A New York mother who had not seen her son in years found out he was in danger at Stoneman Douglas High School when he sent her a text message during the standoff.
Julie Goffstein received this text message from her 15-year-old son while Nikolas Cruz was in the middle of his rampage:
“Hey mommy, I wanted to say hi, I wanted to talk now because there is a school shooter on my campus and we are locked down.”
“I’m safe in a closet,” her son said later, in texts reviewed by The Daily Caller. “I’m perfectly calm, to be honest this isn’t the scariest event in my life.”
Until this text message, Goffstein did not even know what high school he was attending because a Hamilton County, Ohio court had forbidden her from having any contact with her four youngest of six children for approximately 1,000 days.
Goffstein, who observes Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism, said she’s being kept away from her children by blatant religious bigotry on the part of her ex-husband and the court system.
“My children never should have been removed from their private Jewish schooling,” Goffstein said. “(James) being taken away from his mother as well as being forced to violate the religious practice in which he was raised. He has now witnessed the violence of a school massacre and has attended 6 funerals of 4 schoolmates and 2 teachers.”
Goffstein and her ex-husband Peter Goffstein married on Jan. 17, 1998.
Shortly after the birth of their first child, the couple became Chabad-Lubavitch Jews, who strictly adhere to Jewish laws and traditions, such as keeping strict dietary laws, observing Jewish holidays, including the Sabbath, going to Jewish schools, and wearing the appropriate clothes like the Yarmulke.
Goffstein said in 2010 Peter wanted to leave the faith and demanded the rest of the family follow him; she was given an ultimatum: do as he wishes or divorce.
She chose divorce.
Julie Goffstein had been a stay-at-home mother while Peter Goffstein was the breadwinner and a judge initially gave her temporary physical custody.
“Wife is designated the residential parent and legal guardian of the minor children,” an order written by Magistrate Judge Greg Thiele on July 27, 2010, stated. “The above award is temporary only and creates no presumption in law.”
Goffstein said in Hamilton County, Ohio, where her divorce was heard, a decision is initially made by a magistrate, or junior judge, before a senior judge affirms or augments the decision.
Peter Goffstein referred to Julie’s religious belief as “extremist.”
“Mr. Goffstein also believes that ‘the Chabad movement and orthodox Judaism is a rigid, radical sect,” a custody evaluation from 2011 stated. “He simply sees his oldest two sons’ current refusal to visit him since 10-10 as being an effort by his wife to alienate them from him, attributing this to her being immersed in what he considers as extremist Judaic orthodoxy.”
Parental alienation “refers to a mental condition in which a child, whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict divorce, allies strongly with one parent (the preferred parent or alienating parent) and refuses to have a relationship with the other parent (with rejected parent or alienated parent) without a good reason,” according to Bill Bernet, a professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Joy Silberg, who is president of the Leadership Council on Interpersonal Violence, said the term is often misused; her organization found in 2008 that approximately 58,000 children per year are forced to live in an abusive home by American family courts yearly, largely due to the false diagnosis of parent alienator to a protective parent.
Peter Goffstein argued that his ex-wife’s religious choice was alienating him: “In so doing, Mr. Goffstein cited as reasons for the change in custody Mrs. Goffstein’s religious practices and the extent to which she imposed those religious practices on the children, which he claimed alienated the children from him,” a lawsuit filed by Julie Goffstein noted.
Dr. Silberg said she’d never seen religion used as the reason for the alienation despite being exposed to thousands of cases where it was alleged.
“It never ceases to amaze how the concept of parental alienation is used in bizarre ways especially in ways to harm children,” Dr. Silberg noted.
Though it’s routinely cited in custody cases, parental alienation has thus far failed to gain widespread acceptance.
Despite Peter Goffstein’s protestation, the presiding judge, John Henry Sieve, initially also sided with Julie Goffstein.
“On June 21, 2012, after evidentiary hearings on Mr. Goffstein’s motion, Judge Sieve ruled in favor of plaintiff Julie Goffstein and permitted all of the children to remain in Mrs. Goffstein’s custody,” a federal lawsuit Goffstein filed noted.
But on March 11, 2013, Peter Goffstein and his attorney, Joel Moskowitz, filed for a reallocation, or change, in custody.
Emails and voicemails to Goffstein’s and Moskowitz work email and phones were left unreturned.
Though he cited the same rejected parental alienation argument, Judge Sieve granted him a hearing.
By this point, Julie Goffstein said the divorce had left her without savings and she scrambled to find an attorney; a member of the Chabad community in her hometown paid for an attorney, Ken Flacks, but Flacks only came on two days before the hearing, which was held on March 22, 2013.
Flacks’ request for an extension was denied and Judge Sieve proceeded with the hearing.
Judge Sieve then changed his earlier order, granting custody of the four youngest children to Peter Goffstein.
Inexplicably, Sieve allowed Julie Goffstein to maintain custody of her two oldest children, thereby splitting the siblings.
A message left with Judge Sieve’s chambers was left unreturned; a subsequent email to Edward Miller, head of the office of public information at the Ohio Judicial System was also left unreturned.
A message left with Flacks’ office was left unreturned.
In their father’s custody, the four youngest stopped going to Jewish schools and attended public schools and no longer observed many of the other Orthodox traditions.
Indeed, a public education, Judge Sieve noted, was critical in his decision: “Fulfillment of their secular education requirements is quintessential to the best interest of these young children,” he said in his order.
Goffstein’s Money Troubles
Then in 2014, a magistrate judge, Paul Meyers, ended Goffstein’s alimony and reduced her child support.
As a result, Goffstein has struggled providing housing and basic needs to her two children since, with the larger Chabad community having to support her for months at a time.
She needed to move to New York, where the Chabad community has more resources, just to survive, she said.
Peter Goffstein is a Senior Vice President at Industrial Realty Group, and Julie Goffstein said he routinely makes several hundred thousand yearly.
“Are you a judge?” Magistrate Meyers asked rhetorically when reached by phone. “Then your opinion doesn’t matter.”
Moskowitz then filed a series of contempt of court motions — most of which were affirmed by Judge Sieve. As a result, what little time she had with her youngest children was reduced until all contact was removed in 2015; she has not been allowed any contact since.
Peter Goffstein moved to Florida in 2015 and has not even been required to tell his ex-wife which school her children are attending.
Goffstein said that by responding to her son during the rampage she may be in contempt of a previous order.
In fact, she’s served two stints in jail including two days last year for failing to pay part of her ex-husband’s legal bill, ordered as part of a previous contempt of court order.
In that contempt of court order, Judge Sieve found her communication with her children continued to alienate her children from their father.
“He won’t let you boys see me by myself, but hang in there” Julie Goffstein said in one email to her son deemed alienating, “I am working in federal court to get you home with mommy permanently.”
“You have been robbed of so much, I’m sorry he (their father) did this to you.” Goffstein said in a text message, also deemed alienating.
Ken Meyers is an attorney in Cincinnati and he represented Goffstein pro bono, filing the federal lawsuit referenced on her and her children’s behalf.
Myers said by the time he entered the case his options were limited with previous appeals going against Julie Goffstein.
He took the extraordinary step of suing the judge; attorneys often attract the ire of all judges when they sue a judge.
“I was threading the needle,” Myers noted, saying that because judges enjoy broad immunity, suing them is an uphill battle.
“A trial judge disagreed,” Myers noted: Sieve’s immunity was cited as a reason for the dismissal.
In the lawsuit, Myers argued that Judge Sieve’s rulings violated Goffstein’s religious liberty.
“Judge Sieve’s decisions are based on direct violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in that they impinge on the children’s right to freely practice their religion and Mrs. Goffstein’s right to practice her religion,” he said in the lawsuit.