FERRIER FILES: Williamson County Juvenile Court judge under fire
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. —
A group of Williamson County moms are calling for Williamson County Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Guffee’s resignation or removal.
The moms claim Judge Guffee’s decisions dramatically changed the course of their lives. Homelessness, sexual assault, divorce and parents without any standing accusation of neglect or abuse losing their children to foster care.
It’s not the kind of testimony you expect at a county commission meeting -- seven parents paraded to the microphone to tell horror stories.
Each story will involve their kids and Williamson County Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee, who they all blame for their unhappy endings: divorce, sexual assault, homelessness. They say all of it happened because of what happened in Judge Guffee's court.
Natasha Pavlovich is an actress, beauty queen and pilot. But, she had no idea how a hearing about who sees daughter when would lead to drama she had never experienced.
"’One of you has to move out, toss a coin if you have too, if you can't decide then call me and I will decide,’ Pavlovich quoted the judge saying.
A paternity hearing that does not involve property somehow suddenly involved the 5,000 square foot home where Pavlovich and her daughter live.
The father was staying in the guesthouse. Nevertheless, Judge Guffee forced the issue.
"I get an order from Sharon Guffee that the mother is supposed to vacate, just like that without authority due process or hearing, I became homeless,” Pavlovich said. “I packed my car with some of my clothes and my daughter's clothes and some of her toys and my dog too. I called up some shelters. It was so crushing, I didn't qualify for shelters because I was a homeowner."
Family law Attorney Connie Reguli says Judge Guffee's actions were illegal.
“The court had no jurisdiction to make a decision about who would live in the house that she was a joint owner with the father of her child," Reguli said. "They just can't. The court can't make a decision without jurisdictions, so how does this happen. What do you do when you get kicked out of your house and you have to sleep in your car and you get an e-mail from your attorney that says you can't go home tonight. What do you do? Who do you call?”
Allison Wolf and her husband were having trouble with their 15-year-old son. He would not follow any rules. The straight “A” student was dabbling in drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Finally, dad forced the boy into his room and after barely being able to subdue him and called 911. But that moved completely backfired, when Judge Guffee took the boy from his parents and put him into foster care.
"She felt that my son's father putting his hand on his boy and forcing him into a bedroom was abuse, or giving him consequences for screaming profanity into his face for multiple days in a row, shoving his mother down a set of stairs," Wolf said. "My son was never abused by my husband. He was never beaten by my husband. He was put into his bedroom by his dad. He would knock holes in the wall. He would kick the door and that he would continue over and over and over and that's why we reached out for help."
The boy went to live in a trailer park in La Vergne with a family that had multiple foster kids.
"When he went into foster care, he was sexually assaulted by another child in the home," Wolf said. He had to be taken to the ER. They basically gave our son a rape whistle to protect himself while was forced to sleep in the same house with this person that attacked him.”
Eventually the Wolfs got their son back. In fact, when the case finally went to another judge that judge said:
"While the court understands that the minor child does not want to go home, the legal parents have a compelling, fundamental and constitutional right to parent their child as they see fit. The court does not find that the parents represent any harm to the minor child."
But it was too late.
"Well there is no more family,” Wolf said. "My divorce was final this morning."
“What they needed was support,” Reguli said. "What they needed was to say these are your parents and you need to do what your parents say."
Judge Guffee briefly spoke at the commission meeting and stated, “there are two sides to every story. My door is always open."
The judge declined our interview request. Later, FOX 17 News received a statement from the Juvenile court director.
“Thank you so much for the inquiry about interviewing Judge Guffee. Certainly, it is tempting for us to speak up and better explain the significant responsibility our court has to children and to our community. Because our entire mission focuses on the wellbeing of children, we will continue to protect the confidentiality of those before this court. We cannot discuss the cases because the law requires it and, more importantly, because we believe it to be in the children's best interest. Juvenile Court encounters hundreds of children each year. The cases that are brought before the court are very complicated and have multiple factors that need to be considered, but the most important consideration is always safety of the children involved. This court will continue to remain focused on protecting children, and appreciate your understanding of our responsibility to do so.
Zannie Martin, Director of Williamson County Juvenile Services”