We first told you about the murder-suicide of a 9-month-old boy and his father that had tragically been posted on Facebook. Now there is outrage over the San Bernardino County, Calif. judge's ruling in the contentious custody battle.
Gina Kaysen Fernandes: The baby's mother, Katie Tagle, and a large group of protesters held a rally this week outside the Victorville Superior Courthouse calling for Judge Robert Lemkau's resignation.
Katie believed she had all the evidence she needed when she went to court in January to protect her son, Wyatt. The 23-year-old mother filed an emergency restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, because he had threatened to kill their baby and himself.
Katie presented Judge Lemkau with the threatening e-mails and text messages she received from Garcia. "[Lemkau] was my last hope," Katie told the Victorville Daily Press. "I really thought I had it. I thought he was going to see the evidence and give me the restraining order."
But Judge Lemkau flatly denied Katie's request and accused her of lying.
That night, Katie reluctantly handed over Wyatt to his father, in compliance with his court-ordered visitation. "I had to do it," she told reporters. "I didn't want to get in trouble. I didn't want to get Wyatt fully taken away from me." Ten days later, authorities found the bodies of 25-year-old Garcia and his son on an isolated mountain trail.
"It's really a tragedy," says Karen Borders, of the consulting firm Borders, McLaughlin & Associates. "I think there were definite risk factors that people missed." Borders -- a former police officer and trained abuse-investigator -- is also a domestic-violence survivor who experienced a bitter custody dispute with her own ex-husband. She says custody cases are the most volatile, yet many family court judges are out of touch and uninformed. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of judges who don't have enough information or training to discern between high-conflict and high-risk cases," she says.
A judge often relies on the advice of court-appointed advocates to make critical decisions about a child's future. Borders argues that many of those family advocates have the minimum training hours required. "You can't just look at the bull's-eye, you have to look at the whole picture," Borders tells momlogic. She says that, by assembling a team of highly trained investigators, mental-health professionals and risk assessors, families can achieve a solution quickly and safeguard their children's lives.
In a court hearing, Judge Lemkau told Katie, "I deeply apologize for my comments to you." In his two-minute statement, the judge explained how he could not foresee at the time when she asked for a restraining order what would happen.
Borders is not surprised by the harsh condemnation of Judge Lemkau. "I think more people are starting to rebel against the courts," she says. "They're losing their life savings, their lives and their children's lives. They're fed up."
|Gina Kaysen Fernandes is an award winning documentary producer and a former TV news producer/writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.|