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Police drop condo pool complaint apparently filed by Justice Renatha Francis, finding ‘no indicator’ woman neglected her baby

condo pool
The CItyside Condominiums in West Palm Beach.

By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org

A police report released 10 months after a bizarre condo pool spat has vindicated a woman whose family suffered when a stranger claimed she’d ignored her baby, threatened to take away her kids and alerted child safety enforcers.

The woman, Olga Mervyak, identified the stranger as West Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis. A month after the July 4 incident, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Francis to the Florida Supreme Court.

Mervyak said Francis’s husband, Phillip Fender, who was also at Cityside Condominiums in West Palm Beach, walked into a shaded pool pavilion and carelessly handled her 10-month-old baby without permission.

He reached into her stroller, unbuckled and lifted out the crying infant to examine a rash on the back of her shoulder, and set her down on wobbly legs; her 12-year-old sister rushed over to grab her before she could fall, according to Mervyak.

Fender, 60, who parented two young boys with Francis, died on Nov. 27. No cause of death was released.

condo pool
Justice Renatha Francis, right, with her husband Phillip Fender, their son and her mother, Hyacinth Francis in 2018. Photo: Jamaica Gleaner

Fender was a motivational speaker, government consultant and the director of House of Protection, a faith-based charity in Pompano Beach. He was also a DeSantis-appointed, non-lawyer member of the commission that nominates Palm Beach County trial judges. 

PROBES TURN UP NOTHING

Following up on a complaint from a tipster at the Cityside condo pool, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigated the Mervyaks – Olga and her husband, Oleg – at their home in Poinciana. The agency referred the matter to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Poinciana is in Polk County, Central Florida.

The Mervyaks, who believe that Francis was the tipster, have clean police and DCF records. No child-protection action was taken and no charges involving the July 4 condo pool incident were filed against Olga Mervyak. Both investigations were over by the time Francis joined the high court on Sept. 1.

The police report doesn’t identify the tipster, in keeping with the confidentiality accorded judges and other mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. The writer seemed to painstakingly avoid casting any blame on an unnamed “someone” the report depicts as scrambling to help an abandoned baby in distress.

“The child was released from the car seat and the child immediately stood up in the car seat to stretch,” Officer Michelle Groves wrote in her Aug. 30 report, obviously repeating the tipster’s narrative.

Olga Mervyak with her youngest daughter.

Shifting to her own observations, Groves continued, “The child had visible red markings on her back that appeared to the undersigned [officer] to be the beginning of, or already healed red skin breakdowns, that appeared to be caused by spending long periods of time on her back.”

The rash that incited Francis and Fender was contact dermatitis – treatable with an ointment – and the baby cried because she was teething, Olga Mervyak said.

“Contact dermatitis is an itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it. The rash isn’t contagious, but it can be very uncomfortable” until it subsides in two to four weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

NO ‘INADEQUATE SUPERVISION’

Oddly, the police report doesn’t say exactly where the condo pool encounter took place.

The only hint the location was West Palm Beach is a reference to the baby’s uncle. Olga Mervyak and her four daughters were visiting him at Cityside on that fateful Fourth of July.

The report says the uncle “who was also at the event…confirmed that [redacted] was not left unattended.”

The sheriff’s child protection unit “closed the investigation…no indicator for inadequate supervision. Based on the evidence presented to me this referral is being closed. The mother and older child [redacted] denied that [redacted] was left unattended. There were no disclosures from any of the children and no injuries,” Officer Groves wrote.

“Justice Francis respectfully declines to respond,” Supreme Court spokesman Paul Flemming wrote when Florida Bulldog asked for her comment. Francis has neither confirmed nor denied she complained to DCF about Olga Mervyak.

LAWYERS AVOID MERVYAKS

Mervyak said when she saw Fender with her baby she confronted Francis, who declared she was a judge and “mandatory reporter” of child maltreatment. “She was very assertive, almost yelling,” Mervyak said, “telling me, ‘I will take your children away from you for abuse and neglect.’ “

Mervyak responded angrily – she used “expletive-laden language,” the tipster complained – and left. Later, remembering the officious woman claimed to be a judge, she searched the internet and found Francis and Fender.

Their appearance at Cityside was unsurprising because Francis and her family used to live there, Mervyak’s relatives told her. One of Fender’s businesses had a Cityside address.

The following weeks were tough for the Mervyak family. They said sheriff’s deputies pestered their neighbors and tried to interview Olga and her husband Oleg, who refused to speak without an attorney present. Oleg Mervyak was away on business when his wife and daughters went to Cityside for the Fourth of July.

The Mervyaks approached at least a half-dozen lawyers who wanted nothing to do with their situation because it apparently involved Francis, a sitting judge everyone knew would soon be a Supreme Court justice. Finally they found a lawyer who was willing to attend a DCF interview with them.

“She put us through a wringer,” Oleg Mervyak said. His children were traumatized by the threat of being taken from their parents. And the oldest girl, the babysitter on July 4, had panic attacks and a breakdown when a DCF investigator questioned her, he said.

A SLOW RECORD RELEASE

Still, the Mervyaks decided to not take any action such as filing a complaint against Francis with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. “We just want to be left alone,” Oleg Mervyak said.

The couple spoke with Florida Bulldog soon after the condo pool incident. Last week they declined to comment about the police report that exonerates Olga Mervyak.

Florida Bulldog sent the Polk County Sheriff’s Office a public records request for the report on Sept. 8. There was no response until a second request went out last week, followed by chats with the records office and a sergeant. The children’s names were redacted from the report that was finally released last Wednesday.

Oleg Mervyak came to America from his native Ukraine more than 20 years ago. When he spoke to Florida Bulldog in late July, he said, “We’re not gonna be bullied. We’re living in the U.S., it’s not freakin’ Russia.”

Months later, he sent this text message: “We’re pretty disillusioned with the whole system at this point. One thing is for sure, we lost any trust we had left in police, courts or lawyers.”

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Comments

8 responses to “Police drop condo pool complaint apparently filed by Justice Renatha Francis, finding ‘no indicator’ woman neglected her baby”

  1. Isn’t it interesting how the Rules immediately change when there’s a judge involved! For example, witness testimony confirmed Francis stated, “I will take your children away from you for abuse and neglect.” By legal definition, that is a THREAT upon which Francis did NOT act! People can get into serious trouble for making threats – even if they don’t make good on them! WHY was Judge Francis not brought before the Judicial Qualifications Commission to, if nothing else, explain the incident? For that matter, WHY was no action taken when Francis LIED on her Supreme Court application by claiming she had never had a JQC Complaint filed against her? She had several!

    This reminds me of the Child Sexual Abuse allegations against 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, John B. Bowman, who took an unrelated 11 year old boy home to live with him for FIVE YEARS! The victim’s name is Charles Harper and it was HE who told the Plantation Police Dept. about some of the things that went on while he was living with the Judge. Since WHEN is it acceptable behavior for an unmarried, single man, regardless of his official position, to take a BOY home from his courtroom to live with?!?!?! Curiously, (or maybe NOT so curiously), the police investigation of Charles Harper’s allegations was somehow “derailed” almost immediately! Now HOW did that happen? I guess the best explanation is “WELCOME TO FLORIDA” where the equally prejudiced and corrupt JQC routinely PROTECTS bad judges from the disciplinary consequences of their actions by summarily dismissing valid, well-supported Complaints! I have SO MUCH PROOF of that! Court records evincing ridiculous, bullshit LIES that some judges have made during cases! It’s DISGUSTING how so many judges can BREACH the Canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct and VIOLATE the Rules of Judicial Administration with such IMPUNITY and get away with it! You would NOT believe some of the evidentiary documents I have showing some of these Broward County judges have done! No wonder they all despise me! But that’s OK, I despise them just as much! “ABSOLUTE POWER, CORRUPTING ABSOLUTELY!” Maybe it has something to do with the fact that since 2014, as a pro se litigant, both Plaintiff and Defendant, I’ve disqualified EIGHT circuit and county court judges from two cases! It’s called “doing one’s due diligence” and I have!

  2. 'We the People' thank you Ms. Marcus. Avatar
    ‘We the People’ thank you Ms. Marcus.

    Wow! Wonderful news that finally JUSTICE is served but what took Polk County Sheriff’s Office so long to figure this fake claim out? Law Enforcement should tread lightly when Judge’s throw their weight around for personal reasons — because Police don’t have the same immunity that Judge’s do.

    Thanks Bulldog for keeping ‘We the People’ informed. Many of your readers following Bulldog’s ‘Judge’ disclosures appreciate your work. People need to know when a judge is is arrogant and conducts herself as if she is entitled. Our taxes pay their salaries.

  3. George S Wade Avatar
    George S Wade

    Id bet the farm SHE had something to do with the death of her husband. She is one extremely dangerous animal, and has no business being out of a cage.

  4. Free the people from Francis !! Avatar
    Free the people from Francis !!

    Probably good that the couple didn’t WASTE THEIR TIME on a JQC complaint against Francis. It would not do any good because they all stick up for each other in this corrupt system. The past numerous complaints against Francis is proof of this. It is terrible and unjustifiable that Francis is above the law and makes her own “law” once again. She acts as her own judge and jury in her everyday life and doesn’t need to conduct herself like the rest of society . She should be held accountable for her unjust actions against this innocent family but yet, once again it is “Francis law”. And more people suffer due to HER ACTIONS.

    Now more of our wasted tax dollars not only with her comfy salary but now with DCF too !

    And the husband ‘s actions are not that of a motivational speaker . To Motive would be a positive gesture instead of threatening to take the children from their own family . Wowww !!

    Unfortunately, Oleg said it correctly with the statement , “we lost any trust we had left with police, courts or lawyers “. Thanks again Judge Francis , way to go !

  5. Edward Crespo Avatar
    Edward Crespo

    “FREE THE PEOPLE FROM FRANCIS” hits the nail right on the head regarding the JQC! Executive Director, BLAN TEAGLE, is just as dishonest, unethical and corrupt as the judges whose asses he routinely PROTECTS from the consequences of their VIOLATIONS of the Code of Judicial Conduct. For example:
    1. (Former) 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, Andrea Ruth Gunderson. Recently voted out of office, she was the first foreclosure judge in my case against Bank of America, whom, according to informed sources, made LARGE campaign contributions to Gunderson’s re-election campaigns. During a Zoom hearing, Gunderson stated ON THE RECORD, that she would NOT consider any supporting case laws we submitted UNLESS they came from the 4th DCA…HER District! Seriously!!!
    I filed for her disqualification a few days later and she QUICKLY recused herself! The JQC Complaint I filed was summarily dismissed WITHOUT any investigation whatsoever!
    2. Judge, Carol-Lisa Phillips: Recused herself Sua Sponte after I discovered that she was married to former 6-term Mayor of Fort Lauderdale and multi-millionaire real estate entrepreneur, Jim Naugle. Judge “Phillips” of course, enjoys the LUXURIOUS lifestyle provided by her wealthy husband, but does NOT use her married last name in court, for all the obvious reasons! She DEFAMED me in her Order of Recusal by OUTRIGHT calling me LIAR, but “curiously,” FAILED to impose any “contempt” sanctions against me on her way OUT! All I had to do in my Motion to Disqualify, was mention the possibility of a pre-existing business relationship between “Phillips,” her husband, Jim Naugle and Bank of America. It is axiomatic that Judge Phillips made a “hasty departure” to AVOID a possible investigation into the “financial benefits” of her business relationship with Bank of America! And, as expected, the JQC AGAIN summarily dismissed my Complaint! I have MANY dismissal letters SIGNED by Blan Teagle!
    3. Judge Sandra Perlman: This one is INCREDIBLE! At a 1 hour Special-Set hearing on SIX pending motions, filed by both me and the Bank, Perlman summarily DENIED every one of MY motions, and GRANTED every Bank motion…THEN FAILED TO ENTER ANY OF HER RULINGS IN THE RECORD! It was as though the hearing NEVER took place! She GRANTED my Motion to Disqualify and like Judge Phillips…QUICKLY left the case! Do I need to mention the outcome of my JQC Complaint? NO…I didn’t think so! Further proof of JQC corruption and its FAILURE to do its job! ANOTHER letter dismissing my Complaint from Blan Teagle, of course!
    There are several more examples I could cite, but I think I’ve made my point! This is ALWAYS the end result when a government agency like the JQC is allowed to 100% self-govern with NO outside oversight or regulatory control whatsoever! They answer to no one, including the Florida SC! Blan Teagle and his minions have BETRAYED the public trust for YEARS and have gotten away with it!

  6. Florida Patriots plea for Justice Avatar
    Florida Patriots plea for Justice

    These comments about the rigged Florida judicial system are frightening! Governor DeSantis’ appointees are corrupt? Wow! Does anyone know–Is DeSantis backed by George Soros and appointing people to destroy our democracy from within by covering up bad Judges and regulators? Sad that both political parties are untrustworthy!
    Thx for exposing government corruption, an evil Cancer, which must be investigated. Why are such traitorous acts being ignored? Is the Attorney general in on it?

  7. Edward Crespo Avatar
    Edward Crespo

    The blatant corruption that has infected the Florida legal system existed LONG before DeSantis first entered the political arena! I have records that date back to the 70’s and 80’s! HUNDREDS OF THEM! Miami was BUILT with cocaine money and a lot of that money found its way into the pockets of many Dade County Circuit Court Judges and Prosecutors! I KNOW – I was THERE!

    Republican or Democrat – it made NO difference. EVERYONE hand their hand out! Lawyers, Cops, Judges, Politicians…they ALL wanted to be paid! It was all about money back then and it STILL is now! But it’s done differently these days. Judges are now “nestled comfortably” in Big Business’ pockets through, among other things, SUBSTANTIAL campaign contributions and pre-existing business relationships with the judges. WHO holds or services the mortgage on the judge’s house, or the houses of the judge’s family members? And at WHAT interest rate? What about personal or business loans made to the Judge? What about unusually LARGE lines of credit? What about spousal business dealings with the major banks? See my point? It goes on and on!!!

    Of course very few Complaints were ever filed with the Florida JQC against errant Judges. People were, and still are, afraid of Judges. They fear “Judicial Retaliation”if they come forward with information or start filing Complaints. And here’s one of the BIGGEST betrayals of the public trust ever perpetrated…. THERE ARE OVER TWO HUNDRED (200) CONVICTED FELONS AND EX-CONS, BOTH MALE AND FEMALE, PRACTICING LAW IN FLORIDA WITH REINSTATED LAW LICENSES!!! Think I’m making it up? I have their names, Bar Nos., criminal charges, convictions and sentences! I have their Florida Bar disciplinary records, too! It’s OUTRAGEOUS!!! It’s also a sad reality…

    This shit has been going on for DECADES! And no one does anything about it!

    Florida lawyers supposedly disciplining OTHER Florida lawyers and Judges supposedly disciplining OTHER Judges! That’s like putting a bank robber on trial with a jury made up of nothing but OTHER bank robbers! It doesn’t take a law school education to know that’s going to turn out!

  8. Desantis is deeply involved in the “CASH FOR KIDS” network in the Florida family court system. The Florida family court system is nothing more than a criminal enterprise, they are preying on the most vulnerable women and children of Domestic violence – Judges/Attorneys/court professional- GAL’s and mental health professional are grossly profiting off the backs of innocent women and children. Thousands of women have reported grave injustice -the most corrupt counties being Alachua, broward, Lee, Miami/Dade, Valusa. Please look into the abuse in the Florida family court system- DCF/FOSTER CARE which Desantis and his wife strongly support (red flag)- watch failure to protect fault lines documentary. The judges are hand picked and the Attorneys are also colluding and sell judgements to the highest bidder. It is not safe for women and children of Domestic violence. There needs to be a criminal investigation into the Florida family court system. Please start court watching!! legal trafficking of children- the largest racketeering business billions of dollars. Desantis is fully aware- look at his unanswered FOIA requests regarding family court crimes. please get involved in family court reform

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