Leslie Loftis: In Emails State Bar Association Members Insult State Lawmakers Over Shared Parenting Bill

Usually, I have great sympathy for elected officials.

They’re routinely asked to decide on a wide range of public policy issues, and it’s impossible to develop expertise before their vote is required. Those deserving to represent citizens reach out to noted experts, to benefit from their knowledge and cast informed votes.

That is not happening in North Dakota today. Last week, needed child custody reforms were gutted and then passed out of committee. Previous custody reforms had failed against opposition from the State Bar Association of North Dakota (SBAND). This time, SBAND pushed for, and got, a useless bill, so legislators could vote “for” something and give the public the impression that action had been taken.

An open records request revealed that SBAND has continually communicated with the Senate Judiciary Committee, in an attempt to obtain their “do not pass” recommendation on SB 1392. Internal documents show an onslaught of phone calls, emails, text messages, and dinner invitations from SBAND and its member attorneys to members of the Judiciary Committee.

Interestingly, as has been repeatedly reported, 110 world experts in psychology, child development, child attachment, domestic violence and conflict reached a consensus on child custody.

“To maximize children’s chances of having long lasting relationships and secure attachments to each parent, Warshak’s consensus report encourages both parents after their separation to maximize the time they spend with their children, including the sharing of overnight parenting time.”

Advocates for North Dakota’s children have repeatedly offered their assistance in connecting North Dakota legislators to these prominent experts so that North Dakota’s child custody laws reflect the findings of these psychologists. To the best of my knowledge, no elected official has responded to this offer.

But SBAND has been heard. Not only has SBAND continually lobbied lawmakers, perhaps violating rules against mandatory bar associations’ political activity — again — but also the emails expose how SBAND’s behind the scenes communications differ from the story presented to the public and to the Legislature itself.

From the open records request emails

The documents (full copy here) show SBAND members using vulgarities, “asshats”, to refer to Elected Officials (click images for a larger view):

The SBAND communications show a lack of respect for the plights of military families.

Such disregard for the children of those who have dedicated their career to the protection and service of America’s citizens, borders, and interests is both highly offensive and disgraceful.

SBAND members also seem to believe that working hard in an effort to provide for one’s family precludes one from having the knowledge or skill to become a parent:

There is worry about looking obstructionist.

Finally, some of the reactions to the bill contained both references to a “liquor budget,” sophomoric style, and thinly veiled vulgarity.


Bar associations acting inappropriately in opposing shared parenting is not new

The Nebraska State Bar Association was sued for their lobbying efforts in opposition to shared parenting. The high court turned the bar into a voluntary organization. The Florida Bar Association spent $105,000 on “emergency lobbyists” to obtain Republican Governor Rick Scott’s veto of a shared parenting bill which passed both the House and Senate. And SBAND was sued, as mentioned above.

What is new, however, is our peek behind the public image of those opposed to custody reform. The documents raise the legitimate question: Is the North Dakota

Senate letting down children by listening to a Bar Association which doesn’t even respect them?

It seems so.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a “shared parenting” bill 5 to 1, but only after gutting the Bill through amendments.

It is establishment politics at its worst.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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