Suit accuses Marion family law judge, DHHR, jail administrator of civil rights violations

By Lawrence Smith | Sep 6, 2012

MORGANTOWN – A Monongalia County man is accusing various officials, including a Marion County family law judge, of violating his civil rights.

Marion Family Law Judge Amy Jo Swisher, Joseph M. Sellaro, an attorney with the state Department of Health and Human Resources' Bureau for Child Support Enforcement, George Trent, administrator of the Northern Regional Jail and an unidentified representative of the Monongalia County Rape and Domestic Violence Center are named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by John Kemet Shabazz-El. In his suit filed July 10 in Monongalia Circuit Court, Shabazz-El,48, alleges all played a role in having him falsely imprisoned for alleged unpaid child support.

According the suit, Sellaro on Sept. 20 prepared a petition to show cause why Shabazz-El should not be held in contempt for failure to pay child support to his daughters, Marissa and Amina. The order of support, Shabazz-El says, was obtained fraudulently by the girls' mother, Lisa Turner, through false allegations of domestic violence with the help of MCRDVC staff.

After she set Nov. 29 for a hearing on Sellaro's petition, Shabazz-El on an unspecified date filed both a motion to dismiss with Swisher, and a writ of prohibition in Marion Circuit Court seeking the appointment of counsel. On an unspecified date, Shabazz-El says Judge David Janes reduced his writ of prohibition to a motion and remanded it to Swisher for consideration.

According to the suit, Shabazz-El was arrested Feb. 2 at his home on Dorsey Lane in Morgantown by five Monongalia County deputy sheriffs serving a body attachment on him signed Jan. 31 by Swisher. The order, Shabazz-El says, contained instructions he was to be taken immediately the NRJ in Greenwood near West Union in Doddridge County, and denied bond.

Five days later, Shabazz-El was transported to Fairmont for a hearing before Swisher. Upon paying BCSE $150 by Feb. 10, Swisher said he could be released from jail, and purged of contempt.

However, she set June 5 for a status conference on the case.

The next day, Shabazz-El not only delivered $150 to BCSE's office at the Middletown Mall in Whitehall, he also received notice of Sellaro's proposed order. In it, Shabazz-El maintains Sellaro omitted, among other things, any reference to him making a request for a court-appointed attorney.

Two days later, Shabazz-El filed his objections to the proposed order making note that he was entitled to an attorney since he was facing a potential "loss of liberty." Also, he sought an injunction against the June 5 hearing until he was provided an attorney.

Later, on Feb. 16 Shabazz-El says he contacted Sellaro to discuss his omissions from the proposed order. Though he admitted to receiving all of Shabazz-El's motions, including his request for court-appointed counsel, Sellaro denied any responsibility for having him imprisoned despite that being among the relief he was seeking.

About a week later, Shabazz-El says he called Swisher's office to discuss with him his request for appointment of counsel. After informing him litigants are not provided court-appointed attorneys in civil contempt matters, the unidentified female abruptly hung up the telephone.

All proceedings in the case were halted when Janes on April 9 granted Shabazz-El's original writ of prohibition seeking a court-appointed attorney. The suit does not state if Swisher has since complied with Janes' order to provide Shabazz-El with one.

Nevertheless, in his suit Shabazz-El says Swisher, Sellaro and Trent have showed deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights by not only denying him due process of law, but also having him wrongfully imprisoned without the benefit of legal counsel. Shabazz-El seeks $200,000 in damages.

He is representing himself. His children are listed as co-plaintiffs in the suit.

The case is assigned to Judge Phillip D. Gaujot.

Monongalia Circuit Court case number 12-C-454

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