Judge David Hanschen
Photo: Mark Graham/Dallas Observer
Ginger Weatherspoon, a former Assistant Attorney General in Texas, has filed a lawsuit in Dallas County District Court claiming that she was fired for refusing to sign a false affidavit accusing Judge David Hanschen of wrongdoing.
Judge Hanschen has been at odds with the Texas Attorney General's office for several years over what he claims are unfair and deceptive practices used to award and collect child support. Some staff in the Attorney General's office had been collecting affidavits accusing Judge Hanschen of threatening the AG's office or issuing prejudicial rulings against AAGs. Presumably their intent was to file a complaint of judicial misconduct against Hanschen.
Several lawyers in the AG's office claim that they were encouraged or coerced into signing the affidavit's against their will, but Weatherspoon says that she was fired for refusing to cooperate.
Ongoing conflict between Judge Hanschen and the Texas Attorney General's Office
The Texas Attorney General's office prides itself on its relentless pursuit of deadbeat parents and portrays itself as an advocate for children. The office's Child Support Division has been nationally recognized for leading the country in child support collections. Critics point out that since the office receives federal funds based on the amount of child support it collects, there is a financial incentive to close as many cases as possible without regard for the rights of the parties involved.
Since 2007, Judge Hanschen and other family court judges have been questioning some of the tactics employed by the AG's office. They claim that the office often railroads poor uneducated men into giving up their rights and traps them into paying child support for children that are not even theirs.
Judge Hanschen has butted heads with the AG's office on numerous issues. At one time, the office had men without lawyers "sign in" upon arrival at the courthouse. What the men didn't know was that the form they signed waived their right to contest the court's jurisdiction. Thanks to Judge Hanschen, these forms are no longer used in Dallas County but they are still used in other parts of the state. There is also the question of how men are notified about child support proceedings. Rather than serving the men in person, the AG's office can send a letter via regular mail. If then men don't receive the letter or don't understand it and don't show up, child support can be awarded, wages garnished, or a warrant issued for their arrest without their knowledge. The latest issue has been the question of DNA testing to determine paternity.
In Texas, if a mother is married when she gives birth, her husband is legally the father. If she is not married, the presumed father is encouraged to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity when the baby is born. Once a man is established as the legal father, he has 4 years to dispute his paternity and request DNA testing. After the 4 year statute of limitations has passed, even if a DNA test proves that the man is not the father, he is still responsible for child support.
Judge Hanschen doesn't agree with the 4 year statute of limitations and has repeatedly ordered DNA testing in cases that are beyond that timeframe. According to blood banks, in about 25% of cases where DNA testing is performed, the man in question is not the father. The AG's office has repeatedly appealed cases where Judge Hanschen ordered DNA testing and so far, the Court of Appeals has sided with the AG. Critics of Hanschen and others like him say that these judges are placing themselves above the law and attempting to legislate from the bench. Hanschen argues that if the judges never point out the flaws in the current legislation, then the problems can never be fixed.
The AG's office stands by the statute of limitations on disputing paternity claiming that after 4 years, the presumed father has established himself in a paternal role and it is in the child's best interest to maintain that role. Indeed, the Dallas Observer reports the heartwrenching story of a man who (thanks to DNA testing ordered by Judge Hanschen) discovered that his 7 year old and 5 year old daughters were not biologically his. He is now contesting the child support he has been ordered to pay which he says is excessive and would not leave him enough money to live on. His lawyer has advised him not to visit the girls because renewing his relationship with them will hurt his child support case. So the man has weekly visits with his son but no contact with the girls.
In the past 10 years, 30 states have passed legislation regarding DNA testing and child support. Nine more states will consider legislation this year. Texas at one time considered a law where a man who is determined not to be the biological father would not be required to pay more than $100/month child support but would still be allowed visitation with the children. The bill did not pass.
Lawsuit against the Attorney General's office
In her lawsuit, Weatherspoon is asking for reinstatement to her position as an Assistant Attorney General, lost wages, and punitive damages for whistleblower violations. The Attorney General's Office has not commented on the case at this time.