Daddy Dearest

Can the courts order a wronged father to keep quiet? David Ziskind doesn't think so.

Hart complained to Judge Maynard Gross that the message, which she saved on tape, was evidence of her ex-husband's "inappropriate and insensitive conduct." Gross then ordered that Ziskind's future exchanges with the children "shall not go beyond the scope of normal parental conversations and that the Former Husband shall not discuss with the children any matters relating to the ... issues regarding the children's biological parentage."

The court "was seeking to encourage healthy communication between the parties and their children," Gross wrote.

After the judge's ruling, Ziskind says he ran out of money to pay his lawyer. He started defending himself. He interpreted Gross's ruling as an illegal attempt to block communication with his children. "Restriction to discuss biological parentage with [Amy] is a violation of parent-child relationship," he wrote. "If FORMER HUSBAND is the 'parent' or 'father' of child, no restrictions should be placed on any discussion with her as long as they are not in violation of any laws or statues [sic] of the State of Florida or the United States of America.... It is in the best interests of the children to know their biological heritage, and hiding it ... for so many years has had a highly detrimental impact."

This was beyond simple free speech, Ziskind reasoned. This violated a father's right to talk to his kid. In addition the DNA test results were widely known. His two daughters, their grandparents, and friends such as Jerry Turner had discussed them.

"I was getting a lot of pressure to tell her, both from my wife, and from my other daughters, who kept telling me, 'Daddy, if you don't tell her, we will,'" Ziskind says.

On Tuesday, March 23, David Ziskind knotted a rust-color tie at his throat, donned a navy-blue blazer, and set out from his pleasant suburban home in Davie for his office at the University of Miami. At work he had a hard time concentrating. He was scheduled to appear before Judge Gross at 1:30 p.m. The issue was whether he had violated the order.

After lunch he marched into the county courthouse on Flagler Street. Nadine was with him. They took a seat at a large oak conference table in a book-lined conference room. An arm's length away sat Sybil, her lawyer Evan Marks, and a stenographer.

The first witness was Hart, who tearfully recounted her ex-husband's call to Amy. Ziskind must have sensed inevitable defeat after her testimony. Nonetheless he fought back by trying to establish that the children already knew the information. He called Turner as a witness. Ziskind asked his former friend if he ever discussed the paternity issue in front of the elder children. (The three girls had stayed with Turner during a break from school.) "There was some inadvertent discussion about it," Turner replied. "[The middle daughter] was very angry at you. She basically felt that if you were going to deny paternity, she didn't want you to be her father, either."

Like most of Ziskind's legal strategies, this one failed. Without a lawyer Ziskind writhed like an earthworm dredged up onto a sidewalk after a strong rain. Gross was about to step on him. At one point two armed bailiffs entered the courtroom and quietly sat on a couch at the back of the room. "Are you finished?" Gross politely inquired. When Ziskind indicated the affirmative, the judge declared: "I find you intentionally and willfully violated my order. I sentence you to 179 days in the Dade County jail."

Ziskind didn't visibly react. He collected his papers and stood. The bailiffs then escorted their charge into the hallway, where Nadine sat next to Turner. "I got the six months," Ziskind relayed. Nadine then faced Turner. "Thank you, Jerry. Thank you for everything," she said caustically.

Then the two officers, Ziskind, and Nadine walked down the hall and stepped into an elevator. On the courthouse's ground floor, Ziskind handed his tie, belt, wallet, watch, and keys to his wife. The female bailiff handcuffed him. "They'll never take me alive," Ziskind joked feebly. Nadine looked him sternly in the eye, then hissed "She's dead meat," referring to Hart. The bailiff responded angrily: "That's inappropriate talk, and you know what? I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

The bailiff correctly sensed Nadine's fierce nature. Ziskind's wife wasn't about to let her soul mate be caged without a fight. She hired a bondsman and paid him $1000 of her husband's $10,000 bond. Ziskind was released March 25 after spending two nights in jail. The couple has continued to work on an appeal. And Ziskind is fighting back. He accuses Hart of lying on several legal documents, including a financial disclosure form used to help calculate child-support payments. He alleges that Hart failed to list profits from the 1998 sale of a house for $204,000. (Child support is based on both Hart's and Ziskind's annual earnings.)

Shortly after his release, Ziskind hired a lawyer. With more than $40,000 in credit card and other debt, he can ill afford it. But he's left with little choice; he's not indigent, so he doesn't qualify for a court-appointed lawyer.

Nadine has championed her man throughout his struggle. She helps with legal research and strategy. She emphatically believes he was wronged: "It's not fair that he pay child support for a kid that's not his and that he doesn't see and has no relationship with," Nadine declares. "He hasn't lived with [Amy] since she was a year old. It's not like they have this loving father-daughter relationship."

Ziskind laments the effect the controversy has had on Tanya and Becky, the two older girls. "To the oldest, I'm still the father. To the second oldest," he pauses, "I'll get a call from her every once in a while.

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