Catherine Keske, CSU prof, ordered back to jail in parenting dispute over e-mail

Update: CSU professor Catherine Keske was jailed after being found in contempt of court in relation to a case brought by her ex-husband, Jeffrey Handley. Among other things, he accused her of interfering with his ability to communicate with one of his sons by failing to provide the boy with his own cell phone and an unmonitored e-mail account. She was released four days later -- but now that mandate has been reversed.

Yesterday, Keske learned that a Jefferson County magistrate has revoked her release order and reimposed her ninety-day jail sentence for contempt. Magistrate Judith Goeke, who'd previously signed the order releasing Keske, ordered that she report to the jail by August 27 or a bench warrant would be issued. Goeke then left on vacation -- as did Magistrate Chris Voisinet after handing down the contempt sentence two weeks ago.

Keske says she'll appeal the ruling and maintains that the punitive sentence is unwarranted. "No district court judge has ever found against me in this case, and we've had four in five years," she says. "My family is behind me 100 percent. I think I'm bringing to light a bigger issue -- that reform is needed in the domestic law industry."

If Keske is incarcerated, her jailing will postpone a hearing scheduled for next week that she'd sought to enforce parenting time, claiming that her ex has blocked contact with the son in his custody for the past two years. It will also have impact on the son in her custody, she adds.

"I have a special needs child," she says. "My ten-year-old son needs me. I am a productive taxpayer and am training students for productive careers. Any incarceration disrupts my job. All I'm trying to do is to get [Handley] to comply with the parenting orders."

Look below for our earlier coverage.

Original item, 1:32 p.m. August 22: As a research scientist and professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University, Catherine Keske is used to dealing in hard numbers and measurable results. But she says she doesn't have all the data she needs to figure out why she was sentenced to ninety days for contempt of court in Jefferson County on August 11, or why she was abruptly released four days later.

"I was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs, for reasons that aren't clear to me," she says. "Then somebody came to my aid. Somebody let me out. I don't know who that is."

Keske's sentence was imposed at the conclusion of a two-day contempt hearing by Magistrate Chris Voisinet. The proceeding had been sought by Keske's ex-husband, Jeffrey Handley, who complained that Keske was interfering with his ability to communicate with one of his sons by, among other actions, failing to provide the boy with his own cell phone and an unmonitored e-mail account. Voisinet ruled that Keske had violated court orders in the former couple's long, contentious parenting dispute -- and sent her to jail as a punitive measure.

"He said I was willfully not abiding by court orders," Keske says. But she contends she'd tried to encourage communication between Handley and the son in her custody and has records showing that the boy called his father once a week. She maintains that her sentence was unfounded and excessive, that she's been targeted for retribution because of her efforts to reform what she calls "the underbelly of the family law industry."

Keske and Handley each have custody of one son from their marriage. But their parenting arrangements have been the subject of numerous court filings, with each side accusing the other of disrupting relationships and alienating their children. In the course of the costly and much-litigated case, Keske has become an outspoken critic of Colorado's domestic court system.

Last spring she testified in favor of Senate Bill 187, which tightens the regulation of child and family investigators, court-appointed experts who are supposed to help judges make decisions in difficult custody cases. Keske's case has had three CFIs so far. "This has been a very long divorce action that was made much worse by a child and family investigator," she says.

But Handley's attorney says that Keske's contempt sentence was a direct result of her personal conduct, not her activism. "This is a tough case," says Mechelle Faulk. "It comes down to her not complying with court orders. Dr. Keske has attempted to create a scenario in which she is the victim. My client does not believe that is the case.

"She's been extremely aggressive with many issues in this case. At every opening she attempts to make this case more litigious, more vexatious. She's made attempts to impede my client's relationship with the child. She continues to make allegations that she's being harassed, but she's been the aggressor."

Contempt sentences of ninety days or more are unusual but not unprecedented in domestic cases. After Keske received her sentence, family members and supporters contacted legislators and court administrators about the case. Keske says her prescription medications were taken away from her on her second day in the Jefferson County Detention Facility and that she suffered a panic attack. Then she was informed by a jail employee that she could be released if she paid $1,700 that the court had ruled she owed to her ex. She arranged for the payment and was released on August 15.

"I believe that someone high above in the legal or legislative system recognized the wrongdoing against me and my family and appropriately commuted my sentence," she says.

Faulk, however, has filed a motion seeking to vacate the release order and require Keske to serve the sentence Voisinet imposed. It was another magistrate, not Voisinet, who signed the release order, she notes.

"We believe the magistrate made an error," Faulk explains. "The final order of the court has not been modified in any way."

Voisinet also ordered Keske to set up an unmonitored e-mail account for her son and to inform school officials that Handley can contact him there. Keske insists she has respect for the court system and is taking steps to meet the conditions. She returns to Voisinet's court in a few weeks for another hearing, seeking access to the son who is in her ex-husband's custody. As in the contempt proceeding, she's acting as her own attorney.

"Does it pass the sniff test that I have a motion for enforcing parenting time in two weeks?" she asks. "I have not seen my son in two years."

More from our News archive: "Child/family investigator measure moves ahead amid tales of greed trumping kids' best interest."