On late and very hot summer night in Bucks County during August (2018), Kayden Mancuso’s mother made a desperate plea on Facebook stating her daughter had not been returned after a court ordered custody visit with her biological father. Her social media account was quickly flooded with concerned followers commenting and offering support.
Police were called, but they were slow to respond, so Kayden Mancuso’s stepfather took matters in his own hands and went to Jeffrey Mancuso’s Manayunk home personally to investigate. After repeated knocks went unanswered, he apprehensively entered the home. From there the details get very grisly and very tragic.
Heather Giglio spoke to a news caster, and recollects that Kayden’s step father had found Kayden dead in the downstairs of the home with a bag over her head. She is tearful and also recalls her daughter loved dancing and basketball. “We knew this was gonna happen one day, we just prayed it wouldn’t,” Giglio said.
Heather Giglio and Jeff Mancuso had been involved in a very long and contentious custody battle over the seven year old. Family court pleadings note that Jeff Mancuso had “narcissistic personality disorder” and was prone to outbursts of rage, where he acted out violently. The Judge notes that Jeff Mancuso had a criminal history after biting a man’s ear off in a bar, and that while Heather Giglio had been pregnant he shoved her violently off a bar stool and had repeatedly beat her.
Engaged in a fierce and prolonged custody battle, a mental health evaluation ordered by a judge in the Bucks County Domestic Relations Court concluded that Jeff Mancuso suffered from a major depressive disorder – a man filled with hopelessness and suicidal tendencies and a long history of violence.
“Through the times that he bit people’s ears off in bars, through the times that he pushed Kathy off the stool when she was pregnant with Kayden,” said Kayden’s godfather, Matthew Moffett.
Despite the Judge Jeff Trauger’s awareness of Jeff Mancuso’s history, he still granted partial custody to the father. The mandated custody was between 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday. Due to a restraining order she had filed, Heather Giglio was unable to personally drop off her daughter.
Despite Heather Giglio’s multiple challenges to the partial custody Order, her cries went ignored, and partial custody was granted. The order noted that Kayden personally witnessed her father’s violent behavior when he was frustrated or angry. CITATION
The effects of this Judge are devastating and the complaints are far reaching, beyond this case to others. Heather Giglio is almost too heart breaking to watch on television: “The system failed us. My sister fought for her custody for years and they didn’t listen to us. They let him take her and now she’s gone,” Giglio said.
Unfortunately the corruption in Pennsylvania Family Courts has for years gone unaddressed. We have Judges ordering parents to undergo psychiatric evaluations, counseling etc. at their own cost, and then ruling as they please with little regard of the experts that parents paid for. The reformist movement in Pennsylvania Family Courts is loud and strong. Part of the reason for that passionate advocacy is because of the lack of justice experienced within these realms.
Family Court Reform has been a national movement growing immensely in the past decade. Activists like Brian Kinter, or Kash Jackson or Terrence Healy who resist the system have paid the price. Kash Jackson (no a gubernatorial candidate in Illinois) went to jail because of his refusal to comply with unjust terms, under a judge who is clearly corrupt and putting his own political interests before justice. Terrence Healy has been wrapped up in Montgomery County divorce proceedings for almost ten years, there is no reason the courts should drag anyone through that. The costs are enormous and there has been little to no result, when he objected they filed contempt charges against him. His divorce case is now in criminal and family courts. Brian Kinter filed a RICO case after the courts determined he was no longer able to see his daughters. As a father, he fought and spent his own time and money for the “privilege” of being a father.
The problem with Family Courts in America is that they involved juveniles, hence the proceedings are normally sealed. Family Court Judges operate with absolute discretion, and there is no accountability, because these cases involve minors – never a jury. Their political interests can come first without having a jury of peers to weigh in. The cost is exorbanent. If you fight a case (involving custody, especially) these proceedings can require court costs, court ordered “experts” of the courts choosing, attorney fees, penalty fees for late child support payments etc (all of these costs get pocketed by the sitting judge into his rotating account). As Brian Kinter argued, this is a racketeering organization to some extent. Why is the government profiting to separate families?
Additionally the laws are absurdly outdated. If you look at the legal code in most states, most laws were adopted in the 1950s, almost a century ago. If you look at the culture of the 1950s, it is an era where women did not have rights and were not encouraged to work, but to have children. Hence, divorce laws in the US are very punitive towards men and easily taken advantage of. There is a disturbing trend of secrecy and draconian laws that fuel the present state of disarray. Those who resist are jailed without a jury trial, those who comply get raked over the coals.
While the present laws on the books go to benefit women primarily, this case is a terrible example of how things can unfold if a Judge is left to his own devices, and those devices are politically and selfishly motivated.
The case of Kayden Mancuso illustrates two things: 1) We need juries in family court proceedings, and they need to be open to the public. We cannot continue to rely on the “good judgement” of judges that have time and time proven to be corrupt. 2) If the court is going to Order an “expert review” of subjects, then a Judge should rely on that very expensive opinion, and not be afforded discretion. This last proposition my shock you; however, I want to specifically note in the Mancuso case that the court ordered experts gave a dissenting opinion as to custody. A Judge is not a doctor, he is not a health practitioner, he is not an “expert” in anything except the law. More physicians need to be involved in our court systems. There is a multifold benefit to having physicians as integral functioning components of our judiciary. Most divorce and especially most criminal cases involve a mental health factor (whether it be addiction, bipolar disorder), there is some mental health affliction that underlies most unlawful behavior.
The purposeful exclusion of physcians from the court system is detrimental. Most Judges are happy to involve doctors to some point, but physicians don’t make Orders or decisions. They make “expert opinions.” Therefore, a judge is given free reign to disregard an opinion in which he may have ordered defendants to pay for. Recently, in facing the opioid epidemic, Governor Wolf talked about the important role of Doctors in the legal community. He advocated that on these new “drug court” boards there should be a doctor sitting there. His reason was this: If addiction is a health condition, then why would we not involve a doctor. His tactic was effective. He started pulling medical doctors to sit on his own advisory committee to specifically address the opioid epidemic. Last year he declared it a crisis, this year the drug fatalities have dropped. They haven’t dropped due to “busting drug dealers” or jailing addicts; instead, we saw something unprecedented, we saw drug fatalities drop due the the expansion of drug treatment programs and due to the physician’s advisement.
Governor Wolf is not a lawyer. He saw a crisis and purposely involved experts because he is also not a medical doctor. He recognized that what Pennsylvania was doing was not creating results. He butted heads with the AOPC and a number of judicial organizations, who inherently did not like physicians in positions of power overriding their authority. But the result was shocking. We saw our fatality rates begin to drop. We saw the “epidemic” plateau statistically. Yes, the courts were doing the same thing they have been doing for decades, but one small tweak in involving doctors suddenly created relief. There is resistance in the Pennsylvania legal community to involve Doctors. Whether it be they want to “rule the roost” or have all the “authority,” I am confused by the reasons. What I do know through the administration of Wolf is that physician involvement in legislative decision making some how decreases our death rate.
When I look at the Kayden Mancuso case, I see a prideful and selfishly politically motivated Judge who refused to heed the advice of expert doctors and “did his own thing.” Custody should have never been granted in that case.
The unfortunate circumstance in Pennsylvania is that there is no judicial recall. In fact, when Judges are elected office they are given a “retention vote” (easy win) with each subsequent term. There are no term limits, as in 80 year old judges with full on dementia are absolutely serving in our judiciary.
When I look at the Kayden Mancuso case, I see a tragedy that could have easily been avoided had the Judge followed medical advice. I see a mother who fought hard to avoid a situation that in the long term ended up being inevitable due to the malfunction of our court system. She was literally rendered helpless to help and her daughter died of suffocation due to a bag put over her head, all because a Judge refused to operate with the advice of medical experts.
There has been a lot of online criticism surrounding Wolf stepping in. People (especially Judges and lawyers) claim that it is not his role to recommend a judicial conduct board investigation. The Governor “shouldn’t interfere” in legal matters such as this. He has “no jurisdiction,” or is “poking his Jewish nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
I beg to differ.
If any part of the system is broken, it is the responsibility of every American citizen to fix it, and that is the American tradition. If this family suffered an avoidable tragedy they SHOULD have recourse. While we may not have recall in Pennsylvania, asking leadership for help is nothing to be ashamed of.
Moreover, not the silence of this Judge on this issue, which now involves the Governor. He has failed to offer any sort of apology or comfort to the family. The ultimate conclusive bottom line is that a 7 year old died a very violent and painful death, all because of judicial pride and negligence in following the advice of the medical community.