Damon Duvall looks like a middle-aged surfer as he stands in front of the Santa Monica Courthouse leaning against a large, green sign, “A Father Has A Rite [sic] to Parent.” Riding my bike to the Daily Press, I look over at Damon and he gives a friendly wave. Not wishing to be rude (also curious about his spelling of “right”) I wave back.
At the office I tried to transfer my columns to a single link but with no luck. I’ve written approximately 200 columns, but if you enter my name in the search box you only get 46. Riding home and seeing Damon again, I biked over to his sign, thinking that maybe the day wasn’t a total loss. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
For the past 11 months, Damon has been traveling to the courthouse almost daily and displaying his sign 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Divorced, he’s protesting having been denied the right to see his daughter and son, Maya and Jazz, ages 5 and 8 respectively.
People say there’s always two sides to a story. I say there’s usually three: his, hers and the truth. But Damon seemed open and honest so we chatted. Anybody who has gone through a divorce (these days that’s almost everybody) knows how emotionally devastating it can be. Add kids to the equation and it can be infinitely worse.
Damon’s problem may be that he can’t afford an attorney. Lawyers are fond of saying, “Anyone who represents himself has a fool for a client.” (Are they fonder of saying it than doing pro-bono work?) Despite the over 1,000 hours Damon has logged in front of the courthouse, and the hundreds with whom he’s conversed, no attorney has volunteered his or her services. (Hint, hint, counselors.)
Shared custody of the kids was fine until Damon’s ex-wife moved to El Segundo. Soon, he started noticing behavioral issues with his children and immediately arranged for them to get counseling at school.
The judge wasn’t pleased that he hadn’t consulted the court, Damon told me. And things got more intense when Damon’s daughter volunteered that she was allegedly being inappropriately touched by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. Incensed, Damon filed a police report but the investigation was “inconclusive,” Damon said.
The judge considered Damon’s actions as evidence that he was the one who needed psychotherapy. After two evaluations (pro-bono), renowned psychiatrist Dr. William C. Wirshing testified for over an hour that Damon was emotionally stable.
For some reason, Damon said the judge ordered that until he completed six months of therapy (which he can’t afford) there’d be no visitation, supervised or otherwise. Even criminals get supervised visitation! Damon is allowed to phone his kids but only for 10 minutes and only every other night. That seems so harsh.
To get “the other side of the story,” I phoned attorney Amy Neiman, who represents the children’s interest. She was very pleasant, but busy with a client. Regardless, one thing is definite. This Thanksgiving, while we’re all with our families, Damon will not be with his kids.
At Damon’s Web site, www.bigdaddyjazzandmaya.com there’s a video “Let Right Be Done: A Loving Father’s Story.” Admittedly, I don’t know what the real truth is. (I wish I had the court stenographer’s transcripts but they’re incredibly expensive.) It’s just that something feels terribly wrong when a seemingly devoted father can’t see his kids, especially during the holidays.
Meanwhile, in trying to create my “global link,” I’ve gone over most of my 200 columns. (Too much free time, you say?) Soon, I hope to get one of these right. I doubt, however, that many in the “family law industry” will consider this the one.
Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.