Family Court; Family Misfortune

Amber was removed from a loving home and parents who referred to her as their “Princess.” This case could only be looked upon as nothing more than judicial kidnapping. Judge Richroath’s order to take Amber into custody was executed with the full support of over a dozen armed Court Officers who moved in on Amber’s parents as Amber screamed for her dear life – a scream she could have ingrained in her mind for the rest of her life.

[On The Spot]

Queens New York, Family Court Judge Marybeth Sarah Richroath, was appointed to the bench by former mayor and failed presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani in 2001. 

On August 24, 2007, she closed the courtroom to visitors and witnesses only to have Amber Drew James, five years old at the time, literally ripped away from her parents and placed in foster care. Was that really “In the best interest of the child?”  No.

On July 27, 2007, an Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) caseworker made a home visit to the James’ home, interviewed Amber alone in her bedroom and made a report of her findings.  Amber seemed to be safe; she caseworker did not observe any marks or bruises on her arms, legs, chest, back or face; she was cooperative, respectful and very talkative; she was clean and seemed to practice good hygiene; she seemed to behave age appropriately; and, the room had learning tools on the walls and throughout the room, which was used for her home schooling.

Amber was asked, what happens when you don’t listen to Mommy and Daddy?  “I always listen to Mommy and Daddy,” she’d responded. Are you afraid of Mommy or Daddy?  “No,” she’d said.  Amber stood still and had good eye contact with the caseworker.  This was all in Geraldin Fowles’ ACS official report. Where is the abuse? 
Does Family Court Judge Richroath have the power to ignore this report?  Why did Judge Richroath ignore the abuse Amber received under her tutelage and in foster care?

I was unable to get any comments from Ms. Fowles because she no longer works with ACS. It is unclear if Amber’s report had anything to do with her not being employed at ACS no longer.

What is the real purpose behind removing children from homes where there is no threat?  There must be an audit of these agencies to follow the money trail and cut it off where ever it leads.  A story out of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania last week highlighted the abuses that occur in what’s a huge nation-wide industry. There, two judges had engaged in a despicable conspiracy for years. They first ordered the local detention center closed; they then ordered children convicted of minor charges –in one case a girl was sentenced to three months imprisonment after she had made a parody of a teacher on a phony website— to be incarcerated at an outside facility. And guess what? They had been getting paid money for all these years for shipping the juveniles to the detention center.

One judge received as much as $2.6 million in payoffs. Who’s to say such crimes aren’t occurring in New York?

The next mayor of this city must address the abuse and corruption, which seems to be a fixture of the Family Court, ACS, and the foster care system. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has failed in these areas and let down the children. 

Ms. James, the mother, made Bloomberg aware of Amber’s case when she sat on a bench inside City Hall for hours waiting to see him – it is a shame this case lasted this long. 

Since November 20, 2008, Amber’s fate has been in the hands of five appellate court judges in the second department.  I am told, there may be a ruling any day now.  In handling a somewhat similar case recently, this court reversed a Family Court case citing, “the Family Court improvidently exercised its discretion,” and ruled, “the subject children shall be returned to the mother forthwith.”  Perhaps there is hope for Amber. Richroath was the judge being reversed and so the James family is praying for the same type of ruling.

Amber’s mom, Vanessa James, was summoned to Family Court after being accused of abusing Amber.  Vanessa’s attorney, Lois A. Milne, failed to show up at the hearing leaving her without any representation.  This did not matter to Judge Richroath as she proceeded to take Amber away.  The father, Marvin James, who works as a Social Worker, was not charged with any abuse; yet his attorney was unable to prevent the nightmare from occurring. 

Amber was removed from a loving home and parents who referred to her as their “Princess.”  This case could only be looked upon as nothing more than judicial kidnapping.  Judge Richroath’s order to take Amber into custody was executed with the full support of over a dozen armed Court Officers who moved in on Amber’s parents as Amber screamed for her dear life – a scream she could have ingrained in her mind for the rest of her life. 

These types of acts get played out in Family Courts every day and parents are crying out loud for any kind of oversight. A lot of these cases need immediate special independent investigation to be conducted on Family Court, ACS and Foster Care by the U.S. Attorney General in Washington D.C.

Amber’s parents set out to expose Judge Richroath, which may have ticked her off.  They were involved in many rallies with different community support groups, in front of the Family Court, which generated lots of press, but Amber remains under ACS custody and in foster care. 

The parents also reached out to the Queens State Supreme Court for Amber’s release and on February 28, 2008; their petition was denied there too. The state judge raised a technicality in the way the court papers were served and it is unclear if he used this as weight when making his decision.

“State judges, as well as federal, have the responsibility to respect and protect persons from violations of federal constitutional rights.  (Gross v. State of Illinois, 312 F 2d 257; (1963).” However, according to court records, “… Judge Richroath tells me that the James parents are a serious risk to the child,” Judge Peter J. O’Donoghue stated and went on to say, “ … that decision is on appeal.  I have no reason to disturb that decision,” referring to Judge Richroath’s order to keep Amber in foster care.
Judge O’Donoghue ordered the foster care to produce Amber, and his order was ignored.

The whole matter began when Ms. James returned to the clinic with Amber and questioned the eye medication Amber’s pediatrician, Dr. Julia Garber prescribed for her.
“A month passed after that visit and I was being investigated by ACS because someone accused me of making Amber sick.  I was being charged with Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, I didn’t know what this Munchausen stuff was,” Ms. James stated.  It was later learned, Dr. Garber had placed a complaint call to ACS, claiming to be a Psychiatrist and accusing Ms. James of MBPS.  Dr. Garber’s claims were all lies and this may be the reason she asked for, “Strict confidentially.” (MBPS refers to is a condition that involves the fabrication or exaggeration of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker; it’s a harmful form of child abuse. It was named after Baron von Munchausen, an 18th-century German dignitary known for telling outlandish stories.)

According to a children’s health website: “Typically, the perpetrator feels satisfied by gaining the attention and sympathy of doctors, nurses, and others who come into contact with him or her and the child. Some experts believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but also the satisfaction in being able to deceive individuals that they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves.”

Judge Richroath was not forthcoming when she ordered Amber’s parents to get emergency psychiatric evaluations referring to them as, “Imminent risk to the child.”  This too was clearly false, which seemed to have prejudiced this case. 

However, Richroath has kept Amber away from her mother for nine months now and as of this past Friday, Mr. James stated. “Amber asked about her mother,” at the ACS visited in Brooklyn.  “She misses her mother.  She wants to come home,” he adds.

On January 26, 2008, I was interviewing the James family at 109-45 165th Street in Queens, a place they were staying temporarily.  An army of police officers from the 103rd precinct came to serve them with Order of Protection summonses issued by Family Court, obtained by Felicia D. Mahmood, who lived at the same address. 
She made several criminal allegations against Vanessa and Marvin and has no family ties to them at all.  “She said I was not going to get Amber back and mentioned things in the summonses only the court knows,” Ms. James stated, “She was arrested for internet credit card fraud, is she working with them?”

I strongly feel had I not been in the house that night, they both would have been arrested. The matter was heard in Family Court February 11th, when the judge told Ms. Mahmood – “Family Court lacks jurisdiction.” 

Mahmood threw up her arms and ran out of the court.  The matter was dismissed.  One must wonder how Mahmood was able to get a Family Court summons in the first place. However, Vanessa and Marvin had to wait four hours to get the court’s disposition. 

The James family has experienced threats of arrest and all types of harassment. “I receive calls on my job from ACS caseworkers and two FBI agents appeared at our door and said two white men posing as FBI agents tried to kidnap Amber from the foster home, and asked do we have any white supporters?”  Mr. James stated and went on to ask the agents, “If that’s the case, why aren’t you at the foster home?”

Judge Richroath orders against the James family appear to be personal and without merit.  Richroath’s orders appear as to raise reasonable doubt on her capacity to act impartially as a judge. 

I spoke with Diane Kelly, Ms. James second attorney and asked, is there a reason this case has taken so long?  “It’s a mad house in here,” Kelly stated referring to Family Court.

I inquired: Who said these Ms. James was an imminent risk? “They both did,” meaning ACS and the judge, Kelly said.  Was the judge practicing the law from the bench?  “I can’t talk to you anymore,” Attorney Kelly stated and quickly walked away.

There should be questions in neon letters hanging from the ceiling; questioning this family legal representation. They continue to maneuver their way through hell trying to find justice for Amber.

Amber’s little life has been sent into a legal spin because of several unproven allegations made against her mom and these events, which took place in the aftermath of Ms. James asking questions of concern about her daughter – questions raised about the fairness of the legal process as well as the legal representation afforded to the James family. 

“My first lawyer told me to say I made a mistake and to cop out to their charges and let them keep Amber in Foster Care for a couple of months,” recalls Ms. James, referring to Attorney Milne, who could not be reached for comment.    

A few people close to this case have said, Judge Richroath has too much power and she is very ruthless. “Her judgment was impaired in this case” stated a Family Court worker who did not want to be named.

In the interest of justice, Amber’s case should be moved from Richroath’s court. 

There is still a lot more to Amber’s story and there are many with dirty hands to be exposed in subsequent columns.

Contact Winkfield for his consideration regarding covering your own story: By mail: On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423; Email: [email protected] or [email protected]; call (212) 481-7745. Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about.

To comment or to subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, or to send us a news tip, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to [email protected]

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *