RALEIGH –12/28/10 – Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated a child custody order entered by Orange County District Court Judge Joe Buckner, calling the child custody case a “charade.” The case involves a 3-year old boy who was removed from Nevada by Mormons so he could be adopted in North Carolina without his mother’s consent.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the young boy’s mother, Emily M. McManaway, that Judge Buckner’s order must be vacated because he failed to hear any evidence before awarding sole custody of McManaway’s son to her brother and his wife when they had already given the young boy away to a Surry County couple they had met online.
Betsy J. Wolfenden, McManaway’s former attorney, was able to stop the illegal adoption of her client’s son, but after the Surry County couple refused to return the child, Wolfenden filed a motion in Orange County District Court to have Judge Buckner’s custody order set aside. The Court of Appeals held that Judge Buckner’s refusal to set aside his custody order was an abuse of discretion when he failed to hold a custody hearing and when the order contained “patently false” findings. The Mormon couples were represented in Orange County District Court by Attorneys Donna Ambler Rice and Leigh A. Peek.
Wolfenden, a UNC law school graduate, was disbarred in July of this year after the North Carolina State Bar accused her of filing “frivolous” lawsuits against Davis and Peek on behalf of McManaway. The State Bar also found that Wolfenden was a danger to the public. “I feel vindicated by the opinion,” says Wolfenden. “I have asserted all along that it is the corruption in Orange County District Court which endangers the public, and I was disbarred for speaking out against it.”
Wolfenden ran for Orange County District Court judge in 2008, claiming the constitutional rights of parents are frequently violated in that court. During the election, Buckner, Davis and Peek brought dozens of anonymous grievances against her with the State Bar. Wolfenden lost the election and Buckner, Davis and Peek later testified against her at her State Bar hearing. Wolfenden is currently suing the State Bar, Buckner, Davis and Peek for malicious prosecution, obstruction of justice, and for conspiring to defame her.
The link to the Court of Appeals’ opinion:
The link to Wolfenden's amended complaint against the North Carolina State Bar: