Ingrid L. Campbell submitted a complaint to the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline on April 22, 1998 against Family Court Judge Paul Suttell.
In the fall of 1995, Ms. Campbell sought to relocate with her daughter to the State of Tennessee to be with her husband. The father had initially agreed to the move, but would later change his mind and a hearing commenced. The hearing came before Judge Paul Suttell.
Ms. Campbell had her daughter living with her since the child's birth in 1987. There was extensive testimony as to the fact that the child's father had abandoned the family and had not bothered to exercise his visitation rights. Ms. Campbell testified as to a journal she had maintained for a period of over four years, which documented the father's absence in the child's life. Eighteen entries to the journal had documented times when the father told the child he would be coming to visit, but he never bothered to show up or even to call and cancel. The journal documented that on the rare occasion that the father would exercise his visitation rights, it would correspond to a holiday or special event, but never just for the sake of visiting. Ms. Campbell was never cross-examined regarding the journal, rendering it an uncontradicted material piece of evidence.
During the father's testimony, he was unable to name a single time that he had ever done anything alone with the child. The father testified that his visitation attempts were "free and easy" and that Ms. Campbell did not frustrate visitation. In addition, his testimony as to visitation times was completely inconsistent with what he had told the investigator who had performed the Home Study.
In spite of this, Judge Suttell concluded that the father had been diligent with his visitation. Judge Suttell was unable to substantiate this finding with any of the evidence presented. He blatantly ignored evidence.
Judge Suttell blatantly ignored other important evidence as well. The father had been a deadbeat dad for years. The Family Court file is replete with motions filed by Rhode Island Child Support Services (RICSS), in an effort to collect on back support. At the time of the trial, Judge Suttell had two court documents before him, which he chose to completely disregard. One was a computerized accounting from RICSS, which indicated an arrearage of over $1,800.00. The other was the Home Study, in which the father claimed to be current with all child support payments. Another lie told by the father and ignored by Suttell.
A judge is required to review evidence, not to ignore it. Judge Suttell did not do this. He was grossly negligent in his duties. The Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline returned its usual rubber-stamped answer on June 11, 1998:
"After careful review of the complaint, the Commission found no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or Canons of Judicial Ethics and has therefore closed its file in this matter."
April 22, 1998
Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline
Fogarty Judicial Complex
24 Weybosset Street
Providence, RI 02903
Re: Formal Complaint Against Family Court Judge Paul Suttell
Enclosed herewith please find a copy of my Rule 16(h) brief [Daniel T. Cassidy V. Ingrid L. (Cassidy) Pride C.A. 96-339A], which was filed with the Rhode Island Supreme Court on August 28, 1996. It outlines the numerous instances where Judge Paul Suttell completely abused his discretion. This is no longer in the Supreme Court, because of the fact that it took so long that the issue of relocation became moot.
However, that does not change the fact that there are still questions which I still have as to Judge Suttell's conclusions. As a judge, he is obligated to review the material evidence which is presented to him. I am filing this complaint against him because I feel as though he completely overlooked the evidence before him.
First of all, as illustrated in my brief, was the journal which I maintained for a period of over four years and documented the father's negligence in my daughter's life. The journal was uncontradicted evidence. The father's testimony was inconsistent with a Home Study and father was unable to name a single time in which he had done anything alone with his daughter. Yet, Judge Suttell concluded that the father was consistent with his visitation. The evidence clearly proved otherwise. My question now is that in Suttell's Decision, he never explained how he came to the conclusion that the father was diligent with his visitation. I would like to know the basis for his conclusion.
I am asking Judge Suttell for an answer to each and every conclusion he arrived at in this case, as outlined in my brief. His conclusions were never based on any of the facts or evidence entered into the record.
I am also enclosing a copy of an Order from the Rhode island Supreme Court in which two of the four Justices of the Supreme Court agreed with my findings that Judge Suttell had in fact, abused his discretion.
In addition to the fact that Judge Suttell ignored evidence in my case, I also found that the manner in which he runs his courtroom is problematic. He is very slow and indecisive. He also does not have control of his courtroom. In addition to his obvious inability to make decisions, I feel that he is very biased against women, in general. I have also spoken to attorneys, court personnel and other women who have had cases before him and this appears to be the consensus. Unfortunately, not enough people are willing to speak out about him.
There is one exception to this however and that is Samantha McLintock. I am enclosing a copy of a complaint which she filed in August of 1996 with your office. In this instance, he again ignored the facts before him. Unfortunately, it appears that her complaint may have been lost in the shuffle. I would hope that you can review the copies of her papers which I am enclosing and will take the time to investigate her complaint.
For the record, the only reason this complaint was not filed a long time ago, is that I have had matters pending in the Rhode Island Family Court and was in fear of filing this complaint at that time.
I thank you for your attention to this matter and will anticipate your prompt response.
Statement of the Case:
This is an appeal from a Decision After Entry of Final Judgment ordered by the Honorable Judge Paul Suttell of the Washington County Family Court. Daniel T. Cassidy, plaintiff/appellee (hereinafter the father) and Ingrid L. (Cassidy) Pride, defendant/appellant (hereinafter the mother), were married on October 25, 1985 and had one child, to wit: Danielle C. Cassidy, d.o.b. August 24, 1987. They separated in August 1989 and the Final Judgment for divorce was entered on May 8, 1990. The parties had joint custody, with physical placement being awarded to the mother and the father having all reasonable rights to visitation.
The mother filed a Motion to Amend Custody, seeking permission to relocate to the State of Tennessee with the minor child of the parties, to be with her new husband and to pursue her career goals. Father filed a Motion to Change Custody. Testimony was taken on November 6, 10, 16, 29, December 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, and 14, 1995. On December 15, 1995, the Trial Judge rendered a bench decision, wherein he denied father's Motion to Change Custody and also denied mother's Motion to Amend Custody; thereby permitting mother to retain physical placement of said child only by remaining in the State of Rhode Island. A judgment was entered, and from that judgment the appellant (mother) duly filed this appeal.
Your appellant would respectfully aver that the Trial Justice abused his discretion in his rulings or determinations. The Trial Justice's findings on the evidentiary issues were either overlooked or misconceived.
The mother testified that after father had abandoned her and her children, she was forced to seek public assistance from the State of Rhode Island, due to the fact that father was negligent in paying his court-ordered child support. (Dec. 10: T.p. 32-34) She returned to college in January 1991 and in August 1995, graduated with Honors from the Community College of Rhode Island with an Associate in Science: Paralegal Studies and also from Rhode Island College with a Bachelor of General Studies, concentrating in psychology and sociology. Several years after father left her and her children, she met and later became engaged to a man whom she married on October 28, 1995. She testified that her new husband had purchased some land and was building a new home for them in Tennessee. She also testified to the fact that she had discussed this move with the child's father and he had initially agreed to allow her to move with the child, telling her that before she moved, he wanted to be sure that the State of Rhode Island would be "off his back" with regard to his child support arrearage. He later recanted this, claiming he did not know he had a right to object; hence, the need for a hearing.
Mother testified to the fact that she had maintained a journal for a period of approximately four years, on the advice of a previous attorney. (Nov. 6: T.p. 22-24 ~ Nov. 10: T.p. 21-32) The journal documented father's negligent and sporadic involvement in the child's life. Seventeen occasions had been documented in which father told the child he would be coming to pick her up, but did not bother to come by or even to call and cancel, leaving the child hurt and confused. Two of the child's birthdays had passed and father did not acknowledge them until several weeks or even months later. The journal also documented the fact that on the rare occasion when father would exercise his visitation rights, the dates always coincided with a family event or a holiday, but never just for the sake of visiting. Visits during summer vacations were also a rarity. Mother testified that she had lived only one mile away from father from October 1989 to August 1993, and then from August 1993 to September 1995, was living only ten miles from father; yet he still did not bother to exercise his visitation rights on a consistent basis.
Mother also testified to the fact that if she were granted permission to move to Tennessee with the child, that said child would actually see her father more days per year if she came to visit in the summer, than she had in all the previous years. Mother testified as to her willingness to provide father with a school calendar for him to plan visits with the child during the summer and other school vacations, and also to the fact that she was willing to pay for all of the transportation expenses of said visits. (Nov. 10: T.p. 56-63)
Of great significance, is the fact that there was absolutely no mention of this journal during cross-examination, rendering it to be uncontradicted. It was absolute proof of the fact that father had not diligently exercised his visitation rights. In the Decision, the Trial Justice overlooked the most compelling piece of evidence presented during the proceedings. Respectfully, your Appellant disagrees with the Court's complete disregard of this document.
Father testified as to his diligent visitation schedule, yet his testimony was inconsistent with a Home Study done by the Rhode Island Family Court. (Dec. 6: T.p. 12-37 & 48-53) Beginning with the day the child was born, father was at the baseball field, rather than at the hospital with his former wife and newborn baby. He was unable to name a time that he had done anything alone with his daughter. He testified to the fact that his former wife was a good mother and that she had always kept him notified of any activities that said child may have been involved in. Among those activities were parent-teacher conferences, to which he stated that he had never attended. Your Appellant respectfully disagrees with the fact that the Family Court found father to be diligent in his visitation, when the testimony given and the evidence presented clearly proved otherwise.
In the Home Study, father states that he is current on all child support payments. This is in the Washington County case file folder (W89-0688), together with documents from Rhode Island Child Support Services showing the arrearage that father actually had of well over $1500. The file also contains various Motions filed throughout the years for the Department of Human Services, in an effort to collect back child support. These documents prove that father lied to the Court in the Home Study and substantiated mother's claims that he was a deadbeat dad. In the Court's Decision, it was noted that the Court must "take into account the integrity of the non-custodial parent's motives in resisting the removal and to consider the extent to which, if at all, the opposition is intended to a secure financial advantage in respect to continuing support obligations." Respectfully, the Trial Justice overlooked the documentation before him in determining one of father's motives for objecting.
The mother testified about the sincere efforts she had made seeking employment in the State of Rhode Island. (Nov. 10: T.p. 35-39 & 70-80 ~ Nov. 16: T.p. 27-63 & 72-74) This included an internship at the Office of the Attorney General: Victim Assistance Unit in Providence, volunteer work for the Rhode Island Family Court CASA program, various places she had applied for work within the state, disbursing her resume to various contacts, efforts she had made through the colleges for career assistance and placement, and registration with the Rhode Island Department of Employment and Training. The only thing she had not done was to contact a private employment agency, a practice normally not done by those on public assistance. She also testified to the fact that she originally had secured a job in Tennessee with the D.A.R.E. program, but had to forfeit the position, because of the ongoing court proceedings in Rhode Island. (Nov. 10: T.p. 44-47)
Respectfully, your Appellant disagrees with the findings of the Trial Justice, wherein he overlooked her sincere efforts to secure employment in Rhode Island. He stated she had not even contacted a private employment agency, disregarding the fact that she had been on public assistance and would have been financially unable to afford this. The Court discounted the fact that the Appellant had initially secured employment within her field in Tennessee, but had to forfeit the position due to the trial. He stated that her job offer was "no longer viable", disregarding the reason why. Your Appellant would respectfully aver that she is married and if she and her new husband decide that she does not need to work because he can provide for her, then that is a personal decision for the couple to make.
Yardley Prettyman, M.S.W., C.I.S.W., a counselor for the child, was qualified as an expert witness by the Family Court. (Nov. 29: T.p. 18-53) She testified that said child told her that she wanted to move to Tennessee with her mother, and that as long as the child was with her mother and maintained a relationship with father through visits in the summer, phone calls, and letters; that there would be no adverse psychological effect on the child. She had made attempts to involve father in the child's counseling, but to no avail. Respectfully, your Appellant disagrees with the Court's findings, in that the compelling testimony of Ms. Prettyman was either misconceived or overlooked.
Father testified as to some concerns that he had with mother's new husband, yet resolved the alleged problems by staying in contact with his daughter. The child reassured him that there were, in fact, no problems at all; deeming this a moot issue. (Dec. 6: T.p. 46-48) Interestingly, in his Decision, the Trial Justice notes that if father seriously thought that his child's welfare was being adversely affected with mother, that very little had been done to remedy the situation.
Mother's new husband was previously married to a Kristin Pride, who testified as a witness for father. (Dec. 4: T.p. 96-102) She stated that her former husband had abused her in the presence of their children. She offered absolutely no proof of these false allegations and was seemingly discredited during cross-examination; with documentation of her suicidal tendencies, unfitness as a mother, and especially the fact that she was actually the abuser during their marriage; having been convicted of assaulting Mr. Pride with a broom handle and leaving nine stitches in his head. Unfortunately, the only person who would have been able to come forward to deny her accusations was Mr. Pride, who was unable to attend the proceedings because he was in Tennessee working, maintaining the temporary residence that had been established, and continuing with the construction of the couple's new home. She was clearly not a credible witness. It appeared that the only truthful statement she made was that she did not like her former husband and his new wife, deeming her motive for testifying, obvious. Your Appellant respectfully disagrees with the findings of the Trial Justice, in that any credence at all was given to this witness and to the fact that she offered no proof of her allegations.
Respectfully, your Appellant disagrees with certain aspects of the Family Court's Decision. The degree of diligence a parent has displayed in maintaining voluntary contact with his child is highly pertinent when deciding the relocation of either parent. The Trial Justice determined that the father was diligently involved in the child's life, but the evidence presented clearly proved otherwise. The Court gave little consideration to the fact that mother had remarried, since she was married at the time of the proceedings. Your Appellant would respectfully aver that this is irrelevant. The marriage is sacred and mother has a right to spend a normal and happy life with her husband. She was found to be a fit and proper mother and proved to the Court that she was not attempting to frustrate visitation with father. Father has rights to visitation, which could have been honored during the summer months and at other school vacations.
Statement of the Issues:
1. Did The Family Court Err By Overlooking The Evidentiary Significance Of The Journal And The Fact That It Was Uncontradicted?
2. Did The Family Court Abuse Its Discretion By Disregarding The Sanctity Of Appellant's Marriage?
3. Did The Family Court Err In Its Determination Of Appellant's Job Search Efforts?
4. Did The Family Court Err In Its Findings And Conclusion Of The Testimony Of Yardley Prettyman?
5. Did the Family Court Err In Its Determination That Kristin Pride Was A Viable And Credible Witness?
Based on these reasons, your Appellant is seeking to have the Family Court's Decision reversed.
Ingrid L. (Cassidy) Pride, Pro Se Ipso, Appellant
I certify that I sent a copy of the within document to the attorney for the appellee, to wit: John P. Toscano, Jr., Esq., 9 Canal Street, Westerly, RI 02891, on August ________ 1996.
Ingrid L. (Cassidy) Pride