A five-year Queens custody case is getting a new judge.
Tracey Catapano-Fox, chief clerk to Judge Jeremy Weinstein, who is the administrative judge for the civil division of Queens Supreme Court, announced Monday that Judge Sidney Strauss will be replaced by Judge Rudolph Greco. He will now oversee the case involving the custody of a 10-year-old boy, whose parents have been battling for years.
Last week, Strauss was removed from the case after it was suggested that the youngster had become suicidal after meeting with him and learning the judge would keep the boy with his father.
The Queens Chronicle was able to interview the mother, Annmarie McAvoy of Jamaica Hills, on Tuesday about the long-standing case. Although frustrated by its duration, McAvoy indicated she is hopeful the new judge will resolve the matter quickly and give her custody of the boy.
She indicated that during a September hearing, her son was upset after Strauss told him he would not change the living arrangement. The boy has been living with his father in New Jersey since 2007.
The youngster is allowed to stay with his mother every other weekend and after school on Tuesdays.
McAvoy and her husband, John Hannigan, split in 2002 and she was the primary caregiver, but she said they disagreed over medical assistance for their son, who she said was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Then, in 2007, Strauss changed custody based on a dispute over the boy’s autism and a doctor’s report saying he was slightly underweight and his teeth looked discolored. “He relied on two doctors and ignored my doctor’s report,” McAvoy said. “My son begged to come home.”
She said that 1 1/2 years ago the boy started talking about killing himself and that he was hurting himself. “Part of it is caused by his neurological condition, which is not treated, and he just wants to be with his mother,” said McAvoy, a lawyer, who represents herself in court. “He said the judge didn’t care about him.”
At this point, McAvoy would hire a lawyer to defend her case, but cannot afford one. “All this litigation has taken its toll. I have no more money and my house is in foreclosure,” she said.
She said her son is getting angrier and angrier and she is losing faith in the judicial system.
McAvoy, who is also a law professor at Fordham University, said the court is making the case “a hot potato.”
Hannigan’s attorney, Audrey Sager, said on Wednesday that McAvoy lost custody “for good and appropriate reasons” and that the case has dragged on because the mother changed lawyers six times, tried to move the case, and filed other charges that had to be investigated.
“She lost custody because she labeled him as autistic while every neutral and outside test showed he was not,” Sager said. “She portrayed him as needy, which is not the case.”
The lawyer indicated that McAvoy held her son back and stopped him from reaching his reading potential. “Now he has friends, is mainstreamed and participates in sports,” Sager said, adding that he does have learning disabilities.
“The father gives him structure,” she added.
She said that Strauss was not the problem and noted that the court ordered an emergency hearing in Brooklyn two weeks ago before moving the case back to Queens. “Judge Jeffrey Sunshine found that the boy is not suicidal after seven and one-half days of testimony,” the lawyer added.
McAvoy acknowledged that Sunshine found her son manipulative and that she exaggerates.
Sager believes assigning a new judge to the case will not speed things up because the new one will have to start the case over. Instead, she is asking for a change of venue to New Jersey, where the boy lives. That decision is pending.
Defending her client, Sager added: “He’s put out an olive branch time and again.”