Monday, February 12, 2007

The Ordeal of Judge Carmen Lopez

"And I think that the judge has an obligation, every judge, and now that I am one, I understand even more fully that a judge has an obligation to treat people with respect at all times. Canon three certainly dictates that." - Judge Hillary Stackbein

As I investigate more and more leads in the Julie Amero case, I also come across some of the most compelling stories concerning society and children. If you are wondering why prosecutors are allowed to run amok and why lawmakers are allowed to pass the most draconian and self-immolating morals legislation the world has ever seen, look no further.

Judge Carmen Lopez, an award winning judge, innovator in child custody cases, and inspirational figure in Connecticut Judicial service in 2004 was humiliated and had her professionalism questioned in a judicial inquest that will make you cry.

But this transcript also uncovers an simple truth about Judge Hillary Stackbein's confirmation to a judgeship. Remember, during the Amero case, witnesses report that Stackbein "sleeps" and makes faces at Julie's attorney Cocheo mocking his advanced state of MS symptoms.

It is her letter of complaint about Judge Carmen Lopez that creates the suspicions you are about to sample. A letter of complaint that is mysteriously absent from her confirmation hearing under dubious circumstances.

The plot, as they say, thickens.

Read it all here. The following is excepts from The JUD Committee Hearing transcript.

Senator Newton on Judge Carmen Lopez:

"--the only thing common Judge Lopez is guilty of is caring. This is the price she's paying for caring about an issue, children, which she should care about. Who better else to care than the Presiding Judge, the person that works there? If the conditions were bad enough, and she raised the concerns of caring about children, this is the price that we have to pay when we speak up and tell the truth.

I've taken a tour of that building along with Judge Lopez who invited the delegation to go look at it. It's unbelievable. Now, you know, I read this, and I listened to all the kinds of innuendos. I've known Carmen Lopez for over 20 years. When I was first elected President of City Council, she swore me in. I was there when she became a judge. Maybe it's a good thing I got on this committee because I'm not a lawyer or a judge, and I call a heart a heart. I won't say I call a spade a spade because I don't want you all to misinterpret that.

All I see here, and maybe I'm wrong, Mr. Chairman, is that she ruffled some feathers up on high. That is about how I see it. As a layperson who has no ax to grind one way or another, I would rather have a judge that's willing to speak up on conditions than just to sit back and collect a paycheck that allows situations and things to happen. So you have my full support.

JUDGE CARMEN LOPEZ: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. NEWTON: Because I know you as a person, I know your heart is about children. I'm kind of dismayed, Mr. Chairman, that she's under the scrutiny for doing one thing, caring about children. And I don't have any questions, but I wanted that for the record. Again, I'm honored to be on this committee, and I think it's a shame. I've spoken to the Chairman, my Chairman, and I said to him, point blank, and I want it for the record, she ruffled some feathers. In street terms, she pissed some people off.

But I don't think that we should, you know, take a good judge because she stood up to the system and take her to the coals for doing something that I would hope all judges do. That is stand up and be heard, and let us know, as the Legislature, when we can make a difference and step in and do something. So, Carmen, I'm sorry, Your Honor, I think the thing you did was you opened your mouth too much.

I think you did the right thing by speaking out because there are a lot of children in Mead Hall. You know, we had people standing outside in the rain because there wasn't enough room to house them in that courthouse. Because you spoke out, I think this is a retaliation, and I'll say it, for you standing up for what you believe in. Thank you, Mr. Chairman."

And Later Judge Lopez's character is tested in this exchange;

"SEN. MEYER: Did you, in the presence of this prosecutor, turn to defendants and say, in essence, that you would like to buy them Christmas presents because you have no children of your own?

JUDGE CARMEN LOPEZ: No. I can talk about what happened with that. I had one little boy--

SEN. MCDONALD: Judge Lopez, I'm sorry, could you--

JUDGE CARMEN LOPEZ: I had one little boy, Sir, that was coming before me every two weeks. He was this young, little, cute boy, and he wasn't there because he didn't have, he hadn't done anything. He was there because they couldn't find a place for him. Every two weeks, I had to look into the eyes of hits little black boy and tell him, don't worry. You're going to be coming out of detention.

They were trying to find a place for him. Then it came to be Christmas, and he had no one. He had no one to even visit him. I did. That is on the record. I could never deny that. I said, what would you like for Christmas? He said, a home. That is what he said to me. Yes, I said that, Sir, on the record.

SEN. MEYER: Well, that is a very compassionate thing to do, but I'm asking you within the context of being a judge in an adversary system, is that appropriate conduct? Is your mission in life, instead, something else, hat is not to be a judge and determiner, but instead to be a compassionate advocate and supporter? I'm suggesting to you that the case that is made out in this record before us indicates that you are a very compassionate advocate, but I think it raises a question within the adversarial system as to whether or not judicial conduct is your thing.

JUDGE CARMEN LOPEZ: I don't know, Sir. I'm a member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. It is a national organization that promotes judges participating in communities. It promotes judges using the authority to convene communities to try to find solutions to the problems that are plaguing our society. So to the extent that that is not something that is acceptable in the State of Connecticut, I'm sorry.

I just believe that the courts, that the Judicial Branch is a part of the community. I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do. But in terms of compromising my ability to make decisions, no. No, Sir. My record for three and one-half years, I presided over cases involving termination of parental rights. Let me tell you, Sir, if I couldn't be neutral, if couldn't do the right thing, I would never terminate parental rights. I've done so many termination-of-parental-right cases. That is the equivalent of the death penalty. I've done that. I don't believe that one is there, Sir. I'll take a lot of the other ones, but not that one."

One of the more troubling and insightful passages is this;

"REP. GREEN: Thank you, Mr. Chair. A couple questions, I guess, just to try to clarify for myself. Also, I'm going to try not to repeat things I've already heard. But not only the incident with the, with the cards and the visits with Judge Lopez in the detention, there appear to be some other indications in your letter that was third-hand information or hearsay. Is that correct? Particularly the one about the defendant told the police, go ahead, pile up as many charges, you didn't hear the defendant say that?

JUDGE HILLARY STACKBEIN: I had the written police report.

REP. GREEN: And the police indicated that the defendant said that.


REP. GREEN: Okay. And all police reports are accurate, so there's no question that the police in fact stated what was said and what's fact.

JUDGE HILLARY STACKBEIN: Well, I wouldn't say that. I would just say--

REP. GREEN: Oh, okay.

JUDGE HILLARY STACKBEIN: --why would the police have any reason to put those specific words, I'm buds with Judge Lopez? Why would they do that? How would they know anything about what happened in court regarding the Christmas presents?

REP. GREEN: So the police, the question about the Christmas presents was in a police report?

JUDGE HILLARY STACKBEIN: No. That's what I'm telling you. What happened with the respondent who Judge Lopez offered to buy Christmas presents, when he was subsequently arrested, said that to the police, you put any charges you want. I'm buds, buds in quotes, with Judge Lopez. That was in the police report. I had no reason to doubt that because I don't see where the police would come up with that particular language on their own.

REP. GREEN: I just want to be clear. But you indicated that you're not aware of Judge Lopez buying Christmas presents. You just heard her say that in the court.

JUDGE HILLARY STACKBEIN: That's correct. Offering.

REP. GREEN: You heard her offer that.


Stackbein unquestioningly defers to a police report for facts whose veracity are nothing more than the hearsay transcription of police officers. The larger exchange questions her use of investigative resources on Judge Lopez - something the questioners do not follow up on.

This pattern of deference appears again in the Amero case.

This article tells us what happened to Judge Carmen Lopez.

"For several years Judge Carmen Lopez worked in the Middletown court where the state's most serious child protection cases are sent. These are wrenching affairs in which people lose their parental rights after abusing or neglecting their kids often amidst addiction problems.

But Judge Lopez was sometimes able to manage them "therapeutically." That is, mediate all sides so that in the end the parents themselves feel they have "voluntarily" given up the child, smoothing the path for his adoption and retaining some dignity themselves. This creates a much healthier environment for the child because he feels supported all around.

Lopez' experience is so valued that she is often asked to teach her methods to other judges, just as she did last week in Puerto Rico. She holds many honors and is a board member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

But there's a catch. Carmen Lopez is actually no longer a juvenile judge."

No. She's no longer serving the children she cared so much about. She's changing the diapers of corporations in court. Can our concern for the welfare of children sink any lower?

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