‘You can’t just lock up kids’: Missouri judge had teens arrested twice. Was it legal?

·4 min read

Kadan and Brooklyn Rockett sat alone in separate jail cells in Taney County in 2019, and wondered why they were being detained. Eric Eighmy, the associate circuit judge in the southwest Missouri county near Branson, had the children arrested after they refused to go with their mother during a custody dispute. Eighmy illegally held them against their will, according to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the siblings.

The minors, who were 14 and 12 at the time, barefoot and cold, were left emotionally distraught and scared, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the southern division of the United States District Court Western District of Missouri.

Their representatives demanded a jury trial.

It’s rare that a judge is personally sued for false imprisonment, but Eighmy is accused of violating the children’s civil rights. The family wants to recoup attorney fees, according to a lawsuit filed by the children’s father, Bart Rockett. A sitting judge such as Eighmy has judicial immunity. He cannot be held fiscally responsible for damages in his official capacity.

But Eighmy is being sued as an individual. The case will be hard to prove.

“Judicial immunity is a high hurdle to cross,” said former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff.

Kadan and Brooklyn aren’t allowed to speak to the media. Neither is their father, Bart Rockett, according to family attorney Bevis Schock.

Claims against Eighmy have to be proven in court. Attempts to reach the judge for comment were unsuccessful. His listed attorney did not return messages. Eighmy had the teens arrested a second time last November, court records show.

“You can’t just lock up kids,” Kaden allegedly told Eighmy in October 2019, according to the lawsuit. The judge confronted the children outside of a Taney County courtroom after they declined to visit with their mother, the lawsuit alleges.

Eighmy was not dressed in his robe, legal proceedings had concluded and the children broke no laws, their attorneys claimed in legal documents. They were, in essence, held captive by Eighmy, the suit argues. Eighmy berated Kadan and Brooklyn and threatened to send them to a juvenile facility and foster care if they didn’t go with their mother.

Judge represented children’s mother as an attorney

Bart Rockett and his ex-wife divorced in 2009. Custody battles ensued. The family flew from California to Forsyth, Missouri in Taney County in October 2019 when summoned by Eighmy, who lacked jurisdiction over the proceedings, court records show. Negotiations for a modified parenting plan and visitation for the children’s mother were pending in California, where the mother lived at the time as well.

The incident in Taney County happened outside of the courtroom, after hours, and without any attorneys or parents present, which is against the law. Eighmy should know better than most. He’s been elected judge twice and as an attorney once represented the mother of Bart Rockett, court documents show. He should have recused himself from the case long before the Missouri Supreme Court removed him from the case in November.

The Rockett children did nothing wrong. Will Eighmy be held accountable for having Kadan and Brooklyn wrongfully arrested? His law license should be under scrutiny.

He lacked jurisdiction to have Kadan and Brooklyn arrested, the suit claims. Eighmy had no authority or legal reason to threaten Kaden and Brooklyn with arrest, and then follow through when the two didn’t agree to leave a Taney County courtroom with their mother, who declined to comment.

Young magicians had success on ‘America’s Got Talent’

“I was told not to talk about it and I have nothing to say,” Kami Lyn Ballard, the children’s mother, said. Kadan and Brooklyn accused their mother of trying to sabotage their careers as entertainers, court records indicate.

Messages left for Michele Wilson, the Taney County-based attorney for Ballard and Eighmy, were not returned. Emails seeking comment from Eighmy and Taney County Presiding Judge Jeffrey Merrell were ignored as well.

Kadan, 15, and Brooklyn, 13, are magicians who have performed in more than 40 countries and finished in the Top 14 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2016, according to their website. Both have appeared in films and commercials. Eighmy ordered sheriff deputies in Louisiana to arrest them again in November. Footage from a video of the arrest went viral.

The family was in the state to visit relatives at the time. They now reside there with their father after moving from California.

While in custody, the teens were strip-searched and kept in solitary confinement in a cockroach-infested jail for two days, according to the lawsuit. Eighmy didn’t have jurisdiction to order the arrest in Farmersville, Louisiana, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled.

It’s telling when the state’s highest court removes from a case another member of the judiciary. No person, not even a judge, should be above the law. Will a federal jury agree?

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