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Strong penalties proposed for visitation violations *** US Supreme Court strikes down protest regs at cemeteries

Wednesday, Mar 2, 2011

* Usually, bills based on extreme cases can get a bit outta hand. But there are lots of problems out there with visitation rights, with parents using children as weapons in nasty divorces. So, this may not be too unreasonable

A bill that increases the penalties for parents who violate visitation agreements passed out of an Illinois House committee on Wednesday on a unanimous vote. The proposal now goes before the full House.

House Bill 1604 allows judges to impose fines and possible jail time if visitation is continually denied.

The so-called “Steven Watkins bill” stems from the 2008 case where Watkins was fatally shot when he went to pick up daughter Sidney, now 3, for a court-ordered visit in Ashland. Shirley Skinner, the grandmother of Watkins ‘ ex-wife, Jennifer Watkins , was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing and is serving a 70-year sentence.

Steven Watkins’ parents were granted visitation rights with Sidney, but Jennifer Watkins has not produced the girl for court-ordered visits.

* The bill does a lot more than impose fines and jail time. It grants judges a lot of new powers

Amends the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Provides that the court, upon finding that a party engaged in visitation abuse, may: suspend the offending party’s Illinois driving privileges pursuant to the Illinois Vehicle Code until the court has determined that there has been sufficient compliance for a sufficient period of time with the court’s order concerning visitation and that full driving privileges shall be reinstated; order that the offending party be issued a family responsibility driving permit to allow limited driving privileges for employment and medical purposes; order that an entity that issued a professional license to the offending party suspend or revoke the party’s professional license for a period of no more than 6 months; and fine the party not more than $500 for each finding of visitation abuse. Provides that a finding of visitation abuse constitutes a change in circumstances for purposes of a modification of a custody judgment. Provides that if a parent has been previously found in contempt by the court for visitation abuse, the court may further: incarcerate the offending parent one day for each day of denied visitation; or require the offending party to post a $5,000 bond subject to forfeiture for the purpose of assuring compliance with future visitation.

* By the way, an arrest warrant has been issued for Jennifer Watkins because she defied a judge’s order...

A Cass County judge has ordered the arrest of the widow of the late Steven Watkins for not allowing visits between the couple’s 3-year-old daughter and the murdered man’s parents.

The visits between Sidney Watkins and her paternal grandparents, Dale and Penny Watkins, stopped Nov. 26 because the child and mother Jennifer Watkins reportedly moved to Florida.

Jennifer Watkins did not appear Tuesday at a hearing on multiple petitions that Dale and Penny Watkins’ attorneys filed seeking she be held in contempt of court and a warrant issued for her arrest.

Jennifer Watkins’ attorneys, Michael Goldberg of Chicago and Dan Fultz of Springfield, told Judge Bob Hardwick Jr. they do not know where she is and could not provide any defense because they have been unable to communicate with her.


…Adding… This ruling may not go down well with some

The First Amendment protects hateful protests at military funerals, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in an 8-1 decision.

“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Illinois already has a law on its books restricting the protests (which were enacted because of those idiot cultists who protest at military funerals), but there was a push this year to strengthen it

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, is backing legislation to discourage loud and threatening protests at funerals.

“Hateful rhetoric has no place at private ceremonies like funerals where mourners should be able to pay their final respects in peace,” said Mautino. “That right cannot be infringed, so we should do all we can to keep discouraging, despicable protests from taking place at funerals, especially when fallen soldiers are laid to rest.”

In response to demonstrations by a Kansas-based group that regularly protests the families and funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including funerals in Illinois, in 2006 Mautino and the General Assembly passed the Let Them Rest in Peace Act — a law prohibiting anyone from protesting loudly, blocking access to and from any funeral and displaying threatening words or images 30 minutes before, during and 30 minutes after a funeral or memorial service.

Under current law, protesters cannot be within 200 feet of the entrance or exit of the cemetery or memorial facility. The law defines protesting as disorderly conduct, which includes loud protests of singing, chanting, whistling or yelling, and displaying any visual images that convey fighting words or actual or veiled threats against any other person.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 1:23 pm:

    Have to agree with the Supremes, as disgusting as those Westboro haters are.

    Of course, there’s nothing to say that family members or the bikers who’ve been acting as buffers at the funerals might not agree with Justice Alito’s dissent on fighting words, either, and act accordingly.

  2. - Hoping for Rational Thought - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 1:37 pm:

    What happened to Steve Watkins was tragic. Hopefully a change in law will prevent further tragedies and also help keep children from becoming hostages in custody fights. Who knows maybe it would also keep Jennifer Watkins from disobeying a lawfully issued court order and fleeing the state. I generally dislike adding more layers of law but something needs to be done about ending these terrible situations.

  3. - Ray del Camino - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 1:42 pm:

    What you said, Word.

    And yes, bikers tend to side with the dissenting opinion, I’ve always found.

  4. - JustaJoe - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 1:46 pm:

    To me it is inappropriate to react to extreme cases with new law for everybody else. Can we not find ways to improve enforcement of existing law and court orders? With the same reasoning, I to have to side with the Supremes, and in the event of simply hurtful and disgusting abuse of that free speech right, it is up to the rest of us, including the press, to show it for what it is and to not ignore it or its hurtful impacts. If we want a more civil culture, we won’t get it by legislation.

  5. - Springfield Skeptic - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 2:24 pm:

    For those who don’t know, those bikers are mostly members of the Patriot Guard Riders. I have the priviledge of having been a member for the last 4 years. We set up a flag line. A wall of men and women to act as a buffer and a shield between the grieving family and those hateful monsters. Go PGR!

  6. - Citigirl - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 2:26 pm:

    Bad idea. Think of those two little boys downstate who were killed by their father when he picked them up for visitation. She had a bad feeling, tried to get the court’s attention, but followed the order. We didn’t rewrite the visitation laws after that horrible case, we shouldn’t change them for the Watkins case.

  7. - D.P. Gumby - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 2:55 pm:

    There is an ironic link between the two described cases–law can only do so much, it is founded upon the principle of people acting rationally. Those who are irrational will act regardless of what the law says. The Skinners and the Westboro Baptist people are irrational in their beliefs; we can pass laws til the cows come home and it will be unlikely to change their behavior. The time/place/manner restrictions under 1st Amendment w/ the assistance of the Patriot Guards are the best response. As to the visitation, I’ve got great reluctance to see these additional elements added into the mix of these vicious custody battles. It will just be yet another thing for the parties to fight about and distract and extend the battle. I foresee Motions for Sanctions for all of these and then arguments as to why one is appropriate but another isn’t and then appeals and long cases fighting over the applicability. There’s already some statute about interference w/ visitation & that has had no impact. It’s an attempt to legislate the unlegislatable.

  8. - SampsonK - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 2:59 pm:

    The Connelly Case was seriously unfortunate, but I think a good view of the whole case would find that there was interference there, and with years and years of ongoing litigation, the Connelly Case went way overboard. Also, they did try to pass legislation in that case, they tried to make late drop offs of children as a mandatory Amber Alert. That failed to pass traction in the House.

  9. - Captain Angrypants - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 3:08 pm:

    Having looked over Snyder v. Phelps this morning when the decision was published, I was very surprised by the facts of the case. I hadn’t been following it closely, and what I read was nothing like what the media covered. Yes, the Westboro “Church” said some really offensive things with their signs, but they stayed to the assigned public protest area, obeyed all laws, and quietly left after half an hour. Mr. Snyder, the father of the deceased, didn’t see anything other than the tops of their signs on his way from the church to the cemetery, and didn’t learn of what the protesters were saying until he watched the news that night.

    The case actually hinged on whether or not Westboro’s conduct qualified, tortiously, as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Given that their signs were largely directed toward the US as a whole and they stayed a thousand feet away in a protest area, the SCOTUS said ‘no’, it wasn’t. What actually alarms me more is Alito’s dissent. He’s working hard at carving out a little niche for himself to the right of Clarence Thomas.

  10. - carbaby - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 3:10 pm:

    I find it odd to put forth legislation for visitation based upon a case that it is the grandparent’s right for visitation. Last I recall, grandparents do not have a “right” to visit under Illinois law- so in fact this case is unique. The language in this legislation does not indicate who the visiting parties are and thus can lead into a variety of interpretation of who is “protected”. I already thought there was a law on the books regarding withholding visitation with the same/similar remedies. So how does this law differ?

  11. - SampsonK - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 3:28 pm:

    carbaby: No, there isn’t a law on the books for same remedies, right now the remedies are very insignificant, at best contempt can be found and custody can be reversed. Grandparent visitation isn’t off the books, it was damaged significantly due to Troxel, but it is awarded when extreme situations warrant, the Watkins was one of them. That was upheld in the Appeals court in the case. The protected parties are defined in 750 under the visitation interference provisions. In essence, it’s folks who have a visitation order.

  12. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 4:02 pm:

    The Watkins case was tragic and I firmly believe not everyone involved in Steven’s death has been prosecuted. I’m quite sure the judge who ruled that Steven’s parents had visitation rights was skeptical of the entirety of the events. Regardless of how we feel about grandparents’ visitation rights, the judge ruled in a certain manner and Steven’s ex-wife didn’t follow the judge’s decree. I’m quite sure that’s grounds for arrest in any county under any circumstance. The courthouse news in my home county is filled with arrests made of people who failed to show up for a traffic charge or the smallest of misdemeanors.

  13. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 4:27 pm:

    Have to agree with the Supremes. First Amendment protects these disgusting examples of human beings. Best thing is just to ignore them, if you can. I admire the actions of the Patriot Guard Riders in trying to protect the family members.

  14. - Backtrack - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 4:36 pm:

    This is why there are now over 200,000 Patriot Guard members across the U.S. A movement that started out to create a buffer between the mourners and haters at funerals of our fallen heros.

  15. - Cheryl44 - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 4:37 pm:

    I prefer taunting them to ignoring them, but YMMV.

  16. - MrJM - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 5:27 pm:

    @Cheryl44 - Taunting them makes no difference. They only do these stunts to provoke a reaction for which they can file a lawsuit:

    Like all trolls, they feed on attention.

    – MrJM

  17. - Just The Way It Is One - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 7:31 pm:

    You’d think the members of this miniscule-sixed “church,” which from what I read mostly consists of the phelps clan (sorry, I just can’t find it in me to CAPitalize the name), would find better, more loving-type things to do with its’ time in spreading the Gospel and the “Good News” about Christ’s many teachings than zero-in strictly on these truly despicable, hateful-based, ridiculing, so-called “protests” when folks are deeply in pain at the loss of a loved one…it’s not only terribly sad but truly pitiful…thank God, Pat Quinn and Rep. Mautino saw to it the passage of Illinois’ statute back in 2006 and the latter hopes to strengthen it even further–my holler out to the General Assembly: let’s push this one through and soon!

  18. - Just The Way It Is One - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 7:32 pm:

    From 7:31 p.m.’s post…it should read miniscule-sized in that first line….

  19. - Lake Lahontan - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 7:35 pm:

    I’m with Citigirl. As the child of divorce where the father was an jekyll and Hyde alcoholic in arrears on child support, I’m glad my mother was able to say no to visitation when he was unsafe to be around. Wonder if tv ad attorney Jeffrey “fathers rights” Leving is involved.

    Re: Westboro, bad people, but badly made case. Hopefully it won’t dissuade better cases against them.

  20. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Mar 2, 11 @ 9:54 pm:

    Supremes got it right. I explained the case to my children this evening and we discussed why it is important to protect such despicable speech. I also think the buffer zone approach is a good one as well. The speech is protected and the families get a cushion of space to mourn.

  21. - SampsonK - Thursday, Mar 3, 11 @ 6:55 am:

    Lake Lahontan: Nope, Leving has nothing to do with this bill.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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