Appellate judges signal they see no conflict in Darren Shull keeping a politically connected father’s child custody case

Palm Beach Circuit Judge Darren Shulll being sworn in by Chief Judge Glenn Kelley in August 2022.

By Noreen Marcus,

Although state child welfare authorities are still looking into an incident that raises concerns about Judge Darren Shull’s impartiality, his appeals court supervisors seem bent on allowing him to continue making questionable calls unchecked.

On Monday the Fourth District Court of Appeal activated a second order from Shull that tells sheriffs to immediately deliver two kids to their politically connected father. Shull issued the order without giving the mother a chance to protest.

The first time Shull issued this pickup order, the boys ran away from their father’s house and police called in the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which started an ongoing investigation. The DCF’s findings are due by Sept. 13.

“No one in this court is looking out for my boys’ interests, not one person,” said Nanea Marcial. She said her 12- and 15-year-old sons are treated “like Yo-Yos, like objects.”

Shull, head of the family division in Palm Beach Circuit Court, is presiding over the child custody case of Miami-based political consultant David Custin and his ex-wife, Marcial. She’s trying to get court approval to relocate their sons to New Hampshire, where she moved last year for work.

David Custin and his ex-wife Nanea Marcial

Along with contesting relocation, Custin is trying to change the terms of their 2012 parenting plan so he becomes the custodial parent and Marcial is limited to visitation. Given that Shull ruled against relocation, Marcial can only hope that he or another judge will reconsider and grant her request.


Among Custin’s clients are Republican stars Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed Shull to Palm Beach Circuit Court in April 2022. Two months later, a judicial reshuffling and a request from Palm Beach Chief Judge Glenn Kelley put the Custin case on Shull’s docket.

The case is pending in Broward, where Marcial used to live. But in a highly unusual move, Custin’s lawyers got the entire Broward Circuit Court bench excluded on the basis that Custin feared none of those judges would treat him fairly. Then the case was reassigned to judges in Palm Beach Circuit Court.

Custin asserts – and Marcial disputes – she’s illegally keeping their sons away from him. After his lawyers convinced Shull to issue the first pick-up order to transport the boys to Custin, Marcial and her brother drove them to his Kendall home on July 8.

Within hours they ran away; the next day police found and returned them to Marcial and called in DCF. Custin accused Marcial of manipulating their sons to make him look bad.

Marcial has been alleging abuse for three years. (Marcial gave Florida Bulldog access to confidential court documents but the website isn’t publishing details of the claims to protect the parties’ and minors’ privacy.)

Custin and his lawyer, Stacey Mullins, did not respond to a Florida Bulldog email seeking comment.


To fulfill his duties under state law, apparently Shull should have held a hearing with both parties present to examine the abuse claim. If he determined it was “well-founded,” he was obligated to appoint a guardian to protect the minors’ interests.

But Shull refused to appoint a guardian and didn’t probe the abuse issue in a hearing after Marcial requested one. Nor did he let the boys testify, saying he wasn’t convinced they have the requisite “capacity and maturity.”

Last year Marcial’s lawyers asked Shull to recuse himself; when he refused, they asked the 4th DCA to disqualify him. Without explanation Judges Robert Gross, Melanie May and Ed Artau declined to remove Shull from the case in November 2022.

Now the court is considering another Shull disqualification petition from Marcial.

After Shull issued his second pick-up order on Aug. 11, the 4th DCA granted a stay that tabled it until Marcial’s appeal is resolved. Judges Martha Warner and Alan Forst signed the stay order dated Aug. 16. Artau, who had voted against disqualifying Shull in November, dissented.

That may not be surprising because Artau is an outspoken fan of Shull’s. In remarks at his investiture, “Judge Artau described Judge Shull as a man of great character, humility and fortitude,” the news bulletin of the 15th Judicial Circuit reported.

More procedural back and forth occurred over the next 12 days – the stay was on, the stay was off; it was an emergency, it wasn’t an emergency. One could only imagine the behind-the-scenes debates that preceded each order.

Finally, on Monday the stay was lifted by an unsigned “order of the court.” The court acted after taking into account Custin’s response, the terse order states.

Now and for as long as the pick-up order remains in effect, her sons are at risk of being transferred to their father despite their apparent wish to remain with her, Marcial said. “They are scared of going anywhere for fear the police are coming to force them back to their father,” she said.


The appeals court seems to be heading toward rejecting Marcial’s petition and letting Shull keep the case, according to a family lawyer who’s not involved in the Custin-Marcial matter.

“If the appellate panel has lifted the emergency stay on a pick-up order, it signals a denial of the mother’s petition,” said Margherita Downey, who practices in Palm Beach Circuit Court and the 4th DCA. 

Shull has been listening only to Custin’s depiction of events and responding accordingly, Marcial’s new appellate lawyer, David Scott of Fort Lauderdale, argues in his latest brief.

The Aug. 25 brief says Shull issued his Aug. 11 pick-up order ex parte, meaning without giving Marcial notice or an opportunity to be heard, violating her due process rights. Without even attempting to schedule a hearing, Shull just signed Custin’s proposed order, according to the brief.

Such ex parte orders are legal when they’re necessary to respond to an emergency or an imminent violation of a previous order. Custin claimed that Marcial breached the first pick-up order in July.

Marcial says she complied by taking the boys to Custin’s house the following day. Also, there was no evidence of an emergency. But she never got to say those things in court before Shull issued his Aug. 11 order.

At this point Custin is winning and Marcial is running out of options.

“Judge Shull has violated my boys’ basic Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure and has inflicted additional mental and emotional harm onto my boys,” she said. “Their physical safety and mental well-being have been completely cast aside.”

“The court has not protected my children,” Marcial said. “As a mother trying to keep her children safe, I’m both infuriated and terrified.”

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Latest comments

  • Whoa JUDGE! Hold your horses!! You know Children have CONSTITUTIONAL Rights! You ignored Mom’s Due Process Rights to immediately order POLICE to do your dirty work? WHY? Is your Ruling a payback to Governor DeSantis who made you a Judge? What State Officer would appoint a JUDGE whose Career was spent advocating for criminal’s rights and then uses his Power to trample innocent children’s lives? It’s an evil agenda. See the Movie “SOUND OF FREEDOM” a True story on criminals aided by Government Elites who are paid to ignore ongoing abuse of women and children! Trafficking sex slaves is a billion dollar industry. FOLKS your family may be next.

  • This Judge doesn’t seem to be doing his job-at what point do they get rep-reminded for their misdeeds-I’m just a normal citizen but who watches over them to see if they are doing their job?

  • OH MY GOD! Somebody please Keep those children AWAY from the ABUSIVE FATHER! The children are safe with their mother! They need help!!! Why won’t anyone listen?
    Why did Judge Shull do an Exparte pick up order without mother involved or have any input? What was the so called emergency to do so? The children are safe with MARCIAL! Judge Shull’s multiple Exparte pick up orders will DESTROY those children. The mother has rights. She bore them in her womb for 9 months and made sure she brought them all way to full term. The Mother is the ultimate protector. Help this Mother keep her babies safe!!!!

  • JUDGE SHULL only protects the accused this man is still defending criminals Hello!!! You are supposed to protect the children from further harm, err on the safe side the mother is not accused of hurting the boys, they are accusing the father they are voting with their feet, that’s all they know to do, the same happened to my family, Judge SHULL ordered exparte pick up orders with out accepting any evidence from the boys or their mother, NONE! Nor did Judge Shull accept EVIDENCE of any reports strongly advising that the boys should be with the mother. Judge Shull is supposed to be a non biased. Judge. But he was it was totally lopsided with preference toward the accused ignoring one of the sons accusations of sexual abuse in this case by the father, JUDGE SHULL has a heart for the defendant ignoring the victim, he needs to go back to what he knows defending criminals Not In family court, he is cruel

  • Judge Shull is the same as the other biased circuit court judges I’ve encountered! Florida judges do whatever the hell they want with little fear of disciplinary consequences because the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission is just as dishonest, unethical, prejudiced and corrupt as the judges are! The JQC routinely PROTECTS errant judges by summarily dismissing valid, well-supported Complaints. And that includes the Complaints filed against the 4th District Court of Appeals! The Canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct are meaningless words on paper, designed to make the public THINK there is actually some degree of judicial oversight and regulatory control! I speak from a great deal of first-hand experience! Fairness and impartiality are reserved for those who can afford to PAY for it with expensive lawyers, or in this case, those who are politically connected! Our whole so-called “system of justice” is BROKEN!!!

  • This whole business of the 4th DCA issuing rulings WITHOUT providing a written opinion or even WORSE – issuing UNSIGNED Orders is TOTAL BULLSHIT! How are they getting away with that? Pretty slick there, Chief Judge, Marc Klingensmith! You and your cohorts cleverly manage to AVOID any chance of a JQC Complaint by remaining anonymous! A wronged party can’t complain when that party DOES NOT KNOW the identities of thejudge or judges! Even when you FAILED to uphold my constitutional rights of procedural due process, due process of law and access to the courts, you NEVER SIGNED any of the Orders! See CASE NO.: 4D 23-0711, Edward Crespo v. John B. Bowman, another prejudiced, corrupt judge…JUST LIKE ALL OF YOU! (Emphasis added). WITHOUT determining me to be a “vexatious litigant” you VIOLATED my constitutional right of self-representation by ordering that I could no longer file pro se! WITHOUT finding them “legally insufficient,” you summarily DENIED both of my Motions to Disqualify! And NONE of those prejudiced, illegal rulings were signed! You’re ALL a bunch of gutless, chicken-shit COWARDS!!!

  • Soo sad this is our justice system? How does this take place with our Courts and hurting our most vulnerable–our children? Who allows this to continue with this judge? He does not provide due process and acts like a King like he’s above the law! Please do the right thing and keep these innocent children with their mother where they belong !

  • I also have this same Judge , along with my patient. My son is seeing a therapist because of his father. Diagnosis is severe PTSD, and Judge Darren schull recently ordered 50/50. All the cases that he currently have should be re evaluated, because he is not protecting the children at all. I never went through something so devastated. Not only for me but my child .

  • Looks like a classic case of PARENTAL ALIENTION.I went through the exact same thing in the Family court.Where one parent manipulates and brainwashes the children into believing that the other parent is bad and their life is in danger.This is child abuse in its worst form. It almost always has false allegations of abuse attached to it.Its completely evil.No you why the kids ran away.Because they have been brainwashed to be scared of the ot b er parent for no reason..Happened to me too.They should lose custody for abusing these children like that

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