Monday, August 22, 2011

Elections Matter: Family Court Judge Limits Rights of Gay Father

The Houston Chronicle reports that 309th Family Court Associate Judge Charley Prine has issued a custody order forbidding gay father William Flowers from leaving his children in the care of any male to whom his kids are not related by "blood or adoption." The order includes Flower's husband, Jim Evans.

From the Chronicle post:

"When William and his ex-wife divorced in 2004, they agreed that their three children would live with her. Wanting to change the arrangement, William recently filed for custody in Harris County. A jury found that she should keep the kids, though his regular visitations would continue. Neither William nor his ex-wife alleged that the children had been abused or were in any danger of being abused.

Following the trial, Harris County Associate Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr. issued a ruling which included an injunction applicable only to William. It prohibits him from leaving his children alone with any male to whom the kids are not related by “blood or adoption.” So if, for example, William wants to visit his mother in the hospital (where she’s been for several weeks), he can’t leave his kids at home with his husband. As written, the injunction also prohibits male doctors, teachers and pastors from being alone with the children.

Attorneys who practice family law in Texas point out that in cases of abuse, it is common for courts to prevent children from being alone with specific people. But those same lawyers say that they’ve never heard of a case in which a step-parent or long-term partner is permanently enjoined from being alone with his or her step-children when abuse is not even alleged, let alone proven. No lawyer consulted for this story has ever heard of an order which prohibits children from being left alone with an entire gender."

Texas Family Code Sec. 201.001 allows Family Court judges to appoint associate judges to assist them with their case load (this practice was started in 1986 to help address back-logs in child custody cases). Prine was appointed to his position last January by Family Court Judge Sheri Y. Dean who was elected as a Republican last November by the people of Harris County after originally being appointed to the post in 2010.

Dean beat her Democratic opponent, Bill Rice, by 78, 342 votes or 9.8% of the 798,995 people who voted in the election. But here's the deal, 1,917,534 people were eligible to vote in that election, and most of them didn't. Even more frightening 42,621 of the people who did vote in the election didn't bother to vote in Dean's race.

It can be easy to forget about all those names down at the bottom of the ballot, the family court judges and criminal court judges and justices of the peace, but it's those people who form the front line of our government. If we ignore that front line people like Judge Dean and Judge Prine can move in and take over- with disastrous results (as this case shows).

So how's the educated queer voter to know for which of the seemingly fungible bottom-of-the-ballot candidates to vote? Most major cities in Texas have nonpartisan LGBT groups like the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance or the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (which endorsed Dean's 2010 opponent, Bill Rice). These groups
screen candidates' positions on LGBT issues and endorse accordingly. If your area doesn't have such an organization, or you don't trust the endorsement process of your local group, you have a responsibility, as a voter, to research each race and discover the candidates' positions. This is easier than you might think, any serious candidate will have a phone number or e-mail where they can be reached and should answer any questions you have.

What we, as LGBT Texans, cannot do is abandon these beachheads of democracy to people who either don't care about us, or (in the case of Prine) are openly hostile to our families and relationships. Every vote (and every election) matters.


  1. It would be great if those covering the story would inquire to interview this judge.

  2. @Pamela: Judges are not able to comment on pending cases.

  3. Since same sex marriage is fairly new, we have to understand that there are still loopholes and restrictions in the law regarding child custody. Let us just hope for the betterment of the law.

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