The Baltimore Sun

Balancing interests in custody disputes

While I, too, am disturbed by the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the Castillo children, I disagree with The Sun's editorial that criticized Circuit Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. for failing to order supervised visitation for the children's father, Mark Castillo ("A tragic end," April 3).

As an attorney who represents parents in custody disputes, I see firsthand the difficulties faced by the judicial masters and judges charged with resolving such issues.

They must decide what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child, and are often forced to make this determination with limited facts and amid free-flowing allegations that may or may not be credible.

Unfortunately, in these heated cases, parents sometimes lie about the other parent, fabricating claims of abuse.

The master or judge must then balance the need to protect children from a credible threat of harm against the right of parents not to have their custody rights sabotaged by a false accusation.

The Sun faults Judge Dugan for not having ordered supervised visitation for the father in light of his diagnosed mental disorders and previous suicide attempts.

But do we really want the courts to start limiting people's custody rights because they might suffer from clinical depression or an ongoing psychiatric condition?

Is that an acceptable solution in light of the millions of parents who suffer such disorders who would never think of hurting their children?

It is easy to criticize a custody decision in hindsight when the outcome is tragic. What is harder to accept is that when it comes to reasonably and fairly resolving such custody disputes, there just aren't easy answers.

Philip Kaplan


I would appreciate The Sun doing more in-depth reporting on cases like the several cases this year of a parent killing his or her children (e.g., "Father held without bail in 3 killings," April 2).

The Sun might go behind the scenes and interview the chairmen of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee about how we can change state laws to enable the courts to better protect our children, especially in contested divorce and custody issues.

The investigation should also include interviewing any members of the court system who can explain the current procedures for such cases and suggest ways to prevent violent outcomes for children in the future.

Pat Ranney


The writer is a member of the Citizens' Review Board for Children for Anne Arundel County.

Lending bill tilts the playing field

In two articles in Tuesday's edition, The Sun noted that Gov. Martin O'Malley had signed into law a bill that would make banks verify a borrower's ability to repay a mortgage loan ("BGE's customers to get $170 rebate," April 8, and "Democrats see victory as session concludes," April 8).

Please get this right: The state of Maryland has no regulatory authority whatsoever over federally chartered banks; therefore this law has no effect on those institutions.

Banks will still be able to make, and will continue to make, common-sense loans to well-qualified borrowers with little or no documentation.

The new law applies only to state-licensed mortgage originators.

This is typical knee-jerk legislation that will create an unlevel playing field between state-licensed small lenders in Maryland and federally chartered banks, will inconvenience highly qualified borrowers and will further weaken the housing market.

Who in his or her right mind would pass legislation to limit borrowing from state-licensed lenders in the middle of a credit crunch?

The members of the Maryland legislature, that's who.

Rick Proctor

Forest Hill

The writer is a mortgage broker.

Museum's curators made the right call

I have been studying art most of my life and find it very disappointing to read remarks by someone with a vested interest in her father's estate who wants to "challenge the credentials of the exhibition's curator" because she doesn't agree with her decisions ("In Dad's Honor," April 6).

Certainly, A. Aubrey Bodine will always be recognized as an exceptionally gifted photographer. His fame in Maryland is well-established.

The Baltimore Museum of Art has placed his works in several shows and will probably do so again in the future.

But I hope that this will be because the images fit within the framework of those future exhibitions.

Sherry Christhilf


The writer is an art consultant and a longtime volunteer for the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Poor teacher pay shortchanges future

After reading Iver Mindel's column "Shortchanging teachers has long-term consequences" (Commentary, April 7), I would like to add my support for the case he so eloquently presented.

Not only are we shortchanging our current teachers, but we are also showing shortsightedness about the development and growth the Baltimore County schools will require for the future.

It is amazing that so large a school system in one of the state's most affluent areas apparently cannot or will not recognize the importance of retaining and hiring the best teachers.

Inflation and rising costs are eroding the pay of many teachers.

Apparently, the leaders of many other counties have found the resources to give teachers raises.

Why, then, is Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. so hard-pressed to do the same thing?

Richard Crystal


Teacher pay, security more than adequate

The attitude reflected in the column "Shortchanging teachers has long-term consequences" (Commentary, April 7) is complete nonsense, and the writer's final phrase - "You get what you pay for" - is the most objectionable part.

If that were true, the students in Baltimore would all be Einsteins.

In fact, teachers in most communities are overpaid and completely protected from the economic vagaries most other people need to manage over their working lives.

Teachers are rarely laid off or fired or held accountable for mediocre or poor performance.

In addition, while private-sector workers across the country may worry that an economic downturn could cause them to lose their jobs, teachers rarely need to share that fear.

They are shielded from the bad economy, just like federal and state government workers, who are equally overpaid and underworked.

Working in a profession that pays salaries in spite of performance, with a high level of job security, for only 10 months of work a year with all sorts of holidays and special days off, teachers do pretty well already.

My advice to the writer's son is that if he's such an excellent teacher and gets a job offer from a county other than Baltimore County, he should take it.

Joel Rosenberg

Ellicott City

Help visitors reach zoo, other venues

The problem with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, as well as many other fine places of interest in Baltimore, is that it is very hard to get to them without a car.

Zoos depend on out-of-towners as a large part of the visiting public.

Baltimore has been very successful in building up the tourist trade, especially at and around the Inner Harbor (as can be seen in the number of people riding around the city tooting those incredibly annoying duck whistles).

Why not have brightly colored buses that make a continuous loop, picking up and dropping off visitors at museums such as the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art and shopping areas such as Lexington Market and Hampden?

Such a bus could also take visitors to and from the zoo.

I took a similar bus when I visited Philadelphia, and it allowed me to visit many parts of the city I otherwise would not have seen.

Linda Gross


One family votes to save city zoo

I completely agree with Hal Donofrio's column "Turn the zoo into a product that's worth promoting" (Commentary, April 3).

Following Mr. Donofrio's suggestion, we did a little market research in our Cockeysville home about the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. And my children Michael, age 5, and Emma, age 3, weighed in on the tragic conversation about the possibility that the state would give up on our zoo.

So after a long conversation, the Lee family voted to keep a wonderful community resource where children and families can learn and grow.

Michael and Emma beg everyone to roar like the lions and say "yes" to saving our zoo.

Elise Lee


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