Father Brings Case On Parents’ Right
Before [Connecticut Supreme] High Court, On His Very Own
Aimee Dutkiewicz shows her son, Garth, his parents' case on the Supreme Court agenda as Garth's father Bristol truck driver Tom Dutkiewicz and his mom, Gail Fuller, look on.
By COLIN POITRAS | Hartford Courant Staff Writer
March 19, 2008
For 30 minutes Tuesday, Tom Dutkiewicz, a 47-year-old Bristol truck driver, stood before the Connecticut Supreme Court passionately arguing that the state routinely violates parents' constitutional rights.
Not many laypeople get the opportunity to be heard before the state's highest court, and Dutkiewicz waited six years for this single, defining moment.
As Dutkiewicz bolstered his argument with a scattering of legal citations that he had pulled from the Internet, the panel of five black-robed jurists, including Chief Justice Chase Rogers, listened with a patient ear. They asked no questions.
When asked later why he didn't hire a lawyer, Dutkiewicz said, "No guts no glory. When you hire a lawyer, they say what they want to say. I wanted to be there to speak for myself."
Dutkiewicz was in court to challenge the constitutionality of a state law requiring divorcing parents to participate in parenting education classes. He insists the state has no right to compel parents to take such classes unless the parents are deemed unfit. Simply getting divorced, Dutkiewicz said, doesn't cut it.
"The state wrongly assumes I need help," Dutkiewicz told the court in what was at times a rambling opening statement. "To me, that's arrogance."
"Who are they to tell me how I should act? How I should speak to my child? Every child is different," Dutkiewicz said. "To say I need parenting classes is an insult to me. I'm 47. I've raised my children for 15, 20 years."
Dutkiewicz is no stranger to a courtroom. He represented himself in a waste-hauling case that reached the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in 1998 and won. He is a relentless researcher and pores over legal rulings on the Internet like a kid eyeing treats in a candy shop.
Tom and his ex-wife, Aimee Dutkiewicz, have three children. They have been carrying the torch for embattled parents ever since the Department of Children and Families investigated them for possible education and medical neglect six years ago.
Following the experience, the pair created a web-based parent advocacy group called Connecticut DCF Watch that urges parents to know their rights and resist any intrusions by state child abuse investigators without a court order or warrant.
"There is absolutely no compelling interest for the state to get involved," Aimee Dutkiewicz said in support of her former husband's case. "Just because a child is involved in a divorce proceeding does not mean that child is going to have emotional problems."
When the couple divorced in 2006, they both challenged the need for parenting classes. And although a Superior Court judge eventually waived the requirement, Tom Dutkiewicz continued to pursue the matter on appeal, filing legal motion after legal motion on his own until he caught the attention of the Supreme Court.
Dutkiewicz claims parents have a right to determine what is in their child's best interest and any court order requiring him to participate in the program infringes on his constitutionally protected right to raise his family as he sees fit.
The trial court, in its ruling, recognized that parents' interest in the care of their children is one of the oldest and most fundamental liberties recognized by the courts. Yet, it pointed out that the right is not unlimited and that the state's interest in the welfare of a child justifies "appropriately bounded intervention" as long as an individual's due process rights are retained.
The court further ruled that the purpose of the parenting classes was to teach parents about the impact divorce has on children.
Whether the high-school educated Dutkiewicz will win his case remains to be seen. But the experience, as they say, was priceless.
"God, it's better than sex!" a flushed and exhilarated Dutkiewicz exclaimed as he left the courtroom clutching a handful of legal briefs. "It's like getting the golden ticket."
Contact Colin Poitras at email@example.com.
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