An Iraqi war veteran claims he is being “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 urges the dismissal of Nassau Supreme Court Justice Erica Prager from all custody cases, particularly those that “affect the parental rights of veterans whom she has done a tremendous disservice” Mejias wrote on Thursday in a letter to the county administrative judges.
The desperate 35-year-old US Marine, who has toured Iraq on three tours, called the Veteran Affairs hotline 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 not to see my children.”
At the beginning of June, Prager changed the regulation from a monthly changing schedule, which took into account Gonedes’ fluctuating working hours, to two fixed weekends a month and at least one weekday.
James Gonedes completed three tours of Iraq during his time with the Marines.
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.”
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 lawyer then disclosed to Prager the “mental health status” and “psychological stress” of Gonedes who withdrew his overnight visits with his children, ages 6 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.
In his letter to the county administrative judge, Mejias said Prager should be removed from custody cases because of their “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 hotline again – and he has warned his veteran friends of his situation.
“I feel like [the helpline was] taken away from me. It’s a shame, ”he said. “Talking it through 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 breaching the deal and telling Prager to change it – which sparked the judge’s decision on June 8 to set the firmer visit schedule .
Gonedes’ attorney David Mejias is pushing for Justice Prager to be removed from all custody cases.
Mejias appeals against this judgment.
“The judge made a contentious matter that was resolved by the parties and created a dysfunctional situation that resulted in 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 have their own opinion on the visitation they should have.”
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 the marital process and the privacy of the parties, neither I nor Ms. Gonedes have comments on any allegations that are brought to you.
“MS. 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 is a pending marriage trial with an additional appeal – these are the places this case is being held.”
Prager did not return a request for comment.
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