartman was struck by one similarity: “Everybody is scared about what he is going to do.”

The judge also has been embroiled in public spats, sometimes with other elected or political officials. In one high-profile example, in 2014, he threatened to hold the chairwoman of the Geauga County Republican Party in contempt of court after he learned she had privately characterized him as a “narcissist and mentally ill.” The matter was dropped.

Several family law attorneys told ProPublica that they refuse to take cases in Grendell’s court because they do not believe he treats parties in cases fairly. They asked to speak on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to risk the judge filing a complaint against their licenses.

Grendell declined ProPublica’s request to be interviewed for this story. In his most recent judgment entry, on Dec. 9, he said the mother at the center of the COVID-19 testing case had failed to return the children on several occasions, “using COVID-19 or her concerns about the children and COVID-19 as the reason for not complying with the Court’s orders.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2020 at 12:57 pm

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