EVANS, GA (WFXG) - New developments tonight in the child custody case we've been following since last June involving a local judge being looked into by the judicial qualifications committee.
First, the Georgia appeals court said that judge misinterpreted law when he denied a Columbia County mother custody. Then, he said he would consider removing himself from the case because the mother's attorney said he was biased against her.
But, according to court records Judge Daniel "Danny" Craig didn't do that; instead, he suspended all visitation rights of the mom in addition to admitting to secret communications outside the courtroom with the dad's attorney, which allowed the father to arrange the kids' removal from the state. Plus, the two independent custody experts on the case said the mom posed no danger to the children.
Julia Bloodworth, the most recent guardian ad litem on the case, who has two decades worth of experience with children, in an affidavit said the judge coordinated his plans with the father's attorney to remove the children from Augusta, without the mom, the guardian, or her attorney even knowing the kids were gone from school.
The Columbia County mother is revealing her face because she wants the community to understand what she calls injustice.
In a September order, Judge Craig said her children's expression of being "afraid and concerned" to live with their mom was "comparatively profound."
But Judge Craig never presented any evidence in his order of physical or emotional abuse, and the guardian ad litem said she never saw any either.
"No, no, I was not abusing our children," said the mother. "We had a guardian ad litem. She says in her affidavit she spent more time working with our family then any other in her two decades of experience, and there was no concern by her."
Days after the the most recent order, guardian Julia Bloodworth filed an affidavit with the court.
In it – she said, "In all of my conversations with them, including many phone calls with [the son], neither of the children ever acted or sounded as if they were afraid of their mother or concerned for their personal welfare at their mother's home." In addition, Bloodworth said it may have been the father who was "manipulating" them through the use of parental alienation - allegations the father's attorney denies.
Bloodworth said she wasn't involved in the drafting of the order at all, which she feels, may go against her contract and order written and signed by the very same judge.
"The guardian who knew our family wasn't allowed to speak," said the mother. "She wasn't heard. And that was the whole point of her being assigned to our case."
In the order, Judge Craig admits to calling one of the the father's three attorney days before the order was issued to make sure the father would be in Augusta for the execution of the order, which would allow him to move the children to Ohio, denying the mom a hearing that's required under Georgia law.
I asked the mom, "the guardian ad litem didn't know? You didn't know? Only your ex-husband's attorneys?"
"And Judge Danny Craig," said mom said.
But Judge Craig signed a certificate of service swearing he'd served all parties with his order before filing it with the clerk's office. The clerk's office time stamp shows it being clocked in at 11:50 in the morning, while Judge Craig's fax time stamp shows it didn't get sent to the mom's attorney until nearly three and a half hours later.
"Our children were already gone out of school, before my attorney was notified," said the mother. "We didn't know. We were the last to know."
That's right: the mom sent her kids to school, and she didn't know they were gone until they didn't get off the school bus.
"[I am] stunned, even though so much has happened that didn't seem right," the mother said. "It's still shocking that it was this blatant."
Judge Craig said he can't comment on this case because it's an active case.
But one of the attorney's for the surgeon ex-husband did agree to speak on the case during an on the record meeting at her Augusta law firm.
Barbara Barnett 'Bobi' Claridge disagrees with the assertion her behavior is considered improper because during the phone call the judge only said:
"Have your client here on a date certain; tell me what that day is."
Claridge said she was not aware the judge didn't make the same phone call to the mom's attorney.
"I do not know if he did or did not relate that information to Ms. Portnoy," said Claridge.
I then asked if she knew the children were gone before the mom's side even knew; Claridge said she did.
"I was aware the order was issued, my client was told to pick them, and did so," said Claridge.
Upon further investigation into this case, we found in court documents that a previous psychologist guardian also hired by Judge Craig to determine custody for the same children in this case also recommended the children remain in the mother's care.
According to the final divorce order in that case, Judge Craig also "found" that there was no evidence in favor of the mom, thereby totally denying the existence of that psychologist which he had appointed.