I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Open records ruling goes against county

This man's advocacy certainly is getting attention in his community and he is staying out of jail while bringing the problem of Family Court bias and corruption to the public. His use of graphics is state-of-the art and designed to get attention.  It looks like he has built a box on a trailer to hold the posters. The Family Court workers involved including the Sherrif's people don't even seem to understand their involvement in the corruption of the law and due process. It has the appearance of a siege mentality on their part.MJM

Sunday News
Jan 03, 2010 00:19 EST
Lancaster, PA

By GIL SMART, Associate Editor

Ben Vonderheide spends a lot of time at the Lancaster County Courthouse, pursuing fathers' rights and inconveniencing local officials in the process.

As such, Vonderheide said, he's been tossed out of many a county office and courtroom. But his ejection from one courtroom this fall prompted him to request copies of the surveillance tapes for his records.

The county refused to provide the tapes, saying it would constitute a security breach.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records disagreed. In a Christmas Eve ruling, appeals officer Lucinda Glinn ordered the county to turn them over to Vonderheide.

The state's "final determination" may still be appealed by the county; officials involved with the case said the county has not decided whether it will appeal.

But Vonderheide was claiming at least partial vindication. "I finally had time to file the paperwork to request [the video] before they were erased like all the past incidents," said Vonderheide, who says he's been "thrown out of court more times than I can remember for unspecified [and] illegitimate reasons over the years" as he agitates for fathers' rights and against a system he believes is biased.

Vonderheide runs a Web site called DaddyJustice.com and has been a vocal critic of retired family court Judge Wayne Hummer. He's been involved in a lengthy custody battle with Wendy Flanders, a former girlfriend who was convicted of felony perjury in 2008 for claiming that Vonderheide had assaulted her during a 2004 custody exchange.

He also owned the Conestoga apartment building that former state Rep. Thomas Armstrong turned into a halfway house for sex offenders in the spring of 2008.

He's a ubiquitous presence both on the sidewalk outside the Lancaster County Courthouse and inside as well, often with his video camera in hand. But Sept. 9, he left the video camera at home; he was at the courthouse to keep a "close eye" on an assistant district attorney who handles protection-from-abuse cases. (Vonderheide had what he calls a phony PFA complaint filed against him in the course of his custody dispute.)

Vonderheide, in an e-mail, said he entered the courtroom of Judge Donald Totaro where "immediately the deputy rushed me, aggressively stating, 'You are not allowed in here.' " Vonderheide said he responded by asserting that he's a fathers' rights advocate, but the deputy said, " 'I don't care — you are NOT allowed in here.' "

Women's and mothers' rights advocates are routinely allowed to remain in the courtroom, Vonderheide said. Nonetheless, he said, the deputy "put his hand through my belt from behind and the other sheriff joined in. They both put their hands on me again and forcibly threw me out the door."

Vonderheide said he later got a call from court personnel stating that it had all been a misunderstanding and that Totaro was not part of the effort to bar him from the courtroom.

Lancaster County Deputy Sheriff Mark Reese, one of the deputies on duty that day, declined to comment on the case, saying the county had yet to decide whether it will appeal the state's ruling.

Attempts to reach Assistant County Solicitor Nicole Decker, who is handling the case, were unsuccessful.

But Vonderheide said the county sheriff's office is claiming he entered the courtroom while the judge was rendering a decision or witnesses were testifying, and that the judge ordered him tossed out of the courtroom.

Video from the surveillance cameras mounted in county courtrooms will disprove that, Vonderheide said. So he asked the county for it.

But the county refused that request, along with his request for additional surveillance video from Oct. 23, when Vonderheide claimed a deputy sheriff ripped his video camera from his hands and accused him of "smuggling" it into the courthouse, and written reports about the two incidents.

Vonderheide then appealed to the state, asserting that he needed the video and records "to show how he was treated, to show an alleged pattern of wrongful behavior," according to Glinn's ruling.

Decker's response to the appeal included an affidavit, notarized and signed by Reese, in which the deputy sheriff "attests that any video footage would show the areas not covered by cameras, and is thus reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm" to the "personal security of an individual."

Reese also asserted that releasing the footage "is reasonably likely to jeopardize public safety."

Decker's response to Vonderheide's complaint concurred, stating that the video records "would reveal the capabilities and scope of the county video surveillance system in the courthouse, and would jeopardize the ability of the sheriff's office to provide protection within the courthouse," according to the state ruling.

But the state knocked down that argument, with Glinn ruling that "the release of video records that are obtained for security purposes does not automatically constitute a reasonable likelihood of risk or harm to security." The video, she wrote, is of areas open to the public, and just because a video record is used for security purposes doesn't automatically mean its release would jeopardize public safety.

Glinn then went on to deny Vonderheide's request for incident reports related to the two confrontations, noting that records relating to a noncriminal investigation including notes, correspondence, reports, complaints and other investigative materials are indeed protected, and can be withheld.

The ruling is binding on both parties; Glinn ruled that the county must turn over the video footage to Vonderheide within 30 days of the Dec. 24 decision, though either party may appeal to Lancaster County Court.

"This attitude of aggression against my efforts to expose corruption in Lancaster County comes from the top and has been ongoing for years," Vonderheide asserted.

"These aren't the worst examples," he said, "just the most recent."

Gil Smart is associate editor of the Sunday News. E-mail him at gsmart@lnpnews.com, or phone 291-8817.


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