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Policy, custom, or law: Oklahoma courtrooms

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Recently, there was a large multi-month unfortunate spectacle made of a highly socially and politically visible family of 5 regarding family court issues and divorce records of a professional who has stated 9 years of recovery from various personal struggles.

The Oklahoman Newspaper was the catalyst for the order to open the sealed court records and has had some high degree of vilification regarding this. The Oklahoma Supreme Court did note in returning a decision not to uphold Judge Lisa Hammond of Oklahoma County Court for those records to be sealed ( at the mutual request of the couple). That Hammond had made a rogue decision, not supported by Oklahoma's Constitution.

It is remarkable that despite the indication of Hammond's decision being sketchy, there is no indication she is to be investigated or personally structured regarding it. No policy or law changes are bid regarding it. No apologies to the family for grossly misleading them in their options. Generally, the thought in the legal circles is that because the dual comment was the OSCN response, that was a big, big deal and all done.

That particular divorce case appeared to have a question or multiple questions of retaliatory CPS ( child protective services reporting) and no policy or state law regarding same emerged. The divorce case itself is many years old. And it is not the only one like it. Cases like these are deemed "highly contested" in legal circles. Thousands of dollars spent entering or blocking data.

Retaliatory reporting or false reporting in some states has it's own consequence, as does fabrication of records by investigative bodies or falsification of investigations and such.

Here's a couple of things that may be informative to the reader along these lines. and

Oklahoma has been under investigation and Federal Court rulings regarding problems along these lines, in a OKDHS foster and placement cases, with a 7 million dollar fine and some degree of probationary status resulting. There is a civil pending case regarding Serenity Deal. Citations for cases are lower in the article.

The above divorce case, and say the Serenity Deal placement case were handled in two different types of court in Oklahoma, one is the civil court hearing (a divorce), the other is a child and family court affiliated solely with foster and CPS OKDHS processes.

Just remember that the HHS( Health and Human Services) and ACF (Administration of Children and Families) and The OCR (Office of Civil Rights) ultimately have no jurisdiction over states, and can audit and make findings on issues of question the public points out... and make encouraging statements for compliance. Unless a member of the public, or a group like Children's Rights pushes a case into court systems, typically many states merely balk until feet are held to the fire. Oklahoma is no exception. If the HHS and ACF can withold federal dollars for services like Medicaid ... but remember who is affected by the first problems ( children, women, disabled) and then who would be affected by witheld federal dollars from a child or health faction of the federal government. The math there is not so great.

Oklahoma has low or no history of prosecution of the above ( things like the OSCN comments to Hammond), or (retaliatory or false reports or records, augmented or fabricated records.) audit or process failure to report. (Oklahoma is a mandated reporter state, but in some cases you will see below there is zero indication that the Judge on the case made any reports alerting CPS, or called any questions to audit the problems caused by agency staff at city, county or state levels.)

Questions abound about these kind of issues, which are solely in civil court, solely in OKDHS court or which straddle these systems.

What if anything might be circumvented by systemically initiating processes for accreditation for OKDHS (Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services), agency over children and family issues in Oklahoma.

Accreditation of the OKDHS would increase standards, and provide language of need that matches national best practices. The chances of discussion in the Legislature about what court procedures, policy, custom and law need to change regarding Oklahoma Court Systems and CPS would surely roll over.

Schools, hospitals and other caregivers must be accredited to provide services, but OKDHS doesn't have to be, and there is no certifications process for specialized mental health or addictions or child abuse issues that a Judge must complete either prior to sitting on the bench, presiding such sensitive issues. It is remarkable that OKDHS regulates childcare provision.

Judges are not responsible for questioning or demanding that supports be in place, like accuracy in provided information, training or licensure in those presenting information, or professional consultations. Many bypass the laws in place, which is kind of creepy.

Oklahoma Courts do not have audio or video recording of proceedings. The bus, shops, schools and restaurants are probably more closely documented in recordings than any Oklahoma Court.

BTW the Public Defender's office, and those professional Child Advocates, Guardian Ad Litems and Conflicts Attorney staffers are also virtually unregulated, and though employed by the State of Oklahoma, have no boss or job hierarchy to answer to first. As if they operate as some floating separate entity, but they ALL get a paycheck from the city, county or state. The use of contractors is deemed by Oklahoma to relieve the State of liability, and an unsuspecting public pays for this, too it seems.

Over the last year or so, there have been discussions about problems that come off the pens of legislators and there really isn't documentation of any investigative process, or accountability for problems like the above caused by a Judge signing off on what appears to have been said by OSCN should never have happened.

So, the Judge does not have a job boss, except that the Judge does, according to Oklahoma County David Prater's Investigator. And this person is under no obligation to answer the public or dually report the concern. So interacting groups do not have to distribute concerns, and try to find a way to get to better.

And the Oklahoma County DA David Prater who appears to be the likely candidate to act on any criminal investigation or prosecution has not weighed in on this or other like cases. The public allegedly is not allowed to directly contact Mr. Prater, though he is their employed representative to protect the public and courthouse processes? Somehow he weighed in directly on the former Judge Tammy Bass Lesure case.

Why is there no path directly to the courthouse to post questions, that are duplicated to Swinton's office, Prater's office and the Bar? That Swinton must inform both Prater and the BAR of questions regarding behaviors on or off the bench doesn't exist.

Here are a few more cases of note over the last couple of years, the last is not in Oklahoma County, to the best of my knowledge.

The Judge is not required to make a child protective services report in these cases, despite the fact that Oklahoma is a mandated reporter state and what, if anything would have been changed had the alert been sounded for that, or for investigation of retaliatory reporting or faulty staffer actions or input.

Cases that appear in Civil Court are by custom, policy or law somehow disengaged from ( child protective services) CPS processes. Sometimes families are demanded to sign that this disengagement will happen.

Oklahoma does not appear to have contracted staff in County Court processes, or any regulated procedures that would indicate what is "too much" or "too little" to be asking of persons presenting in court with alleged problems with mental health or addictions, child abuse or child sex abuse. IF these processes for care are controlled by professionally licensed persons, just why is it that these cases can be randomly dealt with in process... and then wholly ignored when gross systemic failures happen... see these cases below. ( )

There is no policy or law that has come forward in these cases in the Oklahoma State Legislature ( Which by the way will be back in session in FEBRUARY 2014.) Though there are some people like former Judge, Kay Floyd who is a representative for Oklahoma County in the State Legislature, and who also is on a panel reviewing Judicial processes.

Most families are told, that if they have a problem with a Judge, they need to hire an attorney, so there is to be an attorney for the original issue, and then another attorney to pose a question to the Oklahoma BAR Association ( the licensure governing body for a JD in the state).

The other process, which also requires an attorney is that the public can go through 2 man panel which audits a sitting Judge, but in order to get the forms to address the problem, one has to call the office where that is issued, explain the case and the Judge by name, and once the form blank and completed is exchanged in the US Mail, it will then wait until the 2 man committee reviews. A staffer in that office did identify, that "the Judge would have to have a needle hanging out of their arm on the bench in order to be removed." BTW Judges appointed by the Governor, can be removed by contacting the Governor's office, if she consents.

None of these processes above look at the fact that cases involving children and youth or persons who are infirm or whose health or welfare are at risk are time limited. Oklahoma Courts have zero exceptions to provide for these cases.

Being overwhelmed as a citizen by the "big machine" of court and OKDHS is not unheard of. If your head doesn't hurt by now from reading this, it probably should.

Being victimized, directly or indirectly is also an issue. It is called "Systems Induced Trauma". And there are actually multi-layer studies and processes that are promoted methods of action to keep this from happening. Oklahoma is not employing these with any degree of regularity or uniformity.

System's Induced Trauma is unnecessary, and states that employ best practices have discovered how to eliminate or minimize the occurrance or risk of the system causing death, emotional damage or overt abuse and fragmentation of families. The combined failed processes cost life and limb, and may be the reason our OKDHS fostercare has +10,000 kids in it and why we got sued regarding the Serenity Deal Case.These are dual court and OKDHS problems and really, neither are being addressed with strong effectiveness.

What if Oklahoma builds healthier structures to promote wellness and care, self-sufficiency and hope?

Forward this letter to your State representative by using the email box above, or by printing it off, mailing, faxing or carrying it to their offices. Oklahoma State Legislators will accept mail from the general public, though responses are conserved to those residing in district, it appears.

If you are interested in articles like this, please subscribe to this author. Articles are posted on Twitter and LinkedIn once published. Subscribers typically get their copies in advance of the general public.

Diana Winslow is a Master's prepared Social Worker, with 25 year career in direct service mental health and addictions treatment. She has never lost a client to suicide. She is retiring December 31,2013 and would like very much to formalize advocacy for Oklahoma families who struggle between these systems.



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