Iraqi conflict veteran says decide ‘punished’ him in custody case for calling VA hotline
An Iraqi war veteran claims he was “punished” by a Long Island judge for calling the Veterans Affairs helpline about his chaotic custody case – which ultimately cost him time with his two children.
James Gonedes’ attorney, David Mejias, is now pushing for the Nassau Supreme Court Justice Erica Prager to be dismissed from all custody cases, particularly those that “affect the parental rights of veterans whom she has done a tremendous disservice to “, Wrote Mejias on Thursday in a letter to the administrative judge of the district.
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The desperate 35-year-old U.S. Marine, who has made three tours of Iraq, called the Veteran Affairs line late last month because he was concerned about a recent change to his custody agreement with his estranged wife, Norma.
“This situation of visiting my kids really upset me,” Gonedes, now a nurse who cares for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital, told the Post over the phone. “I was afraid I wouldn’t see my children.”
At the beginning of June, Prager changed the rules from a rotating monthly plan, which took into account Gone’s fluctuating working hours, to two fixed weekends a month and at least one day of the week.
Concerned that the rigid schedule of visits could conflict with work, the father of two called the VA to vent – as he has “every now and then” done.
“In the VA you are told if you ever think you want to talk … use this hotline,” Gonedes explained. “I did what I was told … I really only feel punished for it.”
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Norma, who is listed as his closest relative on the VA, learned of his call for help – when federal officials called her while they were doing a health check-up on him.
Her attorney then flagged Gonedes’ mental health and “psychological stress” on Prager, who withdrew his nightly visits to his children, ages 5 and 7, pending a hearing on Friday.
Gonedes claims the judge’s decision also “encouraged” his wife to prevent him from seeing his daughter on July 1, her 6th birthday.
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In his letter to the county administrative judge, Mejias, the Gonedes attorney, said Prager should be removed from custody cases because she had “a total lack of knowledge and understanding of matters affecting families and children.”
Mejias claims that Prager’s June 25 decision was made without holding a hearing first and without either side asking them to take away Gonedes’ overnight visits with his children.
Gonedes, meanwhile, said he was afraid of ever calling the helpline again – and he has warned his other seasoned friends of his situation.
“I feel like [the helpline was] taken away from me. It’s a shame, “he said.” Going through things really helped me. I will never call this hotline again. “
Despite their September custody agreement, Gonedes and Norma have stood on trial since October, with Gonedes accusing them of breach of the deal and telling Prager to change it – which sparked the judge’s decision on June 8, the firmer Determine the visit plan.
Mejias appeals against this judgment.
“The judge made a contentious matter that was resolved by the parties and created a dysfunctional situation that leads to a lot of litigation that neither party can afford,” Mejias told the Post. “This is an egregious case in which a judge restricted my clients’ right to impose their own opinion on the visitation they should have.”
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He added, “That’s such an affront to a guy who’s an American hero.”
Norma’s attorney Nelson De La Cruz said in a statement: “Out of respect for the Gonedes children, the court, the sanctity of marital proceedings, and the privacy of the parties, neither I nor Ms. Gonedes have commented on any allegations made to you become.
“Mrs. Gonedes remains deeply committed to the welfare of the children of the parties.”
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the New York State Court System, said, “It’s a pending marriage trial that has been appealed – these are the places this case is being held.”
Prager did not return a request for comment.
This story first appeared in the New York Post.
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