Crisis in Family Court: Katie, James, Alan, Kathleen, Barbara

The Aftermath

Katie remembers, "Eight hours after Stephen had killed himself and Wyatt, his suicide note was posted on his Facebook [profile]. He went to somebody that day and asked, ‘Can you do this for me?' They could've stopped it if they knew he was going to go kill himself and Wyatt. They could've gone to the police, but they posted his suicide note instead. They helped kill Stephen and Wyatt.

"After Wyatt died, I decided to have him cremated, and he now sits in my mom's house. Stephen's mom asked me for some of Wyatt's ashes to put with Stephen's, and I told her no, because this is the only way I can keep Wyatt safe now. And that was the last time I ever heard from them."

Katie feels she won't be able to heal until justice is served. "I think after Judge Lemkau gets voted out of office, I think I will be able to start moving on. I want Judge Lemkau removed from office so he doesn't do this to someone else. When I went to court, Judge Lemkau apologized to me. His apology was prepared. It wasn't meaningful. It didn't come from his heart. He only did it because his bosses were in the courtroom that day. I do not accept the judge's apology. He said that he never meant to put any child in harm's way, and he couldn't have known that this was going to happen. But if he would've just read what I had presented to him, he would've known this was going to happen."

[AD]District Attorney James Hosking joins the conversation. He's running against Judge Lemkau. He tells Dr. Phil, "When I found out what happened with Katie and Wyatt, I had read the transcript of what Judge Lemkau had said to her, and the way he treated her, and the decision he made, and then I found out that even after Wyatt was murdered, Judge Lemkau filed his papers for his re-election. I decided that someone needed to give the people of San Bernardino County a choice and that if no one else would do it, I would step up and run against him."

Judge Robert Lemkau was invited to the show but declined.

"Is this a problem with Judge Lemkau, or is this a problem with the system?" Dr. Phil asks James, pointing out that Katie was denied by three separated judges. "Why would you be any different? What wisdom would you bring to this?"

"Well, there are a couple things. Judge Lemkau failed to look at the evidence, or if he did, completely ignored it without stating a reason why," James says. "If he has a reason, he hasn't explained to anyone what he was thinking, why he supposed that she was a liar. It seems to me that he prejudged the case, because he says over and over again, ‘My supposition is that you're lying.' He doesn't say, ‘You're lying because of X, Y and Z. He just supposes that she's lying. Second of all, just that demeanor in which he treats her, I believe, is in violation of the judicial code of ethics, which say you have to treat all litigants with respect when they're in the courtroom, and that transcript makes clear that he was doing anything but that."

[AD]When Alan Boinus became aware of Katie's story, he wanted to bring attention to the crisis, so he set up protests at the courthouse to stop Lemkau's re-election. He tells Dr. Phil, "I organized this march because the community of San Bernardino was outraged, and on a cold, winter day in Victorville, where most people don't even know where Victorville is, we had 100 people " remarkable " to protest this judge. But it's not just Judge Lemkau. This is endemic in the system."

In the two weeks following baby Wyatt's murder, six other children's lives have been taken by their fathers. They all involved custody, visitation and/or child support issues.


Kathleen Russell is co-founder and consultant with the Center for Judicial Excellence and has been working for the past four years to help educate the public about the problems in family courts. She tells Dr. Phil, "What happened in Katie's horrific case is happening in courtrooms across America, many of them domestic violence survivors. Society spends lots of resources telling women to leave their abusers, and when they do, they end up in family court. Attorneys are advising them not to mention their own abuse, the abuse of the children, because the judges don't want to hear it, and they're told they will lose custody of their children by reporting abuse."

Dr. Phil clarifies, "Their attorneys are telling them, ‘You better not talk about domestic violence against yourself or your children, or you're going to wind up losing your children'?"

"That's correct," Kathleen says. "Many of the judges believe that when women report abuse, they're lying, and they're fabricating those stories as a litigation tactic to get an edge in the custody battle. So, immediately, the court focuses on the parent trying to protect the child and blames them as an alienating parent, or parental alienation is the theory. But the American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, all credible medical and legal organizations have debunked this theory as non-scientific and not credible. And they say it actually endangers the prosecution of abuse cases."

[AD]"Here's my position on this. I think when you're talking about child safety, when somebody reports a threat, you have to assume it is a real threat," Dr. Phil says. "I would rather investigate a thousand where you found there was no basis for it, than fail to investigate one situation, such as with Wyatt, where nobody steps in and does anything."

Dr. Phil asks family law attorney, Barbara Kauffman, "What's going on?"

Barbara says, "First of all, she went in to get a restraining order, and she's a victim of domestic violence. In what other system does the victim have to prosecute the criminal? In family law, you do. She had been threatened. Her child was threatened. She had to prove the case. She goes in and says, ‘Please protect me,' and she doesn't know how. It's he said/she said. In Katie's case, she did everything she possibly could."

She explains that after Katie was told to work out visitation with Stephen on her own " which she agreed to do after her first court appearance " the next judge is going to use that against her. "The next judge is going to say, ‘Well, Ma'am, you agreed. How dangerous could he be? You agreed.' They're not going to believe her," she says.

Barbara also points out that Katie is not familiar with the court system, doesn't know how to submit evidence, and wouldn't know to call the police officer who helped her to testify, all of which make it very unfair to mothers in court trying to protect their children. "It was a five-minute hearing " a death threat of a little baby," she says. "The system completely failed that baby and that mother. She did everything she could. It needs to get into criminal court. It needs to be treated like a crime and not like a family matter. The system is really broken, and her baby got a five-minute hearing after a death threat, and that's a crime."
"It is outrageous. Absolutely outrageous," Dr. Phil says.

Dr. Phil speaks out about the family court system.