Judge in dark about custody-case dad's crime past
Sandusky — A Sanilac County judge who awarded joint custody to a twice-convicted rapist for a child born from a sexual assault was in the dark about the biological father’s criminal history, according to the state court administrator’s office.
Sanilac Probate Judge Gregory Ross has been widely criticized following news reports of last month’s action and faces petitions seeking to overturn his ruling and recall him from office. But according to John Nevin, a spokesman for the state office that oversees courts across Michigan, it was the responsibility of the prosecutor’s office to make sure Ross knew of complications in the case, including that the 8-year-old's birth resulted from a sexual assault, before bringing a custody consent matter before him.
“There might have not been concerns because she (victim) had consented to a paternity questionnaire and named him as the father,” Nevin said Wednesday. “If no one is questioning who the parents are, then there may not have been concerns that anything was in dispute.
“But (the prosecutor’s office) absolutely had an obligation to provide the judge with information about the father’s convictions, no question,” said Nevin, who said he has talked with Ross.
Sanilac County Prosecutor James V. Young and Eric G. Scott, an assistant prosecutor who handled the matter, have not returned telephone calls from The News since last week. Messages were left for them again Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Young’s office put out a two-page news release that detailed how a paternity action was initiated by the Michigan Department of Human Services in July after surveying a 21-year-old woman who requested financial assistance for her child and provided the name and address of the biological father, Christopher Mirasolo, 27, of Brown City. The victim was 12 years old when she was sexually assaulted by Mirasolo in September 2008 .
“She further signed an agreement to cooperate with pursuing paternity and signed a statement authorizing the disclosure of her address,” according to the release.
Mirasolo subsequently took a paternity test, which determined he was the biological father.
“She signed those statements under duress and fearing her assistance would be cut off,” said the woman’s attorney, Rebecca Kiessling. “But she never signed a form consenting to joint custody or even visitation by Mirasolo.
“That form was signed by Mirasolo, the Friend of the Court and the prosecutor’s office,” she said. “My client was never heard on the matter or consulted.”
Kiessling does not dispute that Ross may have been “blindsided” in the matter.
“I’ve felt that all along,” she said. “Judge Ross’s only error was that he should have seen the mother’s signature was not on the so-called consent to judgment.”
Kiessling said the mother’s signature “wouldn’t normally be required if this was only a paternity and child support order but because it had a parenting provisions her signature would have been required.”
State law specifically restricts persons who have committed nonconsensual sexual acts from having parental rights, Kiessling said. And the prosecutor’s office doesn’t decide parenting and custody issues — often lengthy, contentious legal battles typically handled by attorneys for the parents with the help of the Friend of The Court and judges.
“The Friend of the Court also signs the order and they should have been the last stop on this to say that there was a problem with this judgement,” Kiessling said.
Nevin said that generally, a judge wouldn’t seek a background check of a person involved in a custody case unless something was being contested.
“If there is a dispute over custody or custodial arrangements, the court could ask (the Friend of the Court) to investigate and that investigation could include a criminal background check,” he said.
The custody case has upset and angered many – not just because a convicted rapist was being given joint custody but because many feel Mirasolo never received proper punishment for the 2008 assault or a second sexual offense two years later.
Because of the young age of his victim, Mirasolo faced any term of years up to life in prison with a minimum 25 year sentence. But in January 2009, he pleaded guilty in to attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct and received a one-year sentence in the county jail. Mirasolo was released after serving only six and a half months in jail so he could care of his sick mother.
In March 2010 — less than two years later and while still on probation — Mirasolo committed another sexual assault on a 14-year-old Deckerville girl who said he armed himself with brass knuckles and threatened to kill her. He pleaded no contest to a lesser offense of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and served four years of a five-year minimum sentence.
Sentencings in both cases were handled by Sanilac Circuit Judge Donald A. Teeple.
Mirasolo has declined to be interviewed and his attorney, Barbara Yockey, stressed he never initiated or sought parental rights of the boy. Yockey said she and Kiessling have been working on an agreement that could make a hearing set for Tuesday unnecessary.
The prosecutor’s office said in its release the case has prompted “an internal review of policies and procedures as to how these matters are handled and will be making changes as deemed appropriate.”