Thursday, August 25, 2011

When Children Live with a Child Murderer Endorsed by the Family Court

A very worried Trisha Conlon
This bizarre family law custody case is playing out in Seattle, WA.  The unusual facts of the case bring into sharp focus the challenge of putting parents' often-questionable decisions through review by a family court judge.

In 1995 Trisha Conlon married Marine fighter pilot John Cushing, Jr.; a man with a tragic past.  His ex-wife, Kristine Cushing, shot to death their two young daughters, 4 and 8, while they slept in their Southern California home.  This was in 1991, when Mr. Cushing was on active duty in the Marine Corps and Mrs. Cushing, by all accounts, was an ideal soccer Mom.

Kristine Cushing's murder trial featured the now infamous "Prozac Defense"; she was found guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to a mental institution where she did a nickle, followed by a decade of intensive in-patient style psychiatric treatment.  She was discharged without restriction in 2005.

Meanwhile, John Cushing tried to put the pieces of his life back together.  He married Trisha Conlon, with whom he had two sons.  Sadly yet predictably, the couple divorced in 2004.  Mr. Cushing's next "life-choice" was to re-marry his first wife, Kristine Cushing, the now-excused infanticidal murderess.

Today, Lt. Col. Cushing (retired) lives on Vashon Island, WA with a split-custody arrangement whereby one of his sons lives with him; the other lives with Ms. Conlon.  The brothers reunite during holidays and vacations.  Under this custody arrangement, Conlon eventually became aware that her ex-spouse not only re-married his first wife, but also shared a marital home with her and Conlon's son.

This information was difficult to come by as Mr. Cushing attempted to conceal his family arrangements.  The distance between the two parents provided the necessary cover.  Ms. Conlon, now living in Oregon, resorted to her family law attorney and his private investigator.

Seeking a change in custody to place her son into her home, Conlon brought proof of the Cushing reunification to the attention of the family court in King County, Washington (Seattle), arguing the arrangement was a "change in circumstance" detrimental to her son's best interests.  She lost her case last month; a hearing on appeal is set for next week.

This case is a testament to the lengths people will go in the name of love, marriage, and progenitorship. Many, perhaps most of us, would not make the same decision as the Lt. Col. in this case; infanticide is just a flat-out "deal-breaker".  On the other hand, imagine the love and forgiveness Cushing must have for his first wife to be able to take such a risk.

To the extent that his decision has placed his son in harm's path, it will be up to a family court judge of the King County Superior Court in Seattle to determine what is best for the boy under its jurisdiction.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Divorcee Rips Ex-Spouse on His Blog

Boy, would I welcome the chance to write this appeal.

A family court judge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania has enjoined divorcee Anthony Morelli from operating his web site devoted to his ex-wife; thepsychoexwife.

Judge Diane Gibbons based her decision on grounds the Father's blog, which details his failed marriage, his tortuous divorce process, and its protracted custody battle, is harming his young children.  In fact, the blog does a hatchet job on his ex.

Morelli says the blog is a forum where he can help others "minimize conflict" and connect to share stories. He would like us to think of his blog as a kumbaya community where divorced men can rip their ex-wives with impunity.  Touching, for real.

His lawyers have appealed Judge Gibblons' injunction claiming it is an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of Morelli's First Amendment right to free speech.

For her part, Morelli's ex-wife says their children know about the blog, which is a shame.

Since he started the blog back in 2007, it has attracted a robust readership of nearly 200,000 new followers per month.  At one point, Morelli was earning money from third-party advertisements on the blog.

We'd love to cultivate that type of readership over here at the Law Blogger; figures that such a negative energy factory would do so well.

Prior restraint of free speech, however, is a serious problem in this case.  Judges, even family court judges, cannot restrain our free speech.  A blog is one of the most common contemporary media designed to amplify freedom of expression.  If a blogger lacks taste and restraint, should a local judge act as a censor?

Judge Gibbons' injunction in the Morelli case will undoubtedly be reversed on appeal.

Do you think family court judges should be able to regulated the content of a party's speech in a high-conflict divorce proceeding?  Where would you draw the line; threats? abusive commentary?

We would like to know what you think on this issue...