The case of homeschool father Jim Loose highlights the importance of the Family Freedom Project (FFP) defending homeschooling in the legal system and fighting back when courts unjustly rule against Texas families.
Following the death of his wife, Jim was sued by his in-laws over custody of his daughter. The grandparents were told by their legal counsel that their case to gain custody of their granddaughter from her loving, fit father was “very weak,” but if they were willing to spend more money than the father, they could prevail.
So began a campaign that resulted in Jim having to sell all of his property and eventually declare bankruptcy in his desperate attempt to rightfully regain possession of his daughter. What was supposed to be a “temporary order” for his 10-year-old daughter to be removed from her home and live with her grandparents resulted in a three-year-long unjust separation.
The following timeline captures an unfortunate situation that we hope will never happen again in Texas.
2010 Court Hearings: Jim Loose Subjected to Unfair Scrutiny
At a hearing in August 2010, Judge Randy Catterton in Tarrant County compelled Jim Loose to submit to a “psychological evaluation” and a “social study.” This investigation was “invasive,” ongoing and inconclusive—which most believed was the point of the exercise: vague, unscientific standards of study to produce “evidence” that could be used to achieve an objective, such as overriding the fundamental rights of Jim Loose.
In September 2010, Jim’s attorney filed for a motion requesting clarification from the court regarding the scope of the inquiry. The purpose of this request was to limit the investigation to issues raised in the request for the evaluation rather than allowing a broad “fishing expedition” for anything that might be used against the father.
A preliminary hearing was held in November 2010. Then, the grandparents denied a request for Jim Loose to take his daughter to see a C.S. Lewis movie and canceled a court-ordered Christmas visit.
This case quickly escalated into a power battle over whether the court, without any evidence of wrongdoing, had the authority to invade the most sacred area of Jim’s life: his home.
2011 Jury Trial in Fort Worth
In August 2011, a jury trial was held in Fort Worth. In the jury selection process, the grandparents’ attorneys (opposing counsel) clarified that the current case law in this kind of case, the presumption that a fit parent should be the “managing conservator” of his own child, does not apply. They asked if any potential jurors would have trouble applying that law. Several potential jurors stated that failing to apply the presumption that a fit parent should be “managing conservator” of his own child was clearly wrong.
Then, early in the trial, when the judge asked to interview Jim Loose’s daughter, the attorneys for Mr. Loose pointed out that the judge was not allowed to do so under the Texas Family Code because the jury was to make the decision regarding the father being allowed to be the managing conservator. The judge responded that this was correct, but that the law as it was written in 2008 allowed a judge to do so if the child had signed a document stating that she preferred to be with the grandparents. However, no such document was ever signed.
In the middle of the trial, the attorneys for the grandparents were confronted for taking the child to their offices and urging her to sign a statement that she wanted to live with her grandparents. The evidence was clear that the grandparents made every effort to alienate their granddaughter from her father. Essentially, their case boiled down to a nonsensical argument that being taken from the grandparents would be traumatic, now that she had been with them for so long (ignoring the trauma they caused in having her removed from her father in the first place).
After the closing arguments, the jury returned with an 11-1 vote in favor of Jim Loose’s daughter being returned to her. The jury heard evidence for 10 days, then denied the grandparents’ request to give them custody of the child. By a resounding vote, the jury required that the young girl be returned to her father. Some of those jurors later asked how this tragedy could have happened at all.
September 2011: Jim Loose Reunited with His Daughter
After the trial, there were questions about whether there would be an uneasy transition. According to Jim Loose, it was “like she left yesterday” and they “picked up where we left off.” He considered it a work of God. However, based on a court order issued by the same judge, the grandparents were still allowed to have Jim’s daughter on weekends, in the summer, and over holidays.
An additional issue was payment of court fees. The grandparents continued to drag out the legal process trying to find ways around paying fees, arguing through their attorney that there were “a number of issues that still need to be addressed by the court.”
Unfortunately, the issue was not resolved in the 2011 calendar year, as court hearings were delayed until 2012. Although Jim Loose was reunited with his daughter, the legal process was far from over.
Homeschooling Central Issue in 2012 Court Proceedings
Nearly one year after the jury trial, the grandparents took Jim Loose back to court seeking to overturn the jury verdict.
Homeschooling was once again at the center of the grandparents’ arguments. While they complained that the girl had too much homework to do while she was with them on second and fourth weekends during their court-ordered visitation, they also protested that they did not know enough about her school. They claimed to the court that Jim was “negligent” because he did not tell them the location of a recent debate tournament she participated in, even though they acknowledged under cross-examination that they never asked him for the location.
The grandparents also insisted that their granddaughter exhibited anger and emotional stress when she visited them, but then supposedly calmed down by the time she left. They concluded that they should have more time with her.
The grandparents asked the judge to give them more court-ordered standard time. They also wanted Jim and his daughter to be restricted by the court to live only in Tarrant County or contiguous counties.
Finally, they asked the judge to require Jim to pay the $400,000 in legal fees they spent while suing him to take his daughter. Then, in an unprecedented decision, Judge Catterton required Jim to pay $150,000 in legal fees for the prosecuting attorney, despite the fact that he won the case.
In a June 2012 hearing, the judge interviewed the now fourteen-year-old girl in his chambers without attorneys present at the request of attorneys for the father so she could avoid the pressure and stress of testifying in front of her grandparents in open court.
The judge refused to accept the argument made by the father’s attorneys that the issue of contempt of court, for moving without giving the grandparents his new address back in 2008, had been resolved during the jury trial last year. This means that the judge is considering the request of the grandparents to find this dad in contempt of court and jail him. Also under consideration is the grandparents’ request to have dramatically expanded court-ordered visitation with their granddaughter that would be consistent with what a parent would receive in a divorce case.
This was a stunning and outrageous outcome that highlighted the dangers of rogue judges. The following year, in May 2013, Judge Catterton resigned from office.
What Was the Family Freedom Project’s Role in This Case?
To quote Mr. Loose, “The Family Freedom Project kind of came riding in, as I was about out of bullets, and hired a couple of attorneys who performed heroically.” FFP was instrumental in righting the wrongs in this case and receiving a successful outcome. This was important to us because of our mission to defend the fundamental constitutional right of parents to direct the care, control and upbringing of their children.
We are grateful for the many Texas families and homeschoolers who donated to support Jim Loose in his court battle to retain custody of his daughter. Without your support, Jim would have faced an even more difficult time maintaining his ability to parent his daughter.
Though this case is closed, we still have much to do in preventing future cases like this one. Legislation needs to be passed to prevent these sorts of abuses in the future. We need your support to get a bill to restrict the use of temporary orders in child custody cases.
Defending homeschooling families in court is just one way FFP is Keeping Texas Families Free. Won’t you partner with us in our mission by becoming a member today?