[b]Jackson Custody Dispute Goes Public[/b] Wednesday, September 6, 2006 By Jessica Garrison Los Angeles Times LOS ANGELES — Starting Wednesday, Michael Jackson will figure in another legal circus — this one centering on attempts by Los Angeles Superior Court officials to show that celebrities and other rich people can’t buy special treatment from the legal system when they have business disputes or want to get divorced. For years, Jackson’s custody battle with ex-wife Deborah Rowe seemed to illustrate the opposite point. Despite the media firestorm that accompanied the pop star when he was tried and acquitted last year on child-molestation charges, he managed to keep the custody dispute largely out of the public eye. He did so by hiring a private judge — a service that celebrities and rich people regularly use.

MJEOL NOTE: The characterization of this situation as him ‘manging to keep the custody of his kids because he hired a private judge’ is wholly inaccurate. He kept custody of his children because after child welfare investigated, they didn’t find a reason to take them away from him; probably because there wasn’t a reason to. Thus, this private judge issue had nothing to do with Jackson being allowed to raise his own kids. One of the reasons why celebrities seek private judges is to keep the media frenzy to a bare minimum. In Jackson’s case, it didn’t work as well as it should have because “sources” sympathetic to Rowe were leaking documents to various media entities.

These judges are privately paid by the parties in the dispute, but they are required to follow the same rules of public access and procedure used in public courtrooms. Earlier this year, stung by the appearance that celebrities were buying special treatment, Los Angeles County court officials announced a reform of the rules governing private judging. They also dragged the Jackson case back into the public system. Wednesday morning, lawyers for the pop star and his ex-wife are expected in the teeming, somewhat dilapidated downtown courthouse — a far different environment from the sleek conference rooms where many hearings had been held. On the agenda are Rowe’s efforts to win greater visitation with her and Jackson’s two children, Prince Michael and Paris, as well as attorney’s fees for her lawyer and a motion to file some documents under seal. Court officials also ordered lawyers for Jackson and Rowe to publicly file this week all legal documents since the divorce. As the papers have flooded in, they have opened yet another window into Jackson’s unusual life. Jackson and Rowe, who was a nurse in the office of Jackson’s dermatologist, were married in 1996. Rowe gave birth to Prince Michael Joseph Jackson Jr. in 1997 and to Paris Michael Katherine Jackson in 1998. In 1999, Rowe filed for divorce. Jackson got custody. Rowe received an $8 million settlement, along with a house in Beverly Hills. [b]At first, she also had the right to visit the children every 45 days, but in 2001, she went back to court and asked the private judge, Stephen Lachs, to terminate her parental rights. She said she felt like “an intrusion on their life, and they’re going to have enough intrusions as it is,” according to a transcript. “I’m absolutely around if Michael ever needs me, if the children need me for a liver, kidney, a hello, whatever, I will always be around for him.” But she added, “These are his children. I had the children for him…. They’re his kids. They’re not my kids.”[/b]

MJEOL NOTE: You can read the full and rather devastating transcript of that 2001 parental rights termination hearing here.

At that time, Lachs, a well-regarded, retired family-law judge, agreed to terminate Rowe’s parental rights. Later, when Jackson was arrested on charges of child molestation, Rowe reconsidered. She went back to Lachs and asked him to void the order. Lachs did, saying he had erred when he terminated Rowe’s rights to Paris and Prince Michael without having someone represent the children’s interests. [b]But he stopped short of allowing Rowe increased visitation without further evaluation of the situation. [color=”DarkRed”]Jackson’s lawyers said Rowe was “trying to hold up Michael Jackson for money using the children as the tool” and compared her to .“a common crook or extortionist.”[/color][/b] The pop star’s lawyers took Lachs’ decision to the Court of Appeal, which sided with Rowe in a ruling published earlier this year. That ruling, in which the justices said Lachs had abdicated his responsibilities, brought scrutiny to the practice of private judging. “There are some persuasive arguments … why it is important that even divorce cases be open to the public,” said Marta Almli, one of Rowe’s attorneys. “For example, so public watchdogs can … make sure people are treated fairly. But I don’t see any public watchdogs going into court and making sure that John and Jane Doe are being treated fairly or consistently. I only see people looking at the Michael Jackson cases.” source: http://www.cantonrep.com/index.php?ID=306304&Category=23

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