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Who’s to Judge?

For months, George Ihlenburg has been requesting that Judge Paul J. Czajka step down from overseeing his Family Court cases in Columbia County. Ihlenburg said the judge’s decision to recuse himself from contempt-of-court hearings last week was a step in the right direction.

Ihlenburg, one of many Columbia County residents claiming unfair treatment by Czajka, was charged with contempt of court on Oct. 15 for violating a gag order placed on him by Czajka [Newsfront, Nov. 14]. Under the rules of the order, Ihlenburg was not allowed to share any information about his case with outside parties. But Ihlenburg had informed his parents of the time and date of a custody hearing in which he was trying to regain parental rights of his three children. When his parents showed up for the hearing, Ihlenburg was charged with contempt of court, but continues to protest that the gag order is a violation of rights granted to him by the First Amendment.

“My right to freedom of speech has been denied,” said Ihlenburg. “The fact that I can’t say anything regarding my case is just anti-rights.”

Last week Czajka announced that he would step down from the contempt hearing, as he was a witness to the incidents in the court that led to the charges. With a new judge to be assigned for the contempt hearings, Ihlenburg hopes his allegations of unfair treatment will fall under scrutiny where it matters most—in a court of law.

“My hope is that he will recuse himself from my case [entirely],” Ihlenburg said. “But that has not been before an administrative judge.”

Ihlenburg, who has not been allowed to see his children for almost four years, filed a complaint with the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct asking Czajka to recuse himself from all of his Family Court proceedings due to a conflict of interest. Czajka previously represented Ihlenburg in a different divorce proceeding.

Ihlenburg has joined Volunteers for an Impartial Court System, a group in Hudson that meets to discuss their difficulties with Columbia County’s Family Court system. Ihlenburg said his experiences and similar stories shared by members of VICS have led him to believe that the Family Court system is severely flawed.

“The charge of social-service law is not to tear apart families,” Ihlenburg said. “It is to put families back together again. But this is not always generated by the system.”

—Travis Durfee

Protection for All

With less then one week until the New York state Senate comes back to Albany to tie up a few loose ends, it is still anybody’s guess what legislators will do about the landmark gay rights bill, SONDA, which is expected to come up for a vote next Tuesday.

The passage of the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act would make it illegal, under the New York state’s human-rights law, to discriminate against people because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight. The bill has been pending for 31 years in Albany.

But advocates for transgender rights have their issues with the bill and hope that an amended version, which would provide protection for transgender people as well, will be allowed to come up for a vote. Many have been fighting to change the language of the bill to include gender identity or expression. As it stands now, there is no explicit inclusion for transgender people in the bill’s language, nor in the state human-rights law.

The state’s largest gay rights advocacy group, Empire State Pride Agenda, has been resistant to include transgender language for fear that it would kill the bill’s chance of passing. In October, many were angered when ESPA agreed to endorse Gov. George Pataki in what was believed to be a strategic move by the group in return for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno’s (R-C TROY) promise to allow SONDA to come up for a vote this year.

Bruno has repeatedly said that he has no intention of allowing an amended bill, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), to come up for a vote.

“It’s unnecessary,” said Bruno.

However, according to Michael Kink, legislative council of Housing Works Inc., an AIDS advocacy group, Bruno can’t pass SONDA without the support of Senate Democrats. Just last month, Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D-Manhattan) said he might not support SONDA without an amendment. Kink is hopeful that other Senate Democrats will follow suit. Without the support of the Democrats, said Kink, there won’t be adequate support among the 37 Republicans alone to pass the bill.

“Is not that we are anti-SONDA, but we think we need a fully inclusive SONDA that protects all people in the LGBT community,” said Kink. “There is a clear recognition that the bias and discrimination faced by transgender people, by gender variant people, is very real and very harmful, and protections in law is what this whole thing is supposed to be about.”


U.S. Against Them

Anti-American sentiment is on the rise the world over, according to a global attitudes survey conducted this past summer. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press surveyed a total of 38,000 people in 44 nations and found that, while majorities in many nations continue to view the United States and its citizens favorably, American approval ratings have suffered sharp declines in the past two years.

While disdain for the United States was most prevalent in the Muslim nations of the Middle East and Central Asia, the report found that the overall anti-American trend was unspecific to any particular region. And approval ratings for the United States have dropped significantly since 2000 in 19 of 27 nations where survey data was available.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are some common gripes among those who rated this nation unfavorably: Many contend that our government fails to take the interests of other nations into account when crafting international policy, and believe the growing gap between rich and poor nations is fostered largely by the United States.

The most dramatic declines in attitudes toward the United States, outside of the Middle East, were found in Germany, the Slovak Republic, Indonesia and Argentina, where the percentage of people rating this country positively plummeted to 34 percent, down from 50 percent two years ago. In Great Britain, our staunchest ally in the war on terror, the States fell out of favor with an additional 8 percent of the population since 2000, leaving 75 percent still rating this nation favorably.

Particularly significant are the poll’s findings on Turkey, a Muslim nation and key Middle Eastern ally. According to the survey, only 30 percent of people there hold a favorable view of the United States, and an overwhelming 83 percent oppose U.S. use of Turkish bases to wage war against Iraq.

A telling six-nation follow-up poll revealed widespread mistrust of the United States and suspicions regarding its motives for any military action against Iraq. While the majority of people in most nations agree that the current Iraqi regime poses at least a moderate threat to world stability, sizable percentages in all nations polled, including majorities in France and Russia, believe that America’s desire to control Iraqi oil would be the primary reason to attack Iraq. Twenty-two percent of Americans subscribe to this view.

—Paul Hamill

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