The Fading and Fizzling Effects of Mark Byron’s Cincinnati “Shooting Star” Like Case

Just two short months ago, the Mark Byron case was a world-wide internet sensation that for a very brief moment in time,  shined an incredibly bright spotlight on the throes and abuses that most fathers (both custodial and noncustodial) routinely face on a daily basis in “Family Court” courtrooms not only in Ohio, but around the world as well.

As one who’s been a father’s rights advocate since 2007, I knew immediately that with regard to “father’s rights” at least, the brief albeit very illustrious global spotlight that Bryon’s case shone down on 800 Broadway in Cincinnati Ohio (where Domestic Relations Court, as well as Byron’s and my own case is), would burn out not only quickly, but would also fizzle and sputter out without any lasting effect. That, as Byron’s 15 minutes of fame came to a yawning close while the last light of his global appeal forever faded away.

Unfortunately, that’s par for the course for most cases like Byron’s that happen to make that brief yet very frenzied appearance on TV screens and news headlines around the world. Truth be told, I almost posted this entry when his case went public, but doing so would have served no good purpose and was already known by most who follow the father’s rights movement anyway.

I made a half-hearted attempt to contact Byron myself early on, and I did so in the manner explained for two reasons. 1. To convince myself that I tried, and 2. I knew he probably wouldn’t respond for at least two reasons; those being that he was inundated with requests from others around the world, and two, his counsel would most likely have advised him to not speak with me had he wanted to do so.

Attorney’s are rarely eager to have their clients speak to or associate with anyone who’s affiliated with a father’s rights group for varying reasons. First, many attorneys mislead their clients (some intentionally, others out of ignorance) by telling them, “it’ll harm your case if the court knows you’re associated with “pick the name of any father’s rights organization and put it here.””

Rest assured that few things harm your case more than simply being a loving father. Another reason is because the attorneys themselves (many, but not all) are fearful of the court, and the fallout from angering the court by involving outside parties such as father’s rights organizations. Said otherwise, attorneys must also play politics if their desires include continuing to practice in those courtrooms so as to earn a living. One attorney in Ohio that this statement does not apply to is Thomas Eagle. Tom is a bulldog in court and stands down to no one in my opinion, and hence the reason he’s my attorney.

So given that I “tried” to contact Bryon, I can sleep guilt free in knowing that I did at least make an effort to get in touch with that Hamilton County father who had he taken me up on my offer and with my assistance, could have turned Cincinnati and 800 Broadway into a media frenzy that would have very beneficial to all Hamilton County fathers with cases in said locale.

To that end though, I have no doubts that Byron’s case would have certainly set an example for expected behavior for “the robes” at 800 Broadway. One that would have caused those judges and magistrates at Domestic Relations to think twice about crossing the line by overly and excessively denigrating and humiliating those good and loving fathers that appear before them.

However, and despite his success in forcing the court to back off on its wholly unconstitutional order, an incredibly great opportunity to advance the cause of all Hamilton County fathers was lost. Please know that I’m not faulting Bryon for not carrying the mantle on behalf of fathers. I’m merely making some points, as I do recognize that not every one shares a passion for advocacy.

But if you really want to shake a judge or any elected official up in the most effective way, gather large numbers to campaign against them both on the streets via demonstrations, as well as into their next election. Additionally,  involve the media to the fullest extent possible in those efforts.

Understand why I quantify the degree of abuse as I did earlier; it’s because most fathers are hatefully abused in more ways than one, and by most of the judges and magistrates in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. How can I make such a broad claim? It’s quite simple, my own case is under jurisdiction of that same court, and I’ve also communicated in some fashion with more than a thousand fathers about their cases.

It’s expected that most fathers will be discriminated against, talked down to, belittled, degraded and so on by most of the black hats in black and blue robes in courtrooms. So the same is always expected. However, when said abuse reaches the degree of insanity that it did in Byron’s case, it obviously gets noticed as it did.

So why did I contact Byron if I really didn’t want to expend the energy it would have required to get involved and thereby bring a lot more local media attention to his case? The truth is that I felt obligated to, but at the same time I’ve become somewhat cynical over the years.

That’s so because of what’s explained as follows. After years of getting involved in individual cases, I’ve come to the conclusion that about 99.9% of those who ask for help, and in some cases actually expect help (for free of course) are self-serving, self-seeking, and have absolutely no interest in getting involved in the movement, and thereby working to change the system as some of us tirelessly do.

Moreover, and what I find even more brazen is that many of the same actually believe that their case is most important, most unique, and therefore deserving of having time stand still so that their cries of injustice can be heard and thereby remedied by me of course.

But you’re probably thinking, “Byron didn’t contact you, it was you who contacted he.” And that’s true. What’s also true is that I did so for the sake of all fathers as well as the father’s rights movement itself, not for my own.

Therefore, I reached out to Byron because I knew that given the amount of attention already drawn to his case, there was an incredible opportunity to bring an immense and a “never before seen” type of pressure on 800 Broadway by putting a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand fathers in the streets of Cincinnati as I’d planned.

However, and as I explained, the window is short. So when there was no immediate response to my original inquiry, I withdrew my offer and wished Mr. Byron the best. Reason being, you have to act quickly in order to have the biggest impact. And after a couple of days passed, that opportunity was lost.

Had I been in Mr. Byron’s shoes, I would have handled the situation very differently. I would have defied that court order from day one. And based on this article, I think that Byron may have finally figured out that perhaps he should have done the same.

When I reached out to Bryon, my intent among other things was to advise him to disregard the court’s order (which is a “direct contempt”) by not posting any apologies. Free speech and first amendment issues aside, there’s no way given all the global attention being paid to Byron’s case, that Magistrate Meyers nor Judge Sieve was going to actually  jail him for his contempt, and despite him not following the court’s purge order.

I knew that, but obviously he didn’t at the time nor did his attorney Elizabeth “Becky” Ford in my opinion. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have posted 26 apologies as he did. Grant it, as an attorney, Ford couldn’t have ethically advised Byron to act in contempt. However,  it’s still my opinion that she too was oblivious to the reality early on that had Byron acted in contempt, he would have never seen the inside of jail cell.

I now believe that Byron has figured the same out recently; that he wouldn’t be jailed for not posting the apology. But I suspect that Ford would have advised to the contrary early on had I suggested Bryon disobey the court. And the reason I knew from the beginning that Bryon could have defied the court’s order and gotten away with it is because I’ve been advocating on behalf of father’s for nearly five years now.

And it’s the many experiences over the years that have taught me what is and isn’t effective at swaying courts. With that said, media cameras and public outrage go a long way in forcing judges and magistrates to back down when they’re wrong.

And if there’s one thing I know it’s this; a little negative publicity goes a long way, and a lot of negative publicity can stretch to the ends of the universe. If you think a lot of attention was paid to Bryon’s case to date, then multiply that exponentially to get the amount of attention it would have garnered had he not posted the apology at all, and then was incarcerated for it. After the first story about his case broke, he earned his “get out of jail free card” with regard to contempt for refusing to apologize as the court ordered. But it appears that he only just recently figured that out.

I wholeheartedly agree that what the court did to Byron was utterly contemptible, humiliating, and unconstitutional. And truth be told, I’ve only had one hearing before Magistrate Meyers (he’s not the presiding Magistrate in my case), and from what I personally experienced in his courtroom, I’m surprised he ordered Byron to apologize as he did. He seemed to be a decent magistrate when he heard one of my motions, but Byron’s case sheds a very different (and ugly) light on Meyers now.

And although Judge Sieve is the presiding judge over my case, I’ve not had any hearings in his court yet. But given his horrendous treatment of Byron, and the fact that he was once a “Domestic Violence” judge, I’m convinced he’s probably far more biased against fathers than is your typical judge or magistrate. Sieve is relatively new in that court as he replaced Judge Panioto who regularly fell asleep during my custody trials. Trials that are the most important one can attend as it affects the life of one or more children. What a disgrace he was, but I’ll save that for another day.

Although I suspect I’ll get hate emails or comments for what I’m about to say, I’m going to say it anyway because it’s who I am. So with that having been said, I’d like to restate that I most certainly do find it wrong and both patently and constitutionally offensive that Bryon was ordered to apologize as he was. Such an order from a court was an absolute affront to all fathers.

Byron claimed on his Facebook page to have defied the court because he decided to “stand up for our freedom of speech.”  That, after he “only” (my emphasis) posted the apology for 26 of the 30  days and thereby defied the court and was therefore in direct contempt.
Judge Sieve, learning of Bryon’s claim said the following to Byron as he admonished him for his contempt;

“In the course of history, there have been many champions of the First Amendment,” Sieve said of rights of free speech. “You, sir, are not one of them.

Judge Sieve also said to him,

“There is a certain monetary interest to be served in this media exploitation…”

And you know…I really,really hate to say this, but I agree with Sieve on this one. Had Byron had any interest whatsoever in “protecting free speech,” he would have defied the Judge’s order from day one as I personally would have done had I been in his situation.

Instead, and when it comes to motive, I think that perhaps Byron may have convicted himself with his own words, and in doing so, exposed his motive as well. How so you’re asking yourself? In the article linked to just above, Byron himself states, ”

““I’m sure they didn’t put me in jail (Monday) to keep it from getting bigger,” said Byron, who wore under his sports jacket a T-shirt that read “freespeech.”(sic)

So he’s sure he wouldn’t go to jail because he felt the court knew that “it would get bigger.” And when did Byron come to that conclusion that he wouldn’t be jailed for contempt? I’d say after about the 26th time he posted on his Facebook wall the apology that was written for him by the court?

With that having been said, if Byron were truly the “free speech advocate” he’s claiming to be, then in my humble opinion, he never would have posted any of the court ordered apologies to his Facebook wall. Nonetheless, and despite the fact that he posted 26 of the 30 apologies that he was ordered to, he only defies the court order after I believe he finally figured out that he could get away with contempt as he did.

Additionally, I’ve worked with countless fathers who because they don’t have the funds at their disposal that Mr. Byron does as a free lance photographer, they’re without counsel and therefore pro se. Said fathers are jailed, they can’t see their children, and many of the same have nothing to call a roof over their head because they’re truly indigent. And it’s they who are in need of donations for counsel, not the likes of Mr. Byron who’s experiencing what nearly every father in an Ohio court room experiences; discrimination, humiliation, degradation and so forth.

So seeing Byron attempt to capitalize financially off his “free speech issue” really gets under my skin. How about he donate what he’s received thus far to indigent fathers so they in turn can be represented by counsel as Byron is?

In closing, I find it troubling that he’s out profiting off of this incident after his chances of being jailed are none, and given the fact that he stood for nothing from day one through day 26 of his apology tour. And that, while he willingly obeyed the courts order out of fear of being jailed for contempt.

So with that having been said, any person who is truly standing in the name of a cause will stand for that cause no matter what the costs. But Byron didn’t do that; he “stood for that free speech cause” it appears to me at least, only after he concluded that he wouldn’t suffer any negative repercussions for doing so.

Finally, I wish to reiterate that I wholly believe that Mr. Byron was treated wrongfully by the court as well as humiliated beyond what many fathers are. It was wrong, the court was wrong, and he didn’t deserve to be treated as he was. Additionally, I wholeheartedly agree with what he said originally on Facebook; that being,

“… if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely – all you need to do is say that you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner…”

Mr. Bryon is spot on with that assertion.

But given his recent actions after there’s no longer a threat of punishment, that causes me to wonder first and foremost who’s advising him, (is it Elizabeth “Becky” Ford only?) and secondly, what are his true motives? Because what he did on day 27 (defy the court in a direct contempt) would have been done on day one by anyone who’s truly standing in the name of a cause that they wholeheartedly and passionately believe in.

Said otherwise, a true advocate always stands for their cause, and that, even in the face of adversity when required. They don’t stand up after the fire has cleared, dust themselves off and say, “I’m here” after the fact.

Additionally, and because he’s now soliciting donations, it’s difficult not to question his motives. And I’m still not sure for what it is he’s deserving of donations? Most fathers experience much of what he is with the exception of the Facebook punishment. But the fact that he’s profiting off of a cause that really can’t be defined at this point causes wonder about his motives. Is he now taking up the cause of free speech, and as an advocate of the same?

Whatever the case may be, I think that in my humble opinion at least, Byron is getting some bad advice as his actions aren’t in line (nor have they been) with someone who’s trying to “make a statement only.”

Lastly, I never thought I’d see the day I’d agree with a Domestic Relations judge, and as I do with the comments made by Judge Sieve that I’ve quoted herein. So with that having been said, the one thing I’m happy about is the fact that I never intervened in Byron’s case.

Tony Fantetti
Ohio Council for Fathers Rights
Email: tony.fantetti(at)ocffr(dot)org

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