Outraged

Gwinnett Protesters blast judges, system in child custody case

By Glenn Matlock
Staff Writer

Vicki Pierce, a member of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice, holds a sign to protest the decisions of some Superior and Juvenile court judges regarding custody rulings.  A group of about 10 protesters gathered outside the Gwinnett Justice Administration Center in Lawrenceville to make citizens aware of their cause.

LAWRENCEVILLE -  Since the Gwinnett County Juvenile Court took Kimberly Brown's two children, her family nightmare has erupted into a cry of outrage against the courts, judges and attorneys.

Brown, 35, and about 10 child-rights activists spent Monday outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center taking their individual cases public.  The group carried signs blasting the Gwinnett Department of Family and Children Services, Gwinnett Superior court Judge Michael Clark and Juvenile Court Judge Robert Rodatus for failing to protect children.

Brown's story has gained national attention with her being featured on "Dateline NBC" and other national news programs.

Two years ago, Brown moved to Texas after Rodatus ruled her husband had been "sexually inappropriate" with their three-year-old daughter, Brown said.

"There was nothing to keep me from moving, but Judge Rodatus got mad and ordered me back," Brown said Monday.  "The judge took my children..."

Brown believes that custody cases should be given to a jury to decide and not the judge.

Her children, who are now six and eight years old, have been in the custody of their father since Feb. 29, Brown said.

After spending more than $500,000 in the divorce case with her husband, Brown is talking to anyone who will listen.

"We are trying to bring public awareness that the system needs to be cleaned up," Brown said "...that there is money filtering under the table [between judges and attorneys]."

Rodatus did not return phone calls Monday.  Clark said such allegations are not true.  "I haven't taken anything," Clark said.  "That's a falsehood."

Money is the big issue in winning court cases, said Brenda Degarmo, another protester from Lawrenceville.

Degarmo, 45, nearly lost everything in a 1993 divorce case with her husband of 10 years, with whom she had started a profitable business.

"We are up against a system that does not  work," Degarmo said.  "The legal system favors those who have the most money.  It's about who has the most money.  It should not take six years and $200,000 to try a divorce case."

One attorney, who handles custody cases, was compelled to stop and speak to the news media about the allegations being made against Gwinnett judges.

Glenn Cooper said they were not all horrible judges.

"There's always three sides to every story," said Cooper, who stopped after hearing remarks being made by the group.  He was confronted by the protesters, who said lawyers are part of the problem, for some of his remarks.

Protester Sharon Buckner of Cobb County said problems are worse in Cobb than in Gwinnett.

"We cannot protect our children," Buckner said.  "We don't have the resources and we don't have the power," adding they were stuck with the "misdeeds of attorneys and judges."

"But, we will not allow our children to be abused," Buckner said.

-- Staff Writer Stacey Kelley contributed to this article.