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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.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Reason for Delays in RI Family Court

Today GoLocalProv published an important article by Stephen Beale about delays in Rhode Island Family Court:

http://www.golocalprov.com/news/child-protection-cases/

Various people within the system suggest that delays are caused by insufficient funds and judicial vacancies. Don't believe them. 


About fifteen years ago, I sat in a nearly vacant courtroom at Garrahy Family Court, Providence, and listened to a lawyer behind me explaining the strategy of delays to his client in a custody case. 

"After a year or two, she'll get exhausted," the lawyer was saying. "She'll run out of money. She won't be able to afford a lawyer or anything else. Then you'll get the kid, and you can demand child support from your ex-wife." Neither one talked about the emotional turmoil this would cause his child. 

One of the most common ways that lawyers delay cases is by seeking continuances to bring in "experts" who will advocate for their clients. 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 devastates so many children and families. (Below I am naming only those lawyers, including Kevin Aucoin at DCYF, and physicians who are 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 and only girl, showed symptoms of sexual abuse by the father. 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. 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 both DCYF and Aucoin, the state agency 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 without child support and still subject to their father's emotional harassment. The children grew up in poverty. Their father, a realtor, gave his house to an adult child from his prior marriage and convinced the court he was poor, while their mother worked day and night stringing together minimum salary jobs.

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 a report from Dr. Nancy S. Harper at CPP that lacked medical information and merely 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 took it 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, who is a close friend of the father's defense attorney, never interviewed these people. She began an aggressive search for mental health professionals who would testify against the mother. 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.  Eventually the father won sole custody of the girls and denied them contact with their mother.

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 the father has forbidden her to see or communicate with the boys 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 specifically trained to examine electronic evidence of child pornography and do not accept private payment for their services.

The delays Beale writes about are a strategic part of adversarial litigation, which should have no place in deciding visitation and custody. Family Court exists for a political purpose – to reward legislative insiders with lifelong judgeships while allowing lawyers and clinicians to profit off of families in crisis.

Clinicians must recognize the motives and 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.


Notes
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) led to 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. Before Lise Iwon asked Judge John Mutter to seal the court file, I found her Motion (March 31, 2006) regarding her communications with Nancy Harper, as well as 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. Iwon's bill documents her search for mental health professionals. I interviewed the mother and secured documents from her as well as the court file until Judge 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). I met with state police, who confirmed that these photos included child pornography. 

 Anne Grant (parentingproject@verizon.net) writes several blogs, including LittleHostages@blogspot.com and others. Her chapter on Rhode Island appears 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).



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 http://LittleHostages.blogspot.com


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 parentingproject@verizon.net

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here:

www.centerforjudicialexcellence.org/PhotoExhibit.htm
www.child-justice.org
www.leadershipcouncil.org
www.evawintl.org provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:
www.haguedv.org

more about domestic violence in law enforcement:
http://behindthebluewall.blogspot.com/



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