Crime & Courts

SC Family Court judge unopposed - except for complaint about ordering unusual therapy

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Family Court Judge Monet Pincus of Columbia doesn’t have an opponent in Wednesday’s judicial elections in the S.C. General Assembly.

But the 53-year-old Pincus, who is seeking a second six-year term, does face a complaint against her in the S.C. Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The complaint was filed by Richland County resident Matt Younginer, who is upset at what he calls improper actions by Pincus in a 2014 custody case.

in that case, Pincus ordered Younginer’s 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son to be taken from him and flown to a psychological “boot camp” in Bozeman, Mont., at a cost of $38,000 for about four days of therapy, according to court records.

The therapy — called “parental alienation therapy” — is controversial. It seeks to deprogram children whose relationship with a parent allegedly has been poisoned by the actions of the other parent.

Younginer contends the expensive therapy was totally inappropriate, calling it “junk science.”

On Nov. 28, Younginer’s allegations — and Pincus’ replies, explaining her actions — were aired at a session of the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission, the legislative group that screens and recommends as qualified — or not — candidates for state judgeships.

Commission members initially declined to approve Pincus, highly unusual. Instead, they said they would seek transcripts and court records from the 2014 custody case, some sealed, to try to find out what had happened.

On Dec. 13, commission members reconvened and found Pincus qualified. They explained both parties in the custody case had not agreed to unseal the court records.

However, the commission added, there “was no evidence presented of a pattern of orders (by Pincus) requiring costly, unsound therapy at high rates.”

Younginer says the commission could have examined the record had it wanted. He easily got copies of many records in his case at the S.C. Court of Appeals, he said..

Younginer’s complaints against Pincus also question her integrity.

For example, during the 2014 hearing, Pincus ordered the stenographer to strike from the record comments by Younginer’s daughter, then 16, telling the judge she didn’t want to go to Montana and wanted to remain with her father, Younginer told the commission on Nov. 30.

Pincus said she didn’t recall doing that.

Meanwhile, Peter Currence, the lawyer who represented Younginer’s ex-wife, told The State Tuesday that Pincus ordered parental-alienation therapy only after hearing substantial testimony about its effectiveness. “It’s not hocus-pocus,” Currence said.

PIncus did not respond to a request for comment.

However, five Columbia lawyers — John McDougall, Ken Matthews, John McDougall, James McLaren, Cy Rush and Susan Rawls Strom — sent emails to The State Tuesday vouching for Pincus.

“She is even-handed. She is fair. She is brave, and she is not afraid to make the hard calls even when it is not popular,” Strom said. “Sometimes, she has ruled my way and other times she has not.”

Younginer showed The State a letter from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel saying it has begun an investigation in his allegations. That office declined Tuesday to confirm or deny the probe.