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Silent no more: George Ihlenburg. Photo by John Whipple.

Don’t Speak a Word of This to Anyone

A Hudson man breaks his silence in an attempt to see his children

George Ihlenburg is fed up with the way he has been treated by one judge in Columbia County’s Family Court system, and he is no longer afraid to say so, even if doing so lands him in jail.

In a complaint filed with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Ihlenburg claimed Columbia County Family Court Judge Paul Czajka should be recused from his case due to a conflict of interest. Czajka has issued a gag order to stop Ihlenburg from sharing any information about his case with outside parties. Yet Ihlenburg believes he has something to talk about, namely not being allowed to see his three children after working within the system for nearly four years.

According to the complaint, Ihlenburg once was contracted by Czajka as a plumber and was represented by him in a previous divorce proceeding; the two men disagreed over payment for the plumbing work. The complaint characterizes Czajka’s decisions as following “a pattern of judicial misconduct, conflict of interest and prejudgment.” Ihlenburg said he has received confirmation that Czajka has received the complaint. The judge did not return calls to comment for this story.

“I’ve just reached a brick wall and have been backed into a corner,” said Ihlenburg. “The most important issue is that my right to freedom of speech has been denied.”

Czajka handed down the gag order on June 19 after Ihlenburg was found in violation of an order of protection against his ex-wife. According to Ihlenburg, his participation in a Flag Day parade where his wife was present was considered a violation of that order. The attorney for Ihlenburg’s ex-wife did not return calls for comment.

Laurie Shanks, a professor at the Albany Law School, said the use of a gag order in a case such as this was new to her.

“My gut reaction is that this is unusual,” said Shanks, “Most of the time, people can talk about their family court cases just like they can talk about any other cases, other than to their children. But it does appear that there are some unusual underlying facts that, without knowing, I’m hesitant to say that [the gag order] is right or wrong.”

Czajka’s court-ordered muffling of Ihlenburg has essentially taken away his First Amendment rights, said George Courtney of the Fathers’ Rights Association of New York State.

“The judge is doing everything he can to hurt this guy,” said Courtney. “Parent alienation syndrome is at work here, and the judge is aiding and abetting.”

Parent alienation syndrome, a term coined by Richard A. Gardner, former professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University, is characterized as a child’s unjustified campaign of denigration against a parent, resulting from “parental ‘brainwashing,’ situational factors, and the child’s own contributions.” Shanks said she has heard of parental alienation, but without hearing the other side of the story, can’t be sure that is the case here.

“If I was that group,” Shanks said, “I’d find a different case than this to find that [term] is appropriate. We don’t want to let people talk badly about the spouse to the kids, but if that is going on here, we don’t know the answer to that.”

Trying to gain favorable status in the eye’s of the court, Ihlenburg has taken court-ordered parenting classes with Catholic Charities of Hudson and completed a domestic abuse intervention program, and continues regular therapy with psychiatrist. Even though Ihlenburg has attempted to mend his ways, he has endured what he and others characterize as improper judicial conduct by Czajka.

“I haven’t sat in on enough to make a sweeping judgment,” said Linda Mussman, of Volunteers for an Impartial Court System. “But my impression is that [Czajka] is not very sympathetic. He is rather quick with his judgment, rather harsh and unusual in his treatment.”

Mussman and her group, consisting of social workers, religious leaders and members of the community involved in the court system, have been gathering to discuss Columbia County’s family court system. She said the group’s last meeting was very successful, and a number of people shared similar complaints with Ihlenburg.

“Czajka’s name was the primary name that came up from all factions,” said Mussman. “It was coming from many different voices in the room who’ve had many different experiences with [him].”

Mussman said the group would continue meeting and attending family court proceedings to build a body of evidence to support a demand for change in Columbia County. Mussman has said her visits to family court have been extremely educational, although she is not entirely pleased with what she has found.

“I was asked to leave George’s case because it has a gag order over it,” said Mussman. “I thought the court system was open, but family court can close its doors for the protection of the children. That can be a good thing, but that is also where corruption can be veiled.”

—Travis Durfee

Education is the answer: Blue Carreker. Photo by Teri Currie.

The Pull-Out Method

Bush administration threatens to withdraw support from international accord to stabilize the population and promote women’s health

Reproductive health and reproductive freedom—code names for abortion? That is what the Bush administration is saying. And unless these two phrases are removed from a United Nations agreement on population control, the United States will withdraw its support from the 1994 accord.

At a U.N. conference last week, the U.S. delegation announced that the United States would no longer support the Cairo Program of Action unless the two terms were removed.

The Cairo Consensus, written in 1994 with the effort of 179 nations, looks to stabilize the world’s population at no more than 9.8 billion by 2050. It urges countries to make health care widely accessible and provide universal access to primary education, and suggests that where abortion is legal, that it be done in a safe manner.

Blue Carreker, spokeswoman for Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, said the Cairo approach to population control was a huge step forward in dealing with the issue. Rather than discuss ways to control population through restrictions and penalties, this agreement was one of the first of its kind to look at education as a solution.

“The idea behind this,” said Carreker, “is that if you educate women, if you allow them to go to school, and give them ways in which they can make decisions, they will make decisions to limit the size of their family and they will do so voluntarily if they have access to healthcare services and have access to birth control.”

Jeanne Head, United Nations representative for the National and International Right to Life Committee, said that the reporting on this issue has been sensationalized to the extreme because, she said, the Bush administration never made any indication that it would pull out of the Cairo accord. “They only said that they cannot reaffirm language that can be construed to include or promote abortion,” said Head. “The position that they took in Bangkok on this population accord is consistent with what they had been doing at all of these conferences.”

The Bush administration is under fierce criticism from family-planning advocates here and abroad for what some are calling its obvious attempt to pander to right-to-life constituents at the expense of women around the world. Just this past July the administration decided to withhold $34 million in previously approved aid to the United Nations Population Fund, suggesting that the agency worked with governments that forced women to have abortions. And in May, during the United Nations General Assembly meeting, the Bush administration, the Vatican and some Muslim countries pushed for a policy to prevent teenagers from getting abortions. The group also fought, unsuccessfully, to make abstinence the centerpiece of sex education for unmarried teens.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, praised the Bush administration’s proposal to withdraw from the treaty.

“There is a sort of code,” said Johnson, “used in some of these U.N. documents, and groups that advocate expanded access to abortion do construe these phrases to include abortion.”

Carreker points out that the decision of the administration to withdraw support from the Cairo program undermines the efforts of family planning officials in countries that have looked to the Untied States to take the lead in issues such as these.

“A lot of elements to that agreement don’t just address birth control,” Carreker pointed out, “but have to do with general education and getting girls and women into school and doing sex education and providing access to a broad range of healthcare services.”

—Nancy Guerin

You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Third Parties

Unless they piggybacked major-party candidates or were funded by independently wealthy businessmen, political third parties in New York state now depend on their grassroots for survival.

While the state Board of Elections doesn’t release certified results until Dec. 13, unofficial Associated Press tallies show that the Green, Libertarian, Marijuana Reform, Liberal and Right to Life parties didn’t receive enough votes in New York’s 2002 governor’s race to maintain official party status. The litmus test for a third party’s validity is receiving 50,000 votes on its line. By achieving that magic number, political parties are granted automatic ballot status throughout elections at all levels of state government over the next four years, making their issues visible in the voting booth.

In an election mired by low voter turnout (it is estimated that only 39 percent of registered voters made it to the polls on Nov. 5), the Conservative, Working Families and Independence parties were the only third parties to make the cut. The Conservative and WF parties did so by nominating major party candidates Gov. George E. Pataki and H. Carl McCall, respectively, while the Independence Party was buoyed by B. Thomas Golisano and his ample war chest.

“Most of the mainstream papers had it as a three-way race,” said Mark Dunlea, vice chairman of the New York state Green Party. “The average voter who is not politically inclined, they don’t even know [third parties] exist. [Third parties] are forced to compete for a small slice of the politically aware population.”

Third parties throughout the state employ different tacks to advance their agendas and attract voters. While the Working Families, Conservative and Independence parties use their ballot line to attract major party candidates while holding them accountable to a specific set of values, others, like the Greens and Libertarians, attempt to advance their own agendas throughout elections at every level of government. A few, like the MRP and RTL parties, focus their entire campaigns on reforming specific state laws.

“The only way medical marijuana would have gone through would have been to create the Marijuana Reform Party,” said Thomas Leighton, MRP gubernatorial candidate. “The people who are sick and suffering and the issue of medical marijuana were the big losers.”

But according to one political observer, third parties having to return to the grass roots and collect the required 15,000 signatures to appear on a ballot as an unofficial party is a setback only in bureaucratic terms.

“Whether or not the Green Party has a line on gubernatorial election, I don’t think it means much,” said Jeffrey Stonecash, professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. “I don’t think it means their issues are dead. They are still a potent force to be dealt with.”


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