Saratoga County

Ex-Shen teacher wins right to have daughter visit him in prison

Convicted child molester Christopher Culver will get to see his 5-year-old daughter four times a yea

Convicted child molester Christopher Culver will get to see his 5-year-old daughter four times a year at the maximum-security prison in Dannemora.

Justices with the state Court of Appeals refused to hear arguments in the challenge brought by Culver’s ex-wife, Kristi Van Patten. In not taking the case Thursday, the higher court affirmed the Saratoga County Family Court’s position that Culver is entitled to see his child.

“From my perspective, its very disappointing,” said Michael Friedman, the attorney who petitioned the appeals court on Van Patten’s behalf. “The Court of Appeals has chosen not to hear the issue, which means that in the state of New York … a child abuser who is unrepentant has the right to seek to require a young child to visit him in a state correctional facility.”

The Appellate Division also upheld the Family Court ruling in March, but the 3-2 ruling gave Van Patten a chance to argue the case on a matter of law.

The higher court ruled in Culver’s favor in May, forcing Friedman to petition the justices for a right to file an appeal. The justices denied that petition Thursday, effectively ending the mother’s legal battle to prevent her 5-year-old daughter from having to visit her father in prison in Clinton County.

Friedman argued Culver’s prison was not a good place for a young girl to be visiting. He also drew attention to Culver being “unrepentant” for his crimes and unwilling to receive any sex offender treatment while in prison.

“When I say unrepentant, I mean unrepentant and untreated,” he said.

Justin Brusgul, the attorney representing Culver in the appeal, disagreed with Friedman’s characterization. He said arguments against the visitation rights were more rooted in the nature of Culver’s criminal history, not law. He said there’s a long-standing history of children visiting their parents in prison and that the Family Court acknowledged Culver being able to visit his daughter would be a benefit to the girl.

“There was plenty of testimony in there that she would benefit from visits with her father,” he said.

Culver, a former elementary teacher in the Shenendehowa Central School District, admitted to molesting eight boys in his first-grade class. He is now serving a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a 49-count indictment in November 2007.

In March 2007, Culver signed a separation agreement that made no provision for custody or visitation of the child. But Van Patten allowed him to see the girl until July 2007.

The couple divorced in August 2008, prompting Culver to file a petition seeking regular visitation at Dannemora. After a four-day trial, Family Court awarded Van Patten full custody of the girl, but granted Culver four days of visitation.

Van Patten opposed the visits, claiming the child didn’t know her father — she hasn’t seen him since he went to prison — and would be averse to the three-hour car ride to the prison. But she acknowledged that he had a “decent father-daughter relationship” with the girl prior to his arrest.

In upholding the Family Court ruling, the Appellate Division found that the girl had a “clearly established relationship” with her father. The justices also determined that several trustworthy people known to the mother and the child could bring the young girl to the prison for visits.

“While the father’s prison term is long and the offenses for which he is incarcerated are undeniably disturbing — and visitation will likely not be easy — we cannot say that Family Court’s discretionary conclusion is unsound,” Justice Edwin Spain wrote in the March decision.

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