By: Corey Pein 12/16/2009
On the face of it, Joshua Gonze is a successful man.
A wealthy, fit and handsome 47-year-old executive at Thornburg Investment Management, Gonze has shared his financial expertise with CNBC, Bloomberg and USA Today. A vocal Libertarian, he campaigned for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and organized “tea party” protests. A prominent member of Temple Beth Shalom, Gonze has described himself as “a happily married father in Santa Fe.”
Those words may have been true two years ago when they were published. But there is another side to this powerful man’s life, one that casts a troubling light on the views he has espoused.
Publicly, Gonze supports a controversial cause known as “fathers’ rights.” Less known is that for years, Gonze has been able to suppress and counter domestic abuse claims made by two former spouses. His latest ex-wife claims that on Aug. 18, Gonze threatened her with a 10-inch kitchen knife and “waterboarded” their 2-year-old daughter during a dispute over custody. On Dec. 1, in an open courtroom in Santa Fe, Gonze withdrew his own petition, in which he claimed his wife had lied about the incident, and that she was the “abusive” one prone to “hysterical rage.”
Gonze also has been the subject of numerous 911 calls. And a former court officer claims Gonze stalked her after a series of rulings didn’t go his way.
Gonze appears to have avoided the usual consequences of such actions. Although his second wife worked in a local newsroom, the multiple allegations against Gonze never so much as made its police blotter. In fact, Gonze may have influenced the system in his favor by spearheading a law that limits wealthy men’s child support liability.
Gonze was helped in that effort by Albuquerque lawyer David Standridge, who stood beside him in a court at the beginning of the month. Standridge is a theological men’s advocate: He has written in praise of the “warrior life,” defined as “violent men” who rule their households.
Indeed, the men’s movement that Gonze and Standridge belong to is about much more than fathers’ rights. And like many of its members, the movement has a dark side.
The “fathers’ rights” narrative goes something like this: Family courts, cowed by decades of feminist activism, are biased against anyone with a Y chromosome. A few brave men, undaunted by the forces of feminist oppression, are fighting for their rights as fathers—and for the rights of all male-kind.
David River, a divorce mediator and co-facilitator of the Santa Fe Coordinated Community Response Council, an umbrella group for efforts against domestic violence, says the view has some merit. There are men with legitimate grievances, he says—particularly those who wind up in the system following a false accusation, or are punished inappropriately based on outdated laws that fail to consider the context of any given case.
“But then,” River says, the fathers’ rights groups “tend to minimize everything, and fail to see how many women get killed in domestic violence situations. They refuse to give [domestic violence] any legitimacy.”
Most child custody cases, like most lawsuits, settle out of court. Those that don’t can get nasty. Soon-to-be-published research shows that approximately 90 percent of contested cases involve domestic violence or abuse. In these cases, the child becomes a tool through which the abuser, usually the father, continues to exert control over his ex.
How many women get killed? According to the latest Department of Justice figures, 1,640 women were killed by “intimate partners” nationwide in 2007. That’s compared to 700 men. In Santa Fe, 2009 brought a terrible wave of violence against women, including the murder of a pregnant 17-year-old by her angry boyfriend, police say.
Within fathers’ rights circles, such stories are little more than spin by a “party line” feminist press. That charge was made against SFR by one local man, Kenneth Kast, who founded a shelter for men like himself, who were made temporarily homeless and jobless by restraining orders.
To date, Kast’s shelter has served no clients, he says. Starting it was “more of a political statement,” he tells SFR.
“The party line is the woman can say and do anything. If the man reacts physically, he needs to be punished. And she does not need to understand that she played a role in that,” Kast, a retired licensed social worker, says.
Like many in the movement, Kast has been the subject of a restraining order; Kast says his ex-wife’s attorney admitted on appeal that he had not been violent.
While it’s true that every story has at least two sides, for DV deniers, the woman’s side is always a lie.
“In [batterers’] minds, they’re falsely accused. So they take every restraining order that’s ever dropped and say, ‘Look!’” Ben Atherton-Zeman, a victims’ advocate and playwright in Massachusetts, says. “The reality is, having been a court advocate, many judges won’t grant restraining orders when they need to.”
Another movement tactic: countering allegations with their own. It’s a tactic Joshua Gonze used in court against both his former wives.
In 2002, during their divorce and custody battle, Gonze’s first wife—then an aspiring law student—claimed he had stalked her; she told the court that when her neighbors called the police on Gonze after finding him lurking, he claimed to be “just out jogging (in a big storm). Then he ran off.”
Gonze filed counterpetitions. She was the stalker. She was the liar. “There is no violence in me,” Gonze wrote. “I have the ability to verbally express normal, healthy anger as occurs in virtually all marriages.”
In 2006, Gonze, by then remarried and legally barred from approaching his first wife, requested a protection order against his first wife’s boyfriend. The two men had an argument while exchanging custody of Gonze’s then-5-year-old son at Tesuque Village Market. Gonze claimed the other man physically intimidated him, calling him “crazy” and “sick.”
Gonze’s legal disputes with his second wife played out similarly. In a 2009 filing he later withdrew and apologized for, Gonze called his second wife “abusive and frightening” and a “disengaged mother.” He claimed she had “made fake 911 DV calls on two previous occasions” and would “try to neutralize me by filing her own [order of protection].”
These push-back tactics may not have been limited to the women Gonze married.
On July 14, 2008, Margaret Kegel, then the domestic relations hearing officer for the 1st Judicial District Court, filed a report with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office alleging stalking and harassment by Gonze.
In her statement to police, Kegel said Gonze resented his treatment by the courts dating to his 2002 custody fight; she said Gonze belonged to fathers’ rights groups “with a history of using threats and intimidation.”
Twice in 2008, Kegel told police, Gonze “stared at her with a look of hatred and scared her son” at a day camp their children both attended. She claims he drove by her slowly as she ran errands. Most significantly, she claimed, Gonze attacked her via an anonymous advertisement in The Santa Fe New Mexican.
The May 15, 2007 ad specifically mentioned Kegel under the headline: “Mistreated In Court? Speak Up Now!” It directed complaints about Kegel’s performance to her supervisor, Family Court Judge Raymond Ortiz.
Judge Ortiz personally asked the New Mexican about the 2007 ad, Kegel says, because it could have been construed as having been placed by the court. Ortiz did not return SFR’s messages.
Meanwhile, in 2006 and 2007, the New Mexican ran approximately two dozen letters criticizing the 1st District family court, along with the legal system’s treatment of domestic violence and child support cases. Around that time, Gonze noted in court filings, Kegel’s court granted his first wife a protection order against him. (The order may have been expunged, as district court does not have the file.)
SFR checked the letters and guest columns from the New Mexican from this time period regarding family and domestic violence court. There is strong evidence some of the authors are not real people.
One May 6, 2007 letter almost precisely echoes the anti-Kegel ad. The letter is signed “David Huntington,” Santa Fe. Huntington seems to be a non-person. The Nexis database—a trove of public and commercial data used by debt collectors, private investigators, law firms and newspapers—returns no results for that name within 50 miles of Santa Fe. Google also turns up nothing. There is no such name in a 2006 Santa Fe phone book. No such person ever entered the New Mexico court system.
Gonze’s second ex, Leticia López, tells SFR she suspects Gonze used a number of false names to attack his opponents on the opinion pages of the New Mexican.
While López—who over the years worked at the New Mexican as an assistant news editor and copy editor, among other positions—never personally witnessed her ex writing pseudonymous letters, she tells SFR he implied having done so several times. “I asked him about [the letters] and said, ‘You have to stop; I work at the New Mexican,’ she tells SFR. Gonze promised to stop, she says.
But the letters continued; the questionable ones weren’t retracted, even though several sources tell SFR some New Mexican editors had been made aware that some of them might have been fishy.
SFR’s call to Managing Editor Rob Dean was returned by Public Editor Camille Flores, who oversees letters to the editor.
“During the time these things were being submitted and appeared in the paper, it was not brought to my attention [that some names might be false],” Flores tells SFR. “I never felt there was a campaign going on…I can say we received many letters with much more specific information that we chose not to run.”
Kegel says the letters prompted her District Court supervisors to evaluate her performance. The evaluation, she says, came out fine. But “over the long run,” Kegel says, the chorus of jeers contributed to her forced resignation this year.
“There was a lingering perception by judges and court staff that there was this group of people who were very unhappy with my work, when in fact it was probably one person who took the time to try to cause a problem because he was unhappy with my decision,” Kegel, who is highly regarded by local victims’ advocates, tells SFR.
Kegel also suspects Gonze wrote some of the letters:
“They weren’t signed by anyone who ever appeared before me, and most of them were people who don’t exist at all. The few that were left, it would be hard to tell, because they were names a lot of people might’ve had,” she says.
One such letter, titled “Curb Kegel,” appeared April 8, 2007 under the name “Ron Burman,” Santa Fe. No person by that name turns up in searches of public and court records, including in the domestic violence court. This is the clincher, because “Burman” claimed personal experience with Kegel’s “reign of terror” in the 1st Judicial District. “I saw Kegel ignore proof of abuse by my wife. When I strongly complained about the abuse, Kegel found me guilty of ‘domestic violence’ merely for complaining,” Burman wrote.
On at least two occasions, SFR may also have been duped, despite requiring would-be correspondents to include an address and phone number with their letters. “Your cover story on domestic violence is wrong where it states ‘the vast majority of violent abusers are men,’” one letter began.
The letter, which cited several DV-denier websites mentioned in the New Mexican letters, was signed “Florence Vigil,” for whom there also are no public records.
While SFR cannot verify Kegel or López’ suspicion that Gonze was involved with the bogus letters, Gonze made it known fathers’ rights was an issue to which he was dedicated.
Not long after Gonze publicly inveighed against the plight of wealthy divorced dads, the law was changed in his favor.
In 2007, Gonze and David Standridge formed a nonprofit lobbying group, Families Against Confiscatory Child Support, to oppose “excessive awards.” The same year, Gonze signed a letter to the New Mexican attacking the state’s “insane child support guidelines.” Months prior, he and Standridge had published an op-ed in that paper calling on state lawmakers to fix child support “inequities.” The piece argued that wealthy men were treated unfairly by a system that set no limit to child support for those earning more than $8,300 a month—forcing fathers to pay more than the cost of child rearing. “The excess money could then be used by the mother on luxuries for herself,” Gonze and Standridge wrote.
In 2008, state Rep. Al Park, D-Bernalillo, sponsored and passed a bill that did just as Gonze and Standridge requested: It placed, for the first time, a ceiling on child support payments. (Park did not return messages asking why he sponsored the change.)
Under the new guidelines, the lowest-earning parents (those whose combined income totals $800 a month) must pay 12.5 percent to support one child. The highest earners pay only 9.9 percent on $30,000 a month in income.
In the 2006 petition Gonze filed against his first wife’s boyfriend, he gave his side of a dispute regarding a portion of his $2,054 monthly child support payment. “As the evidence shows,” he wrote, “I am not at all angry about paying child support.”
But by his second wife’s account, Gonze continued to hold a grudge.
“He collects news articles from wire services that report on specific cases of men on the verge of divorce who hurt or killed their children or soon-to-be-exes because they were furious at the prospect of paying child support,” she wrote in her
Aug. 19 protection order petition. “[H]e believes that the men in the news stories were justified…He has told me many times, ‘That’s what happens when you divorce a man and demand too much child support.’”
Being part of a movement, Gonze has his supporters. The loudest may be Glenn Sacks, a radio talker turned web publisher and executive director of Fathers & Families, who in 2001 published an article called, “Why I Didn’t Marry a Jewish Woman.”
“The reason I lost interest in many Jewish women was the generally contemptuous, belittling, and bigoted attitude that so many of them have towards men,” Sacks explains.
On Sacks’ site, the same attitudes are attributed toward women of all creeds. In 2007, in the midst of Joshua Gonze’s alleged campaign to have Margaret Kegel fired, Sacks called Gonze “one of my most articulate readers.”
Gonze’s short published letter to Sacks prompted a reader to argue for “mandatory Paternal custody…such as what prevailed in most of Christendom until the twentieth century, (when so much else went wrong!!).”
Indeed, there is a throwback religious current running through the movement.
It is exemplified by Gonze’s attorney, David Standridge.
Standridge explains his philosophy of “warrior life” in a magazine published by New Mexico’s Body of Christ in Albuquerque. “Many men today are abdicating their responsibility to be the Godly leader of their families,” Standridge begins. “As a result, many women have taken over the role as the Godly leader of their homes, churches and society as a whole.”
The attorney goes on to praise the virtues of violent men. “Warrior Life is not some touchy feely click [sic], club or organization,” Standridge writes. “Warrior Life is best defined by violent men who take the kingdom of God by force…It is about men who are tired of the perversion, rudeness and slothfulness of [sic] as dictated by today’s culture.”
Standridge did not return a message.
Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, says such rhetoric fits right in with male-dominated Evangelical sects she has studied. This movement’s leaders “make suggestions that women should probably limit how much they speak in mixed company. Most of them emphasize…that wives need to learn how not to push their husband’s buttons,” Joyce tells SFR.
“They won’t come out and defend domestic violence—they’ll say it’s a sin—but they’ll also put equal blame on the wife.”
The fathers’ rights movement doesn’t come out and defend domestic violence either. But its members push back at anyone who calls attention to violence against women and has the statistics to back it up.
Ben Atherton-Zeman, the 43-year-old Massachusetts advocate, joined the feminist movement after learning of a college girlfriend’s history with “a controlling ex.” He later began running into the “abusers’ lobby” at conferences and while lobbying at various statehouses.
Ever since, he has compiled a list of pejoratives the DV deniers have thrown his way, including: hypocrite, liar, bigot, eunuch-type male, man-whore, lemming and “Atherton-Semen.”
Who are these DV deniers?
“I wouldn’t say they are all wife-beaters, but I would guess they’re at least 75 percent of the membership,” Molly Dragiewicz, a Canadian criminologist who studies violence, gender and anti-feminist groups, says. She bases the figure on a Rutgers University professor’s book-length study of the fathers’ rights movement, in which three-quarters of the members interviewed reported being “falsely accused” of violence.
“The other 25 percent,” Dragiewicz says, “are making money off of the wife-beaters or are sympathetic to them.”
Atherton-Zeman once believed the best way to combat misogynist groups was to ignore them. For a while, it seemed to work. “Unfortunately, they’ve gotten better,” he says. “Now they have slick bullet points that sound quite reasonable to your average legislator.”
Indeed, DV deniers share some rhetoric with well-intentioned efforts to encourage non-violent masculinity. They can be hard to tell apart.
Santa Fe “life coach” Ray Lopez runs small groups for men in troubled relationships, in the hopes of introducing “alternatives to violence.” Lopez breaks the ice with his own story, starting with his “dysfunctional alcoholic family, blah blah blah.”
Lopez’ anger reached its peak approximately 18 years ago when he slapped his 3-year-old son. His wife gave him an ultimatum, and he began taking therapy seriously.
He’s familiar with abusers’ excuses, like she slapped me before I punched her. “It’s blatantly not true that women are as violent as men,” Lopez says, referring to a common refrain in the DV denier movement. However—this is where lines blur, and Lopez jokes about getting “into trouble”—he says “women can manipulate much better than men.”
Though not always politically correct, Lopez’ frank approach has likely improved a few lives. He acknowledges that some relationships are unsalvageable because of both parties—a notion that raises a taboo subject.
Some court reformers believe family violence won’t improve without abandoning two cultural assumptions: that marriages should be preserved, and that children benefit from contact with both biological parents.
“One reason the fathers’ rights groups are so effective is they’re tapping into these mainstream ideas that divorce is bad,” Dragiewicz says.
Yet despite claims by fathers’ groups, courts are anything but a tool for female vengeance.
“If you look at patterns, [courts rule] very much in favor of fathers and against mothers,” lawyer Barry Goldstein, co-editor of the forthcoming research compendium “Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody,” tells SFR. (Goldstein provided the earlier statistic about domestic abuse in disputed custody cases.)
Family court codes and procedures do not reflect advances in the social sciences, he says.
“Thirty years ago, the focus was on physical abuse. What we understand now is that domestic violence is a tactic men use to maintain control, to continue to make the major decisions in the relationship. Most of the time it’s not physical,” Goldstein says. “It can be a raised eyebrow. It can be economic.”
Most people would agree the legal system has overreached if a raised eyebrow constitutes a crime. But that is not Goldstein’s argument. Rather, he says, courts misunderstand the role of violence and, just as importantly, the implied threat of violence in abusive relationships. As a result, police, prosecutors and judges don’t know how to distinguish a one-time mistake from an escalating situation.
“In most [dangerous] cases, there’s something physical, but he doesn’t need to keep doing it, because she knows what he’s capable of. The courts don’t see that,” Goldstein says.
Santa Fe may have a bigger problem. The courts never see what the police don’t report.
When Leticia López called 911 on Aug. 18, two Santa Fe Police Department officers came to her home. It was the fourth time SFPD had responded to an incident involving her and Gonze. The Aug. 18 report, by Officer David Webb Jr., describes a “domestic disturbance” in which “not battery, nor assault took place.”
Webb’s description doesn’t jibe with the petition López filed the next day, in which she described being threatened with a knife and witnessing potential abuse of a child.
“They didn’t believe anything I said,” López tells SFR. She claims Gonze ran down the block from their home to meet and speak with police before they interviewed her—by which point, they’d been convinced her story was unreliable.
López calls the officers’ conduct “extremely inappropriate,” for instance: “They said I shouldn’t be fighting over 50-50 custody,” she says. (It wasn’t Webb who criticized her parenting decisions, she says, but another officer whose identity remains unknown.)
Officer Webb did not return a message.
A few months later, inside a courtroom on a cold December morning, López sits only feet away from Gonze, but never meets his eye.
He has agreed to a four-year restraining order, which bars him from coming within 50 yards of her in public, or from buying a firearm. Gonze also agreed to an apology.
“I recognize that my domestic violence petition harmed Leticia and [our daughter],” Gonze says, reading the prepared statement. “I acknowledge Leticia is a good mother and loves [our daughter].”
The hearing officer asks if the statement was coerced.
Gonze hesitates. “No,” he says finally.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“Yes,” Gonze says. “I owe Leticia an apology for everything that happened.”
López tells SFR she hopes Gonze will change his ways. “I know this marriage has been a nightmare,” she says. “Josh has begun the process of self-examination. He’s begun to apologize and make amends. He has a lot of work to do.”
Approached by SFR after the hearing, Gonze says he settled the dispute for the sake of his daughter. He declines to elaborate but says, “Since you didn’t identify yourself as a reporter, I don’t think you should say anything in the paper about my case.”
SFR’s reporter did identify himself. Gonze did not return subsequent email and phone messages seeking comment on the events described in this article. SFR