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Perplexed father insists on being jailed

The former Lysander resident unsuccessfully sought joint custody of his

By Jerry Rosen

John Murtari is sitting in the Justice Center jail today because he wanted joint
custody of his 6-year-old son, Domenic.

After years of legal battles in a divorce, Murtari became fed up with the state's
Family Court system. Under that system, he said, an all-powerful judge makes
decisions based on information from a single, court-appointed investigator.

Murtari says parents should have at least the same rights as a criminal, who is
entitled to a jury trial.

Failing to get any action from legislators, he walked into the Onondaga County
Sheriff's Department substation in Salina Friday and asked to be arrested in an
act of civil disobedience.

The deputy, he said, tried to talk him out of it, to no avail. So Murtari, 42, was
charged with criminal trespass when he refused to leave.

Undersheriff Warren Darby said Murtari refused to be released on his own
recognizance or to accept an appearance ticket.

Now Murtari - a former Lysander resident who once was the Lysander
Democratic Party chairman and briefly had his hat in the ring in 1994 to run
against Rep. James Walsh - is prepared to stay in jail until some of the state
lawmakers to whom he has written decide to take a look at his situation.

Murtari, a member of the local fathers' rights group and who is now living in
Lyons, has organized a national organization called Kids-Right.

Through his Web-page design company, Software Workshop Inc., the Air
Force Academy graduate pulled in members from across the country over the
Internet. the group's goal is to have the country's family courts recognize a
child's right to be with parents; parents' rights to be with their child; and the
need for a jury trial to rule on custody issues.

"The one thing I was always asking for in this whole thing was equal custody,"
Murtari said. "I was not playing keep-away. I wanted Dom to have a
relationship with both of us."

That was happening until late last year, he said, when Murtari's ex-wife moved
to San Diego, Colo., to attend graduate school.

Repeated trips to court and letters to local legislators failed to do anything,
Murtari said.

"You don't have an out (in Family Court)," he said. "If you're a criminal lawyer
representing a client and you don't like the proposed sentence, you can go to a
jury trial.

"If they take your kids away, you don't have recourse. Your lawyer says it's
not smart to go to trial, because the judge already has made up his mind."