Judge Curtis Neal’s Bizarre Decisions Questioned by Litigant
BROOKSVILLE – You may remember Mr. and Mrs. Cichon from a story we brought to you last year regarding the couple’s extremely contentious divorce.
RNRF gained interest in the story, after Judge Curtis Neal ordered Michael out of his home, severely restricted contact with his children and ordered what seemed to be an unusually high amount of child support. Not out of the ordinary if someone is accused of domestic violence or child abuse, but that wasn’t the case with the Cichon’s; at least not with Michael Cichon.
During an interview, Mr. Cichon says he disagreed with a Psychiatrist’s recommendation to place his autistic son on medication. That decision led to Judge Neal ordering the bizarre sanctions against Mr. Cichon, which Michael says violates his right to choose what’s best for his children. Michael says his son is functional and doesn’t need medication – his wife disagrees.
One evening, Mr. Chichon met his wife at an ATM to draw out cash for a child support payment. When Michael asked his wife to sign a receipt, she became enraged and physically attacked him in the parking lot. Mrs. Cichon was arrested for domestic battery and subsequently served a few months on probation.
While Mrs. Cichon was incarcerated, Michael asked an on-call Judge to order a temporary injunction against domestic violence. The order was granted and Mr. Cichon moved back into his home and took custody of the children. Once Judge Neal heard the news, he immediately reversed the on-call Judge’s decision, throwing Michael out of his house again and giving the children back the Mrs. Cichon. In addition, the protection against domestic violence was thrown out.
An evidentiary hearing was scheduled, where witnesses from both sides were to speak on behalf of their client. Mr. Cichon, at the time, retained the services of Attorney Gina Toner, the recently divorced wife of Judge Stephen Toner. Mrs. Cichon was and still is represented by Attorney Sam Lea of the Law Firm of Jeffrey Cario.
RNRF decided to observe the hearing, to see what allegations were being made that would cause a judge to order such extreme sanctions on a parent. To our surprise, Sam Lea requested that the Media, specifically RNRF, be removed from the courtroom; thus, illegally closing the doors on a public hearing.
We caught up with Sam Lea after the hearing to ask why – VIDEO REPORT: JUDGE DENIES MEDIA COVERAGE
A second round of testimony was scheduled for the following week and once again, Judge Neal ordered RNRF out of the courtroom. We contacted one of our attorneys, Debra Tuomey, who filed a motion to intervene. A hearing was set to argue our claim that Judge Neal violated the First Amendment by banning us from the courtroom. We were never asked to leave a courtroom again, as a result of that hearing.
As the case progressed, visitation restrictions were eased on Mr. Cichon, but the overwhelming financial obligation remained. Mr. Cichon operates a small cabinet company and barely makes enough to live on, after paying nearing $5,000 a month in support to his wife. In addition, Mr. Cichon has spent nearly $22,000 in legal fees; which according to Michael has done nothing to help his case.
The inability to make the unrealistic payments resulted in Mr. Chichon being held in contempt. During a recent court hearing, Michael was booked into the Hernando County Jail, until he could pay his arrearages. Thanks to Mr. Cichon’s family, he was able attain the funds necessary to purge the amount owed and was released from jail.
Recently, Michael gave nearly $7,000 to Attorney Timothy Doud in a last ditch effort to salvage his case: however, in another astonishing turn of events, Doud motioned to withdrew as counsel after just one hearing. Judge Neal granted Mr. Doud’s motion and even allowed him to keep the entire retainer.
Mr. Cichon tells RNRF that he has exhausted all his funds and is now forced to handle his case pro se (without an attorney).
Last week, Michael faced another contempt charge but avoided jail after agreeing to pay another large sum of money. Judge Neal ordered Michael to drop the payment off to Jeff Cario’s office, which he attempted to do, but once again things didn’t go as planned. Michael says he brought the required payment to Jeff Cario’s office, but they refused to provide a signed receipt. In an attempt to have record of his payment, Michael called the Sheriff’s Office. When they arrived on the scene, Jeff Cario requested that Michael be trespassed from the property.
Adding to the already hostile circumstances, Mr. Cichon says his wife is now interfering with child visitation. To try to find relief, Michael filed several motions of contempt against his wife but Judge Neal has yet to hear his complaint, even though he found time to hear Attorney Sam Lea’s motions for contempt, whenever Michael was late on support payments.
Michael says Lea is trying to rush his case to trial, so that he can “lock in” permanent alimony for Mrs. Cichon. Florida Legislators are close to deciding on a Bill that would eliminate permanent alimony in the State of Florida.
It should be noted that Mrs. Cichon is able to work and even possesses a college degree, but she has refused to find employment, according to Mr. Cichon.
We will continue to follow this case to its conclusion.
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