One early morning in December 2000, I was awoken by a strange noise. I looked at the clock and it said 5 a.m. After realizing that my then wife was not in the bed, I got up to investigate the sounds. I found her in the kitchen, speaking on the telephone. Through my morning haze, I heard her say the word “assault.” Then, she hung up the telephone with no reaction.
After standing there for a few seconds, I began to put together the remainder of the overheard conversation between my then wife and the stranger on the other end of the telephone. She had called the police to make a false report of abuse.
I remember looking at her and asking, “So, you are just going to make the whole thing up?” She walked away unresponsive. At the time, we had two young boys: one was five and the youngest was just a few months old.
My thoughts were moving so fast. Unsure of the situation, I went into my office and called my father who lived a couple of blocks away. Next, I called my lawyer who also lived in the neighborhood.
Quickly, several police cars arrived. A couple of officers came into the house and I remained in my office in the front part of the home. Then, their lieutenant arrived and came into my office. The lieutenant was very kind and told me that he was going to go speak with my then wife to see what was happening. Looking back, he had seen this happen to other men.
About that time, my father arrived and I was very happy to see a friendly face. The officer asked my dad if he would stay with me until he could assess the situation.
A few minutes later, the lieutenant returned and asked for my version of the events. After listening to me, the lieutenant told me her story. She told the police that I snatched her cell phone from her hands and assaulted her in our dining room, knocking her to the ground and striking her head on the glass table. Then, she said that I kicked her in her stomach when she was on the ground. I was mystified. None of this was true because I had been asleep in my bed.
Before I could even tell the lieutenant that this was a total lie, he calmly asked me if I had the means to leave the home. He then told me that he and the officers looked at the dining room and not one chair was out of place. In the dining room, cushioned chairs surrounded the glass top and it was obvious to these officers that my then wife’s tall tale was wholly untrue.
At this point, the lieutenant asked if I had a lawyer. I remember this part so vividly. I asked, “a criminal lawyer?” He responded, “No, a divorce lawyer.” The funny thing was that my dad got it and my business lawyer had already figured it out. I was very naïve at that time.
My father and I left and met my lawyer at his home. As I said, my lawyer already understood what my then wife was up to; so, he contacted a former law partner who referred me to Joan Jenkins. A little later that morning, I met “Jo” at her office. I was still traumatized and in shock. As soon as we finished with the pleasantries, Jo’s secretary entered the room and announced that my wife filed for divorce at the opening of business that morning. Thankfully, my lawyer recognized the game — my then wife was trying to get a protective order prior to filing for divorce in order to get a leg up.
While this article is not about me, I think that anecdotes are crucial, especially in discussing the 280th District Court. Before I go any further, let me say that there are real victims of violence and we certainly need a system that protects these individuals from abuse. People who make false reports should be prosecuted because they take valuable resources away from true victims.
In December of 2000, a Harris County Domestic Violence Court did not exist. Prior to the creation of the Domestic Violence Court, the police officers were the domestic violence court of sorts as they are always the first line of defense between liars and real victims. Additionally, the DA’s office serves as another domestic violence court in the sense that individuals petition the office for protective order applications. Finally, at that time, our family law judges were (and, sometimes, still are) the final decision maker regarding domestic violence issues.
In Harris County, the 280th District Court, also known as the Domestic Violence Court, handles family protective orders. A protective order is crucial for domestic violence victims. This enforceable order allows the victim to live in a safe perimeter away from their abuser. In 2010, Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull was elected to serve as the judge of this important court.
Many of the protective order requests in this specialized court come directly from the family violence division of the Harris County District Attorney’s office. At the DA’s office, victims are interviewed and the prosecutors determine whether to seek a protective order. In this day and time where divorce is commonplace, I think that most folks understand that some parties abuse the system.
I have spent a lot of unwanted time at the Family Law Center. During those visits, I have seen and heard many horror stories. I have a friend who saw Jane Waters, now a Bureau Chief at the Harris County District Attorney’s office, gathering a group of men and asking them to agree to protective orders with their signature on a document. Then, those documents were taken to the judge for approval. And, bam, parents, mostly fathers, were then denied access to their children. The ramifications of signing or agreeing to a protective order were not explained.
I invite you to ask a family law judge if people make things up or testify falsely under oath in their courtroom. Ask anyone from Children First or Fathers for Equal Rights whether or not people use both gender and the courts as weapons of mass destruction of families. Talk to a family law lawyer and get their opinion on the misuse of the family court system.
On September 9, 2014, the Houston Chronicle published a story entitled Decline in protective orders alarms domestic violence advocates. The title is alarming. The article claims that the number of Harris County protective orders issued has decreased by one third since 2011. Does that mean that victims are unsafe?
The Chronicle article failed to mention one instance where the lack of a protective order failed to protect an individual. Judge Bradshaw-Hull says it best in the article: “While our goal is to protect every woman in an abusive relationship, the ability to grant protective orders must be based on the evidence presented.” Judge Bradshaw-Hull requires the parties appearing in her court to prove their case. She will not grant a protective order if the elements are not met. The only point that I would add to Judge Bradshaw-Hull’s statement is that both men and women are true victims of domestic violence every day. Unfortunately, some people abuse the system and use the protective order process to gain an advantage in a custody battle. Judge Bradshaw-Hull is not permitting that misconduct on her watch.
In the article, Jane Waters asserts that the DA’s office review process has become more selective yet the number of protective order denials is increasing. Instead of looking inward, she seems to blame the court. Ms. Waters fails to mention the fact that her office is dependent on grant funding. If fewer protective orders are granted, that does not look so good on the grant reports. I wonder if Ms. Waters reviewed her comments with her husband, Dick Bax, the current General Counsel for the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Cronyism anyone?
The bar for protective orders should be high because the ultimate result is the separation of families. Sometimes, restricting access to children is appropriate; however, a protective order should not be an automatic decision. Think of the costs to our society when one parent is denied access to a child. The family law system is broken enough. We need to think about the small ways that good parenting should be rewarded. If a parent wants access to a child for visitation, this should be promoted.
There is no evidence suggesting that Judge Bradshaw-Hull has made wrong or poor decisions. The allegation is that she is granting fewer protective orders. Instead of blaming the judge, maybe the inquiry should be within the request process. The goal should be the preservation of access to families except in those circumstances where there is evidence of abuse. I am glad we have a domestic violence court that hears evidence before a protective order is put in place.