Texas lawmakers are planning to discuss legislation to deal with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), meritless suits designed not to win but to financially punish opponents, which have been used by corporations and wealthy individuals to intimidate or silence public critics.
We may coin that phrase as Strategic Lawsuits Against Parental Participation to describe the continued assault against parents through the Grandparent Access Statute. The usual pattern is that these grandparents seek to force their will into the decisions of parents in regard to the rearing, education, or socialization of their children. This, of course, results in conflict as fit parents assert their responsibility and authority to raise their children. What many of these grandparents really want is custody of the grandchildren, but they can’t accomplish that through the Texas Family Code because these parents are not abusive or neglectful.
Judges in these cases often have a low view of parental rights and believe that grandparents should have the right to see their grandchildren and have possession of them regardless of what the parents believe. When I describe some of these cases, people don’t believe that these things could happen in Texas. They are wrong.
On August 25 the Texas Second Court of Appeals delivered a 34-page opinion that forced a Fort Worth judge to vacate rulings in his court that go back to 2006, in which he removed the daughter of a mother from her care and placed her with the grandparents. The “grandparents” were the parents of her former husband, who was not the biological or adoptive father of the child. So the “grandparents” did not have standing to file these suits because they were not related to the child by blood or marriage. Yet, on the basis of testimony from a social worker who said that the daughter should be placed with the “grandparents” till the mother could learn to “share her with others who loved her,” the judge took the daughter away from her mother for almost four years.
So while we need to pass the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act in the next legislative session to give protection to fit parents from this kind of legal harassment, we also need to SLAPP judges like this right out of office. The Fort Worth judge in question here is not up for reelection this year, but we will be watching him closely and looking for someone to oppose him in the next election.
In Collin County two years ago THSC PAC endorsed a judicial candidate against such a judge, which was unheard of. The challenger, Suzanne Wooten, whom we supported, was victorious with over 57% of the vote. Unfortunately, the district attorney in Collin County didn’t like the fact that his friend on the court had been defeated. According to news reports the DA has launched what has become a two-year investigation through five or more grand juries in an attempt to force the new judge to “resign.”
This type of behavior leads me to conclude that we all need to be more informed and involved in our communities to elect and “unelect” the right people.