A Waukesha mother is attempting to take her custody case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after a circuit judge pushed a custody decision back another two months, despite a state Court of Appeals ruling in December that the decision to place her children with their father isn’t prioritizing their safety.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Ralph Ramirez took over Julie Valadez’s case in February after the previous judge, Michael Aprahamian, removed himself from the case following the appellate court ruling.
“The court of appeals said the case is reversed and remanded. When it’s remanded, it must be redone. I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to do,” Ramirez said during a status hearing on March 25.
The court scheduled a motion hearing for May 10, followed by another hearing on June 8.
Ramirez said he wanted to give Julie Valdez’s new counsel time to review the more than 900 documents submitted in the case.
“It’s unreal,” said Julie Valdez of the decision. “I’m still processing it.”
In the meantime, the children’s father, Ricardo Valadez, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to disorderly conduct and domestic abuse, still has custody of their four children.
On Dec 29, the court of appeals ruled there wasn’t “enough evidence to establish that Ricardo received treatment” for alcohol and other drug abuse treatment, which was a key factor in Aprahamian’s decision to award Ricardo custody.
“After 16 years in an abusive marriage, I’ve spent the last four years battling for my and my children’s safety and protection,” said Julie Valadez at the March 25 hearing. “The law requires that my children be returned to me.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to litigate the lives of four children in the news media,” said Ricardo’s attorney, Kurt Schuster, when asked about the hearing.
Julie’s attorney William Sulton said he hopes bringing the case to the state Supreme Court will send Julie’s four children back to her custody.
“In our society, the court system is supposed to be the great leveler. It’s supposed to give us an equal playing field that we don’t otherwise get in society. In this case, that has failed, so now it’s time for the Supreme Court of our state to take action,” Sulton during in a news conference before the March 25 hearing.
It could be unlikely that the Supreme Court would take on Julie’s case. Of the 1,000 petitions the Supreme Court receives for review each term, the court only agrees to hear about 100. It takes the vote of at least three justices to take a case on.
When the Supreme Court does end up deciding to review Julie’s case, each side will have 30 minutes to present their case. Following the oral arguments, the court will take a preliminary vote.
Regardless, Julie’s case has amplified harmful patterns in Wisconsin family court, said End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin in a March 30 news release.
“This case exemplifies systemic failures survivors experience in family court across (Wisconsin), especially dismissal of domestic abuse dynamics when making child custody and placement decisions,” said Co-Director of Prevention & Engagement Jenna Gormal.
There were more than a dozen people who attended the March 25 hearing to support Julie. Among them was Amy Sytsma, who is an advocate for domestic violence survivors.
Some of them carried signs reading: “Family courts are putting kids in danger,” and “Give Julie her kids back.”
“We have men in (judge’s) robes giving children to abusers,” Sytsma said. “Time is up.”
Contact Alex Groth at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grothalexandria.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.