Judge Judith Wells
AUSTIN – Tarrant County District Judge Judith Wells improperly ignored a mother's objection when she awarded grandparents three days a month with the woman's 7-year-old child, the Texas Supreme Court decided June 27.
The justices unanimously directed Judge Wells to vacate a temporary visitation order she granted last year to Bobby Cook and Jamelia Cook.
The justices agreed that Judge Wells abused her discretion by reaching a decision without giving mother Stacy Chambless a meaningful opportunity to be heard.
Chambless formerly shared custody of the child with father Bobby Cook Jr., whose parents supervised his visitation. When a motorcycle accident killed Bobby Cook Jr., his parents petitioned for temporary visitation.
Judge Wells appointed social worker Rhonda Hopkins to the case. She reported that depriving the grandparents of access would be very detrimental to the child's emotion well being.
At a hearing, the Cooks introduced the report as evidence. Hopkins did not appear, so Chambless' attorney, Thomas Michel, could not cross examine her.
Michel argued that it would be in the child's best interest to deny visitation, but the judge did not allow him to present evidence.
Judge Wells signed an interim order granting the Cooks three days a month.
Chambless petitioned for a writ of mandamus at the Second District appeals court in Fort Worth, and the Second District denied relief.
Chambless appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, where she won mandamus relief.
According to the justices, the Texas family code presumes that a parent acts in the best interest of a child.
To overcome this presumption, they wrote, grandparents must prove that denial of access would significantly impair a child's physical health or emotional well being.
Dinah Stallings represented the grandparents.