Last month, a stunned and grieving nation struggled to maintain its holiday spirit in the wake of the tragic Newtown school massacre. Haunting images of six- and seven-year-olds' funerals threatened to overwhelm our holiday cheer, yet many of us got through the month by focusing on gratitude and compassion, and by marveling at the tremendous resiliency of human beings to survive such unthinkable losses.
On the same day that the final three Sandy Hook victims were being laid to rest, a 48-year-old mother named Donna Kristofak lay bleeding to death in her suburban Georgia garage, a victim of her violent ex-husband's murderous rage. Her two teenage sons were now orphaned for Christmas, and for the rest of their lives, in a neighborhood like Newtown where "these sorts of things" aren't supposed to happen. Well folks, these sorts of things can and do happen all over America because family violence knows no boundaries.
Donna Kristofak's death is just one of the many fatalities coming out of an increasingly broken court system that routinely mishandles domestic violence cases. Like so many before her, Donna's death was preventable, if the judge would have just taken her fears more seriously.
At an October 2012 court hearing, Donna reportedly begged the judge to keep her ex-husband in jail, telling her: "I definitely want a permanent order of no contact. May I also say that a protective order existed the night of the arrest and I do not feel that will necessarily bring safety." She reiterated, "may I ask, your honor, that it is on the record that I fear for my life?"
Instead of respecting this mother's fears and keeping her dangerous ex-husband locked up for the duration of his term, Judge Adele Grubbs handed John S. Kristofak a plea deal that released him from prison after he had served just seven months of his five-year term.
Make no mistake about it- Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs from Cobb County, Georgia has blood on her robes from this mother's untimely death at the hands of her ex-husband.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, upon learning of Donna Kristofak's death, Judge Grubbs said that she could not comment on the case but added, "You cannot predict human behavior. After Newtown, people ask, ‘How can we stop someone before they do something?' We don't do that."
That's right, Judge Grubbs, you and a vast number of criminal and family court judges aren't doing that, and by God, you should be. You unquestionably should be stopping dangerous criminal behavior to protect the lives of innocents when you are handed evidence showing a person's proclivity to harm others.
Judge Grubbs' eagerness to brush off any notion of judicial accountability for this mother's death is strikingly familiar. In 2010, San Bernardino County Judge Robert Lemkau uttered a similarly dismissive comment after he had allowed a mentally ill father to access and kill his nine-month-old baby and himself, despite desperate pleas from the child's mother, Katie Tagle, to review the father's written death threats and save her son's life. Judge Lemkau, who had repeatedly called Tagle a liar as she presented her concerns to the court, said after the tragic murder suicide, "It's not like I released a psychopath onto the street — he was already on the street."
NOTE: Lemkau did issue a rare apology to Tagle a month after the murder suicide due to mounting pressure from hundreds of protestors who repeatedly called for his resignation.
According to news reports, arrest warrants and court documents, Judge Adele Grubbs released a violent felon onto the street, a man who was arrested after chasing his ex-wife in a Walmart parking lot with a butcher knife and a suicide note in his car. She released a man who had repeatedly harassed his ex-wife by calling her workplace using "vile, vulgar language to her and her coworkers." This same man erected posters in front of her house accusing her of "vile, vulgar sexual things." This man allegedly sent emails saying, "You are in danger — protect yourself. No one can help you at this point" and "I warned you to never cut me off from my children. You did and you will pay."
This sort of "pass-the-buck mentality" from judges is escalating the murder-suicide rate in family court cases. Most people -including judges- become inattentive and sloppy when they know that they are accountable to no one. We need judges to take stalking seriously. We need judges from every court discipline to step up and support increased judicial accountability, and to seriously rethink the ease with which courts enter into plea bargains with violent offenders.