An Albany County attorney for children said a family court judge, seeking re-election in November, relied upon blatantly false allegations and wrongfully kept a father away from his son.
“Mr. Fernandez had been given a raw deal by the court,” said Sandra M. Colatosti, who until recently was the attorney for Elijah Wilson – the child of parents involved in a custody dispute. Now that Elijah, who is 10-months old, has been assigned to a new judge and a new Attorney for Children, Colatosti said she is comfortable with speaking-out about the injustice that filled the courtroom of Judge Margaret “Peggy” Walsh.
Walsh, who was defeated in a Democrat primary for state Supreme Court last week, is running on the Democratic line for re-election to Family Court – a position better left for someone more competent, said Colatosti. She said her efforts to advocate on behalf of the child in Walsh’s courtroom fell on deaf ears. “It made me question the point of appointing an attorney to represent a child when the child is essentially given no voice.”
Ramon E. Fernandez, 37, petitioned the court for visitation of his son, Elijah, in Jan. 2013 after being denied contact to the child by the mother, Nicia N. Wilson, 29. They were a couple for about a year and a half before breaking up, he said. After learning of Elijah’s birth from Wilson, he drove to her home with his eight year old son to see him and Wilson did not even open the door. “She was making all these crazy accusations against me.” Fernandez, convicted of a non-violent felony 14 years ago, would soon learn that each false accusation leveled at him at court would result in continued separation from his son.
“Although the mother repeatedly violated the visitation orders, the judge did not even so much as admonish her,” said Colatosti, who has been a child advocate for over 20-years. “It soon became clear to me that the mother was making false allegations against Mr. Fernandez in order to prevent him from having a relationship with his child.”
She petitioned the court on behalf of the child to punish Wilson for violating the court’s order. “Ms. Wilson willfully violated the order by failing to produce Elijah for visits with his father and impaired the right of Mr. Fernandez to have contact with his son and to bond with and establish a relationship with him.” That petition was denied, said Fernandez. “The judge didn’t want to hear it.”
Not only was Fernandez denied visitation by Wilson in violation of court orders, she made the most ludicrous accusations, said Colatosti. “Although I related these concerns to the court, the judge apparently did not give me much credibility.” It was not until the mother absconded with the child for eight months that the judge finally reprimanded her.
"Judge Walsh was primarily responsible for the mother taking-off with the child. She let the mother believe she could do anything she wanted without repercussions," said Colatosti. "No parent should have to undergo what Ramon did. Having a missing child has to be even worse than knowing your child is dead.”
Fernandez said Wilson's continued actions are beyond reasonable. In July, Wilson called authorities to falsely accuse him of rape, but the Mechanicville police filed no charges. When he received a recent weekend visit with Elijah, she did not stop harassing him, he said. “She called child protective services on me eight times."
Colatosti said when Wilson's fifth attorney filed a letter with the chief clerk setting forth a series of false allegations against Fernandez, she told him he had grounds to have Walsh removed. “Anyone with half a brain would have been able to see that the child's mother was doing everything she could to prevent Mr. Fernandez from having a relationship with his child.”
Walsh finally recused herself, although without punishment, and the new judge assigned a different advocate, she said. “The child now has an attorney who is given credibility so that the child's voice will be heard.”
Dean Tong, who is an author and leading forensic specialist on false child abuse allegations, said Wilson wittingly, or unwittingly, did attempt more than one time to alienate father from son. “Ms. Wilson was culpable of mental, emotional, or psychological child abuse – also known as Parental Alienation." Tong, who is not directly involved in this case, said the mother is clearly not done with the father. The trial court expert said by the end of next year, when the child starts talking, it is likely that Wilson will coach the child to parrot the false allegations.
In his book, Elusive Innocence, Tong said, “Younger children tend to align their requirements and their emotional allegiance with the dominant or custodial parent and frequently mirror that parent's descriptions or feelings concerning a situation.”
Mediation is the best solution for parents involved in a custody dispute, he said. “It's where both parents agree to shortcomings and work in concert in the child's best interest. That could include conjoint therapy in which both parents see the same therapist and try to smooth out their differences in counseling.”
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article did not reflect the felony conviction of Ramon Fernandez. A statement by Mr. Fernandez regarding this matter can be read in the comments below.