"Finally! People are finally listening to what I've been saying all along," one Missouri mom excitedly says after seeing a post that's been circulating about corruption in the St. Louis courts. The mom, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, says she was a victim of legal misconduct in St. Louis, Missouri. The judge and guardian ad litem (GAL) assigned to her case conspired to strip this mom of her custodial rights, eventually giving the father primary custody.
The reason? The mother reported that the father was abusing their children. Despite having proof of the father's violent criminal history and a lengthy list of DFS investigations, the GAL insisted the father wasn't a threat to the children's safety. The judge sided with the GAL, which is often the case in high-conflict custody battles, but not before ordering the mom to undergo a costly psych evaluation, mediation, coparenting counseling, and numerous other services.
The mom wants to fight the decision, but she can't afford a new lawyer. Besides, she explains, "They're all working together anyway. Mine was scared to go against the GAL."
It's a common complaint among Missouri parents, but they aren't remaining silent about the injustices they've experienced any longer. Several Missouri parents were interviewed by journalists Megan Fox and Michael Volpe about the corruption in the St. Louis County family court, with special attention given to cases handled by Judge Nicole Zellweger and GAL Elaine Pudlowski. Pudlowski is currently the defendant in multiple lawsuits that allege she willingly sent kids to live with abusers and colluded with court-appointed mental health providers to make healthy parents appear unstable. This money-making scheme resulted in healthy parents fighting to appeal evaluation results and overturn custody rulings, thus padding the wallets of Pudlowski and her accomplices.
But she's not the only GAL from St. Louis County accused of violating legal ethics and placing children in danger. She's also not the only legal professional who violates state guidelines regarding communication between judges and other GALs. These violations were exposed in January 2021 when a Zoom meeting between Pudlowski and approximately 40 other GALs from St. Louis County was secretly recorded.
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In this video, the GALs discuss pooling resources to hire a forensic team so they can find the mole who is sharing information about Pudlowski. During this Zoom meeting, GALs also voice other concerns, none of which involve anyone being upset about the children who've been endangered by corrupt GALs and judges in the area. Instead, they're worried about their careers and how the public feels about their alleged wrongdoings. One GAL even complains that Pudlowski's exposure may result in higher standards for Missouri GALs.
This comment is a great reminder that corruption isn't limited to St. Louis County. In fact, several of the St. Louis GALs in the leaked Zoom video also practice in St. Charles County. Multiple journalists have covered the corruption in nearby St. Charles County family courts recently, and they're not done yet. Several writers are raising funds so they can travel to Missouri and continue exposing corruption in the justice system. It might be the only way the news will get out, as local journalists and legal professionals are often hesitant to speak up about what happens during Missouri court hearings. They fear retaliation.
One lawyer privately told me that many lawyers, judges, and GALs are part of a big clique in the St. Louis area. If you speak out about unethical behavior, you lose your spot in the clique, and judges purposely rule against you in the courtroom. Because of this, some lawyers look the other way when corruption occurs even though they don't actively participate in any misconduct themselves.
Nobody should be afraid to discuss what happens in the legal system or speak out when they feel unsafe. Every legal professional deserves ethical colleagues, every parent has the right to a fair trial, and every child should be heard when they report abuse or neglect. Sadly, that's not happening in every Missouri courtroom right now, but there's hope for the future. Parents are starting to share their horrible experiences now that whistleblowers have leaked documents and videos of unethical behavior, and they won't stop until the system is overhauled.