A Lancaster County District court has ordered the Nebraska Judicial Branch to release documents on how judges are trained to adjudicate child custody disputes.
In May, Dr. Les Veskrna requested records concerning the mandatory continuing education judges must receive on parenting and custody matters. The Lincoln doctor is executive director of the Children’s Rights Council of Iowa and Nebraska, which advocates for more shared-custody in parental disputes.
Veskrna’s organization advocates for more shared-custody in parental disputes and he said he has concerns that the training and information given to judges is biased.
Nebraska Court Administrator Corey Steel promptly denied Veskrna’s request, saying the records weren’t subject to disclosure under state public records law and were closely intertwined with a judge’s deliberative process and thus privileged information.
Veskrna sued Steel, demanding release of the training documents, saying he has concerns that the training and information judges get is biased. His request didn’t include documents related to specific cases.
"The state of Nebraska and the judiciary persists in operating as a gatekeeper and persists in favoring maternal custody in child custody matters, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, except that fathers typically get four days of visitation a month on average,” Veskrna said Wednesday.
Research suggests that noncustodial parents need at least double that to have meaningful relationships with their children, he said.
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On Jan. 5, Lancaster County District Susan Strong ruled that most of the requested documents are public records and not exempt from disclosure. She stayed her ruling as the state considers an appeal.
A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Attorney General's office said the state intends to appeal.
Veskrna’s attorney, Steve Grasz of Omaha, said the case set precedent in a state where the courts, until last week, hadn’t ruled on whether state public records law applies to the judiciary.
In her ruling, Strong also clarified that administrative records of the judicial branch aren’t part of the deliberative process and thus privileged.
Veskrna said he’s hopeful the release of the documents will lift a veil on who's advising judges and what they're teaching them.
“Secrecy doesn’t promote information and trust and understanding,” he said.