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Unethical, Corrupt Practices in Family Court; Senate Clears Way for Jobless Benefits Extension; Obama Talks Jobless Benefits.

Aired January 7, 2014 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: This shines a light on the unethical and sometimes corrupt practices that can be seen in family court and cases that drag out for years. Here is a sneak peek.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Litigation lasted for over a year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was married only four months. My divorce has lasted over six and a half years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Close to eight years.


DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, "DR. DREW": Half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. What you might not be aware of is that your spouse can unilaterally initiate a divorce. It is not a mutual decision. Once they decide they want to have a divorce, it has to go to court and a whole process is initiated that is outside of your control. If he or she hires an attorney, you are at a significant disadvantage if you don't do the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You may expect the right to a speedy trial or to find an attorney if you can't find one or the right to cross examine witnesses, all that not true in family court.

PINSKY: People can get as much justice as they can afford. Most people cannot afford any justice at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's wrong with that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The more you charge, the more people are willing to pay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They didn't give me a lawyer. We paid $11,000 or go to jail. It really got to the end of the line for me.


BANFIELD: Dr. Drew is live with me here now.

I was reading up on some of the material that's coming on Friday. There is some bold statements that are being made. Let me just read a couple. "The last vestige of lawlessness in America. The dark corner of the judicial system. Fiefdoms and tyrants still thrive. The supreme law of the land is ignored."

This is serious.

PINSKY: It's serious. I was surprised. I had no idea that courts of family law were courts of equity, not courts of law, and your usual constitutional privileges don't necessarily apply, speedy trial, attorney, things we are accustomed to.

And the judges -- what bothers me more than anything, as a physician, if this sort of chummy relationship existed between doctors and any other provider of services, there would be outrage. In this system, the attorneys that present before the judges can make $1 million campaign contribution to those judges and appear before the judge the next day. You don't think there's a little bit of something going on there?

Plus, the people that do the evaluation of the kids -- I read a tweet this morning I thought was rather brilliant. It said, "The children are used the way the dog races use the little rabbit on the trail. It keeps the race going." Keep the kids in play and that's where all the financial burden comes in.

BANFIELD: Listen, I have worked with so many judges and lawyers over the years. Invariably, Drew, they say, family court is worse than murder. It is worse than murder. It worse than working in murder.


PINSKY: I didn't know that. I found it was really striking to me how easy it was to get attorneys who are in the system who say this thing has to be reformed, some easy fixes like some of the chumminess between the attorneys and the judges. The judges end up working in the attorney's law firms after they leave the bench.


PINSKY: They end up doing symposiums and getting paid for it. That is a ridiculous ethical problem.

BANFIELD: There are plenty of attorneys out there.

PINSKY: That are great. Absolutely.

BLITZER: I, myself, went through a divorce and had a phenomenal attorney whose only interest was in making it as quick and best for the children as possible.

PINSKY: Ashleigh, that is so true. We are using a lot of extreme language.


PINSKY: We are trying to make a point, trying to really get this conversation going. A few simple tweaks, with some of these improprieties and successes, could easily be diminished.

BANFIELD: Because you are a doctor and this is right up your alley, don't you find this is the worst court because of the intransigence of the people who are involved in litigation, the actual players.

PINSKY: Yes. It's so painful.

BLITZER: They are dealing with their life savings and their children. These are the things most precious. They are not willing to let go.

PINSKY: And between a husband and a wife, the intensity of those feelings, when that rupture occurs, it has all kind of psychological consequences. Now then you get into a courtroom where there are high stakes. And people are encouraged to lie sometimes. And now --


BANFIELD: What do you mean by that?

PINSKY: You don't have to tell the truth.

BANFIELD: You can't support perjury. What do you mean, encouraged to lie?

PINSKY: Well, my understanding is that the system, the way it is set up, people are encouraged to exaggerate. There is really no -- because you can't cross examine the witness, there is no sort of sense of the bottom of the truth. People get up and make claims and that's that.

BANFIELD: There was something else that was really interesting, the unlicensed custody evaluators. A lot of people would be surprised. These are society's children that we are dealing with. It is that willy-nilly?

PINSKY: There are some very excellent evaluators. I don't think people are ill -- meaning ill. I'm sure they value their job and they are trying to help and trying to have good outcomes. But the expense is spectacular. When I saw some of the charges that we were going through, relatively simple psychological evaluation, shocked, flabbergasted. That's unethical. You shouldn't be able to charge whatever you want just because the judge says you have to have that evaluation.

BANFIELD: $50 billion. $50 billion a year.

PINSKY: $50 billion a year. Hey, everybody, here's the thing. If you go see this "Divorce Court," hopefully, it will save a couple of marriages, don't think about divorce. It is a much better idea to stay married.

BLITZER: And you know what?

PINSKY: People end up making the same mistake the second time around, too.



PINSKY: Use mental health services. Get some help with the relationship and don't contemplate divorce.

BANFIELD: And go into it always saying, no one is going to win here. It is not going to be a win/win service.

PINSKY: The attorneys, the evaluators.

BLITZER: Don't seek a win.

PINSKY: The attorneys and evaluators do win in this situation.

BANFIELD: True. It is awesome. It's great.


BLITZER: I am looking forward to the premier of it.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, thank you so much.

Once again "Divorce Court," it is in theaters this Friday. Take a look.

Thanks, Drew.

PINSKY: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Watching the president, because he is going to be coming out and speaking soon. More than one million out-of-work Americans are keeping a very close eye on Washington today. Less than an hour ago, the United States Senate took big steps towards extending their long- term unemployment insurance. Now, the president is gearing up to talk about why Congress needs to do this, why the Democrats and the president say this is the signature part of their agenda. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, is going to pick up the coverage from D.C. coming up right after this break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

We're only a few minutes away from President Obama's remarks on that squeaker of a Senate vote on federal unemployment emergency aid. With no votes to spare, Senators have just cleared the way for a three- month extension of long-term benefits that ran out just after Christmas. We are going to bring you the president's remarks live. He's about to enter the East Room of the White House.

In the meantime, I want to bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash; our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta; and in New York, our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans. Jim, set the scene for us. The president is going to come out, welcome this procedural vote allowing the bill to go forward in the Senate, but there is still a long struggle ahead if the 1.3 million Americans who will require this additional emergency unemployment insurance are about to get some more money.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They know they are not out of the woods yet. This is going to have to go through another vote or two in the Senate before it goes over to the House where this extension of long-term unemployment benefits is by no means a sure thing. We're hear the president again make this pitch that this is necessary not only to the jobless Americans but also to the overall economy. That is the message from the White House.

Interesting to note the optics of this event you'll see in just a few minutes in the East Room of the White House. The president is going to be surrounded by people whose unemployment insurance has expired. The person introducing the president will be a woman by the name of Katherine Hackett of Connecticut. She is someone who wrote to the president to talk about how she relies on these unemployment benefits. According to a White House official, these benefits cover her mortgage payment, health care, leaving her little to no room to cope with the day to day expenses of her life. So what the White House is trying to do is make this a real-life thing for people to understand at home, people that are not in the same situation as these folks are on this unemployment benefits.

One thing I can tell you from a strategic standpoint, they were bracing for the possibility that this may not happen. We heard overnight, they might be one vote shy. In the end, they had the votes. But White House officials are encouraged by the way this debate has been moving. You will recall before the holidays came about, Wolf, there was this sort of academic argument that was going on in some circles as to whether or not unemployment insurance, these long-term benefits encourage unemployment, encourage people not to seek out work. And now Democrats and people here at the White House are seeing Republicans saying maybe we can go along with this as long as it is paid for. I think there is a feeling inside this White House that maybe they can get these Republicans to move further, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by.

Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill. Walk us through the next steps. If these 1.3 million Americans are going to continue to get this unemployment insurance, these benefits, what has to happen?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What has to happen is, first, it has to ultimately pass the Senate. As Jim mentioned, it would have to pass the House of Representatives and the House Speaker John Boehner already put out a statement saying effectively that, right now, the House is not going to take this up. They are going to focus on what Republicans think is the best way to spur jobs and that is to pass legislation that does just that as opposed to passing legislation that pays for jobless benefits. He specifically pointed out that this is not about the typical 26-week unemployment benefit that is still what he called the safety net for Americans who lose their jobs. This is an emergency unemployment benefit that was put in place when the recession started in 2008. He also made very clear that it has added to the debt $210 billion and it cost $265 billion total. It has been extended 12 times or more.

The point he is making, as Jim mentioned, is if the president wants to come to Republicans and say, I think this is necessary for three more months, this is my idea of how to pay for it and my idea of how to reform the system, fine, they will listen. It is pretty clear that Republicans in the House, even if this passes the ultimate hurdle in the Senate, despite the fact that you did see six Republicans break ranks in the Senate and vote with Democrats, because they feel that despite the positive signs for the economy, many Americans are still not out of the woods, specially in these gray times. Just look at what's going on out there with the freezing cold. People haven't had a job and can't get a job and don't have unemployment benefits, it is hard to pay the bills for the heat.

BLITZER: Yeah, still a long legislative struggle that's going to take place on Capitol Hill. Then, it goes to the House of Representatives where there is a clear Republican majority.

Gloria, this is by no means yet a done deal. Republicans say, including Rand Paul and others, they are willing to go along with a three-month extension if it is paid for, the $5 billion or the $6 billion it would require to pay for this extension. Cut some spending elsewhere. Harry Reid says that's not necessary. This is an emergency. You have to deal with an emergency without these offsets.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what we are looking at now, Wolf, if you take a step back, is kind of an inflection point in the Republican Party. There are factions within the Republican Party that we are saying, in order to survive as a national party, to win presidential elections, we can't just vote no but what we have to do is come up with some ways for people to trust us, to bring people out of poverty and into the middle class again. This is a part of that debate. You see Republicans like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, for example, talking about things like job training, employment opportunity zones. And I think this is a part of that debate. Because if they are just seen as saying "no" all the time, as a Republican party, they are not going to get anywhere on a presidential level. So I think you see some Republicans saying, OK, we are going to go along with this but it has to be accompanied by not only a pay-for, that you have to figure out a way to pay for it, but we also have to pass some legislation to train people for new kinds of jobs because they can't go back to their old ones.

BLITZER: Difficult issues.

Christine Romans watching.

One sort of line at this White House statement in the background -- and we'll hear it from the president, I'm sure, Christine, in his remarks coming up momentarily. They say, "Failing to extend this emergency insurance would have negative impacts on the economy costing 240,000 jobs this year."

That's a lot of jobs. Explain what the White House contention here is.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Because every time someone gets this $300 emergency unemployment check, every time they get it -- these are people who have been out of work for a very long time, Wolf -- that money goes right into the economy. It goes to the grocery store, fill up the car, pay the home heating oil bill. As Dana pointed out, it goes right into the economy. Economists say it is money that adds into the economy. What Republicans say is, yeah, that's fine, except you have to pay for it somewhere else. You have to take away some other wasteful program somewhere else.

Look, the long-term crisis is what the president is so concerned about. The very near term, people who have been unemployed for just a couple of weeks even have a much better chance of getting a job than they did three or four years ago. But those people who have been out of work for six months, seven months, eight months, those people have the same terrible job prospects they had a year ago. When you look, Wolf, the underemployment rate, 13.2 percent. That's people who are working -- out of work or they are working part time and want to be working a full-time job. That's not a good number. The average length of unemployment is now 37 weeks. That's too long. People can't really get back in the labor market if they are out for so long, more than six months. This is the problem the White House has. On the one hand, the economy is getting better. We could get a strong jobs report on Friday. On the other hand, for people out of work for a long time, those people I'm showing you on your screen, nothing has changed for them. The White House wants to make sure they have a little more time.

I'll make one final point. No one I talk to thinks this program is going to last much longer than this. If it is extended, I think anybody who is getting these checks should not anticipate they will be getting them six months for now. This emergency program is winding down.

BLITZER: They are talking about three months. It's not another year --


BLITZER: -- as it has been going on year by year by year since 2008 and the recession.

Everyone stand, by.

We are awaiting the president of the United States. He has a packed room at the East Room at the White House. He is going to be speaking about all of this and presumably more. We'll have live coverage coming up. We'll be back in 60 seconds.


BLITZER: We're waiting for the president of the United States to come into the East Room of the White House. He has a packed room over there. A lot of folks have been invited, people who have been on unemployment insurance and they need it. He is going to make the case. He is going to show some specific examples of why the country should go ahead, the Congress should go ahead and extend these unemployment insurance benefits for at least another three months.

Jim Acosta is standing by outside the White House.

It's warm in the East Room. It's cold where you are outside, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: What's the argument? Why won't the White House do what the Republicans say, we'll pass this three-month extension, just offset the $5 million or $6 billion that it will cost the U.S. taxpayers by cutting spending in other areas? What's the White House contention and argument against it?

ACOSTA: The White House argument is that this started under George W. Bush. They started doing these extensions under George W. Bush. And the White House says the deficit was going up under George W. Bush. There weren't pay-fors when they were doing this under George W. Bush. Last year, these unemployment benefits were extended again without pay-fors. So the White House is saying, what's so special about this time around?

But, Wolf, I think practically speaking, there's another political reason for this, and that is they feel the Republicans moving in their direction. So if they're feeling the Republicans moving in their direction, why would they go ahead and agree to that demand?

And there's another thing going on here, as well, Wolf. You're going to hear him talking about it a lot this year, and that is the issue of income inequality. He is expected to be talking about this in the State of the Union speech in about three weeks -- actually three weeks from today. And that this is an issue that the Democrats are going to be carrying with them throughout this midterm election cycle. You're not only going to hear Democrats and this president call for an extension of these emergency unemployment benefits, they're going to call for a raise to the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to somewhere over $10 an hour. There is a measure that's being proposed by Tom Harkin that this White House is getting behind to that end. So they're going to be talking about this for the next several months.

Keep in mind, tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of LBJ declaring war on poverty. I don't think it's a stretch, Wolf, we'll hear the president mention that, as well.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, because I want to go back to Dana for a second.

Dana, let's say the Senate passes this emergency unemployment emergency extension for three months. Let's talk about the House of Representatives. You pointed out the statement the House Speaker John Boehner put out. One of the lines that jumps out at me. I'll read it. He says this, the speaker, John Boehner: "One month ago, I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for, but include something to help people put people back to work. To date, the president has offered no such plan. If he does, I'll be happy to discuss it. But right now, the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America's unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job."

So here's the question. Let's say it passes in the Senate. What does -- will the speaker let it come up for a clean vote in the House of Representatives?

BASH: The answer is, clearly no, unless and until the president does what the speaker just laid out as you just read. You know, and then even if the president does what the White House considers a plan to, for example, get people back to work, it is probably going to be a very different plan than what Republicans would offer.

I think at its core, what we're looking at here is the classic fundamental philosophical difference between the two parties, Wolf. Republicans certainly have voted many, many times for the extension of this special program, because the recession and joblessness was so bad. But at a certain point, Republicans believe the safety net only goes so far and that the best way to get people back to work -- it sounds like a line, it is a political line, but it happens to be their core philosophy, their credo -- is to create mechanisms for jobs to be created. Now, Democrats, obviously, believe that too. But they believe philosophically that it is much more critical to continue to have that safety net there. And then the other -- the other --


BLITZER: Hold on, Dana, the president is coming. He's going to be introduced by this woman. These people on the state, these are people whose unemployment benefits have expired, mostly. They were able to benefit from them.

Let's hear the introduction from this woman of the president, and then the president will speak.


KATHERINE HACKETT, RECEIVED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Good morning. My name is Katherine Hackett and I am from Connecticut. I am very grateful that President Obama invited me here today, in response to a letter that I wrote to him about the discontinuation of federal unemployment insurance.

I am unemployed. And I will be significantly affected by this decision. Job loss is devastating, and I am working very hard every day to look for a position. In the interim, unemployment benefits have been absolutely essential to cover my bare necessities. I have cut expenses everywhere possible, and I am not just sitting home, enjoying the good life. My cuts include heating my house to 58 degrees, wearing a hat and a coat to stay warm because oil is expensive. I have lost weight because food is expensive. As a single mother, I worked many different jobs, and never asked for a handout while I raised two wonderful boys. Both of my sons are serving in the U.S. military. It was very hard for me to let one of my boys serve a year in Afghanistan, but I did, and he was proud to serve his country.

I hope our leaders in Washington can find a solution to help families like mine.

At this time, it is my great honor to introduce the president of the United States, President Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, everybody, have a seat.

Well, happy New Year, everybody.


OBAMA: Hope you're keeping warm.

You know, a few weeks ago, I said that 2014 could be a breakthrough year for America. Think about it. Five years ago this month, our economy was shedding 800,000 jobs just in one month. But as Americans buckled down and sacrificed, we began to come back, and our businesses have created more than eight million new jobs since we hit the bottom. Our auto industry has gone from bust to boom. Manufacturing is rebounding. The housing market is rebounding. Stock markets are restoring retirement accounts. The promise of energy independence is actually in sight. Health care costs eat up less of our economy. Over the past four years, costs have grown at the slowest rate on record. And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by more than half. So America is getting stronger, and we have made progress. The economy is growing. And we have got to do more to make sure that all Americans share in that growth. We've got to help our businesses create more jobs. We've got to make sure those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families rebuild a little security. In other words, we've got to make sure this recovery leaves nobody behind. And we've got a lot of work to do on that front. The good news is I'm optimistic we can do it if we do it together.

Now before the holidays, both parties compromised on a budget that lifts some of the drag that's been on the economy from these indiscriminate cuts we call sequester. And as a consequence, this year, we may see more stability when it comes to economic growth. And I think I'm not alone in saying that we are all grateful in the New Year that we won't have another partisan shutdown, hopefully, going forward.


OBAMA: So that was a good sign. We should build on that progress with what I said should be the first order of business in 2014, and that is extending insurance for the unemployed. (APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: The good news is, this morning, the Senate took a very important step in that direction.

For the Americans who join me at the White House today and millions like them, who were laid off in the recession through no fault of their own, unemployment insurance has been a vital economic lifeline. For a lot of people, it's the only source of income they've got to support their families while they look for a new job. These aren't folks who are just sitting back, waiting for things to happen. They're out there actively looking for work. They desperately want work. But although the economy has been growing and we have been adding new jobs, the truth of the matter is that the financial crisis was so devastating that there's still a lot of people who are struggling. And, in fact, if we don't provide unemployment insurance, it makes it harder for them to find a job.

You heard Katherine's story. She is far more eloquent than I could ever be. She wrote me last month to say, please let those who think I'm sitting at home enjoying being unemployed know that I would much rather be working. And I had a chance to talk to Katherine, and I think it's pretty clear that that's the case. Katherine went on to say, "I've applied to everything for which I am possibly qualified, to no avail. I've worked hard all my life, paid taxes, voted, engaged in political discussion, and made the ultimate sacrifice -- my two sons serve in the U.S. military. Job loss is devastating. And if I could fix it myself, I would. I challenge any lawmaker to live without an income." That's what Katherine said.


OBAMA: It's hard.