I get email from readers in trouble on a fairly regular basis. Most of the time it is men looking for a divorce lawyer or those trying to defend themselves from a false accusation. I seldom have a place to send them for any relief.
Upon occasion I get someone’s “whole” story. Many of them are standard, men falling under the oppressive thumb of a family court system that is to the idea of justice what cigarettes are to pulmonary health.
Last might though, I got the following from a reader, Mr. Rick Welsh. It is a story that demonstrates in clear detail many of the things that plague the life of the modern American man. It will shock few who frequent these pages regularly. But I hope it might serve as a warning to the uninitiated visitor, especially if you are a man contemplating marriage.
And I present it here with a message to you. This is one mans account of his story. It is written in his words and I cannot vouch for its accuracy. But if anyone tells you this could not happen to you, seek advice elsewhere.
As you read this I may very well be incarcerated, as I am to be sentenced March 17, 2010 on felony non-payment of child support. This post may very well be the only means I have of voicing my concerns for myself, and others who, through no fault of their own, have no financial resources to affect change prior to sentencing. Perhaps this letter will bring about necessary change, before others have dealings with the unfairness and unfortunate nastiness of the public servants of Ingham County’s Friend of the Court (FOC.) I can’t leave out some attorneys of the AG’s office, who seemingly feel it necessary to put notches in their belts to secure their employment, at the expense of many of us. Simply put, I just don’t find where they are sincere about having the children’s best interest at heart. How unfortunate!
As many of you know, fairness is meted out to those who have financial resources, or if they have family/friends in the system.
In my case, I do expect a small settlement whereas I can tend to my arrearage, but not for some time if I am incarcerated. So it is not like I am a deadbeat father. More on this explained in the following.
I hit forty-eight years old last week. As a troubled teen, I managed to accrue three non-violent felonies. I faced the consequences and have not had any troubles with the law since. In fact I’ve worked hard, continued my education and helped youths navigate in the sometimes awkward teen years in a positive way as a youth leader and Sunday school teacher. In 2004 I took a position with the Department of Defense as a contractor, (DOD only requires a seven year background check) working in Iraq to logistically support our troops and to assist Iraqi’s in the rebuilding of their infrastructure.
In 2005 my wife filed for divorce while I was in South Tikrit, Iraq. Shortly after being served papers in a war zone I found our joint account closed and she had taken our money. I had little recourse being out of the Country and had to settle on an attorney via email who happily took my money each pay period but didn’t do one thing for me.
The Court ordered sole custody and over $1,300.00 per month in support/medical for my young daughter to be managed by my ex-wife. Though not relevant, my ex made then and makes now a great living; certainly more than I did at the time. The support and custody was decided before I could get my leave papers to return home. When I did return to Michigan, I found my truck moved from the garage and left next to the road; covered in graffiti, tires slashed, and my ex had left my home unfortunately, unattended.
To my ex wife’s credit upon my return, she did allow me to visit my daughter on weekends for the six weeks I was home. It was hard to leave my daughter and return to Iraq but I needed to return in order to make the amount of money to keep up with the high support payments. I also needed to return because the State of Michigan does not expunge felony records regardless of the number of years that have passed (over 30 years in my case) making it impossible for me to obtain suitable employment.
Injured In Iraq
February 2007- I was severely injured in Iraq, examined in the M.A.S.H. unit and instructed to seek medical help immediately upon my return to the States to include an MRI as their field x-rays showed suspect but inconclusive damage to the c5-c6 areas of my spine.
My Return Stateside
February 2007 – Though I paid my mandatory insurance premiums every month AIG refused treatment. I sought medical and used my meager savings for a basic diagnostic and again was referred for a MRI which I was unable to afford.
As a result, or along with, my medical issues I was unable to focus, sleep, eat, etc. I lived in Mexico for 6 months before returning to the States where I roamed aimlessly, sleeping under overpasses and park benches. I contacted a friend who had served in Iraq with me and he convinced me to join him and his family in Southern Oregon.
Eventually I arrived in Oregon at which point my friend sought immediate emotional help for me. They were able to locate a clinic in Austin (Union Treatment Centers) who were just beginning a pro-bono PTSD program for returning contractors. I was diagnosed with Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Chronic/Severe, Agoraphobia Chronic/Severe.
Because I was a Chronic Pain patient as well they had a physical therapist perform medical tests and determined I had suffered a torn rotator cup as well as the neck injury at no charge to me. The clinic submitted another request to AIG for an immediate MRI and it was denied. Four months later the Union Treatment Centers’ funding ran out and patients were on their own. I returned to Southern Oregon where I lived for nearly a year.
Part of my PTSD treatment was to face avoidance issues. We set small goals and worked out steps I would need to take to achieve them. Renewing my relationship with my daughter and possible child support arrears issues were at the top of my list. We contacted the Michigan Bar for a list of pro-bono attorneys to no avail. We searched the Internet for Lansing, MI area attorneys and called several only to find that their pro-bono funds were exhausted for that year. We were referred to Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Center of Ethics, Service, & Professionalism whose response was; “Dear Mr. Welch: Because our program is not available to contractors, I don’t think we can assist you in this matter.”
I’m wondering … why not contractors? Next, I contacted Loomis Law firm of Lansing, MI, to inform them that I was aware of a balance I still owed for services rendered and would settle when my settlement comes in. During that correspondence an attorney from the Loomis Law firm, Theresa Sheets, offered to take my case pro-bono. Theresa Sheets and her assistant Beth Owen advised me to lay low and be patient. When I asked if I could get on general assistance they responded that it would require a social security number (helping FOC to locate me) and advised against it reiterating for me to be patient.
They knew I was living in the mountains and eating what fish I could catch and yet I learned they never even filed a motion to adjust child support, didn’t respond to my many pleas for updates, etc. After eight months of being patient I finally received an apologetic email at my friend’s residence in Oregon from Theresa Sheets stating that they were too busy to continue pro-bono and wished me luck. I have emails to support this action which I deem unprofessional.
Frustrated, I contacted the F.O.C. for myself without counsel and was that ever a huge mistake. I emailed Larry Harrison, an Enforcement Officer and introduced myself. I briefly updated him on what was going on with me, offered documents and contact numbers to assist him in verifying my assertions and assured him that I wanted to resolve issues. This is his response verbatim: “Rick. You need to contact me immediately. I am in the process of seeking a felony warrant on you and have you extradited back to Michigan.” (I thought I had done just that)
In response, I told him I thought he sounded hostile to someone trying to resolve issues. I asked if he would set up a ‘Show Cause Hearing’ allowing me at least ten days lead time for travel, as I would be hitchhiking. His next response was commending me for taking care of this matter, etc. In retrospect, I should have been suspicious but I trusted him because of his position. (Never make that mistake…get counsel!) A show cause hearing was set for January 16th.
About 1 month prior to leaving Oregon for the Show Cause. I felt ready to start working on communicating with my ex and with my daughter. I was shocked to get a response from my ex like the one I did. She wrote me and encouraged the idea of me slowly entering my daughter’s life again. She also said that she would forgive most of the accumulated back arrears as she was certain I wasn’t making the kind of money I once was (She was unaware I had been injured). Things seemed to be moving in the right direction and I was ecstatic.
I hitched as far as South Dakota and nearly froze to death. A couple saw me under an overpass, stopped and saw my condition. They took me to the nearest Greyhound depot where I called my friends from Oregon who sent me money for a round trip ticket to Lansing and back to Oregon and extra for a room and food when I arrived in Lansing.
I phoned Mr. Harrison (FOC Enforcement officer) again when I arrived in Lansing and left a message letting him know I would be there on time, where I would be staying and left a message asking him to phone if he had any questions of me. He must not have had any questions.
I arrived an hour early for my Show Cause hearing and checked in. The security door to the offices opened and my ex-wife was called in. Roughly twenty minutes later, two Lansing police officers arrived and went behind the security door and then returned to the lobby and flanked me. I knew I was going to be arrested but had no idea why. I assumed the position and cooperated fully. I was lead towards the exit when the Director – Shauna Dunnings asked the officers to bring me to her. She introduced herself and said “I know that you and your ex had an agreement worked out but the Attorney General’s office handed down a felony arrest warrant and it is out of our hands.”
In the Lansing Police Station, I was booked and put into a cell. Hours later I was arraigned by Judge Garcia who denied me a Personal Recognizance bond because I didn’t live in Michigan. This is where I began to learn that the AG’s office wasn’t only trying to get me for a felony, but because of my 30 year old felonies they attached a 4th habitual offender charge as well. Now being tagged with a habitual offender charge I could spend up to 15 years in prison. (I have never committed a violent crime in my life nor would I ever.)
I was given a public defender and spent 48 days in one of the most violent cell blocks because of the habitual charge. I informed the jailers at booking of the U.S. Department of Labor’s findings of my disability, chronic pain and severe PTSD. They never put me into a medical cell block. I spent a total of 52 days on the top bunk of a steel rack and could barely walk, let alone be shackled and walking. Finally I appeared before the Circuit Court Judge who had yet to hear from me at all. The AG offered to suspend sentencing for 11 months seemingly allowing me time to get my back compensation for my injuries.
The Judge released me from custody except I had a hold for Jackson, MI on a non-active support with outstanding arrears due to my injuries. The difference here was that it was a ‘show cause’ hearing so I was able to speak directly to the Judge. After hearing my plight he asked the bailiff to search the Internet for my claims attorney, called a recess and called my claims attorney from his chambers. Thirty minutes later he returned to the court room and said; ‘Mr. Welch I have just hung up from an enlightening conversation with your claims attorney who validated what you have articulated to me and expounded on legal matters of particular interest to me.’ He then addressed the Jackson County F.O.C. representatives saying; ‘I do not find Mr. Welch in contempt of court. Release him from custody.’
After being released from Jackson County I made my way back to Lansing in the middle of a severe cold snap. I went to the Ingham County F.O.C. to request my support be modified. I had no idea who my caseworker is, and still don’t, though I have tried repeatedly to speak with said person. The clerk informed me that my caseworker was not in, so I requested Larry Harrison as he is the only person I knew who was familiar with my case. After some time, Larry Harrison and another enforcement officer stormed into the waiting room where I was. He walked toward me in a confrontational manner and asked; “What are you looking for?” as if I were challenging him by merely being there.
I told him I hoped to have my support amount modified and he told me I was using the wrong verbiage. He gave me the general question form which I filled out. I turned the form in to the clerk and started to leave.
Unbeknownst to me and evidently to Larry Harrison, there was another person in the waiting room and that person was a channel 3 news reporter named Jon Erickson. Mr. Erickson asked if he could interview me for a news segment. Even though I wanted to blab to the world everything that had transpired, I was very much afraid it might affect my endeavors to adjust my child support. Who knows what the ramifications of whistle blowing on the entire F.O.C. might be. I wasn’t the only one worried as evident by Larry Harrison and the Director Shauna Dunnings’s sudden appearance. They shadowed the interview and just before the camera was turned on Larry Harrison interrupted Mr. Erickson and I to offer assistance in finding a different caseworker for me to speak with. I declined. I resolved to offer a careful interview and to offer pertinent advice to others who may end up unable to meet their child support obligations. Archived transcripts of the interview can be accessed via the link below.
I strongly suspect that the Ingham County F.O.C.’s enforcement officer Larry Harrison was irritated by my pointing out his callousness, and went out of his way to push for the AG to hand down a felony arrest warrant prior to my show cause date so that I would not be able to speak directly to the Judge as he undoubtedly knew the results would be similar to the outcome of my Jackson show cause hearing. I believe he intended to manipulate the system simply to make me pay for having taken exception with his unprofessionalism.
I returned to Oregon and agreed to take my friends up on their invitation to stay with them until my settlement or sentencing.
Ten months later we finally received a date for a formal hearing in federal court regarding my claims (in June 2010). I forwarded this great and long awaited news to my public defender who took the news to the AG’s office. The person in charge of my case from the AG’s office (Mitch something) said that he would agree to postpone sentencing until after my claims court date. I still needed to come across country for my February 2010 sentencing date and Mitch would ask the Judge to postpone my sentencing. When I showed up, once again I was misled, and the AG’s office moved to have the court sentence me immediately instead of requesting a postponement. Furious, I asked my attorney to try to pull my plea, but the Judge denied the motion.
My hope is that I will be able to put this behind me and move on with my life though it will be with another felony on my record. I am hoping to be an important part of my daughter’s life, and to receive medical, emotional and financial compensation after over three years of waiting.