LONE TREE, Colo. -- More than two weeks after a tragic murder-suicide in Lone Tree where a father murdered his 10-year-old son and then killed himself, attorneys and domestic violence experts are calling for changes to Colorado's family law court system.
Ty Tesoriero was murdered at the hands of his own father eight hours after Anthony Tesoriero, a known domestic abuser, learned he was likely going to lose custody of his son. But still the judge ruled to let Ty go home with his father for one last night.
"Family courts are failing miserably to protect our children," said Maralee McLean, a domestic violence expert, in an opinion letter to the Denver Post. "If you think children are protected by our courts, please think again. It makes me cry, she said."
McLean has been speaking and writing about domestic violence and child abuse for over 30 years after she said Colorado's courts failed to protect her child.
"All I could think of is that mother's anguish and the pain of the death of her child when she knew what was happening," she said in response to Ty's story.
Calls for a dedicated family law court in Colorado
McLean is one of dozens of experts now pushing for better trained judges and a dedicated family court system in Colorado. She believes a judge with more training on domestic violence would have made a difference in Ty's case.
"Colorado has no specialized family courts, rather all lower court judges rotate through family court," said McLean. "We need to have judges trained in domestic violence, child abuse, child sexual abuse. We need a separate court."
An Op-Ed published in the Daily Camera from Burnham Law called Ty's story "a complete systemic failure." The letter states, "We are dedicated family law attorneys with decades of experience. Our conclusion, and the consensus of our peers, is that we need — families need — a dedicated family law court."
A dedicated family law court would mean district court judges would only be assigned to family law matters and could go through specialized training. Currently, with exception to the dedicated juvenile court in Denver, judges rotate through different courts from criminal, civil, probate, juvenile, and family law.
"District court judges are forced by the system to be generalists. Most them have zero family law experience before they take the bench and seem to receive little training in the complex dynamics of family law, domestic violence, and allocation of parental responsibilities," the opinion letter in the Daily Camera points out.
McLean also said the system needs to do a better job of making child safety a priority.
She's calling on Governor Jared Polis and the legislature to fix Colorado's flawed system and make changes to the law that force judges to protect children before they're hurt, not after, when it's often too late.
"Hopefully, Governor Polis will take a hold of it and say ok - enough!" said McLean. "The children, I don't think are mattering, that's what I see. I don't see the children being protected."
Dedicated family court systems have worked in other states
North Carolina, for example, has what it calls Unified Family Courts. There, each district can decide to have one and those judges only work on family court cases and go through specialized training.