A 32-year-old mother from Monsey, N.Y., has lost custody of her children due largely to what a judge described as the mother’s inadequate religious observance.
Kelly Myzner, mother of three boys, ages 5 to 8, recently had her children removed from her home, following a custody battle that ended with a ruling in favor of the Hasidic father.
In a ruling dated April 22, 2013, Judge Sherri L. Eisenpress, of Rockland County Family Court, ordered the custody transfer “despite the children’s expressed wishes.” The judge acknowledged that the mother has been the children’s primary caretaker, that the children were “extremely bonded” to her, and that she appeared to be “far more involved and vigilant” about their care than the father. Still, the judge worried that the mother’s lax religious observance would “tremendously confuse” and harm the children.
Really? Well read on before you assume the judge is being entirely reasonable.
Complicating the case are allegations of physical and sexual abuse brought by the mother against the father, and the judge’s speculation that the complaints were only a ploy to alienate the children from their father. Myzner claims that she had no such intentions, and the court ruling acknowledges that the father regularly used corporal punishment coupled with a bad temper.
On May 14, after an unsuccessful bid for a stay on the order, the children were removed from Myzner’s custody. Due to pending investigations against the father on abuse complaints, the children were placed in foster care.[...]
At first it seemed like her ex-husband was alone against her, but she soon realized it was a community-wide effort.
“I got threatening phone calls… all kinds of scare tactics,” Myzner says.
One day, she discovered surveillance cameras outside her neighbors’ homes turned suspiciously in her home’s direction. After confronting the neighbor, she was told the cameras were installed at the request of a local rabbi, ostensibly to monitor her behavior. A forensic psychologist who would later testify in court told her outright that she didn’t stand a chance. “The community is too powerful,” she remembers him saying.
Myzner was frightened, but remained determined. Her ex-husband, who works as a warehouse supervisor, hired a high-priced, aggressive attorney, who Myzner believes is being paid for by the Hasidic community. Myzner herself was forced to rely on pro bono legal representation from a local women’s shelter, which, she says, has proven insufficient to fight the aggressive tactics of her opponents.
You should read the entire story to appreciate just how incomprehensible this decision seems. Granted, Judge Eisenpress heard much more than we're learning from a report that is obviously sympathetic to the mother's side, but it's difficult to imagine the missing elements that would make the decision look appropriate from the standpoint of the children's welfare.
For now, the children are in foster care. How can this be less confusing and damaging than their supposed confusion about their parents’ religious differences? And even if the children are returned to the father’s primary custody, the parent with whom they are emotionally closest will still have a different religion and lifestyle from the father. If this was confusing before, the situation will remain confusing, except now the children will be with a bad-tempered man who relies on corporal punishment that has, at the least, drawn the attention of mandated reporters.
So is there anything else that might shed light on Judge Eisenpress’s decision? How about we follow the money, as reported in an earlier story related to a different matter:
Like I said, the judge heard much more than we did about the child custody case, so it's possible that the campaign contributions that gave Judge Eisenpress a huge financial advantage over her opponents had absolutely nothing to do with her decision, but, for now, this is the only way I can make sense of her ruling.
Despite their money battles, political sources said, Stern joined forces with [Judge] Eisenpress during her first run for elected office in 2011, when she won a seat on the Rockland County Family Court bench.
Stern, 40, helped Eisenpress raise about $125,000 — nearly four times more than the combined amount raised by her two opponents — by drumming up support for her in Rockland County’s Orthodox Jewish community, according to one political source familiar with the campaign.
Stern got more than a dozen people to give thousands of dollars each to Eisenpress' judicial campaign, the source said.
Thirteen people gave at least $3,000 apiece to Eisenpress' campaign, New York State Board of Elections records show. Esther and Joseph Markowitz and two companies they own at their Sunset Drive address in Monsey gave $20,000 to Eisenpress, records show.
Through the years, the couple have given to Democrats and Republicans, including at least $38,000 to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"It's obvious [the Markowitzes] don't have $100,000," the source said. "It's a joke. These aren't rich people who donated to Eisenpress, either. One of them is 60 years old, and he lives with his son; no way he gives $4,000 as a donation."