U.S. judge denies role in ‘fake’ truancy court

By Bob Unruh

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A Missouri judge, faced with a complaint against him in the state’s Supreme Court, contends he had nothing do to with a notice that threatened a homeschooling couple with the loss of their children if they didn’t appear before what turned out to be a fake “truancy court.”

Tiffany and Anthony Swearengin of Ava, Missouri, filed the complaint, claiming “unlawful intimidation of a homeschooling family,” against Judge R. Craig Carter after they received a formal-looking notice from the Circuit Court of Douglas County Juvenile Division warning that their attendance at an April 4 hearing is “mandatory and failure to comply” could result in their children “being placed in the legal custody of the Missouri Children’s Division.

The March 18 notice came after the Swearingens informed the public school attended by their 6- and 8-year old children that they planned to begin homeschooling.

Judge Carter’s lawyer, George Reinbold, insisted in a brief filed with the state Supreme Court that there is “no indication anywhere in the record” that Carter sent the notice to the parents “or was in any way involved with sending the notice.”

In a response to the state Supreme Court, the Home School Legal Defense Association, which represents the parents, said it won’t wash for the judge to deny responsibility.

“It is unseemly for respondent now to disavow all knowledge and responsibility for the summons’ content and appearance,” the brief said. “That is especially so because the juvenile officer, Jerry Connor, told counsel that it was ‘all done according to Judge Carter’s guidelines.'”

See what American education has become, in “Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children.”

Jim Mason, HSLDA’s vice president for litigation and development, said his group “learned that so-called ‘truancy courts’ are not really courts at all; it is a term used around the state for voluntary diversion programs designed to keep kids in school without formally prosecuting them.”

“But this family received a formal-looking ‘summons’ that even I, an experienced homeschool lawyer, originally believed to be legitimate,” he said. “The ‘summons’ threatened to take legal custody of the children if the parents didn’t show up.”

Carter had a hearing scheduled April 4 for the Swearingens when he was contacted by the Supreme Court and ordered to respond to the parents’ complaint.

In a filing Monday, his lawyer Reinbold claimed Carter had nothing to do with the notice sent to the Swearingens.

Reinbold noted the parents allege Carter “acted in excess of his authority and jurisdiction by sending the notice to relators to require their attendance in the Truancy Court program on April 4, 2016, and by engaging in ‘unlawful intimidation of a homeschooling family.'”

“However, there is no indication anywhere in the record that respondent sent the notice to relators, or was in any way involved with drafting or sending the notice,” the lawyer argued.

“He likewise has no involvement in determining who receives a notice to attend Truancy Court. Respondent did not exercise any authority or jurisdiction over relators in this matter, nor does he exercise any authority or jurisdiction in any other Truacy Court matter,” the lawyer claimed.

The brief further alleged there is “no underlying case in this matter and there remains nothing left to be done in the Truancy Court proceeding that involved relators.”

The judge’s lawyer argued the case is moot because the parents are requesting that the court prohibit their attendance at a hearing whose date already has passed.

Further, he contended, the parents “have no personal interest in what documents are used, how respondent conducts himself and the reasons why other parents are requested to appear in all other Truancy Court matters.”

Carter office has declined to respond to a WND request for comment.

‘Exactly like an official court document’

HSLDA responded immediately to the judge’s claims, contesting “the judge’s characterization of his ‘truancy court’ as being voluntary, and demonstrate[d] why the case is not moot simply because the day of the hearing as ‘come and gone.'”

“Judge Carter argues that the Supreme Court may not consider anything beyond the ‘Notice to Appear.’ But he urges the Supreme Court to believe that ‘[i]n Douglas County the Truancy Court is an informal and voluntary diversionary program.’ Yet the ‘Notice to Appear,’ which he urges the Supreme Court to focus on, does not use the words ‘informal,’ ‘voluntary,’ ‘diversionary,’ or ‘program.’

“Rather, the ‘Notice to Appear,’ which looks exactly like an official court document, unequivocally commands the Swearengins’ presence in ‘Truancy Court.’ And it baldly asserts that ‘[a]ttendance is mandatory and failure to comply can result in the Judge Ordering the Juvenile Office to file a petition’ to take children into custody,” he explained.

HSLDA said Carter “also attempts to distance himself from the creation and operation of the ‘Truancy Court.'”

“But after the Court of Appeals had already denied our petition, he candidly engaged in a private discussion on Facebook on April 1, 2016, and consented to the conversation being posted on a local homeschool group’s Facebook page.”

In the post, Mason pointed out, Carter said, “Truancy Court is a ‘real’ court” and boasted he had “set up one of the only Truancy Courts in a rural area in the United States.”

Mason noted: “Remember, he said this after one court had denied our petition and before the Supreme Court had ordered him to respond.”

Mason also pointed out that Carter cited the plan for the parents to be in his court as an “appearance” and called the document sent to them a “summons.”

The judge had said, “The parents were just sent a summons to come to court to explain.”

Carter also called issue of the parents and their children’s schooling a “case.”

“And of great concern to homeschooling families is that Judge Carter apparently believes that starting ‘cases’ in ‘truancy court’ and ‘summoning’ homeschoolers gives him the authority to require the production of records. He said, ‘This is really on the attorney who filed this. He should have actually investigated the case. In all actuality, I’m probably the best friend a homeschooling parent has. If a parent shows up with the records showing their kid is being educated, I can end everything right there, and the parents can go on homeschooling like they had been,'” Mason said.

‘No such statutory court exists’

The HSLDA brief told the Supreme Court: “A circuit court judge has created what he believes to be a ‘real court.’ He has directed his juvenile officer to ‘summon’ parents and children to this real court to decide their ‘case.’ When this court phoned the respondent just before relators were scheduled to appear, he ‘continued’ the matter.

“But no such statutory court exists. Respondent has no jurisdiction to either create a new court or command a parent’s presence before it. No appeal is possible.”

HSLDA pointed out that Carter argues the parents’ request that he be ordered to stop “does not stem from any judicial proceeding, order, ruling or matter.”

“Yet respondent refers to ‘the underlying matter’ three times … and ‘underlying Truancy Court matter’ once,” HSDLA argued. “Here respondent has put his finger on the problem faced by the Swearengins; they have been summoned to a court that does not have jurisdiction over them, to appear before a judge who has no judicial authority to either command their presence or issue lawful orders, and have been told that ignoring the summons could result in the loss of custody of their children.”

See what American education has become, in “Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children.”

WND previously reported the letter to the Swearengins was from Rose Pursell, the chief deputy juvenile officer in the Douglas County, Missouri.

HSLDA first asked the Missouri Court of Appeals to intervene, and then when the court refused, appealed to the state Supreme Court.

‘Treating homeschoolers like criminals’

The organization’s request for a writ of prohibition to stop the litigation explains the boy’s first grade teacher had wanted the parents to medicate their son because he was “hyper” in class, even though the boy’s physician had said no such action was needed.

The family decided enough was enough and started homeschooling.

Almost immediately, the mother was summoned to Assistant Superintendent Mike Henry’s office, and he “asked if there was anything the public school could have done to keep them from withdrawing their children to homeschool, since now the school would be receiving less money from the state.”

Henry warned that Carter’s “policy” would require an investigation and a caseworker visit.

“Mrs. Swearengin stated, ‘it was not illegal to withdraw her children from public school to homeschool them and that it seemed like he and Judge Carter were treating the Swearengins like criminals,'” the filing states.

No caseworker ever came, but the “notice” did.

“This ‘Notice’ was issued without any legal grounds to believe that the Swearengins were violating the compulsory attendance law,” HSLDA says. “The only possible reason Mr. and Mrs. Swearengin were summoned to bring their young children to the ‘truancy court’ was because they withdrew their children from public school to homeschool three days earlier.”

The statements, the “policy,” the timing, the official-looking “notice,” “all suggest improper intimidation and retaliation against any parent who withdraws a child from public school to lawfully homeschool them,” the brief stated.

“The notice to appear in this case is not a lawfully issued notice to appear in a lawfully established court in spite of its appearance and ‘mandatory’ nature,” HSLDA said. “The Missouri Code establishing the court system of Missouri does not establish ‘truancy’ courts.'”

The couple was “frightened by the notice, which they believed was a legitimate summons to appear in juvenile court.”

“Their daughter read the notice and asked her parents if it meant that she would be taken away from her parents.”

See what American education has become, in “Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children.”

 

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