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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.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rhode Island needs the Attorney General’s Child Abuse Unit

Congratulations to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin for creating a new Child Abuse Unit that will work with the accredited victims’ advocacy group Day One (“New unit to tackle cases of child abuse,” The Providence Journal, Dec. 6, 2011, page A1). This effort could finally protect children from sex abuse--unless it falls prey to the same pressures that too often sabotage the missions of Family Court, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), and Hasbro Hospital’s Child Protection Program.

Pressures to impede the unit will be intense, because it is usually family members and friends, not strangers, who perpetrate child abuse. Pedophiles’ motives may not be sex so much as power and control over vulnerable victims. Add to that the enormous profitability of child pornography and the ease of webcam pimping.

But state officials charged with protecting children are so fragmented that they seldom bother to look beyond the boundaries of their individual roles to identify larger patterns of abuse. Each official is insulated from the benefits that a team of equals can bring by intentionally enlarging upon each other’s limited perspective.

In 1997, a Hasbro doctor and counselors at the St. Mary’s Shepherd Program all reported signs that a sister and brother suffered sexual abuse by their father. DCYF “indicated” the father, who sued the agency’s senior attorney for administrative failures. Suddenly under siege, DCYF pressured the Hasbro doctor to change her report.

She complied with a new report that minimized the evidence she once found compelling. By 2000, Family Court General Magistrate John O'Brien gave the children to their father's sole custody.

In 2002 the boy tried to run away. The following year, he had a breakdown. He tearfully testified to Judge Howard Lipsey about a laundry basket of videotapes in their father's bedroom.

Lipsey returned the children to their mother, but apparently never called state police to investigate the videotapes. He declared that he was now prejudiced against the father and could no longer rule on the case.

The next Family Court judge, Michael Forte released the father from paying child support because the children refused to visit him. The mother worked several jobs at minimum salary and raised her children in poverty.

From 1992 to 2006, more than a dozen judges grappled with the case under our failed system of adversarial litigation. In their final hearing, the father stood with photos in his hand and a smirk on his face, saying he wanted to show Judge Forte the stripper’s pole he had installed in his daughter's bedroom. Forte ignored him and ended the hearing.

Like Penn State officials, none of these authorities felt responsible to call in state police to investigate what really happened to these children. (State police exposed the fraudulent credentials of the court’s mediator who worked on this case, and the children’s guardian ad litem was later found to be defrauding the fund that paid him to represent poor litigants. Neither court official was prosecuted.)

Many Family Court custody cases are orchestrated by guardians ad litem--privately paid lawyers with enormous power over families. Judges assume these “guardians” submit objective reports, but many are blatantly biased, depending on which parent pays them and the guardians’ relationships to other professionals profiting from these cases.

Guardians often ask judges to order parents to pay for expensive psychological “evaluations” by one of a handful of clinicians still willing to produce highly questionable reports for Family Court.

Attorneys for alleged abusers often insist that children must stop seeing trusted counselors like those at Day One, arguing that therapy will interfere with clinical evaluations. This calculated strategy keeps children under the thrall of their abusers.

Meanwhile, judges order clinical “evaluations” and forced “reunification” sessions with abusers “in a therapeutic setting” that further traumatize abused children. Rhode Island Blue Cross and Blue Shield told me they do not pay clinicians for court-ordered sessions, since these are not therapeutic. But court-ordered clinicians have learned to couch their reports in therapeutic language and to bill insurers under nondescript codes. Victims of abuse can seldom afford to pay for these sessions, but children regularly pay the cost in night terrors and gastrointestinal disorders.

Based on more than two decades studying Family Court custody cases, I hope that the Attorney General’s Child Abuse Unit will finally bring clarity, ethics, and prosecution to our state’s stymied system of child protection.

Victims need this clarity and continuity of a single, salaried team trained to recognize family dynamics that accompany child sexual abuse. The team must thoroughly understand and care about a family’s history and be available to that family in the future to effectively provide both legal and therapeutic advocacy.

Team members should meet often to build mutual trust. They must disclose and evaluate any attempts by others, especially lawyers, to contact them, and they must preserve the confidentiality of agency whistleblowers and potential victims who might suffer reprisals for coming forward. Team members must recuse themselves from any case where they have conflicts of interest.

To this end, team members should regularly disclose, under penalty of perjury, all outside contacts and verify that they have received no payment or benefits other than salary for working on this case.

Finally, the Attorney General’s Office must move quickly to bring evidence of child sex abuse to the Grand Jury where it belongs, to alert Family Court and DCYF, and to assure prompt, skillful prosecution of abusers in Superior Court.

Anne Grant ( investigates legal abuse in Family Court custody cases. Her writing appears in blogs like and in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. By Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D., and Barry Goldstein, J.D (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do Family Courts Allow Sexual Abuse for Profit and Child Pornography?

Barbara Farris at The Ellis County Observer asks whether the widespread practice of courts giving children to fathers whom the children accused of sexually abusing them is part of a larger pay-off by child pornography producers. It's an important question to investigate.

Click on the title above or paste this in your browser:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Retired Judge: "I made the mistake myself...."

When retired San Diego Superior Court Judge DeAnn M. Salcido admits she made mistakes because she did not understand domestic violence and the defense ploy of accusing victims of "parental alienation," it is a sign of progress.

Find her blog, Judicial Action Watch Society, here (or click on the title above):

Her mission is:
. . . to educate the public on how the judicial system is designed to work. Only through education on how to identify systemic failure within the court system will the average citizen be equipped to effectively advocate for court reform . . . .

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Complaints against family court specialist go back years

Malcolm Maclachlan's November 3rd article in California's Capitol Weekly, begins:
According to her resume, Janelle Burrill is many things: psychologist, attorney, social worker. To the Sacramento Superior Court, she’s both an approved family court mediator and a special master, a person appointed by the court to make sure judicial orders are followed. She’s also been active in Placer and El Dorado Counties, testifying in numerous cases. But to some critics of California’s family courts system, she’s something else: Exhibit A for what’s wrong with family courts in California.
Her fraudulent claims remind me of David Tassoni, apprentice to Rhode Island Family Court's former Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr.

Burrill and Tassoni both enjoyed enormous power in secretive family courts though their credentials were not questioned while both actively promoted the discredited legal tactic of "parental alienation" (developed by psychiatrist Richard Gardner, who claimed a status he never held at Columbia University Medical School).

The article expresses surprise at the high prices charged by these court "specialists" citing huge retainers and fees of $200 an hour. That is the same amount charged six years ago by attorney Lise Iwon (now head of the Rhode Island Bar Association) when she worked as guardian ad litem to remove two sisters, 5 and 9 years old, from an excellent mother, using the same bogus argument of "parental alienation" that Burrill and Tassoni liked to use. When she convinced Judge John Mutter to take the girls into state custody, Iwon complained that their mother still owed her $5,000. Before long, Iwon's bill approached $50,000.

Iwon was close friends with Lise Gescheidt, who was criminal defense attorney for the two girls' father. Gescheidt (who now heads the RI Supreme Court's Ethics Advisory Panel) defended her friend Iwon and accused the girls' mother of introducing motions that "slander the professional reputation of a unbiased guardian ad litem who has consistently acted in the best interest of the children without meaningful compensation. . . .” (Italics added.)

These cases are all about money and power, not about determining the "whole truth and nothing but the truth" or the "best interests" of children.

The only family that is reliably served by Family Court are the "sisters and brothers" of the Rhode Island Bar and their former colleagues, now on the Bench, who protect and preserve the Family's interests.

The ease with which Lise Gescheidt and Lise Iwon influenced staff at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) shows that the Executive Branch is also implicated in this ongoing scandal.

The third branch of government, Rhode Island's General Assembly did the right thing by mandating in 2010 that DCYF must finally get accredited by the internationally recognized Council on Accreditation.

Now we need the General Assembly to turn its attention to Family Court. The many legislators who are also members of the Bar should step back, recuse, and allow their colleagues to conduct an open audit of Family Court costs and services.

More about Lise Iwon's handling of this case is at

The Capitol Weekly article on Burrill appears at the link below (or click on the title above):

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A daughter reveals the unrestrained violence and profanity of her father, Texas judge William Adams

In 2004, Hillary Adams was 16. The daughter of a Texas judge, she set up a camera that recorded her father beating her with unrestrained rage and profanity. She recently posted that video on line here:

She wrote this caption:

2004: Aransas County Court-At-Law Judge William Adams took a belt to his own teenage daughter as punishment for using the internet to acquire music and games that were unavailable for legal purchase at the time. She has had ataxic cerebral palsy from birth that led her to a passion for technology, which was strictly forbidden by her father's backwards views. The judge's wife was emotionally abused herself and was severely manipulated into assisting the beating and should not be blamed for any content in this video. The judge's wife has since left the marriage due to the abuse, which continues to this day, and has sincerely apologized and repented for her part and for allowing such a thing, long before this video was even revealed to exist. Judge William Adams is not fit to be anywhere near the law system if he can't even exercise fit judgment as a parent himself. Do not allow this man to ever be re-elected again. His "judgment" is a giant farce. Signed, Hillary Adams, his daughter.
Judge Adams' rulings on child abuse allegedly show that:
~He has held that a child should be ignored even if the child reports horrific child abuse.
~He has held that a parent or lawyer who relies on what a child says should be sanctioned.
~He has awarded children to their abusers.
Hillary says she posted the seven-year-old video: “...after a barrage of harassment from my father over the phone, I snapped and finally uploaded it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner.”

The outpouring of support and disgust was immediate, with many reaching out to media outlets and local authorities on Hillary’s behalf. She says: ”I hope my father gets everything he deserves.... I’m so glad someone believes me, after all these years…."

Click on the title above to see the county's November 2nd news release:

ARANSAS COUNTY, TEXAS - Judge Burt Mills has today announced that Aransas County is aware of the video posted on YouTube regarding County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, and the matter is now under review by the Police Department. Please refrain from communication with County offices or the Sheriff's Department on this matter until the review has been completed. Calls, emails, and faxes only create disruptions for other ongoing county business. The public's cooperation would be most appreciated.

As I write this in Rhode Island, I am grateful that our state does not elect judges, and that citizens increasingly come to testify before the Judicial Nominating Commission about candidates being considered for judgeships. But Rhode Island still remains the only state that gives judges lifetime tenure without review.

We need a review process that recognizes how such enormous discretionary power can corrupt our judges--especially in Family Court where judges often ignore standards of evidence, and lawyers can lie with abandon.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Watchdog group critiques Montgomery County judges who issue restraining orders

(Daniel Morse/WASHINGTON POST) - Judy Whiton, left, and Laurie Duker, right, run Court Watch Montgomery, which monitors restraining order hearings in Montgomery County. Five years ago, Laurie Duker took a job helping abused women get restraining orders in Montgomery County. What she saw stunned her: Some judges belittled people or didn’t give women the protection Duker thought they needed. The final straw, she said, was when a judge asked a man where he was from, heard “El Salvador” and said from the bench: “Figures.” So Duker quit and started a watchdog group. Over six months, she and 24 other volunteers observed 642 restraining-order hearings to critique the judges and the system. Read more here:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ex-judge sentenced in "kids for cash" scheme

Click on the title above or go to this link:

Monday, September 19, 2011

IACHR responds to police failure to protect the Gonzales sisters...

after the U.S. Supreme Court fails to hold police accountable.

IACHR calls for U.S. "to conduct a serious, impartial and exhaustive investigation into systemic failures."

N° 92/11


Washington, DC, August 17, 2011 – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made public today its merits report on Case No. 12.626, Jessica Lenahan (formerly Jessica Gonzales), United States, related to the duties of the State to respond to situations of domestic violence with diligent protection measures.

Jessica Lenahan, a victim of domestic violence along with her daughters Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales, ages 7, 8 and 10, obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband from the Colorado Courts in May 21, 1999. Not knowing the whereabouts of her daughters, Jessica Lenahan had eight contacts with the Castle Rock Police Department during the evening of June 22, 1999 and the morning of June 23, 1999. In each of her telephone calls and discussions with the police agents, she requested efforts to locate her daughters and she informed them that she possessed a protection order against Simon Gonzales. Her contacts were met with a police response that was fragmented, uncoordinated and unprepared, and it did not respect the terms of the restraining order. That morning, Simon Gonzales drove his pick-up truck to the Castle Rock Police Department and fired shots through the window. There was an exchange of gunfire with officers from the station in the course of which he was fatally wounded and killed. The deceased bodies of the three girls were found in his truck.

The restraining order was the only means available to Jessica Lenahan at the state level to protect herself and her children in a context of domestic violence, and the police did not effectively enforce it. The state apparatus was not duly organized, coordinated, and ready to protect these victims from domestic violence by adequately and effectively implementing the restraining order. These failures to protect constituted a form of discrimination in violation of the American Declaration, since they took place in a context where there has been a historical problem with the enforcement of protection orders; a problem that has disproportionately affected women since they constitute the majority of the restraining order holders.

The Commission established that the State did not duly investigate the complaints presented by Jessica Lenahan before the death of her daughters. The State also failed to investigate the circumstances of their deaths once their bodies were found. Consequently, their mother and their family live with this uncertainty, and the law enforcement officers in charge of implementing the law have not been held accountable for failing to comply with their responsibilities.

The Commission encourages the United States to comply with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report, which include to conduct a serious, impartial and exhaustive investigation into systemic failures that took place related to the enforcement of Jessica Lenahan’s protection order, to reinforce through legislative measures the mandatory character of the protection orders and other precautionary measures to protect women from imminent acts of violence, and to create effective implementation mechanisms, among others.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Useful Links--for live links, click on the title above or post this link in your browser:
Admissibility Report on Case No. 12.626
Merits Report on Case No. 12.626
IACHR Webpage where the Reports on Cases are published
IACHR Press Office
Website of the IACHR

(Look below for a prior posting in August on this IACHR report.)

Could Judge Peter McBrien Have Prevented Madeline's Murder?

September 18, 2011

Controversial Judge at the Center of A Tragic Death: Citizens Protest

Sacramento, CA - On Thursday, September 22, 2011, community members will hold a protest from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Sacramento Superior Court, 720 9th Street, Sacramentoregarding the abject failure of Sacramento family court to protect children in custody disputes. The protest will begin on the corner of 9th and H Streets.

One judge, Sacramento Family Court Judge Peter McBrien, has been a focus of community scrutiny for over a decade for his lack of judgment and destructive decisions. He destroyed ancient oak trees on a nature preserve to obtain a better view from his home which earned him the moniker of "Chainsaw" and resulted in a felony charge that he pled down to a misdemeanor. Additionally, he received a public reprimand from the Commission on Judicial Performance. He then became personally embroiled in the divorce case of Ulf Carlsson, and went far out of his way to destroy Mr. Carlsson by ensuring he was fired from his job. Judge McBrien committed numerous ethical violations along the way and earned another reprimand. Battered mothers report that he consistently places children with substantiated molesters, batterers, violent alcoholics, and drug addicts. Now, Judge McBrien failed to protect a toddler, who was then murdered.

After a statewide AMBER Alert, two-year-old Madeline Layla Samaan-Fay was found near Placerville, CA in her father's vehicle. She and her father Mourad Samaan were both dead.

Samaan had a pattern of not returning his daughter Madeline from visits and had told her mother that he was taking the child to Oregon against the court order. Prior to the toddler's death, Judge McBrien had refused to grant an ex parte request by Madeline's mother to order law enforcement to locate the father and child, and to place Samaan on supervised visits. Judge McBrien had a perfect opportunity to prevent this tragedy, but refused to assist the mother Marcia Fay, a California Deputy Attorney General, in locating and protecting her child.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has sharply rebuked the United States for failing to protect women and children in the Gonzalez v. United States decision in August 2011, stating that the U.S. practices discrimination and violation of the right to equality.

We can begin changing these destructive patterns by demanding that Judge McBrien be removed from family court and from any position that gives him authority over vulnerable children.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Father-supremacist lawyer praises his brother for killing two-year-old daughter

Nabil Samaan, a lawyer and father, claimed in an interview with FOX40 on Sunday that his brother, Mourad "Moni" Samaan, was the victim of a broken family court system when he murdered his 2-year-old daughter, Madeline Samaan-Fay, and killed himself.

He went on to say, "I think he did the right thing. I'm proud of my brother and now he's in a better place. He's at peace. His daughter's at peace. She'll have one name now, and we can move on. And hopefully the court will learn a little thing about justice.”

After a public outcry, the lawyer recanted his statement, blaming it on his shock and exhaustion.

Watch the video: Is he speaking out of shock and exhaustion or out of his own belief in father-supremacy?

Click on the title above or paste this link into your browser:,0,2179058.story

(The Parenting Project has worked with some fathers who were, in fact, protective parents fighting a corrupt court system. We believe courts need to look at the long-term evidence of abuse and coercive control in domestic relations. The pay-to-play system of adversarial litigation vastly increases the risk to children and parents trying to protect them.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

International Commission Finds United States Denied Justice to Domestic Violence Survivor

Landmark Human Rights Case Finds that Failure to Enforce a Restraining Order and Indifference to Domestic Violence Led to Daughters’ Deaths


CONTACT: Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, University of Miami School of Law, (305) 284-5923 (office), (305) 281-9856 (cell); Robyn Shepherd, ACLU national, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; Nancy Goldfarb, Columbia Law School, (212) 854-1584,

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a landmark decision, an international tribunal has found the U.S. government responsible for human rights violations against a Colorado woman and her three deceased children who were victims of domestic violence.

Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States is the first case brought by a domestic violence survivor against the U.S. before an international human rights body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR ruling also sets forth comprehensive recommendations for changes to U.S. law and policy pertaining to domestic violence.

The case concerns a tragic 1999 incident in which police in Castle Rock, Colorado failed to respond to Jessica Lenahan’s repeated calls for help after her estranged husband, Simon Gonzales, kidnapped their three young children in violation of a domestic violence restraining order. Ten hours after Lenahan’s first call to the police, her husband drove up to the Castle Rock Police Department and began firing his gun at the police station. The police returned fire, killing Gonzales. Inside the truck, the police found the bodies of the three girls – Rebecca, Katheryn, and Leslie – who had been shot dead. Local authorities failed to conduct a proper investigation into the children’s deaths, resulting in questions about the cause, time, and place of their deaths that remain to this day.

“I have waited 12 years for justice, knowing in my heart that police inaction led to the tragic and untimely deaths of my three young daughters,” said Lenahan. “Today’s decision tells the world that the government violated my human rights by failing to protect me and my children from domestic violence.”

Lenahan is represented by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The commission’s determination that the United States violated Ms. Lenahan’s and her children’s human rights by failing to ensure their protection from domestic violence has far-reaching implications,” said Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. “As our country seeks to promote human rights of women and children around the world, we must also look at our own record here at home.”

The commission’s decision stands in stark contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Castle Rock v. Jessica Gonzales (2005), where the justices ruled that Lenahan (then Gonzales) had no constitutional right to police protection, and that the failure of the police to enforce Lenahan's order of protection was not unconstitutional. Lenahan then filed a petition against the U.S. before the IACHR, alleging violations of international human rights.

“Now that the commission has appropriately found the police and the United States responsible for their appalling lack of action, it is critical that they be held accountable,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We can no longer accept police departments' failure to treat domestic violence seriously and to regard it as simply a private matter unworthy of serious police attention.”

Established in 1959, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is charged with promoting the observance of and respect for human rights throughout the Americas. The commission is expressly authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by all 35 member-states of the Organization of American States, which includes the United States, and to investigate specific allegations of violations of Inter-American human rights treaties, declarations and other legal instruments.

"We know that the issue of violence against women is one that the Obama Administration cares deeply about,” said Peter Rosenblum, director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic. “We encourage the Administration to work with the appropriate state and local officials to address and adapt the Commission’s recommendations in a meaningful way."

More information on this case can be found at:;;

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Use of Junk Science in Family Courts

Click on the title for this video or paste this in your browser:

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges says that judges should strike "parental alienation" defense strategies from the record, because it fails to meet standards of evidence. But it is commonly used by Rhode Island court officials and elsewhere to traumatize victims of domestic violence.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What reference letters and JNC hearings reveal about Family Court

In May the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) interviewed nine candidates for two vacant positions on the Family Court bench. I attended the interviews, read the reference letters supporting each candidate, and returned a week later for public testimony.

Attorney Kerry Rafanelli received letters from 69 supporters. That was 17 more than all the other candidates combined. People who sent those references may have great respect and affection for the candidate. But their letters raise concerns.

One-third of Mr. Rafanelli’s references came from lawyers. Others came from psychologists whose business is to produce court-ordered evaluations. Thirteen came from judges. A Family Court judge noted that he was writing “at the behest” of Mr. Rafanelli.

The General Assembly established the Judicial Nominating Commission in 1994 to vet candidates and nominate them on merit in order to move Rhode Island beyond elevating judges primarily as political rewards. Candidates should demonstrate that they understand ethical boundaries required of judges before they ascend to the bench.

Here’s the dilemma: If a candidate asks for a reference letter, it puts colleagues in an awkward place. If those colleagues have ethical scruples or simply do not want to recommend this candidate, they might fear that declining would put them at a permanent disadvantage if this person becomes a judge destined to rule on their cases.

One of Mr. Rafanelli’s letters came from a lawyer who practices in Family Court and chairs the Supreme Court’s Ethics Advisory Panel and yet does not seem to recognize the conflict of interest in sending such a letter.

Will letter-writers gain an edge over their opponents? Do their endorsements place psychologists on a short list from which this judge will force litigants to get evaluations costing thousands of dollars?

One parent came to praise Mr. Rafanelli, but others claimed his actions traumatized their families. A teenager testified that Rafanelli had insisted she and her brother must end their sessions with long-term therapists and meet only with court-ordered psychologists--including Dr. Judith Lubiner, who sent a four-page endorsement of Rafanelli. The teens’ father wrote a letter affirming Rafanelli’s zealous representation. Their mother said Rafanelli advised the judge to send both teens to Texas for “deprogramming” that their father had found on the Internet.

Another mother told Commissioners that Rafanelli, once again working with Lubiner, had entered their case as guardian ad litem and ended a decade of relatively successful co-parenting. The mother has had no contact with her daughter for two years since then. The two lawyers opposing this mother had sent a joint letter endorsing Rafanelli’s candidacy.

Judges in both of these cases wrote letters of support for him.

Family Court suffers from a widespread public perception that it is corrupt with cronyism and thick as thieves. The Rhode Island Supreme Court repeatedly raises strong objection to Family Court decisions made in chambers without proper records. Too many judges believe without evidence what they are told by lawyers, guardians ad litem, and psychologists who have curried favor with the Court.

We need the Bench, Bar, and Judicial Nominating Commission to spell out more clearly why letters of support should be discouraged from anyone who might stand to gain professionally if this candidate becomes a judge.

The Commission has been hard-pressed: The sheer number of judicial vacancies has drastically multiplied their meetings. As chairperson, Dr. Herbert J. Brennan, a healer by profession and demeanor, has welcomed the public and patiently heard their pain. He notes that JNC meetings on Family Court judgeships bring out a larger audience than other courts.

In their May 4th interviews, some Commissioners raised the standard for questioning candidates. Commissioner Jeffrey M. Grybowski asked about specific problems in Family Court—about the court overreaching its resources to set up specialty courts, about chaos and bullying in the court, the problems of truancy court, the offensive use of restraining orders, about the court’s interaction with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and the court’s overwhelming bias to keep families together regardless of domestic violence.

Commissioner Richard M. McAuliffe, Jr., asked a question handed to him during a break by a member of the audience about the offensive use of psychological evaluations in Family Court. He told me later that he considers it important for him as a Commissioner to try to represent the public in these interviews.

David Bazar, editor of the Rhode Island Bar Journal, had an outstanding interview as he expanded on Commissioners’ questions with thoughtful comments on the larger significance of the law. He had two strong letters supporting his application from people who are not in the Judiciary and do not practice in Family Court.

I don’t know Mr. Bazar. I remember seeing him once in court, when he walked through a nearly empty courtroom where a distraught mother was fearful for the safety of her daughters. He did not know her, but he stopped and spoke to her with kindness and concern. That’s not what we expect in Family Court, but it is what we need.

After several rounds of balloting, Commissioners sent two alphabetical lists to Governor Lincoln Chafee, with four nominees appearing on both: David Bazar, Rossie Lee Harris, Jr., Susan Fink Hirsch, and Sandra Lanni. Patricia Asquith and Jane Fearing Howlett each also appeared on one of those lists.

Children often speak of their court-ordered experiences as “torture.” Many parents have told me they would never have gone to Family Court if they had known the lasting harm it would cause.

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (and their current issue of Transparent Courthouse Quarterly online) notes “remarkable consensus on the nature of the problems” in civil courts. They are calling on state rules committees to innovate and find urgently needed reforms.

The Judicial Nominating Commissioners have done their part. Now Governor Chafee must name judges able to envision effective roles they can play to help bring essential changes to Rhode Island Family Court.

Friday, April 22, 2011

AG’s office targets Sacramento family court mediator

Published in Capitol Weekly, April 21, 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 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

The pretend world of custody courts

Published at

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How the courts force battered women and children to stay with their abusers

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

Family Court Therapist Janelle Burrill Charged with Misconduct by CA Attorney General's Office

This story appears at

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

How lawyers manipulate doctors: Do-No-Harm vs. Take-No-Prisoners

This article appeared here:

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).

Friday, March 18, 2011

The tactics and ploys of psychopath aggressors in the family law system

This important article was posted here:

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Charles Pragnell

In the twenty years I have been advising parents, children, and their legal advisers in several hundred cases in Family Law matters, I have often been asked, “Why is it that children are so often ordered to have contact with, and even into the custody of, parents who have abused them and have perpetrated violence against their partners.”

The answer to this question is not simple and involves an examination of the requirements of Family Laws which stress the importance of children having both parents in their lives after parental separation, the dynamics of legal processes, and the often very clear gender biases of the principals involved in judicial processes.

But one of the most outstanding and consistent features of proceedings involving the care of children post-separation are the conduct and behaviours which can be identified as clearly fitting the definitions of psychopathy/sociopathy.

The major personality traits of the psychopath are supremacy and narcissism. The afflicted individual must be in complete control of their environment and all persons who are a part of that environment or can serve the psychopath’s purposes in maintaining control.

The psychopath is capable of using both aggressive anger and passive anger with cunning and guile, to achieve their goals of exerting control. Examples of such contrary behaviours are the aggressive violence against intimate partners, with the frequent inherent abuse of children, designed to groom friends, relatives, and professionals into believing they are harmless and indeed very stable and friendly. If thwarted in attaining these goals, however, the passive can quickly turn into the aggressive.

In furtherance of these traits, the major tactics and ploys of the psychopath are:

1. denial of wrongdoings in the face of clear evidence;

2. refusal to take responsibility for behaviours and actions;

3. minimisation of the incident and consequences;

4. blame being placed on others;

5. misrepresentation, fabrication, embellishment and distortion of information and evidence;

6. minimisation of all information and evidence regarding wrongdoing;

7. claims of victim status, alleging the victim was the aggressor;

8. projection of their own actions and behaviour onto the victim; e.g. she abuses/neglects the children/ she is an alcoholic or drug abuser. This is based on the belief by the psychopath that attack is the best form of defence.

The grooming of friends, relatives, and professionals is very clear in many cases, and in particular some psychiatrists, psychologists and family evaluators/reporters have been hoodwinked by such tactics and ploys by the psychopathic individual. Their reports, of course favouring the psychopath, have very considerable influence on the Courts and their determinations. Very often clear evidence of intimate partner violence such as convictions, Domestic Violence Orders, Apprehended Violence Orders and Restraining Orders against the psychopathic aggressor and medical evidence of injuries suffered by the adult and child victims are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant by such professionals.

Such professionals now refer to such cases as `high conflict’ cases, when it is clear that they are situations of a violent aggressor/tormentor/persecutor and their victims. It is easy to see how the cases in Austria and America where young girls were imprisoned for many years by controlling individuals and regularly abused in several ways were undetected, when the aggressors/persecutors/tormentors were able to convince their family members, relatives and associates that they were reasonable, normal people. The same often occurs in other cases of violence and murder where neighbours report that the accused murderer is a nice and friendly neighbour. They do not recognise the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of the psychopath’s ploys and tactics and of those they have effectively groomed in their beliefs.

The high conflict which usually occurs in such cases is most commonly engendered by the respective lawyers, conditioned by operating in an adversarial process and arena, whose own major goal is to ‘win’, whatever may be the justness and fairness of the result.

It is not difficult to see, therefore, how the psychopath is able to readily gain the sympathy and support of some of the professionals engaged in the Family Law system and for them to abandon and forfeit their professional objectivity and impartiality in such circumstances. In blaming others the psychopath will allege the former partner is mentally ill and in some cases the former partner may be suffering a Complex Post Traumatic Disorder after suffering years of physical, mental, and sexual abuse and violence. This is often misinterpreted and misdiagnosed as a Borderline Personality Disorder or similar psychiatric term. In effect it is a classic ‘blame the victim’ scenario.

The groomed professionals then enable the psychopath to achieve their primary objective, which is to maintain power and control over their victims, their former partner and children. It is an act of vengeance and spite but mostly it is to maintain the power and control and feelings of supremacism and narcissism. “I am faultless and flawless and in control of my whole environment” are the unvoiced cravings of the psychopath, and “I can continue to inflict my tortures on my victims with impunity” are the psychopath’s continuing behaviours.

The Family Law and their shared parenting provisions and its administration by the Family Courts have become ready enablers for the psychopath.

Charles Pragnell is an Independent Advocate for Children and Families.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody

(Enlarge photos with a single click.)

Here is the beginning of an important article by Peter Jamison on March 2, 2011, in the San Francisco Weekly:

Karen Anderson suspected that something strange was going on between her ex-husband, Rex Anderson, and their 15-year-old daughter. Prior to the couple's separation in 1998, the girl would sometimes put on high heels and makeup, "visiting" her dad while he worked late at night in the family's basement. It was the same retreat in which he stored the dildos and artificial vaginas he used to stimulate himself sexually.

After the divorce, Rex was given primary custody of his daughter, as well as the couple's 8-year-old son. Karen says this was because he had a full-time job as a facilities engineer at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, while she was unemployed. While staying with her on weekends, her daughter would sometimes say she hated herself and wanted to die.

In 1999, Anderson, a resident of San Jose, decided to take her concerns to Santa Clara County Family Court. Like similar courts across the state, it is charged with adjudicating high-conflict divorces — managing the division of property, child support payments, and the often bitter process of establishing a plan for shared child-rearing. She urged the court to investigate whether her daughter was at risk of sexual molestation, and whether Rex's custody rights should be restricted as a result.

Family Court Judge James Stewart temporarily barred the children from seeing their father while the court looked into the abuse claims. But instead of seeking evidence as to whether molestation was taking place, he hired a Menlo Park–based psychologist, Leslie Packer, to evaluate both parents. Among Packer's tasks was to assess, in light of their psychological profiles, whether the accusations were likely to be true. After a series of interviews and personality tests, such as the Rorschach inkblot test, she delivered her opinion: Karen's fears for her daughter were unfounded.

"Karen's suspiciousness goes to the extent of paranoid thinking, particularly in regard to her husband's actions," Packer wrote in an evaluation delivered to the court. "There is a basis in her concerns with her husband's unusual sexual practices, but it appears that most of her speculations about her husband's possible sexualized attitudes toward their daughter are not based upon documented or reality-based evidence." Rex regained primary custody of his children.

Today, Rex Anderson is serving a 23-year sentence at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga. In 2003, he pleaded no contest to 25 counts of sex crimes against his daughter, including child molestation, sexual penetration of a child with a foreign object, and use of a minor to create pornography. When she turned 18, his daughter left his care and reported years of abuse to police in El Dorado County, where they were living. (SF Weekly is withholding her name as a victim of child sexual abuse.)

Seldom are a parent's allegations against an estranged former spouse rejected out of hand, only to be vindicated so completely. Yet observers say the Anderson case represents just one unfortunate outcome of systemic problems in the family courts' methods for investigating accusations of abuse.

Looking out for the children who find themselves in the middle of bitter divorces is the most important function of the state's family courts, and arguably one of the most significant duties of the judiciary as a whole. Yet evidence has mounted in recent years that it is a responsibility in which family court officials are sometimes failing dramatically.

Rex Anderson (left) and Henry "Bud" Parson were both convicted of child molestation after family courts awarded them custody of their daughters.

See the full article here:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

President of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry Struts His Stuff

This story from the Los Angeles Times can be found online at,0,7724924.story

Child custody expert linked to lewd Web photos

Joseph Kenan was removed from one case and has been challenged in others after posting the photos.

By Kim Christensen and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
February 27, 2011

A prominent Beverly Hills psychiatrist who has helped decide hundreds of child-custody disputes was thrown off one recent case and has been challenged in at least two others after posting lewd photos of himself on Facebook and allegedly promoting illegal drug use, unprotected sex and male prostitution.

Dr. Joseph Kenan, president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, is also being investigated by the Medical Board of California on at least four complaints by parents who hired him to do custody evaluations, according to records and correspondence reviewed by The Times.

Among the postings on Facebook and other websites under the slightly different names of "Joe Kegan" and "Joe Keegan" were photos showing Kenan baring his buttocks to the camera in public and another of him posing with a friend holding a cake that explicitly depicted a sexual act, court records state.

The litigation over Kenan's fitness sheds light on a highly influential, but lightly regulated, group of experts — the evaluators who advise family courts in contested custody cases. Evaluators can earn fees of tens of thousands of dollars for assessing parents' fitness.

Critics of the system say the courts do a poor job of overseeing the work of people who often play pivotal roles in the lives of vulnerable children. A recent state auditor's report faulted two courts in Northern California for how they vet custody evaluators' qualifications and training.

Kenan's detractors have been particularly vehement.

"This man should not be allowed to determine whether any father or mother is a good parent," said Deborah Singer, who persuaded a court commissioner to remove Kenan from her child-custody case last year after she discovered explicit postings on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.

Singer and another parent who sought to disqualify Kenan, Deborah Zolla, say their concerns were sparked, in part, by his demands for tens of thousands of dollars, which they considered excessive fees, to develop custody plans for their children.

Kenan declined to be interviewed for this article. In a written statement submitted in Singer's case, he said the Facebook page was never meant for public viewing. He closed it and asked other websites to remove photos of him, Kenan wrote.

"Ms. Singer misunderstands the bawdy humor I occasionally present to my friends, as evidenced by some of those pictures. I do NOT promote what she is concerned I promote. My comments are entirely in jest. In fact, my comments serve to educate the community's problems through satire."

Kenan's lawyer, Donald S. Eisenberg, said the doctor's private life had no bearing on his professional performance. He said Kenan's detractors were unhappy with his evaluations or trying to avoid paying his fees. In court papers, he called the allegations inadmissible hearsay, conjecture and innuendo.

"His entire livelihood is being crushed by information … that is quite irrelevant to the work he does," Eisenberg said. "These allegations show what lengths, in some litigation, that people will go to try to unwind unfavorable opinions expressed by qualified experts in their child custody cases."

Singer and Zolla, who also cited the Internet postings, made their objections to Kenan before he completed evaluations in their cases.

At a hearing last Aug. 3, Family Law Commissioner Steff Padilla dismissed Kenan from Singer's case after reading descriptions of Facebook photographs in her disqualification motion.

In at least one other case, however, a court commissioner in Pasadena ruled the other way, denying a mother's request to remove Kenan from a case involving the custody of her 11-year-old daughter.

"You're saying Dr. Kenan should be disqualified because of a goofy Facebook page. What on earth does it have anything to do with this court?" Commissioner Mary Lou Katz asked in denying the removal motion.

State law sets requirements for evaluators, but county courts oversee their appointments and handle any complaints. The Los Angeles County Superior Court requires private evaluators like Kenan to submit sworn declarations detailing their training and experience, including at least three years of working with families in custody disputes, but does not vet the information or conduct background checks.

Court records show that Kenan, 41, has been involved in at least 250 custody cases in the last 10 years. Kenan began working with the court's custody evaluations office as a medical intern in 2002 and was a part-time employee there from 2004 to 2009, said Margaret Little, Superior Court family law and probate administrator.

When he became a private contractor, his name was added to a directory posted on the court's website, Little said. The list is for the convenience of parents seeking a private evaluation and is not meant to be an endorsement, she said.

Court officials told The Times they had received no complaints about Kenan.

Unlike evaluators on the court's staff, who work at a fixed rate, private evaluators set their own fees, which can be more than 10 times as much, sometimes leading to clashes with clients.

Singer paid Kenan a $7,500 retainer last May, court records state, and she and her lawyer said they were taken aback when he later asked for tens of thousands of dollars more to finish his report.

Her attorney, Dennis E. Braun, said in court papers that Singer already had custody of her daughter, now 5, and supported her financially. Singer's estranged husband had barely seen the child in two years, was serving a one-year jail sentence for a probation violation and faced additional felony charges upon release, the records state.

When Kenan asked for an additional $35,000 and offered to send a "runner" to her house for a $20,000 check, she became alarmed and researched him on the Internet, leading her to the explicit photos, her court papers say. After he was removed from the case, Kenan voluntarily returned the $7,500 retainer to Singer, who later won full legal and physical custody of her daughter.

Some of Kenan's Facebook postings — all since taken down — appeared to promote illicit drug use, including a picture of a woman holding a large straw while kneeling on a mirror with lines of white powder. Another was a photo of Kenan with a party banner that read "It's snowing," a phrase alleged in court papers to refer to crystal meth or cocaine.

Sheriff's deputies have been called to Kenan's home at least twice, records show, once in late 2007 to quell a raucous party and again last Oct. 23 on a report of a possible drug overdose death. The death proved to be from natural causes and no drugs were found in the dead man's body. But coroner's investigators found a burnt meth pipe in the room where he died.

"Dr. Kenan has no idea what that is, or where it came from," his lawyer, Eisenberg, said of the pipe. "He is not a drug user, has never been a drug user and denies any drug use. Period."

Many of Kenan's Facebook postings were explicitly sexual and included ads for parties he co-hosted at nightclubs, including some that appeared to promote unprotected sex. One ad promoted a gay porn site and, which features male escorts for hire.

"If any of my clients were doing what he's doing, trust me, they would lose custody of their kids," Braun said. "Yet, he is the one making recommendations to the courts — and which the courts have been following."

Hours after he was disqualified from Singer's case, Kenan took himself off the court's directory of evaluators, although he continued to work on some custody cases and accepted at least one new one — Deborah Zolla's — last October. Days before a March 2 disqualification hearing in that case, Zolla and her estranged husband settled their custody dispute, rendering Kenan's involvement moot.

As word of his removal from Singer's case has spread, however, other clients have complained to the medical board or sought to boot him from their cases.

Some lawyers who have worked with Kenan said he was well regarded.

Anja Reinke, a veteran family law attorney, said that although she hasn't always agreed with Kenan's recommendations, she's had no major problems working with him on a half dozen or so cases. Kenan "quickly got a very good reputation" and was particularly knowledgeable in cases involving complex mental illnesses, she said, adding: "I think he's competent."

A volunteer assistant clinical professor at UCLA, Kenan is nearing the end of his term as president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, which has about 250 members.

Dr. Dean De Crisce, the president-elect, said that Singer complained about Kenan to the association but that it lacks the "legal, financial, and investigative power" to act on complaints and relies on investigations by other bodies, including state medical boards.

Kenan "is respected for the work he does" and his fees are in line for someone with his background, De Crisce said. As for Singer's reaction to the photos, he said: "It's understandable that those were not pictures of the kind of person she would want to determine the fate of her family."

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Dr. Kenan (who endorses Dr. Gardner's so-called "Parental Alienation Syndrome") warned his colleagues to distrust children's claims of sexual abuse, as reported here in 2005:

Sexual abuse allegations in a child custody case are not always true, and even professionals who work with these children can have trouble distinguishing fact from fantasy in the children's stories, Joseph Kenan,M.D., said at the annual meeting of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry.

When a forensic psychiatrist evaluates potential sexual abuse of a child in a custody case, he or she considers a host of factors, including the child's age, any physical or mental disabilities, and a child's feelings of alienation toward one parent or history of siding with one parent during arguments, he said at the meeting cosponsored by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Although psychiatrists use careful questioning and information-gathering skills to evaluate children's allegations, a study of 12 professionals showed that none of them could tell the difference between true and false stories after viewing videotapes of 10 different child testimonies, said Dr. Kenan, chief forensic psychiatrist at the Psychological Trauma Center, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles...

Judges continue to rely on the special expertise of psychiatrists and other clinicians rather than examine reliable evidence of danger to children. For more about the failure of psychiatry to protect victims, see the classic exposé of the Father of Psychiatry by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson:

Blog Archive

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: