Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Pregnant woman gets 30 days in jail for spat with judge
By Larry Fisher-Hertz
For five years, Yevgenia Shockome has been locked in a bitter divorce and child custody dispute.
An IBM software engineer who emigrated from Russia nine years ago, Shockome said Tuesday she'd learned some hard lessons about the American legal system during her court battle.
Her case took an almost unprecedented turn last week when she landed in jail — the result of an argument with a judge in Dutchess County Family Court.
Judge Damian Amodeo cited Shockome for contempt of court Thursday and sentenced her to 30 days behind bars. In his citation, Amodeo said Shockome had accused him of "lying" and "conspiring to fix the case, and thereby was guilty of disorderly, contemptuous and insolent behavior. ..."
Seven months pregnant and clad in an orange jumpsuit, Shockome talked about her case as she sat on a wooden bench in the visiting room of the county jail Tuesday.
Plight no surprise
She said she was distressed, but not surprised, by what had happened to her.
"I grew up in Russia, in a system where the state oppressed its people," the 32-year-old mother of two said. "Now, I come to America and this happens."
"People ask me, 'Do I love America?' I say yes, in my dreams of what America is, yes I do," Shockome said. "But the reality? No, the reality is something different."
Shockome has maintained almost from the outset of her case that Amodeo and others involved in the proceedings have unfairly sided with her husband, Timothy Shockome. Amodeo awarded Timothy Shockome sole custody of the two children, ages 8 and 10, last year. Timothy Shockome reportedly moved the children to Texas last week.
Amodeo is barred by law from commenting publicly on the case, said Joan Posner, his law clerk. But Yevgenia Shockome said her ongoing dispute with the judge reached a new level of animosity during her appearance in court Thursday. She said the stage was set for the argument before she even got to court because Amodeo would not tell her what issues would be discussed. She said she needed to know because she is no longer represented by a lawyer in her custody battle.
"Judge Amodeo scheduled this proceeding, but he would not tell me what it was about," she said. "I wanted to know so I could prepare."
Over the past month, Yevgenia Shockome said, she had repeatedly asked Amodeo to recuse himself from the case because she had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against him April 6. He refused.
During Thursday’s proceeding, Amodeo was outlining what he said were some of the facts of the case — some of which she believed were untrue, she said.
"I kept saying, 'I object, I object,'" Yevgenia Shockome said.
"(Amodeo) asked me to stop talking and I did," she said. "But then when he said more lies, I said, 'I object' and he said, 'That’s it. One more time and you’re in contempt.'"
‘"He said something else I don't remember. I objected again, and he said to the (court) officers, 'Take her into custody.'"
In court documents outlining his decision awarding Timothy Shockome custody of the children, Amodeo said: "For the most part, the mother has provided (her children) with good, wholesome and beneficial care over the years." But he said he had come to believe she had falsely accused her husband of abusing her and the children.
"Her false, misleading and exaggerated statements, claims and allegations are not with respect to minor issues but rather relate to the matters which are at the very heart of the controversy in this case," the judge wrote in a decision dated May 10, 2004.
Amodeo also noted an attorney appointed as law guardian to the children, Frank Marocco, also recommended Timothy Shockome be granted custody.
Friends and supporters of the children’s mother disagreed.
Jennifer Shagan, founder of the Dutchess County Chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she had an open mind about the case when a friend asked her to attend some of the Shockomes’ court proceedings.
"She had every group imaginable — battered women’s advocates — behind her in the courtroom," Shagan said. "She knew I was skeptical about putting my group's name behind her cause until I had all the facts. But the more I learned, the more suspicious I became about the Family Court system. I get calls about it from a lot of people in Dutchess County."
Shagan said she was shocked to learn Yevgenia Shockome had been jailed.
"It's unprecedented, 30 days in jail for what she did," Shagan said. "She didn’t pose a threat to anyone"
Praise from neighbor
Town of Poughkeepsie resident Caroline Barden, who said she had been Yevgenia Shockome’s neighbor for the past 3 years, agreed.
"Our kids became best friends, and Genia is an extraordinary mother," Barden said.
"I will say Judge Amodeo was extremely fair to me when I testified at the trial and (Timothy Shockome’s lawyer) objected," she said. "But it was very disturbing to learn she was in jail."
"I didn’t sleep (Monday) night worrying about her. To think of her in jail, seven months pregnant, that makes me nuts," she said.
Yevgenia Shockome, meanwhile, said she hoped she would soon be released. An amateur track performer, she said she had won some medals for the Hudson Valley team in the Empire State Games in 2004.
"Last year, I represented Dutchess County," she said. "This year, Dutchess County puts me in jail."