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Far from court at a condo pool, Judge Renatha Francis is said to threaten to take away a stranger’s kids

judge renatha francis
The pool and pavilion at West Palm Beach’s Cityside Condominiums where on July 4 Judge Renatha Francis, a leading contender to be named to Florida’s Supreme Court, allegedly accused a mother of four daughters of neglecting her children and threatened to have the state take them away.

By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org

High-profile Judge Renatha Francis and her husband, Phillip Fender, provoked a bizarre scene at a condo swimming pool on the Fourth of July, a woman whose family is still reeling from it said.

The woman, Olga Mervyak of Poinciana in Central Florida, and her four daughters were visiting relatives at Cityside Condominiums in West Palm Beach to celebrate the holiday.

By the time they left, a stranger – later identified as Francis – had accused Mervyak of neglecting her children and threatened to have the state take them away, she said. A complaint by the judge apparently triggered investigations of the Mervyak family by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Both are unresolved. No charges have been filed.

Olga Mervyak with her youngest daughter.

Last week Polk County Sgt. Peter Lawton told Florida Bulldog the sheriff’s investigation is over, so the case report is a public record; minutes later Lawton called Mervyak and told her the investigation is still active. The report remains off-limits.

‘WE’RE NOT GONNA BE BULLIED’

Lawton did not respond to an email asking him to explain the discrepancy. Nor would he say whether the matter is getting special handling because it was initiated by Francis, a mother, too.

Her words may carry more weight than other people’s. Any day now, Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to announce who will succeed retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson – and Francis leads a short list of candidates under consideration.

At first Mervyak had no idea who the intrusive couple at the pool was. Later she searched the Internet, examined some photos and realized the woman was Judge Renatha Francis of the Palm Beach Circuit Court family division and the man was Phillip Fender, her husband.

Mervyak’s husband, who did not visit West Palm Beach with his family on July 4, expressed outrage weeks later.

“We’re not gonna be bullied. We’re living in the U.S., it’s not freakin’ Russia,” said Oleg Mervyak, who emigrated from Ukraine more than 20 years ago. “Just because this lady is a judge, it doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants.

“She put us through a wringer.” He said his children were traumatized by the thought of being separated from their parents and the oldest girl, who just turned 13, suffered panic attacks and a breakdown when a DCF investigator questioned her.

FRANCIS TARGETS BABY’S RASH

Still, Mervyak doesn’t plan to sue anyone or file an ethics complaint against Francis. “We just want to be left alone,” he said.

According to the Mervyaks’ account, on July 4 their oldest daughter was with her 10-month-old sister in a covered pool-side pavilion. The teething baby was crying when a man and a woman walked up to the stroller. Urged on by the woman, Francis, the man reached inside, unbuckled the baby and lifted her out. A red rash was visible on her back shoulder area. (A doctor diagnosed contact dermatitis and prescribed an ointment.)

judge renatha francis
Judge Renatha Francis, right, with her husband Phillip Fender, their son and her mother, Hyacinth Francis in 2018. Photo: Jamaica Gleaner

The man, Fender, set the baby down on her unsteady little legs and her sister rushed over and grabbed her. By now they had the full attention of Olga Mervyak, who had been keeping tabs on her other two children in the pool.

She confronted Francis. Apparently incensed by the rash and the baby’s cries, Francis declared she was a judge and “mandatory reporter” of child mistreatment – and pounced, according to Mervyak.

“She was very assertive, almost yelling,” Mervyak said, “telling me, ‘I will take your children away from you for abuse and neglect.’ ”

In addition to blaming the mother for the baby’s rash, she said Francis scolded her for leaving her children “unattended for hours at a time” and for keeping the baby in a stuffy location. In fact, it was an open-air pavilion.

JUDGES REPORT ANONYMOUSLY

“If the situation was that dire, why didn’t she call the police on me or DCF right at that moment?” Mervyak asked recently. “Why didn’t she remove my kids from me right then and there if she thought I was such an unfit mother?”

Oleg Mervyak with the couple’s three older daughters.

The argument escalated into a dramatic scene that ended only when Mervyak and her children left the pool. She returned briefly with some final advice for the judge. “I told her the next time she has a problem with the way someone parents their kids, she can pull them aside and say something instead of blowing things out of proportion.”

Florida Bulldog sent Francis’ office a request for comment by Francis or Fender and received no response. Contact information for Fender was unavailable.

Certain types of “mandatory reporters,” meaning people who must report evidence of child abuse or neglect when they see it, are not legally required to identify themselves by name. As a judge, Francis is one of them.

Mervyak’s relatives said Francis’ presence at Cityside Condominiums was unsurprising because she and her family once lived there; they moved away about a year ago. Consistent with that, a Cityside address is listed for one of Fender’s businesses.

FRANCIS’S HUSBAND HELPS PICK JUDGES

Fender is CEO of Transformation Media Group Inc., which, according to his entry on the website about.me, does government consulting and legal and medical referrals and formulates global contact centers and merchant payment processes. He is also a motivational speaker and the director of House of Protection, a faith-based charity in Pompano Beach.

Fender is a non-lawyer member of the Judicial Nominating Commission that helps select trial judges for the 15th Judicial Circuit of Palm Beach County. Francis was already a judge there when DeSantis appointed her husband to the commission in early 2020.

Months later the governor chose Judge Renatha Francis for the Supreme Court. The appointment fizzled and DeSantis reportedly has pre-selected her for the upcoming opening.

The Mervyaks didn’t want to face the DCF and Polk County Sheriff’s Office investigations without legal counsel. But the first half-dozen lawyers they approached demurred, and the Mervyaks believe they found the Francis connection off-putting.

Finally, they found someone willing to represent them, Yuliya Pollack, a family and criminal defense lawyer in Casselberry. And they decided to tell their story about Frances. 

“It’s an example for our daughters,” Oleg Mervyak said. “We decided if we go public, it would probably be the best protection we could get from her harassing us again.”

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Latest comments

  • Good for exposing Renatha. She might be a good liar but her own pride will bring her down and expose her for what she really is- a fraud.

  • I am good friends with the Mervyak family. They are family oriented people and I know for a fact this judge blew things way out of proportion. Olga is one of the most attentive and loving mothers I have known. He children are kind and intelligent, which reflects on how good these parents are. I am appalled and disgusted at this judge for causing so much distress to such a beautiful family.

  • I agree with the Mother, a bullying attitude at this fracas is not appropriate, especially for a nominee to the Supreme Court. In Florida if a Judge is a so called “mandatory reporter” and had an issue with the child’s rash, why didn’t she quietly speak with the parents? And if mom’s conduct was so dangerous why didn’t the judge call the police to the pool to handle it then and there? Calling the police in another County sounds vindictive! Do we Floridians get to vote against her?

  • Looks like another Florida Judge who thinks she is above the law and can act like a tyrant. Governor Desantis the last thing we need in Florida Supreme Court is another mini tyrant. Please DROP Judge Francis as a a nominee. She shouldn’t be a judge at all. I have been a Court Watcher for years and these narcissist types are the worst kind of judges.

  • Good for the Judge! We had a horrible situation for years trying to protect a grandchild from harm. Finally, The child became of age and became a self reporter. Even the pediatrician said after the fact the parent was believable.

  • Pooh to Anonymous grandparent “BEEN THERE DONE THAT” – It’s one thing to be a family member who “for years” KNOWS their “grandchild” and the family situation.
    Here, this baby and mother are STRANGERS at a pool on Independence Day. Who picks up a child without a parent’s consent and makes a commotion? If you a GRANDPARENT thinks bullying is OK – you must be one troublesome in-law or a friend of the judge?

  • Renata is a Judge not a dermatologist. Her actions are signs of a deranged person and she should have been charged with assault on the baby. I think her filing the charges with DCF was just her way of CYA to avoid charges when she realized she should have taken her meds before going down to the pool. She carries too much baggage to serve on the Court. Any Court.

  • Taking someone else’s baby out of its stroller WITHOUT the mother’s knowledge or consent is FELONY! NO ONE is allowed to touch someone else’s baby absent an emergency situation in which the baby’s life or welfare is in danger! A crying baby, (babies cry all the time) who has a (common) minor rash and is teething, is NOT in any immediate danger! Judge Francis and her husband committed a crime! If I was the baby’s father and I had been there and saw what Francis and her husband were doing, I would have BEATEN THE SHIT out of BOTH of them…BEFORE calling the police and having them arrested on FELONY charges! No charges would ever have been filed against me – I was a father PROTECTING his daughter from assault by strangers!

  • See something, say something…I don’t know the Judge for the record.

  • I have known Oleg Mervyak for 20 years. I have known Olga since they met and have known each of their children as they were born. We were best men at each other’s weddings. This is one of the best, most devoted and supportive families you will ever meet. I don’t say that lightly. For them to be put through this ordeal, unprovoked, is absolutely horrifying and to me very disgusting. These people are family. Unbecoming and downright frightening from a person who holds judicial power. There needs to be accountability for this.

  • Arrogant judge. Mom is there alone with 4 kids doing her best. Before she pulls out her “I’m a judge and I’m reporting you”, perhaps she could see what she could do to help. Play with the kids so she could deal with the baby. It takes a village friend, not a Gestapo.

  • I have been before this woman on three occasions. One granting a No contact, order of protection, from a neighbor that was harassing me for 7 years. She granted the first. Then only 2 hours later, my stalker still violent, and I filed for an emergency hearing and found myself in front of thee most horrific people I have met in my life.

    This person, was in the form of a Judge, with evidence on 10 video recordings, and she denied me my due process, and refused me the opportunity to show them, even after, I presented a laptop to play them on. At one point she even shut me down and told me she would not allow me to show them, and denied my motion.

    At my third emergency, hearing, on 2/1/2022, I had my third hearing to extend, the no contact order for another year. This time, I had 3 witness in the hallways, and she refused to allow them to speak, and informed me, she will not allow them. When questioning her, she shut me down. I was then threaten by her bailiff, with “Jail”, if I tapped my fingers again. The second time for moving my legs from being so afraid, and a third, for standing up, after to lawyer, for the respondent, stood to hand me a piece of paper. Every time I began to speak, this woman shut me down, at one point, threatening to “Dismiss the case”. yet allowed the Attorney, to inform her I was using the order, as a Sword, and Not a shield, and denied my motion, allowing the harassment to begin again.

    From this point on, I literally began to cry, and when my motion was denied, I had to run to the bathroom, and vomit. This woman is not only a serious danger, to any one and everyone, who represents themselves. She is an embarrassment to the Judges who are seated on the bench around her.

    As I said at the start, I have never been so terrified, to go before a Judge, an was going in a victim, and leaving the Courtroom, sick and in fear.

    This person, actually sitting on Florida’s Highest Court, in itself is even more terrifying, than even my date in her courtroom.

    In the event anyone may come to the conclusion, I am fabricating anything I have said, I would encourage you to contact Bull Dog, and at my expense,, will send you an audio recording, of all three hearing.

    Judges are seated to uphold the Laws of this state, not terrify anyone seeking protection from them. Please remove her before she causes anymore hard to anyone else. Dont let this happen to you.

  • Just wait til becomes a judge for life – and we the little people have to leave w another tyrant.

  • A picture says a thousand words, the three children in photo show nothing but genuine happiness, look at the smiles, zoom in.
    The parents brought their children to the pool to enjoy a family outing in public. If the parents weren’t caring and loving the other children wouldn’t have such genuine smiles and they wouldn’t be out in public. It’s bothersome that this article says the Judge said that the children were left unattended for hrs, why didn’t she act sooner, inquiring where the parents were. I think it could have been resolved without harsh Accusations
    This will end well for the family, if it was abuse the police would have taken immediate action. The abuse lies in the fact that the children had to witness this encounter, and all that followed ,that will stay with the children, mental abuse.

  • Your personal situation has literally nothing to do with this case, and if you don’t have the facts and don’t know the judge it makes zero sense for the judge to “say [yell] something” to the parents. If legitimately concerned she should have discreetly determined who the parent was and discreetly notify law enforcement. Instead, if this report is correct, she literally lost it in public, acting like a tyrant. Totally inappropriate.

  • This is terrifying. Not only must this lady NEVER be a Supreme Court justice, she should be removed from the bench in Palm Beach IMMEDIATELY. Total abuse of power and disgusting to traumatize children like this. Absolutely appalled that we have people like this in any office, much less such an important one!

  • The daughter looks old enough to baby sit for 2 kids. Then to notify the mother that she is a judge I guess makes her God…they should have nicely pushed her in the shallow end of the pool so the Judge could watch the kids in the pool while she took the baby away from that law breaking husband who had the nerve to pick up a strange child. By the way Judge-that’s against the law.

  • How dare this judge and her husband act as if they are superior to this young mother causing trauma to their entire family!! Such tyrant behavior in her courtroom is bad enough but in her daily life too??! I agree with Edward Crespo’s comment . They had NO RIGHT TO TOUCH THAT BABY! Did they think they are superior to this child’s mother? This judge needs to remedy HER ACTS and pay for their counseling. My children and I were once victims of FALSE allegations by a SPITEFUL person and DCF was called out to inspect our home. The claims were false and not founded but it was TRAUMATIZING to the children!

    Why did she chose to bully this young mother? A JUDGE SHOULD KNOW the trauma this causes ! Hello?? Obviously these were false claims too. The photos show happy children and people reading are commenting who know about the GOOD parenting of this young couple . Police gave attention to these claims because it came from a judge . That is the tragedy. Clearly Mr. Wade’s comments on his Court experience before the Judge and being terrified of her is TELLING and scary. Please do not allow this person to go to the Supreme Court Governor . She is NOT fit to hold power. It would be a tragedy to the people of Florida!

  • So, how many lives will she ruin while she asserts her power, destroying lives in the process? I can relate to Mr. Wade who was shut down in court by her, having to run from the courtroom to the restroom to vomit, and unable to function after that. I TOO have been there! My child was put in danger by this “judge”, subjecting her to drugs and domestic violence, and protecting my ex- husband who WAS a physician at the time. I have cared for my child for the past 2.5 years while he was in and out of jail, went on felony probation, eventually absconded, and I am the one who is suspicious when asking for the ability to obtain my childs passport?? Really??? I am just a normal person who wants a normal life, but looks like I’ll continue to be held hostage by someone not fit to be a father, and those who help him.

  • Judge Francis abused me too. I agree with Mr. Wade. I have shared custody of 2 boys. Like him, I was bulllied by judge Francis as well.
    I have never been to court but for a traffic ticket. I got a crash course of what being in a BAD court room is with Judge Francis. Her order emboldened their father to idolate me further. I was immobilized by her threats of jail for speaking, I had only a note book with 40 exhibits to debunk false claims. I thought a judge would hear my side. I didnt get to read one word from my notes or testify. I was told by Judge Francis quote “If you look at your notes one more time, you’ll be in contempt”. My babies are STILL in the wrong house being abused. I went from helping my boys when they were hurt to now being forced to stand aside.
    Now I stand outside the courtbouse with a clip board for signatures 100 to petition the Govenor to remove Judge Francis from destroying more children’s lives and for lying about our complaiints.

  • I will bring my tapes of all three hearings, and sign anything you want. Aside from her HOLLY I’M THE LAW, character, our first ammendment right can be expressed, and I say we do it in her lobby. I’ll do the time it will take to remove her. She is a danger to our Judicial System, and need be removed. Lets stop talking about this, and start acting before she gets someone killed. “WE THE PEOPLE”! Thank you Florida BullDog

  • To Everyone who was in her Courtroom, an was Pro Se, and was attacked by this person of power. Please call the Palm Beach County Records Office, and ask for the recordings of your court dates. Lets get them to the GREAT FOLKS at Bulldog. Let’s all help them take a bite out of her crime.

  • There goes the great state of Florida. Or, what was left of it. This guy is a clown, and has no interest in what is good for “We the people”. He appointed her, even AFTER knowing all that she has done, to myself, and so many others. she is a danger to the legal System as we knew it. She knew all along that she could do whatever she chose, and Raggy, The Ron doll, would still have a place for her, at the dinner table. There are no words I can express, to describe how sick, I feel. But hey, who gives a shit anyway, I’m just a Voter, with no say at all. Fuck you both is all I got for now.

  • One simple fact about Renatha Francis, this is totally Ok for her to show up at your kid’s birthday party without a present. I know it happens sometimes. We are all busy.

    But after hearing the same story from other parents this is no longer an intendent, this is the pattern of behavior.

    Funny fact is her very own kid birthday invitation mentioned minimum of $25 present or donation. This is jus funny and sad.

  • There was a time in this country when we called out shitheads for shitty behavior, now we elect them to congress. Just sayin’.

  • So she called dcf on an innocent family but couldn’t call dcf for my daughters who she placed in an abusive situation I filed a motion for modification since my daughters were almost choked to death and my baby had a rash so bad she couldn’t even sit was beaten and she denied every motion even tried to hint leading questions to the accused

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