LAW “TEEFERS” AT WAR

A group of teed-off dads, Texas Fathers for Equal tights, wants family court Judge Bob O’Donnell booted off the bench. The judge, in turn, says that a local member of the group-but not convicted murderer Billy Ross Sims, as was widely reported-threatened to kill him.

Strange stuff to be coming from a squabble over a computerized system that tracks child support payments and helps nail those who are delinquent in their payments.

Teefers-as Judge O’Donnell refers to the seventeen-year-old divorce reform group-see conflict of interest and unfair good-old-boying in the fact that the judge’s son heads the company selling the tracking service to family courts, including four in Dallas County, They’ve filed a complaint with the state commission on judicial misconduct, calling for O’Donnell’s scalp.

O’Donnell sees the Teefers as one-time moderates radicalized by the bloody Sims case. Sims, whose divorce hearing was in O’Donnell’s court, was convicted of shooting his ex-wife and her boyfriend to death in front of a local day-care center.

“I never had five minutes of trouble from TFER until Sims,” says O’Donnell. “Now I hear from the men that Sims is a folk hero, that Sims is right.”

While Sims was a TFER member, Charles Payne, a Waxahachie builder who is chairman of the group’s board of directors, isn’t eager to claim Sims as a colleague. But while he deplores the violence, Payne describes Sims as similar to other men driven to desperation by a system that routinely denies divorced fathers a share in their children’s lives.

“There’s a family killing in Texas like the Sims case about once a week,” says Payne. “He might have had a reason.”

The judge did have a court bailiff escort him to and from his Sachse home while the Sims manhunt was on. But he says published reports that Sims threatened him are wrong. “The only people who have communicated death threats to me are TFER people,” says the judge, declining to name names. O’Donnell also says that Sims had no reason to be desperate: he was to be granted broader rights to see his children, and O’Donnell says Sims’s attorney knew it.

McKinney-based Child Support Systems of Texas, headed by the judge’s son, Robert O’Donnell, claims compliance in over 80 percent of child support cases, double the typical rate. The younger O’Donnell gets $10 per case monthly, an amount TFERs say is unjustified considering he is not an attorney as are most people named by courts to oversee support payments.

Judge O’Donnell does not use his son’s service and denies influencing other judges to hire him. The younger O’Donnell gets the work, he says, by virtue of expertise he developed in helping the judge set up a computer that has been running his 301st District court since 1985. And as for the money, the younger O’Donnell claims the amount is barely enough to keep him going, much less produce large profits.

Meanwhile, TFER’s complaint against the judge makes its way through the Austin bureaucracy and TFER is under investigation by the Texas Bar Association for practicing law without a license. Between bouts, presumably, everybody looks after the best interests of the kids.

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