SHENANIGANS AT THE 303RD COURT IN DALLAS
The late Judge Jeff Coen said that he had seen nothing like it in his 30-year legal career, first as a lawyer and then as a family court judge in Dallas.
The following travesty that happened to one of his friends was what caused Judge Coen to make his comment.
In March of 2012 Judge Dennise Garcia (District Judge, 303rd Court in Dallas) reduced a father from a Joint Managing Conservator to a Possessory Conservator based wholly on unsupported child abuse allegations made by the child’s mother. These claims were made in clear retaliation to a Motion to Enforce filed by the father, which resulted in the mother being arrested and jailed for a day due to non-appearance at the hearing.
On May 2012 the father appealed the trial court’s decision to change conservatorship to the 5th District Court of Appeals. A ruling from the appeals court is still pending.
In the summer of 2013 the father booked plane tickets to take his daughters to India to see their ailing grandmother, who was suffering from Stage 3 cancer. Their mother, who disapproved of the father taking their children to see their grandmother, responded by filing a Temporary Restraining Order before an associate judge, again, on the basis of unsubstantiated child abuse allegations. The associate judge (who in the past had, on the record, made derogatory comments about Indian culture) revoked the father’s custody on the spot, having the father temporarily detained in court while the mother was allowed to pick up the children from the father’s home.
The father (with assistance from Judge Coen) responded by filing a Motion to Quash, on the grounds that the restraining order had been unsupported by a Motion to Modify, rendering the order invalid. Judge Garcia denied the Motion to Quash and disallowed the father from taking his children with him to India.
On his return from India, the father attended a hearing on September 20, 2013, where he presented to the court an order restoring his custody and allowing the children to communicate with their grandmother via Skype when with their mother. After a few minor modifications, Judge Garcia signed the one-page order allowing the children to communicate via Skype with their grandmother and restoring custody of the children to the father.
As per the order signed by Judge Garcia, the father sought to take possession of the children, only to meet blatant refusal by their mother. The father proceeded to report the matter to the Coppell Police, who informed him that they lacked jurisdiction, as the issue pertained to a civil lawsuit. The father then returned home without the children.
The father then received a text message from the mother that said, “Judge Garcia has called the police department and clarified the order.” The father relayed the development to Judge Coen, who stated that it would not be possible that any judge would communicate with a litigant ex-parte (that is, with only one party of the case present) or would call the police after-hours or during the weekend, as he had never seen it happen in his numerous years on the bench.
The mother then communicated to the father via email, attaching a “Corrected Order” and a communication from Judge Garcia requesting that the mother instruct the father to appear in court on Monday, September 23, 2013. After refusing to enforce a legally binding court order, altering the content of the order ex-parte and outside of court, and scheduling the subsequent hearing without providing the father an official court summons, Judge Garcia proceeded to file her “corrected” order with the court, thereby again revoking the father’s custody rights over his children.
Subsequently, the father filed an Open Records Request with the Coppell Police Department and received a set of audio files demonstrating that Judge Garcia had been in ex-parte communication with the mother and had called the Coppell Police Department, instructing them to not enforce her own order.
The father has since made numerous attempts to get at least some minimum access to his children, but all of his attempts have been thwarted by the associate judges and Judge Garcia.
Postscript: The children’s grandmother passed away in October 2013 without seeing her grandchildren, and Judge Coen passed away in January 2014, apparently troubled until the day he died about his friend’s predicament, which he was unable to help resolve.
Click here for a list of relevant documents, along with audio files and text messages, cataloging the events of the case.