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.)
Friday, April 22, 2011
By Malcolm Maclachlan | 04/21/11 12:00 AM PST
The state Attorney General’s office has filed legal papers seeking to revoke the license of a Sacramento family courts mediator for allegedly lying on her renewal application. The mediator, Janelle Burrill, has been at the center of numerous controversial child-custody cases.
Burrill is based in Sacramento, but works in both the Placer and Sacramento family courts. The Sacramento family courts, along with Marin, were reviewed by the Bureau of State Audits in a January audit that was critical of the standards both courts used in hiring and monitoring court-ordered specialists.
Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office filed the accusation against Burrill on March 17 on behalf of Kim Madsen, executive office of the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). BBS operates under the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and licenses clinical social workers, among other professions. Deputy Attorney General Karen Denvir wrote the official accusation against Burrill and will prosecute the case on behalf of these agencies.
The accusation states that Burrill “committed dishonest, corrupt or fraudulent acts” when she claimed on her June, 2009, renewal application that there were no official pending complaints against her. In fact, there were two official complaints of official misconduct filed against her by family court litigants at the time. It also notes that in March, 2010, the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work revoked Burrill’s certification for “misrepresentation” of complaints against her.
Finally, the accusation claims that Burrill “made a false representation” in a letter to family courts judge regarding one of the BBS complaints against her. That complaint stemmed from her work as a “reunification therapist” in a custody case between Jayraj and Bindu Nair over their two sons.
In February, the Capitol Weekly published a story about Jayraj Nair, the father in this case, and his official complaints about Burrill as he sought to regain custody of his sons. We did not identify Burrill by name in that story, but an April 7 San Francisco Weekly story did.
When reached by phone in February, Burrill referred questions to her attorney, Ed Friedberg, who was quoted in the earlier story. As of press time, he had not returned two calls seeking comment for this story.
According to sources at the AG’s office, Burrill has been served with the accusation and has contested the charges. The case will likely be heard in October. If she is found guilty of the charges, her case would be referred back to BBS, which would have the option of taking away her license - though Burrill could file multiple appeals. “She can drag this on forever, seven years or so, without an impact on her practice,” Jayraj Nair said.
Burrill was appointed to seek reconciliation between Suraj and his mother Bindu in 2008. According to numerous official documents, Suraj had been seeking to be placed in the sole custody of his father, Jayraj. Burrill soon began clashing with both father and son, including a billing dispute with Jayraj Nair.
By early 2009, Jayraj Nair had begun filing official complaints with BBS over Burrill - one of the complaints she allegedly did not acknowledge, causing her to run afoul of licensing organizations. Burrill countered with allegations that Jayraj was intentionally seeking to alienate Suraj against his mother—something he has denied.
Burrill has also sued Jayraj Nair for defamation for comments he made on the website RightsForMothers.com. Burrill has also sued him for distributing an audio recording that Suraj Nair made of one of his sessions with Burrill. Jayraj Nair said Burrill has accused him of making the recording, even though he said he was not present. He also said he is preparing a civil rights lawsuit against Burrill, but will not be seeking damages.
“We don’t want any more children and families harmed by her,” he said.
In February 2009, then 12-year-old Suraj was taken from his father’s Granite Bay home in handcuffs and turned over to the fulltime custody of his mother. He has reportedly run away numerous times since, and has been staying in a protective facility in Placer County since March while seeking reunification with his father.
Jayraj Nair has lost numerous rounds in court, though he alleges this is largely because he has run up against a legal system in the Placer County family courts that has circled the wagons around Burrill. This includes an order to pay $75,000 of his ex-wife's attorneys’ fees.
He recently won a round in court. On March 25, a state appeals court ruled that he was improperly barred from being able to hold an evidentiary hearing to contest the restraining order keeping him away from his son and his ex-wife. The court ordered such a hearing to take place within 60 days, opening the possibility that Nair may soon be able to see his older son.
Burrill has been the subject of numerous complaints over the years. Last June, a group of parent litigants held a protest rally against Burrill outside her Sacramento offices.
In August, Betsy Vail and her daughter, Rebecca Knox, testified at a hearing of the California Commission on the Status of Women that Burrill sought to reunite Knox with her estranged father against her will and also acted in an extremely unprofessional manner. Knox and Vail eventually prevailed in that case, severing ties with the father, and have filed official complaints against Burrill with multiple state agencies - including one with BBS.
In January, the Bureau of State Audits issued a report on the Family Courts in Marin and Sacramento Counties. It did not mention Burrill or anyone else by name, but found that the Sacramento family courts did not properly vet their court-appointed specialists.
Jayraj Nair said that he hopes his case and others like it help lead to greater outside scrutiny on the courts in general and the family courts in particular. He said he especially hopes that steps are taken to remove the immunity that court-appointed witnesses have when they testify, saying this gives these specialists the freedom to “commit fraud” and get away with it.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
By Barry Goldstein
The Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) is the part of the US Justice Department that provides grants for programs designed to reduce and prevent domestic violence. They recently sponsored a forum for their staff and other professionals in various parts of the government to learn about the crisis in the custody court system. They heard from seven protective mothers, one very inspiring Courageous Kid and over a dozen of the leading experts in the country. It was a wonderful discussion based upon current scientific research and actual experiences and everyone seems to get it that the courts are routinely making catastrophic mistakes in failing to protect children and domestic violence survivors. The purpose of the forum was to consider the problem, causes and solutions. It was so wonderful to take part in a reality based discussion about domestic violence custody issues and to do so with people who may have the ability to promote the needed changes. And yet the next day if any of us walked into a custody court, the research and the reality that were an unquestioned part of the discussion at OVW would be missing in the pretend world that is the present custody court system.
Similarly, in December, I had the privilege of participating in a review of grant proposals concerning gender, violence and health. The Canadian Institute of Health brought leading experts in the field together to consider which grant proposals would be most beneficial to fund. This was a high level discussion in which all of the participants were familiar with current scientific research so that we could have a reality based discussion. I found it particularly interesting that the Canadian government could attract knowledgeable experts for $200 a day at the same time the courts pay or require litigants to pay thousands of dollars for a few hours to “experts” completely unfamiliar with up-to-date research who instead provide opinions based on their personal belief system and prejudices.
Our custody courts are a very insular system in which information and ideas that contradict the misinformation routinely relied on by court professionals are unwelcome. Custody courts started relying on mental health professionals at a time when no research about domestic violence was available and many people assumed domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substances abuse and the behavior of the victims. We now know the original assumptions are wrong and mental health professionals rarely have much expertise in domestic violence or child sexual abuse. Nevertheless the courts are so used to relying on professionals with inadequate training that they routinely refuse to hear genuine experts or treat their testimony with tremendous skepticism. Experts, government agencies and academicians relied on to make major decisions in the real world are treated with disrespect by the court system. Repeatedly I have heard judges suggest that when the (inadequately trained) GAL, evaluator and child protective caseworker all agree, it is unreasonable to consider any other view.
Abusers often impose a pretend world on their victims by denying and minimizing their abuse. They often blame their partners by claiming her behavior forced him to abuse her. It is often unsafe for the woman to challenge this pretend existence. Genuine experts agree that dealing with reality is an important part of the healing process after survivors leave their abusers. This makes the common court practice of cooperating with abusers to focus on pretend issues so harmful to battered mothers and their children.
Many years ago I tried to help a teenage girl whose father was sexually abusing her. She finally found a therapist she could trust and the courage to share her secret. He called the child protective agency, but their response was to remove the girl from her home so the father’s life would not be disrupted. They put her in a home for girls that included those there for criminal behavior. While at this home, she was assaulted and robbed. The caseworker refused to permit her to continue working with her therapist just when she needed him most and pressured her to recant her allegations. The caseworker threatened to send her to an even worse facility and she was also concerned about the trouble her father would face. When she recanted her allegations she was sent back to her home and forced to engage in therapy based upon the false assumption her allegations of abuse were wrong. At a time when she needed therapy in response to years of abuse, she was forced to engage in therapy to determine why she made false allegations.
More recently, I worked on a New Jersey case in which a young child reported to her mother that her father and his mother had touched her in the vicinity of her privates. She did not know the words to be more precise. The father immediately denied the allegations and claimed the mother was making deliberate false allegations. The unqualified professionals focused only on whether the child was molested or the mother made false allegations and when they could not find enough evidence of abuse after a flawed investigation assumed the allegations were false. They brought charges against the mother and eventually gave the abusive father custody and the mother supervised visitation. When the court professionals later learned of the father’s history of domestic violence and hired a qualified expert who used current research to recommend custody be restored to the mother, the court professionals ignored the information that undermined their mistaken finding. The mother was forced into therapy in which she had to prove she no longer believed the true allegations if she wanted unsupervised visitation with her daughter. Having escaped the pretend world imposed by her abuser by leaving him, the mother faced another pretend world imposed by the court.
These kinds of mistakes are common in the broken custody court system. Often they are caused by court professionals who use the bogus Parental Alienation Syndrome (sometimes by other names) to give custody to the abuser and deny normal contact with the protective mother. Some courts impose reunification therapy on the children who are taught that their dislike of their father is not because of his history of abusing them and their mother but because of the lies she has told them. Again at a time when they need therapy to heal from their father’s abuse and the separation from their primary attachment figure, they must instead engage in therapy based on pretend alienation issues. These practices work well for the bank accounts of mental health professionals, but poorly for children.
Most court professionals have been trained to view contested custody cases as “high conflict” by which they mean the parents are angry at each other and act out in ways harmful to their children. Current research, however, establishes that most of these cases are actually domestic violence cases. Fathers with a long history of abuse seek custody as a way to gain access to their victim to pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. Court professionals unwittingly assist these tactics by pressuring the mother to interact and cooperate with her abuser instead of pressuring the father to stop his abuse. The normal fear, emotion and reluctance to cooperate with a man they see as dangerous is used to discredit and punish the mother. Using the “high conflict” lens makes it harder for court professionals to recognize the father’s abuse and to take it seriously.
Few court professionals have been taught about the dynamics of domestic violence or how to recognize it. We regularly see court professionals discredit domestic violence complaints for reasons that are not probative such as when women return to their abuser, withdraw protective orders or don’t have police or medical reports. The women do this for safety and other reasons, but if the professionals treat this kind of information as if it were proof of false allegations, they have no chance to recognize valid complaints. At the same time, these professionals are often only looking at incidents of physical abuse. Accordingly they fail to see the patterns of controlling and coercive behavior. They don’t pay attention to economic control, isolating behaviors, emotional abuse, monitoring their partner’s behavior or information about the abusers’ motivation. Once courts determine through these flawed practices that the domestic violence allegations are false, they generally refuse to consider additional evidence or events that support the allegations and severely retaliate against mothers who continue to believe their allegations. Significantly, when courts do recognize the father’s abuse, they rarely if ever penalize him for continuing to deny his abuse.
The pretend world created by the custody courts is supported by the popular myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in the litigation. A new Department of Justice study led by Dan Saunders of the University of Michigan found that court professionals without adequate training in domestic violence are more likely to believe this myth and in turn make recommendations harmful to children. The myth greatly contributes to the frequent mistaken findings we see in custody courts where valid allegations of domestic violence are disbelieved. Widespread gender bias also contributes to the inaccurate decisions.
Custody courts do their worst job in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of children. Although a majority of allegations made by mothers are accurate, 85% of the cases result in custody for the alleged abuser. Even attorneys with little knowledge of domestic violence and child abuse routinely advise clients not to raise sexual abuse allegations, even with strong cases, because the courts are so reluctant to believe a father could commit such a heinous act. Sexual abuse against young children is particularly hard to prove because it is committed in private for obvious reasons and children often do not have the language to describe what their father did to them. Although many court professionals expect physical proof, most assaults do not leave physical evidence and when they do it may be gone by the time the child works up the courage to reveal the abuse. Older children often recant true allegations because the abuser has threatened to hurt them or their mother or because they don’t want someone they still love to get in trouble. Poor investigation methods by often inadequately trained professionals also impede proof of sexual abuse. When allegations are made by mothers the most likely circumstance is the allegations are true. The next most likely is that the accused did not abuse the child but engaged in boundary violations that made the child uncomfortable. Other common possibilities are that the allegations are false, but made in good faith or that the evidence is equivocal, but court professionals routinely focus on deliberately false allegations even though this is the least likely cause for the allegations. The result of these flawed practices is that courts often deny valid allegations of sexual abuse and conduct the rest of the case based upon the fiction that there is something wrong with the mother for trying to protect her child.
These common mistakes in domestic violence and child abuse cases lead to a pretend world promoted by the abuser and supported by the court in which the case is conducted based on the fiction that the mother’s allegations are false. Any attempt by the mother to provide additional information of the father’s abuse is treated as a lack of cooperation for which she is severely punished. Her only hope to have some minimal time with her children is to prove she no longer believes the true allegations she made. In other words she is back in a pretend world that she hoped to escape by leaving her abuser. Even worse, now he has complete control, supported by the court and she is not even near the children to try to protect them when he acts in a dangerous manner.
In the typical contested custody case the mother is the primary attachment figure for the child and complains about the father’s domestic violence and/or child abuse. The father counters with claims of alienation. The primary attachment figure is the parent or other caregiver who provides most of the child care during the first couple of years of a child’s life. When a child is separated from their primary attachment figure, the child is more likely to suffer depression, low self-esteem and to commit suicide when older. Accordingly it makes no sense to do this unless the primary attachment figure is unsafe such as if they were a drug addict or beat the child. At the same time children who witness domestic violence are more likely to engage in a variety of harmful behaviors when they are older and their normal development is impeded which can cause lifetime of harmful effects. Alienation is a nebulous term which is often alleged in a generalized way. The most likely outcome of false negative statements is that it harms the relationship with the parent making the false statements. There is no research that demonstrates long term harm to children from alienating behaviors. Claims of primary attachment are almost always true as in our still sexist society mothers continue to provide most of the child care particularly in the first years of a child’s life. In many cases the father does not contest the issue or the work schedules of the parents make it clear who was the primary attachment figure. Mothers’ allegations of abuse are rarely deliberately false (in cases of child sexual abuse inaccurate complaints could be made based on the behavior of the child), so the complaints tend to be reliable. Alienation claims by fathers in contested custody cases are often part of a standard abuser tactic to deflect claims of abuse. Research such as the study led by Nicholas Bala establishes that fathers in contested custody cases are sixteen times more likely to make deliberately false complaints. The complaints by mothers are more important to the well being of children and far more likely to be true than father’s complaints and yet in contested custody cases fathers receive custody or joint custody between 70 and 83% of the time. Clearly courts are not making decisions based upon the reality experienced by children or approaches that benefit children.
The worst custody decisions provide custody to the alleged abuser and supervised or no visitation to the safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure for the child. These decisions are virtually always wrong because they are based on punishing the mother for believing the father is dangerous and not on concerns for the well being of children. The findings are usually wrong because of the flawed practices, but the outcome would be wrong if the findings were correct because courts rarely weigh the harm they are causing with whatever benefit they seek to create. The harm of denying the child their primary attachment figure is far greater than any benefit the court believes it is providing. Significantly, we rarely see evaluation reports or court decisions that weigh the benefits and harm of a decision they are considering. This is the kind of result we see when courts fail to consider current scientific research in their decisions. Judges may believe the mental health professionals involved in the case provide this expertise, but the professionals relied on by the courts are rarely familiar with current scientific research and courts don’t disqualify or even discredit evaluators and other mental health professionals for being unfamiliar with current research.
Mothers partnered with abusive fathers are in an impossible situation. If they fail to protect their children from the dangerous abusers, they can lose custody for failure to protect. The mothers hear repeated messages that they should leave him, but when they do and try to protect their children, they are punished for interfering with the relationship between the children and the abusive father. The result is too many courtrooms in which courts recreate the pretend world the mother sought to escape.
In fairness to the custody courts, they were forced to develop practices to respond to domestic violence cases at a time when no research was available. Many other entities were slow to understand the best ways to respond to domestic violence. Police officers were trained for many years to separate the parties when called to a home and have the abuser walk around the block to calm down. Eventually they switched to a pro-arrest policy after research demonstrated this practice was ineffective. Domestic violence homicides were reduced as communities moved towards practices designed to hold the abuser accountable. Even domestic violence agencies have not always been as supportive of protective mothers as they deserved, but with the increase in Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases and increase in domestic violence homicides as a result of mothers staying with their abusers because of the dangers created by custody courts, the domestic violence community has made child custody an important priority. It has taken a while for academicians to realize the harm in common custody court practices. Initial research supported shared parenting, but more comprehensive research has demonstrated shared parenting is harmful to children even when there is no domestic violence, but too often it is used in domestic violence cases because court professionals have difficulty in recognizing domestic violence. Current scientific research confirms complaints by protective mothers that the custody courts are mistreating them and harming their children. Government agencies now seem to understand the custody courts are harming children. Their understanding is based upon the research now available. The problem is that child custody issues have historically and constitutionally been left to the states and their courts.
Psychologists and other mental health professionals engaged in research have come to understand the harm of the standard practices in domestic violence custody cases. Most mental health professionals are not involved in the custody court system, but have failed to impose ethical standards on mental health professionals involved in questionable practices in the custody courts. The professional associations have permitted ethically challenged psychologists and other professionals to make recommendations unsupported by current scientific research, engage in biased practices that favor abusers and make diagnoses that are not found in the DSM IV because they don’t exist. Although ethical considerations would require the professionals to consult with experts on subjects in which they don’t have expertise, like domestic violence, the professionals in custody courts routinely fail to consult domestic violence experts, wrongly believing they have this expertise. This has led to frequent mistakes in domestic violence custody cases. These unqualified mental health professionals have played an important role in misleading custody courts and creating an illusion that there is a scientific basis for the mistaken practices commonly used in custody courts.
Judge Sol Gothard often trains other judges because of his expertise in domestic violence and child abuse. He was featured in the PBS documentary BREAKING THE SILENCE: CHILDREN’S STORIES. He wrote that if the courts had commissioned a study on how the present practices are working, they would have found the research contained in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. This research demonstrates that the present practices are working poorly for children. The outdated and discredited practices routinely relied on by custody courts lead to the pretend world of custody courts we have discussed in this article. We must encourage judges and other court professionals to be open to the current scientific research and stop closing their eyes and ears to information that undermines their long-held beliefs and assumptions.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email at their web site www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com
Saturday, April 16, 2011
A few months after Holly Collins turned 22 years old she opened the front door of her family home in St Louis Park, Minnesota to Hennepin County Child Protection investigators. They made it known that they were aware of her husband’s abuse to her and her children, specifically citing a recent fracture to her little boy’s skull. This young mother was warned that if she didn’t flee immediately with her children and file for an Order For Protection her children would be removed from her care as well and there would be a procedure of Failure To Protect charges filed against her. This is one way to force a battered woman to leave her abuser and protect her children. One may think it is a bit harsh to threaten an abuse victim with criminal charges but perhaps necessary to protect her and her children.
It is incomprehensible that as a result of the Order For Protection, which was granted and forbade Mark Collins from abusing his wife and children, the father was simultaneously granted unsupervised visitation with the very children he abused. This girl, barely a woman couldn’t understand the ramifications of the family court system. Holly Collins sought out the Child Protection Investigators who forced her to take her children away from their abusive father and went directly to the Child Protection office in a panic begging them to protect her children. “This is why I stayed” She wept “At least I could protect the children MOST of the time. Now my children have to go alone with him and there is no one there to protect them.” The child protection desk agent was sympathetic but explained that once this battered woman took actions to protect her children and left her abuser the case was then transferred from Juvenile Court to Family Court and it was her duty as a mother to get the family court judge to protect her children.
In the meantime Holly’s young children would return from court ordered visitations battered and bruised. Holly’s little boy was treated by their pediatrician for injuries sustained from his father‘s abuse. The doctor’s report documents the bruises to the young lad and clearly states “Mother will be alert for abuse potential situation.” For 5 more years Holly Collins was alert and vigilant to protect her children but time after time and one court hearing after another Mark Collins somehow managed to convince the judge that Holly was trying to “Alienate” him from his children’s lives. Eventually a family court judge instructed Holly to take the children to the Boston Children’s Hospital to be evaluated by the Child Abuse Trauma Team and he simultaneously ordered a custody evaluation. Both Dr. Eli Newberger and the entire investigative team at the Boston Children’s Hospital found that the children and their mother were severely abused by the father. Back in Hennepin County the Family Court Investigator also confirmed domestic violence but conceded that Holly’s fear of her husband was (although unwittingly) indeed interfering in the children’s relationship with their father. And just like that custody was reversed to the very man who terrorized, beat and battered this woman and her children.
Holly eventually fled the country with her children and was the first American citizen granted asylum in the Netherlands. After 14 years in hiding she was found by the FBI. After a lengthy investigation ALL international and domestic kidnapping charges were dismissed. When questioned by reporters in the lobby of the Minneapolis Court House Holly Collins responded that the biggest mistake she ever made was leaving her abuser.
Is this really the message we want to send to abuse victims?
written by Jennifer Collins
The true story of Holly Collins is being made into a Garland Waller film, No Way Out But One.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
By Peter Jamison
published: Thu., Apr. 7 2011 @ 2:19PM
The California Board of Behavioral Science and California Attorney General's office have filed formal accusations of misconduct against a Sacramento family-court therapist.
The therapist, Janelle Burrill, is a clinical social worker who works with children and parents as ordered by family courts in Sacramento and elsewhere. Burrill has been the subject of multiple complaints by families unhappy with her work.
Documents filed against her by the Behavioral Sciences board and the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris allege that Burrill "committed acts that fall sufficiently below the standard of conduct of the profession as to constitute acts of gross negligence."
The documents assert that Burrill lied to both the American Board of Examiners for Clinical Social Workers and to a Placer County judge, claiming in both cases that no formal complaints had been filed against her by clients when she knew otherwise. If the accusations are upheld, her social-worker license could be suspended or revoked.
Burrill has been a lightning rod for criticism in Sacramento, and is only one of numerous family-court officials who have come under scrutiny for faulty and potentially dangerous practices in child-custody proceedings. Last month, SF Weekly published a story detailing multiple instances in which family courts had delivered children into the custody of parents with convictions for child molestation or spousal battery.
Kathleen Russell of the Center for Judicial Excellence, a family-court reform group, said Burrill should be removed from cases in which parents or children have concerns while the case against her proceeds.
"It seems prudent for the Courts to remove her from any case in which she is involved, at the request of either parent or child, to ensure the safety and well-being of the families and children they serve," Russell said in a statement. "And major policy reforms are needed to ensure a more timely resolution of these complaints."
Sunday, April 3, 2011
A 12-year-old sent his mother this note three years after he last saw her:
When soldiers are ordered to "take no prisoners," it means to annihilate their enemies. Physicians who vow to "do no harm" step onto a treacherous path when they sell their expertise to lawyers trained to take no prisoners in adversarial lawsuits.
For more than two decades, I have researched domestic abuse custody cases in Rhode Island Family Court, trying to understand how this publicly financed process crushes children and families. In many of these cases, lawyers, who are officers of the court, have manipulated clinicians. (Below I am naming only those lawyers and physicians specifically responsible to protect children.)
First Case: At Hasbro Hospital's Child Protection Program (CPP), Providence, Rhode Island, in 1997, a 6-year-old girl sat rigid, a blanket over her head. Children often try to disappear when life gets intolerable.
The girl's father had a documented history of aggression against his first two wives and their children. This child, the youngest, showed symptoms of sexual abuse. CPP Director Dr. Carole Jenny reported: "There is no doubt in my mind that some event happened because of the child's clear and consistent disclosure."
The father harassed those who tried to help his families: a security guard, social workers, therapists, teachers, pastors. He bullied a Providence Journal editor. He took aim at Kevin Aucoin, chief legal counsel at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), for not responding quickly enough after the father appealed DCYF's findings against him. When he threatened to sue, Aucoin needed Dr. Jenny to revise her assessment.
She listed warning signs in the father's behavior, then minimized them in a summary of court documents. Her new "forensic review" freed the father to demand possession of his children. He held them for thirty months, until the eleventh Family Court judge to hear the case denounced his behavior in 2003 and sent the children home to their mother with damage that has not yet healed.
Second Case: In March 2006, attorney Lise Iwon began writing letters to the CPP about a case in which she purported to be a neutral guardian ad litem. She secured an astonishing report from Dr. Nancy S. Harper at CPP. Instead of medical information, Harper's report glibly summarized court documents Iwon had provided, repeating the conjecture, hearsay, and biased rhetoric in the father's defense strategy.
Harper's supervisor, Dr. Jenny, never saw or signed off on her CPP report before Iwon whisked it off to the judge who ordered DCYF to remove two young girls that day from their mother for a "psychiatric evaluation." Police arrived with a social worker to take them from their schools into "temporary" custody. The children remained in foster homes and a shelter at taxpayer expense for more than sixteen months before the state awarded the younger girl to the father she had accused of sexually assaulting her; the older girl went to yet another foster home.
Scores of neighbors, teachers, and others wrote letters attesting to the mother's superb parenting, but Iwon never interviewed them. Dr. Jenny told me the mother's behavior sounded "bizarre" but candidly admitted she herself might seem bizarre if she believed her children were in danger.
Third Case: A German father, head of a vast multinational corporate empire, retained several law firms in the U.S. and Germany to retrieve his two American sons after his estranged wife brought them here to her parents for one to have surgery in 2007.
The mother told me she had confronted her husband in Germany with evidence that he was sexually abusing their sons. She said she had walked in on this happening and found disturbing photos on a laptop computer her husband had given her. She related that her sons had pointed out a store where their father got hardcore pornography. They allegedly told her that he forced them to watch it and act it out.
The father hired a former U.S. official (at $700 an hour) as one of his lawyers, who reached out to Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr., and paid the chief's assistant David Tassoni over $2,300 to help. The father's attorneys met alone in chambers with U.S. District Judge William E. Smith and intervened to end the involvement of Family Court, DCYF, and the FBI. They secured attorney Sharon O'Keefe, who had been assistant child advocate in Rhode Island, to serve as guardian ad litem.
O'Keefe contracted with Dr. Jenny to evaluate some of the father's photographs and a stack of German legal documents with apparent translations. O'Keefe's bill exceeded $13,000, including at least $2,000 to be paid directly to Dr. Jenny.
O'Keefe hardly talked with the boys, and Jenny never met them. Both concluded they saw no evidence the father was a pedophile. Judge Smith gave the boys and their American passports to their father, who took them back to Germany in April 2007.
Judge Smith ordered the father to give the boys plenty of time with their mother. But she has not been allowed to see or communicate with them since 2007. On Mothers Day 2010, one son wrote a plaintive note asking why "these people" would not at least let them Skype her.
It is troubling that Dr. Jenny never talked to the boys, who might have helped her interpret the photos. Nor did she demand an independent search of the hard drive by state police who are trained and equipped to examine electronic evidence of child pornography--and who do not accept private payment for their services.
In January, I wrote expressing these concerns and asked Dr. Jenny to improve CPP's protection of children by:
~Establishing ethical standards that forbid CPP staff to produce reports for private clients in litigation without a full investigation into the family's history;
~Making a complete inventory of past reports produced by CPP or its staff to see how these have been used in litigation and to examine the outcomes for children; and
~Providing CPP staff with training in domestic abuse, coercive control, and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that clinicians need to recognize in protective parents who may seem "bizarre" in their appropriate efforts to protect their children.
Clinicians must recognize the pitfalls when officers of the court reach out to them. Lawyers are hired to zealously represent their clients, no matter who gets hurt. Doctors trained to "do no harm" are easy prey for them; children suffer the consequences.
In order to protect children's identities, I am referring only to case numbers.
First Case: P92-4797 in Rhode Island Family Court; Carole Jenny, MD, signed the Child Safe Clinic #0629-23-38 report of January 14, 1997. After an extensive sexual abuse assessment by St. Mary's Home (April 16, 1997), DCYF sent a letter (April 18, 1997) to notify the father he had been "indicated." He appealed and a year later threatened to sue DCYF and its senior counsel Kevin Aucoin for failure to schedule a hearing. DCYF asked Dr. Jenny to review her records. Her report (July 29, 1998) was followed by a revised DCYF report (August 6, 1998), and Aucoin's motions (August 6, 1998, etc.) to launch an expedited trial. DCYF investigator Edward J. O'Donnell sent a letter (August 18, 1998) to the father stating that the findings against him "are hereby overturned . . . pursuant to . . . a forensic review of the investigation and all associated material conducted by Dr. Carole Jenny" (DCYF Administrative Appeal of SCR 425142 I/6).
Second Case: N04-0106 in Rhode Island Family Court and 1676-86-32 AC 000119896231 at Rhode Island Hospital. The court file, which is now sealed and presumably held at the Rhode Island Supreme Court, contains Lise Iwon's Motion (March 31, 2006) regarding her communications with Nancy Harper, and Iwon's Motion (April 5, 2006) asking to release clinical reports and court documents to Harper, whose report (March 21, 2006, signed April 5, 2006), shows that Harper already had those documents. I interviewed the mother and secured documents from her and the court file until Judge John Mutter imposed a gag order forbidding all parties to disclose anything further about the case and sealed both the divorce and DCYF files, on or about August 16, 2007.
Third Case: 07-46S in the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, which holds transcripts, including the ex parte chamber conference of January 31, 2007, and court orders, including the decisive order of March 28, 2007; Jenny's report to O'Keefe (March 15, 2007); and the father's documentation of payments to Tassoni and others. The mother provided scores of documents, including the rental list from the German video store (October 2005), an initial DCYF report by Paul Ventura (January 31, 2007), O'Keefe's bills (March 12 and 28, 2007), hundreds of photographs from the laptop, and her son's letter (Mother's Day 2010).
Anne Grant writes several blogs about legal abuse in custody courts and wrote a chapter for Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).
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About the mother and child pictured at the top
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.
About the Author and the Cause