Book Review: Ford, C. B. (2005). The Women of CourtWatch: Reforming a Corrupt Family Court System. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 254

AuthorMichelle Bemiller
Published date01 March 2008
Date01 March 2008
Subject MatterArticles
Ford, C. B. (2005). The Women of CourtWatch:
Reforming a Corrupt Family Court System.
Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 254.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016808314551
In The Women of CourtWatch, Carole Bell Ford tells the story of a grassroots movement
to create a political action committee (PAC) that reformed the corrupt family courts in
Houston, Texas. This PAC, known as CourtWatch, consisted of prominent attorneys, politi-
cians, judges, and housewives from the Houston area. The impetus for the creation of
CourtWatch was the overwhelming abuse of judicial discretionary powers in child custody
cases involving allegations of child abuse. In particular, the Harris County family courts
garnered the media spotlight because of their refusal to believe in the existence of child
physical and sexual abuse in several notorious cases.
Bell Ford, professor emerita of education and women’s studies at State University of
New York, Empire State College, became interested in writing about the women of
CourtWatch while she was researching upwardly mobile Jewish women who grew up in
Brownsville, New York. Florence Kusnitz, the premier founder of CourtWatch, was one of
the Jewish women interviewed for this prior publication. Through this interview, Bell Ford
learned about Kusnitz’s role in the creation of an activist organization called CourtWatch.
Subsequently, Bell Ford interviewed numerous other individuals who contributed their time
and efforts to this grassroots organization. Bell Ford provides first-person accounts of the
abuse of political power and influence, favoritism, cronyism, discrimination, fraud, and
bribery that ran rampant in the Harris County family courts prior to 1994. Because of the
diligence of the women of CourtWatch, a dramatic reformation of the Harris County family
courts occurred upon election of new family court judges in 1994.
Part 1 of this book examines the structure of the Harris County Family Courts prior to the
advent of CourtWatch and the gender discrimination experienced by one of its founding
mothers, Kusnitz. Chapter 1 provides accounts from the women of CourtWatch regarding
examples of the flawed family court system. It is here that we are introduced to the political
corruption inherent within the system—corruption that started with family court judges and
continued through attorneys and guardians ad litem. Child custody was repeatedly given to
fathers who were sexually and physically abusing their children. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on
the gender bias experienced by Kusnitz during her legal education and professional career.
Part 2 of The Women of CourtWatch delves more deeply into the creation and mainte-
nance of CourtWatch and provides an in-depth examination of how the Houston family
courts changed after CourtWatch’s success. These chapters introduce two other women
who were instrumental to the creation of this PAC, Diana Compton and Melanie Harrell. In
addition to discussing these women’s role in the creation of CourtWatch, the reader is given
a play-by-play account of how this PAC recruited new judges to run in the 1994 election
against previously unopposed corrupt judges. The last chapter of Part 2 discusses the
changes wrought by CourtWatch. This chapter states that although CourtWatch dismantled
many corrupt judges and encouraged policy changes, much work still needs to be done. In
an engaging epilogue, Bell Ford revisits the women of CourtWatch, discussing where they
are in their lives today.
Book Reviews 133

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