New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state where residents from surrounding states flock to take advantage of tax-free shopping, has long lived in the national spotlight as the first state in the presidential primaries.
But court reform advocates here say the New England state is deserving of another spotlight, one that casts a negative light on a family court system they say is plagued with a chronic and disturbing lack of priorities when it comes to domestic abuse.
Wendy Murphy, a Boston attorney and former prosecutor who has been involved in domestic violence reform around the country, told The Epoch Times that she would rank New Hampshire as having one of the worst track records on the treatment of domestic violence and child abuse cases.
“In my experience it certainly tops the list,” Murphy, also a law professor at New England Law and author of the book “And Justice For Some,” told The Epoch Times.
‘The Alabama of New England’
Murphy likened some of its operations to the mafia, noting that she has seen a high volume of cases in which New Hampshire judges were operating outside the law and threatened non-abusive parents with loss of custody of their children if they challenged their rulings.
Others like Anna Carrigan, a recent whistleblower of the Department of Health and Human Services, called New Hampshire “the Alabama of New England” and said that in state cases she has seen a rampant problem of “predetermined outcomes” by judges in child and abuse neglect cases.
She added that very often the outcome is either against the protective parent or puts an already abused child at further risk.
Carrigan is a licensed social worker who founded New Road Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization for court reform in New Hampshire, after her 2020 whistleblowing case involving an allegation she made against the agency’s child protection arm—NH Children Youth and Family Services (DCYF).
According to Carrigan, New Hampshire has the lowest substantiation rate of child abuse and neglect cases than any state child protection agency in the United States.
Kathy Jones, a court advocate for victims of domestic abuse in New Hampshire for the past 24 years, told The Epoch Times she had come to the conclusion the family courts were more dangerous than the very crimes they were supposed to be protecting against.
In also likening the NH family courts to the mafia, Republican lawmaker and former gubernatorial candidate Max Abramson told The Epoch Times that he tried for more than a decade to get reform measures in place.
But said he had been unable to get past the “gates of an old boy network”—made up of lawyers, therapists, and even nonprofit groups he said were “drawing fat paychecks” from court appointments handed out by family court judges.
“Keeping it corrupt,” Abramson said, “keeps the money flowing.”
The DCYF did not respond to requests by The Epoch Times for comment. The New Hampshire judicial court administration acknowledged requests for comments from The Epoch Times but never responded further.
In February, Richard Head, Director of Government Affairs for the NH Judicial Branch, testified against all of them, telling the House Child and Family Law Committee that compared to the family court’s heavy caseload, judges “most of the time get it right.”
Head told the committee there are only 47 full-time judges in New Hampshire tasked with handling 125,000 cases.
There are currently several pending bipartisan court reform bills in New Hampshire.
One of them calls for an amendment to the state constitution that allows NH residents to recall a bad judge. Another targets a court rule adopted only for the New Hampshire Family Division that allows family judges to exempt themselves from all of court rules including rules of evidence.
“I don’t even see how that’s constitutional,” House Republican Betty Gay, the bill’s main sponsor, told The Epoch Times.
On March 1 a review committee made up of judges and others who work in the state’s court system, is slated to release a report on ways to improve how a family court judge handles domestic violence and custody cases.
Gov. Chris Sununu ordered the committee formed following a series of recent national headline stories born out of the state’s family court system—including the case of family court Judge Julie Introcaso who was allowed to avoid jail time for tampering with documents in a private custody matter.
Introcaso admitted in the case that she took actions that financially benefited her best friend who she appointed as the child’s guardian ad litem in the case. When her case became public, many parents came forward with their own experiences of corruption by Introcaso.
Instead of settling the case, Abramson told The Epoch Times that the state should have begun an investigation into all of Introcaso’s cases.
“I think it says a lot about the state’s attitude towards claims of corruption by its family court judges,” he said.
Soon after the Introcaso case became public, a Bow woman was stabbed repeatedly by her ex-boyfriend in November 2021, after a family court judge released him on personal recognizance following a previous violent attack on the woman.
Two weeks earlier, Lindsay Smith was shot multiple times in the head by her ex-boyfriend less than a month after Judge Polly Hall denied her petition for a restraining order against him.
On her request for protection, 33-year old Lindsay Smith alleged her boyfriend Richard Lorman made violent sexual threats against her and made statements including “I’m going to [expletive] you up” and “I will make you pay.”
‘In Immediate Danger’
Hall denied the petition concluding Lorman didn’t pose a clear and present danger to Smith.
Murphy said she was outraged by the committee’s finding and wrote an op-ed piece blasting Judge Hall that ran in the Boston Herald.
“What would possess any judge, much less a woman, to deny a victim of domestic violence a restraining order, especially when the abuser doesn’t even come to court?” Murphy wrote.
Destinie Berard was also outraged by Hall’s decision, but for different reasons.
In an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times, Berard shared court records that showed Hall, the same judge in Smith’s case, granted Berard’s ex-boyfriend a five-year restraining order against her, for non-threatening text messages and social media posts on her own Facebook page.
Records from the case show that Berard’s ex, a Massachusetts cop, wrote on his initial application for a restraining order against her that he wasn’t “not in physical fear” of Berard, but rather that he “was annoyed.”
Unlike Smith who wrote Lorman had recently “arranged his guns in front of her,” and that she felt she was “in immediate danger” and worried he would soon “resort to violence” against her.
“It’s discriminatory, unrighteous, dishonorable, and unforgivable that [Lindsay] had to show explicit and degrading photos of her abused body—only to be told the state of New Hampshire would not protect her safety,” Berard told The Epoch Times.
“Seems like judges are making it up as they go along.”
‘What caused such a fateful decision?’
There is also the tragic case of 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery, who was supposed to be under the watchful eye of the DCYF.
Instead in December 2021, New Hampshire police announced they had learned the agency had no record of her whereabouts for the past two years and that she was still missing.
Before she disappeared from New Hampshire’s radar, Montgomery was the subject of a custody dispute in Massachusetts where a family court judge granted full custody to her father despite his long criminal history and ties to drug dealing.
When the information surfaced, Gov. Sununu issued a two-page letter blasting the Massachusetts judge asking, “Why would a Massachusetts court choose to place custody of Harmony with this horrible individual?” and “What caused such a fateful decision?”
When Annemarie Weisman read Sununu’s letter, she told The Epoch Times her first reaction was “you have got to be kidding me.”
Weisman, now a business owner in South Carolina, said about six years ago she found herself asking the very same questions when a New Hampshire family court judge issued a secret order granting full custody of her then 12-year-old daughter to her father, despite documented evidence he had violently abused her.
Court records from the case show that a police officer in the private custody case told the judge it was the worst case of child abuse he had ever seen.
“New Hampshire’s officials are in denial of the real problem,” said Weisman, “corrupt judges.”
Immunity for Judges
Weisman was never found to be an unfit parent. Instead, the judge decided that she was alienating her daughter from her father because she had brought up his history of abuse.
Jones, a former trainer with the DCYF who recently founded a witness support group called Mother Jones Network, told The Epoch Time, she has been involved in hundreds of cases like Weisman’s in New Hampshire in which judges have made similar untried claims against parents with favorable outcomes for parents accused of domestic violence or child abuse.
The issue even prompted one mother, now a professor at Southern New Hampshire University, to write a 246-page dissertation entitled “Structural Violence in the New Hampshire Family Court System: An Autoethnographic Exploration by Ann Marie Moynihan.”
In it, Moynihan described judges as more interested in control than the law and creating more conflict than closing cases.
“The current family law system sets the stage for more conflict that emerges as additional disputes in need of resolution,” Moynihan wrote in her 2018 dissertation.
Carrigan, Gay, Jones, Murphy, Abramson, and others told The Epoch Times that the ultimate problem is that judges have absolute immunity and are, therefore, free to ignore the law.
Abramson has in the past proposed an amendment to the NH constitution to eliminate immunity for family court judges.
He would also like to see an inspector general established in each of the state’s executive council districts that would conduct independent reviews of questionable family court decisions.
Carrigan would like to see an ethics board put in place for social workers—much like the state conduct committee for judges—not just to increase better protection for domestic abuse victims, she said, but also to stop the agency from abusing its authority.
Shot Six Times in Back of Head
The agency recently issued an ex-parte order to take a teenage son after his father, a leader of a popular conservative organization in New Hampshire, gave him Ivermectin. The Epoch Times did a story on the case last month. Since that time, a family court judge has placed the father J. R. Hoell under a gag order.
Murphy, however, says history in New Hampshire shows that all the recommendations in the world are not making much difference in how judges conduct themselves.
In 2013, following the tragic shooting of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon by his father Muni Savyon during a supervised visit ordered by a family court judge, a review committee—much like the current task force—was established to review safety procedures at parent visitation centers.
Court documents show Savyon had threatened his son multiple times before he shot him six times in the back of the head at the YWCA in Manchester.
After reviewing the circumstances surrounding Savyon’s death the committee issued a series of recommended changes. Topping its list was a mandate that judges would only order supervised visits at facilities with metal detectors in any cases involving alleged abuse or threats.
Despite the mandates, court records show, family court judges continued to order supervised visitations at a fee-based privately-run visitation center in Dover, New Hampshire, that admits it has no metal detector.
The judges order supervised visits at the center even though there is a free county-run parenting center with a metal detector and staffed by law enforcement located within the same building as the family court.
The facility is owned by a divorce attorney and a woman who receives frequent court appointments by the family court judge as guardian ad litem in private custody cases.
In a recent Google review of the center, parent Krystle Humphreys wrote that staff told her they do not have to follow the state’s Supervised Visitation Policies and Procedures, the policy that was set by the committee following Joshua’s death.
“It made me uncomfortable leaving my child with them,” Humphreys wrote.