No Judge who is corrupt, who condones corruption in others, can possibly remains on the Bench.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Judge Awarded Unsupervised Visitation To the Murderer Father

Mother lashing out at the judicial system that allowed Connolly unsupervised visits."No parent should have to bury their babies," she said. "Duncan and Jack, Mommy loves you to the heavens and back. "I feel that the judicial system failed me," she said. "I pray that the courts listen to the warnings from other parents like me.

2 Boys Found Dead: Mom Rips Family Court
After 3-week search, boys are found dead with their dad.

mother decries system that OKd unsupervised visits

by Carolyn Starks, Joel Hood, and Jo Napolitano

Amy Leichtenberg worried this day would come, and she begged the judicial system to prevent it.In court documents dating back to 2005, she detailed her estranged husband's threats against her family and fought unsuccessfully to keep him from having unsupervised visits with their two sons. Michael Connolly violated the orders of protection against him six times, police records said, and he often vowed to kill himself rather than be separated from the boys.Connolly, 40, disappeared with Duncan, 9, and Jack, 7, on March 8, prompting a nationwide search. Their bodies were discovered Sunday near a Christmas tree farm in a remote area of Putnam County.Police described the deaths as a double homicide and a suicide, but released few details about the killings. The boys' bodies were found in the back seat of their father's 1991 Dodge Dynasty, while Connolly's body was discovered about 60 yards away.
Leichtenberg declined to comment Monday, but she issued a statement lashing out at the judicial system that allowed Connolly unsupervised visits."No parent should have to bury their babies," she said. "Duncan and Jack, Mommy loves you to the heavens and back.
"I feel that the judicial system failed me," she said. "I pray that the courts listen to the warnings from other parents like me."In a Tribune interview after the boys disappeared, Leichtenberg said Connolly was granted unsupervised visitation rights in December. She said she begged the McLean judge to deny the request.
"All Michael would do is file his own motions, and the judge was basically tired of him and gave him what he wanted."
Father played the system
Michael Connolly worked the system.A family court judge wanted him to get a job, find a home and stop harassing his ex-wife.So Connolly took a sales position, rented an apartment and behaved for nine months.McLean County Circuit Judge James Souk rewarded his obedience with unsupervised visitation with his two young sons, a ruling that absolved Connolly of dangerous behavior and threats against the boys' mother. It no longer mattered that he vowed to cut her open, that a court-appointed visitation supervisor expressed concern about his erratic behavior or that he allegedly violated her order of protection 57 times.
Connolly, 40, benefited from a system designed to overlook past indiscretions in favor of giving children a chance to maintain relationships with both parents.His sons, however, fell victim to it.Duncan and Jack Connolly, ages 9 and 7, were found dead Sunday in a remote area of Putnam County three weeks after disappearing with their dad during an unsupervised visit. Officials would not say how the boys died, only that they were found in the back seat of their father's car.Connolly hanged himself about 60 yards from the car, the McLean County Sheriff's Department said Tuesday.As she planned her sons' funerals, Amy Leichtenberg told the Tribune she blamed Souk for ignoring her pleas for help."Judge Souk is responsible for their deaths," she said.The judge declined requests for comment Tuesday.But Souk was not the only one to misjudge Connolly. At various checkpoints throughout the prolonged visitation battle, Connolly was able to convince law-enforcement officials, mental-health experts and social workers that he meant no harm."Hell, yes, the system failed Amy," her attorney Helen Ogar said. "Amy was treated seriously [by the system], but he bamboozled people. He was cagey and manipulative."He also had Illinois law on his side.Under the law, a parent without custody is entitled to "reasonable visitation rights" unless visits "would endanger seriously the child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health"—a high burden of proof that has drawn criticism from victims advocates and other experts, who say it doesn't adequately account for dangers domestic abusers pose to children.Judges in family court often restrict visitation to supervised settings when there's evidence the non-custodial parent has just harmed or threatened other family members, experts say. But the judges rarely require that the visits be supervised over long periods of time, especially if there's no evidence of harm to the child."When you can show an emergency at the beginning of the case, judges are very motivated and perceptive and try to protect the children," said Denice Markham, director of Life Span Center for Legal Services and Advocacy. "But as the case goes on and there are no problems, then it's very difficult to get supervised visitation. The parents who don't have custody have the right to visitation unless there's serious endangerment to the children."Leichtenberg spent the last four years documenting what she considered to be dangerous behavior.In court records back to 2005, Leichtenberg, who lived in northwest suburban Algonquin before moving to Downstate LeRoy, detailed her ex-husband's threats against her and pleaded for supervised visits for their sons. Her letters detailing his threats to "cut open" her parents, commit suicide or harm her were enough to obtain several orders of protection against him.Between July 2006 and October 2007, Connolly violated court orders prohibiting him from contacting her on 57 occasions, LeRoy police said Tuesday.
McLean County State's Atty. William Yoder said only 13 incident reports were referred to his office. The office collapsed the complaints into six cases, of which five were prosecuted. Connolly pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor for violating an order in February 2008 and received a suspended sentence."I haven't second-guessed anything we did," Yoder said.Leichtenberg filed for divorce in 2007. She was awarded full custody of the children, and he was given supervised visitation.Many early visits with his sons took place at the McLean Family Visitation Center. In reports filed with the court, Connolly's behavior appeared to become more erratic and paranoid, leading the center to temporarily discontinue its services in May 2008.
A few weeks later, however, his psychiatrist sent a letter to the judge suggesting Connolly's depression would be lessened by more time with his sons.Connolly's requests for unsupervised visits increased throughout 2008, and the judge responded by setting behavioral goals for him."He not only behaved, but he presented very well," Ogar said. "He had nice suits, he spoke very well, and he was intelligent, but he never dealt with the underlying issues."The judge awarded Connolly unsupervised visitation in October 2008. By Jan. 23, the court allowed Connolly to have alternate weekend visits and Wednesday visits, with pickups and dropoffs at the police station.When Connolly did not return with the children after a visit March 8, authorities launched a manhunt that ended when the boys' bodies were found Sunday. Less than 48 hours after the gruesome discovery, Leichtenberg's close friend Brandi Tuley launched an online petition to have Souk removed from the bench.The petition had more than 1,200 signatures Tuesday evening, including Leichtenberg's. "I refuse to let these boys' deaths be in vain," Tuley said.Tribune reporters Angela Rozas, Carolyn Starks and Andrew Wang contributed to this report.
© 2009 Chicago Tribune

Stop Family Violence

Custody and Abuse
There is a crisis in our nation's family courts. Judges are awarding child custody to abusers and pedophiles and punishing the safe parent who tries to protect the children from harm.

Mothers Deserve More

Use the webform below to send a message to the President, Vice President, your legislators, and leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and the President's new Office on Women and Girls.

Tell them about your lives, your struggles, and your needs as a mother, or someone who cares about Mothers.

Make it personal so that they understand why this issue matters to you. That's the best way to make it matter to them.

Stop Family Violence

Shared via AddThis