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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dr. Gardner's ghost still haunts Rhode Island (even after David Tassoni has gone)

As Judge Haiganush R. Bedrosian becomes Chief of Family Court, it is time we banished the ghost of Dr. Richard Gardner, whose coercive tactics in Rhode Island courtrooms have been haunting families traumatized by domestic abuse.

Victims of terror do not present well in court. They are tense, emotional and understandably outraged. On the opposing side, tyrannical controllers can be calm and charming litigants, confident in the damage they have inflicted. Their lawyers, who are often accomplished bullies in their own right, tell astounding lies calculated to trigger a full display of symptoms in the victims.

Psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner designed a stealth weapon in 1985 that he called "Parental Alienation Syndrome." A domestic-violence-denier, Gardner testified for hundreds of fathers and argued that mothers had "alienated" their children against them. Gardner also wrote that sexual relations between parents and children were natural. He told filmmaker Garland Waller that children who report abuse by their fathers should be threatened with a beating. He committed suicide in 2003, but his ghost still haunts our courtrooms. Here are three examples from cases I have been following:

In 2004, Warwick police charged a Family Court deputy sheriff with felony domestic violence when they found his girlfriend handcuffed in their kitchen with a broken jaw and eye socket. Already entrenched in litigation, the deputy sheriff was an often-unruly defendant in the same courtroom where he once kept order. He demanded custody of his ten-year-old daughter, who was terrified of him.

In the corridor during a break, David M. Tassoni, assistant to Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr., told me he was searching for a psychologist who "understood parental alienation." Tassoni found Lori Meyerson, PhD, in a cramped country office and invited her to serve at Family Court, where she testified that the deputy sheriff was a "happy, calm and level person." She had never visited either parent's home when she recommended giving the father sole custody. General Magistrate John J. O'Brien, Jr., praised Meyerson's work and declared this case to be "as close as you can get to parental alienation."

Tassoni told me he was working with Judge Bedrosian and a joint committee from the Court and the Bar Association on a training program to qualify guardians ad litem. Their 2004 course and manual devoted an entire section to Gardner's theory of parental alienation.

Attorney Lise M. Iwon, who is now president of the Rhode Island Bar Association, helped teach that course, though she did not follow its guidelines in writing her report as guardian ad litem in another case. A three-and-a-half-year-old had protested behavior she described as her father's "sausage games" on days they spent alone. A pediatrician's office reported this to DCYF, who ordered the father out of the home. A few months later, the mother filed for divorce.

I asked why Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch had failed to convene a grand jury. He considered the child too young to be believed. Neither DCYF nor the AG used available technology to record this child's "excited utterances" in order to meet standards of evidence. They made no video of her reportedly vivid "reenactment" of an assault. No jury saw the graphic portrait she drew of her father.

Iwon succeeded in getting the girl and her older sister removed from an excellent mother and home. After sixteen months in state custody, the court gave the younger girl to her father and moved the older one from a shelter to a foster home, all at state expense. Iwon's course of action suggested that a Gardner-defense was underway. Like Tassoni's efforts on behalf of the deputy sheriff, Iwon sought psychiatric examiners, and found a pliable group in Massachusetts, where psychologist Bernice Kelly, PsyD, wrote that Iwon, herself, had suggested the possibility of "parental alienation."

In 2007, Kelly's report to the court listed Gardner's "eight symptoms" of alienation. She seemed unaware that the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges had identified this as "junk science" the year before. NCJFCJ had warned judges to strike any report referring to parental alienation from the record because it failed to meet standards of evidence.

This year, as the American Psychological Association prepares to publish the Fifth Edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, its committee has steadfastly resisted pressure to elevate "parental alienation" to scientific credibility.

Yet Blue Cross and Blue Shield apparently reimburses providers for parental alienation "therapy." In 2007, psychologist Peter J. Kosseff, PhD, testified in Rhode Island that his court-ordered efforts to forcibly "reconcile" two teenagers with their father were not what Kosseff considered "therapeutic." Nevertheless, he billed Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut for "miscellaneous medical service" and got paid for those sessions--though they ended badly when the 14-year-old daughter suffered a breakdown and spent ten days at Bradley Hospital, costing the insurer many thousands more.

How long will the ghost of Dr. Gardner haunt Rhode Island's children? I am confident that Chief Judge Bedrosian does not share Gardner's pro-pedophile views. She is now in a position to end his ghostly reign in Rhode Island and to promote the highest standards of evidence in Family Court's handling of custody cases.

But one branch of government is not enough. Will Governor Lincoln Chafee demand thorough reform at the Department of Children, Youth and Families? The General Assembly has mandated that DCYF must, in 2011, start the process toward accreditation.

Will Attorney General Peter Kilmartin use technology and convene grand juries to examine evidence of sex crimes by family members against young children? (Two of the fathers above acknowledged that they were sexually assaulted in childhood, one by his father and the other by his grandfather.)

Children who have suffered from domestic abuse need all three branches of government to work together and unequivocally banish Dr. Gardner's ghost from Rhode Island.

This op-ed is reprinted from
and also appeared in The Providence Journal

Two weeks later, David Tassoni resigned. Here is the Providence Journal report:

RI Family Court mediator quits amid probe of qualifications
4:31 PM Thu, Jan 06, 2011
Journal staff writer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island State Police are investigating allegations that a longtime mediator in Family Court may have provided false information about his qualifications when he was hired 15 years ago.

State Police Lt. Raymond Studley, assistant detective commander, confirmed Thursday that detectives had opened an investigation into David Tassoni after court officials tipped off the police that the state worker may have "misrepresented his educational background."

"The court asked us to look into it and determine if there is any criminal behavior," Studley said.

Studley said that court mediators are not required to have a law degree.

Craig Berke, spokesman for the state court system, said that Tassoni resigned on Wednesday. Berke said that Tassoni was hired in 1996.

He said that Tassoni, who made $105,398 annually, was an assistant administrator in addition to his duties as a mediator. As a mediator, Berke said that Tassoni primarily worked to resolve disputes in divorce proceedings.

Family Court Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian said through Berke that any mediations that Tassoni participated in "are unaffected by this development.''

ABC 10 News broke the story:

Published: January 06, 2011
Updated: January 06, 2011 - 6:54 PM
» 19 Comments | Post a Comment
A top court mediator resigned amid questions about his credentials.

David Tassoni worked at Rhode Island's Family Court for 13 years.

Tassoni's resume said he graduated law school and earned a degree from Providence College. From there, he rose through the ranks of state's Family Court, recently reporting directly to the chief judge and making $105,000 a year.

NBC 10 learned neither degree exists.

Paul Labonte's case in Rhode Island Family Court is over. He lost custody of his kids to the state. That's where he met Tassoni.

"You're expecting the people to be professional and be qualified in the positions they hold, and when they're not, it's like you get anyone down here to hear the case," Labonte said.

Tassoni's resume, obtained by NBC 10, says he graduated from Providence College and Southern New England School of Law in 1997 -- the same year he began working for Rhode Island's court system. He worked first as a law clerk intern and then as chief mediator, rising fast to the rank of assistant administrator and making $105,000 a year.

Sources say Chief Judge Haiganoush Bedrosian started to look into Tassoni's education and learned he did not graduate from law school or from Providence College.

Earlier in the week, Tassoni's resume, picture and biography were posted on the website of the Massachusetts-based company, Legal Options Inc.

The site said he had mediated more than 750 divorce and domestic disputes. The site also said that in addition to his family law practice, Tassoni is the domestic mediation instructor for Roger Williams University.

After NBC 10 started investigating, the information about Tassoni was pulled from the website.

Many court employees said Tassoni was good at what he did. Labonte doesn't disagree.

"I thought it was a shame. I really did," Labonte said. "He was really listening to what I was saying as opposed to just being at work,"

NBC 10 tried reaching Tassoni at his home and on the phone, but we were unsuccessful.

State police confirmed there is an active investigation at the Family Court, but they wouldn't confirm whether it involves Tassoni.

A representative for the court said the cases that Tassoni mediated are not affected by his resume problems.

State Sen. John Tassoni, David Tassoni's cousin, said the two men haven't been close and that he learned of the resignation from someone else.

Here is David Tassoni's fraudulent resumé (click once on it to enlarge):

He listed these among his duties:
Family Court Mediation Advisory Board (Chairperson), 2001 to present
Attorney General's Domestic Violence Task Force, 2002 to present
National Association of Court Managers, Governors Ideal System of Care, 2002 to present
Supreme Court Indigent Defense Task Force, 2002 to present
Supreme Court Mediation Task Force, 2002 to 2003
Child Support Guidelines Task Force, 2002
Rhode Island Children's Trust, 2003 to present
Guardian ad Litem Task Force, 2003 to present

Psychiatrist Richard Gardner made his own fraudulent claims that he was "Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University." After his 2003 suicide, his New York Times obituary listed this among his credentials, and Columbia University denied the assertion.

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: