January 20, 2012 – Judge Susan Breall, San Francisco, has ordered that a 2 year old child not see his father until his father’s trial is over. Such “no contact” orders are common and appropriate in some cases, but is this one of them? The defendant here is the sheriff of San Francisco County. He is charged with domestic violence against his wife. It is alleged he was verbally abusive to his wife, and grabbed her arm in a manner that caused a bruise. Although his wife did not call the police and refused to press charges, the husband was criminally charged with a misdemeanor.
Leaving aside the issue between husband and wife…for it is wrong to let such matters be tried in the newspapers…the odd thing is that the judge ordered no contact between father and child until trial is done. This is an extreme measure typically reserved for very egregious offenses. Here the claim is that the two-year old was present while his parents were fighting, thus leading to a charge of child endangerment.
We are not aware of there being any other allegations of harm or potential harm to the child, other than a claimed risk of harm if he is around his mom and dad when they are together. But mom and dad are now prevented from being in contact with one another (over wife’s objection to that as well). So since mom and dad cannot be together in the presence of the child, where is the risk to the child to be alone with daddy? How long will this two year old be separated from daddy? What is the developmental harm to the child in such separation? What is the emotional pain?
It is easy for some to say that his father should have thought of that before he bruised the mother’s arm. But there are a few problems to that logic:
1) The issue is not the father’s rights but the child’s harm. He needs both parents.
2) The father is innocent until proven guilty. That is a foundational promise to all of us.
3) Even if eventually convicted of these specific charges, would that justify the child losing contact with one of his parents?
We do not know if this is how Judge Breall handles all domestic violence cases or if she is making a media example of the sheriff, but either way it seems the court has failed to put the child’s best interests ahead of all other concerns.