Court Rackets – Part 1
Divorce Court Scams
By Sherman H. Skolnick
If you are the head of a court reform investigative group for more than four decades, you are bound to have bulging files confirming that the Bench and the Bar are almost impossibly arbitrary and under a malign if not actually corrupt influence.
Since 1963 we have compiled over one million court documents, secret investigators’ notebooks, audio/video tapes, and supporting records of all kinds. Quite a number of our members over the years complained they had been fleeced by greedy lawyers jointly operating with judges, some in banks owned and operated by Judges, sometimes right near the courthouse. [The biggest judicial bribery case up to 1969, involved the highest tribunal of Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court, most of whose judges were co-owners, along with nine name-brand gangsters, of a bank named after the courthouse and right across the street from the Judges’ local offices. See the cover and summary of the book “Illinois Justice” shown on the Home Page of my website, www.skolnicksreport.com ].
And a sizeable number of our members had specific complaints as to wrongdoing in Divorce Court and Probate Court. Throughout the nation, there are sections of the state courts that deal with with this type of litigation, often called Domestic Relations Division and Probate Division.
Some of our senior members found out there was a secret, elite unit in the Federal Government interested in exploring the apparent corruption of the Bench and the Bar in Cook County, site of Chicago. Our people outlined novel and secret methods of fingering crooked judges and lawyers. We volunteered to be consultants to the unit.
From 1983 to 1993, using methods suggested by us, the unit succeeded in jailing by identifying and confirming bribery and related federal criminal offenses committed by twenty-two local Judges and forty lawyers. Later, without mentioning we started it all, the media called it “Operation Greylord”.
Twenty judges and forty lawyers were successfully sent to prison. One judge, becoming an FBI stool pigeon escaped us. That was until a few years ago, when I exposed him to his face, on the bench, in a lawyer-packed courtroom. I probably risked contempt of court, the age-old supposed judicial power, by being so bold. Another judge specializing in the “big fix” in Child Custody cases, after I publicly exposed him to his face, was murdered by a big bucks group of crooked Divorce court lawyers.
The government unit, however, chickened out and avoided identifying corruption in Divorce and Probate. Why? Too much big-time politics, too much upper crust arm-twisting.The bulk of the Judges not able to escape the federal criminal “heat” were state court judges in Chancery Division, that is, property and foreclosure court and housing cases and some criminal cases and such, not in Divorce or Probate.
So here are outlined some of the things we learned over forty years. The typical estranged husband or estranged wife, seeking divorce, is in the office of a lawyer.
If the wife is to be the petitioner, she is asked, “What are you husband’s assets?” Some lawyers ask that to figure out how much court-authorized law fees can be extracted from the wayward husband as respondent.
Similarly, by his lawyer, the husband is asked to more or less put on the table, all the details of his property ownership, his financial assets, and the nature of his business or job. Required to be included, supposedly to be “kept safe” by the lawyer, is a list of secret assets, supposedly to be hidden from the spouse. (A top Illinois state government official was put in jail after his estranged wife blabbed about him having a secret deposit box with fifty thousand dollars which he extorted from bankers purchasing the official’s office powers. The logic? If you are an embezzler or other crook, do not fight with your wife. )
The typical fee, depending on the assets, is often a Five Thousand Dollar “retainer”. Called in the trade, “Hello money”. Over the years, we came across too many examples to be an accident, of divorce lawyers ending up trying to steal the family home for a favorite relative of the lawyer.
After a bitter contested court battle, one lawyer or the other, asks the Judge for an order to sell the home. Too often, the lawyer puts up a real estate appraiser who is a “shill”, giving a low-ball figure, so the lawyer’s cousin can get into the picture and swipe the house for half or less of its true value.
I often explained to husbands and wives meeting in the hallway of the courtroom before the hearing, that as the head of the reform group, I am for peace, not a Bench and Bar war-monger, hoping to cash in on the proceeds of a court “bombing”.
One couple I arranged to get back together and stop payment on the retainer for the husband’s lawyer. The lawyer, thus deprived of his war-making bonanza, tried to get me arrested for “peace-making”.
To help a disgruntled husband and wife who insisted on being in Divorce Court, I often taught methods of cheaply representing themselves in court, called going “Pro Se”. The Bench and the Bar are most often deeply hateful of what they call, with a smirk, “Pro Se litigants”. To these professional legal thieves, it is like an unskilled layman trying himself to fix his old car, and depriving a car mechanic of his repair job.
Some years ago I uncovered a dirty lawyer trick called in the law trade “The Christmas Case”. A few days before Xmas, the husband’s attorney presents an emergency petition for the Judge to order child visitation for Christmas Day, often bitterly resisted by some wives because they invited a new boyfriend in for the Holiday. I once witnessed a case of booze having been delivered to the Judge to at the last minute, for him to hear and adjudicate the “Christmas Case”, a reward being a case of liquor for the Judge and his family’s Christmas cheer. Of course, the husband has to pay a steep lawyer fee for this “emergency” court petition right before the Holiday.
Another group of rackets revolves around Child Custody matters, an offshoot of the Divorce scams.
Here is a typical event, excerpted from our voluminous files. The husband gets a Court Order authorizing Child Visitation of the children in his estranged wife’s custody. The Court Order, file-stamped by the Judge’s clerk, most often is hand-written, scribbled in a hurry by the husband’s attorney, and difficult to read.
So the husband comes to the family home with this Court Order in his pocket. By now, the piece of paper, crumpled from being in his pocket, is even harder to read. He knocks on the door. “I have my Court Order for visitation. Open the Door.” To no avail, he keeps banging on the storm door until he finally breaks the glass.
Meanwhile, the wife calls the police. Domestic quarrels, to the police, are considered the most dangerous. A sore husband is worse than a raging bull. So several police cars arrive. The wife refuses to open the door; instead, she opens a side window. She hollars out, “Officer, that man tried to break in and burgle my house”
The police ask, “Who is he?” The wife screams out the window, “I do not know who he is. He tried to break in. He’s a burglar.”
The husband goes over to the police with the crumpled Court order. They shine a flash-light on it, as it is getting to be evening already from this stand-off. “It is my court visitation order, officer.” The police cannot make out the crumpled sheet. “Sir, I do not see anything like that on this scribbled up sheet. Did you make up this fake paper yourself?” responds one of the policeman.
By now, the husband is distraught. He dressed up in a good suit and came to take his snot-nosed children to a movie. He begins shouting at the police, finally pushing one of them out of the way as he wants to approach the glass-broken storm door again.
“Mr., do not move. Put your hands behind your back. You are under arrest for obstructing police officers. I will read you your rights. The lady inside says you are a stranger and tried to break-in to burglarize the place.” Thus hand-cuffed he is lead away by the police.
In the police lock-up, he finally gets to a pay phone and luckily, his lawyer trusted him with the lawyer’s unlisted home phone number. “I came with the Visitation order and my wife says she does not know who I am and she said I tried to break-in and burglarize the place,” he wails to the attorney.
He tells his lawyer the court hearing date. “You understand, this is another piece of work. Criminal matter. I will come and arrange bail. I need at least fifteen hundred dollars to deal with this new matter, a criminal case plus time and expenses of arranging to bail you out. I want that within twenty four hours after I spring you”, the lawyer informs him.
Hiding assets with the connivance of a crooked Divorce Court Judge, in many courts in the nation, is a great art, if not already a science. One member of our group, in Divorce Court, had a husband and his stockbroker’s records showed the husband had eight million dollars parked in a Canadian bank.
A “willfully blind” Judge, pretending he does not see the records of the big bucks, rules the husband does not have to support this wife. So, she applies for and receives, as an impoverished woman, Public Aid, Food Stamps, and such.
This paricular Judge, typical of the Bench and the Bar in Divorce Court, liked to hold illegal one-sided hearings, called “ex parte”, where only one side to the case is heard. This is done especially for “members” of the Divorce Court Club, a secretive group of lawyers, judges, and courthouse clerks and such. [The same thing exists in Federal Bankruptcy Court, to split the bribery loot. See my series, “The Bankruptcy Bordello”, at rense.com.]
I witnessed one of these ex parte deals in the Judge’s office, called the Judge’s Chambers. Several Divorce Court sharks, an apt name for such lawyers, were each pushing their ex parte petition to get a secret advantage on the other side of their case.
Some of these sharks are particularly infamous and well-known, by the way they dress. One of the big bucks Divorce Court lawyer liked to wear a suit jacket with a fur collar. To make more money from mass production, he would have several rows of court seats packed with his women clients. So many, in fact, he sometimes forgot their name. He would simply point to them and shout “You! the Judge wants to talk to you in his chambers.” Some of the women reacted as if “in chambers” was the same as being invited to the Judge’s secret bedroom or such.
And of course, there have been several notorious examples, some secret, some publicized, of Divorce Court lawyers having sexual relations with a particularly good-looking woman client. One or more Judges were identified as having granted judicial favors in return for a woman’s sexual favors.
Piling up unnecessary lawyer fees is quite an art. In a typical example, a lawyer charged fifteen thousand dollars in expenses and fees while the husband and wife, in court, fought over which of them should be made the owner of five thousand dollars of the couple’s gold coin collection.
More scams mentioned. Stay tuned.