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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.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Don't Miss "No Way Out But One"

Don't miss this week's broadcast on the Documentary Channel about the true story of Holly Collins and her children, who were accepted by The Netherlands in 1994 as refugees from domestic violence in the United States:

In a Huffington Post interview, producer Garland Waller says she is "most surprised by . . . how many people just can't believe that family courts would give custody -- time and time again -- to abusers.That problem is far more widespread now than when Holly and her children escaped.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cummings Foundation launches broken family court initiative

The goal of the Cummings Foundation’s initiative is to develop policy solutions at the federal level that will address the crisis in a meaningful way. To ensure that our nation’s top elected officials are made aware of the deep, systemic flaws that are harming more than 58,000 children per year in America’s family courts, the Foundation has just mailed a comprehensive report about the crisis to all members of Congress, every state’s Governor and Chief Justice, and thousands of law schools and forensic psychologists around the country. The report highlights our analysis of the U.S. family courts’ systemic flaws as presented by several esteemed lawyers, judges, psychologists and other experts who participated at the Cummings Foundation’s “Our Broken Family Court System” conference in Phoenix, Arizona last March.

See below for more information about the Cummings Foundation’s Broken Family Courts Initiative.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Family Court Quacktitioners vs. the American Psychiatric Association

In response to requests for more information on PAS for professionals who want to be better prepared in the courtroom, I recommend resources listed at the Leadership Council's website:

The American Psychiatric Association, in updating its much-anticipated next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for clinicians, has decisively rejected a doctrine that has long been standard operating procedure in Rhode Island Family Court: a junk science called “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS).

For more than two decades Rhode Island family court litigants and their children have been subjected to court-ordered “therapy” under psychologists Brian Hayden, John Parsons, Lori Meyerson, Bernice Kelly, Judith Lubiner, Peter Kosseff, licensed clinical social worker Haven Myles, and others who adhered to PAS and used the disgraced doctrine in their clinical reports. Children sent to them were often forbidden to see their own trusted counselors in the midst of the most frightening trauma of their lives.

For the most part, Family Court judges do not want to hear about the anguish of children who pull out their hair in clumps, pluck out their eyelashes, suffer gastrointestinal distress, and wake up screaming with night terrors.  Why?

“I don’t have any psychological training,” one judge told me. Lawyers say judges use court-ordered “psych evaluations” in order to hang their “hats” on “hat-racks,” as if to justify their judicial decisions with “expert” opinions.  Perhaps these judges sleep better at night than those of us who deal directly with children traumatized by judicial orders that deprive them of the very parent and therapist they trust and need the most.

Instead, judges rely on “therapists” carefully recruited by attorneys with a vested interest, as Lise Iwon did in the case I have written about at

Though Iwon was supposed to be a neutral guardian ad litem, she described herself as a member of the “team” and sat with the father's lawyers in the courtroom. Iwon’s bill shows her urgent search for a therapist amenable to the father's defense strategy of “parental alienation.” Then-DCYF Director Patricia Martinez told me she had given Iwon permission to contract for up to $30,000 for a psychiatric evaluation. The resulting document showed that Iwon instructed the clinician in PAS.

The defense strategy of “parental alienation” blames one parent for a child’s aversion to the other parent without examining the evidence that the despised parent is in fact abusive and sometimes criminally so. It’s a cunning strategy that has brought buckets of gold to attorneys and psychologists. It has worked better on judges than previous strategies that urged clinicians to diagnose a battered mother as having borderline personality disorder or Munchausen's syndrome by proxy without ever asking whether her accuser might be a charming psychopath. Whenever lawyers drag a clinician's couch into the courtroom, their plan depends on disseminating a carefully contrived, and often completely fraudulent, narrative. Lawyers train litigants and “experts” in the narratives that work best on judges.  

In the Iwon case cited above, I appealed to Child Advocate Jametta Alston, who had already been told that this mother was “coaching” her children against their father—a common term in parental alienation narratives.  An Associate Justice, who declined to take the case, was told another common narrative--that this case began as a simple divorce case and the mother later claimed that her child had been sexually abused. Court documents showed the exact opposite: DCYF had indicated the father for sexual abuse in January 2004, and the mother reluctantly filed for divorce in April 2004. The defense team was already skewing the truth to get this case so mired in Family Court that it would never get to where it belonged—before a jury in Superior Court.  

An entire section in the 2004 training manual, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island, developed by a committee headed by then Associate Justice Haiganush Bedrosian and staffed by former Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah’s top assistant, David Tassoni, made “parental alienation” seem like an acceptable argument in the courtroom. In a tumultuous custody case that same year involving a Family Court deputy sheriff with a long history of domestic violence against his wife and girlfriend, Tassoni told me that he was searching for a psychologist who “understood parental alienation.” He found Lori Meyerson in a cramped office and brought her in to write a chilling report recommending sole custody to the deputy sheriff. Meyerson became a court favorite and set up her psychology practice at the Regency Plaza. Tassoni left the court under a cloud in 2011 when the newly appointed Chief Judge Bedrosian and state police found that he had neither the college nor law school credentials he claimed.     

As recently as this Spring, Attorney Barbara A. Barrows concluded her article, “Parental Alienation Syndrome in Divorce,” in the Rhode Island Bar Journal (March/April 2012 , pp. 31-32) with the disingenuous statement: “If a parent chooses to play the alienation game, it is the children who ultimately pay.” In fact, it is defense lawyers themselves who devised this game because it pays so handsomely.  

The American Psychiatric Association holds that “parental alienation” is neither a “syndrome” nor a mental disorder, and it does not belong in the APA’s  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Nor does it belong in Rhode Island’s Family Court. It is finally time for those in charge to make this clear. 

For more on the APA  decision, see:   

As always, Anne Grant welcomes comments and corrections to this article. You may also send your experiences, both positive and negative, with Family Court, DCYF, and court-ordered clinicians to her confidentially at 

Friday, September 21, 2012

GoLocalProv investigates out-of-state placements at DCYF

Thanks to Stephen Beale and GoLocalProv for reporting this story.  Please keep investigating and report on DCYF's process of getting accredited by the Council on Accreditation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

California mediator files grievance against family court practice

Liz Kellar writes for The Union (serving Western Nevada County, California) in this article on September 18, 2012. The red type identifies problems raised by ethical court personnel in Rhode Island cases. How can these concerns be addressed without risking reprisals against children, parents, and concerned professionals? 
Family court wrongful termination suit begins 
Jury selection got under way Monday in a whistle-blowing suit filed by former Family Court mediator Emily Gallup against Nevada County Superior Court.
Gallup has alleged that she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on the court’s failure to follow state laws.
The case is being heard in Sacramento County Superior Court, and Gallup estimated it could take two to four weeks to complete.
“I want to call attention to the inner workings of the family court,” Gallup said in a prepared statement. “My department ignored the law and put children and parents in unsafe situations. When I tried to address these compliance issues internally, I became the target of retaliation.
“I finally asked the Administrative Office of the Courts for help,” she continued. “I was turned away. I learned that the AOC has no authority over individual family court departments. Each court is supposed to police itself. I hope my lawsuit will draw attention to the consequences of allowing family court departments to operate without oversight.”
In July, a Superior Court judge ruled that only a whistle-blowing claim filed by Gallup could move forward to trial. The judge threw out claims of a hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment leading to retaliation and termination and retaliation due to her refusal to participate in an activity prohibited by law.
Gallup initially filed suit in March 2011 against Nevada County Superior Court, Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka, Human Resources Director Thea Palmiere and Family Court Services Interim Director Carmella Smith Cellini.
Gallup requested back pay, lost wages and benefits, payment of her legal costs, general damages and compensatory damages for emotional distress.
She has alleged that she was fired as an act of reprisal after filing a grievance in April 2010; she was terminated in December of that year.
The grievance she filed in 2010 claimed mediators were given insufficient time for appointments, were allowed inadequate review of records and gathering of facts and were not allowed to consider criminal backgrounds while making recommendations in custody cases.
Family Court handles cases where parties seek court intervention to solve family issues. Judges hear and decide cases involving divorce, paternity, domestic violence and abuse, child custody, support and visitation.
The court also provides mediation to help parents resolve problems.
When Gallup raised her concerns to her supervisors, she said she received reprisals and retaliations from the court and its officials.
Gallup went on medical leave in July 2010 and was allowed to return to work in September 2010, according to the lawsuit.
After she returned, her work allegedly was constantly challenged by her supervisors, and she received numerous write-ups criticizing her work performance.
On Dec. 9, 2010, Gallup allegedly found 10 pages of confidential journal entries written by Cellini that she said appeared to be part of an effort to discredit her work performance, which she took home. She was terminated from her job 12 days later, allegedly for “disclosure of confidential information, violation of the Code of Ethics and engaging in unprofessional conduct.”
According to Gallup, she was fired in a final act of reprisal.
Gallup is working with The Center for Judicial Excellence and the California Protective Parents Association to advocate for greater oversight of the family court system and said that problems in the family court system will persist until judges and other court officials are held accountable for following the law.
Opening statements are expected Tuesday and the trial will continue the rest of the week.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call (530) 477-4229.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

16 year old uses the EAA to demand justice against his father

PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release Contact Kathleen Russell: 415-388-9600 
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Damon Asks for Protective Order for his 16th Birthday

Monterey, CA Damon, a boy in hiding, has made a video requesting the Monterey County D.A. prosecute his sexually abusive father and grant him a Protective Order for his 16th birthday, so he will finally be safe and can return home. His video can be viewed at: Safe Kids International.

"It's been 10 years since I first reported that my father was sexually abusing me and the family court is still making me go back with him," said Damon, a victim of sexual abuse who is currently living in hiding to escape the abuse. "I'm using social media to spread the word and let everyone know what's happening. I'm hoping Monterey County DA, Dean Flippo, will give me a protective order for my birthday so that I'm able to go back to my home. I really miss my family and friends." 

Although Damon is from San Diego, he asserts that the San Diego District Attorney and Family Court judges have failed to do a proper investigation, have swept his abuse under the rug, and forced him to live with his father. Damon says that the court and his father have threatened to send him to a lock-down behavioral modification center to be coerced into recanting the abuse. So Damon ran away and went into hiding a year ago to protect himself. That is why, although Damon is from San Diego, he wants the case to be heard in Monterey County, where the abuse first occurred at his grandmother’s house.

Along with social media, Damon has used a novel idea, the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (EAA). Born out of the Drew and Stacey Peterson case (currently at trial), the EAA was created by violence expert Susan Murphy Milano to insure that the victim’s accounts of assaults would not disappear if she did. It combines videotaping of the victim’s words attesting to the abuse coupled with creative witnessed and notarized legal documents that successfully satisfy legal hurdles often faced in these cases. Damon says he wants his EAA to be used in case he is sent to a lock-down facility, disappears, or is murdered. The EAA is a newly released iPad app making it easy for other teens in Damon’s situation to use. 

Former FBI director, Louis Freeh, when describing the Penn State cover up, said, “I want to remind everyone here, and those watching this press conference, of the need to report child sexual abuse to the authorities.” Damon has asked the public in his video to report his abuse to the D.A.

Barry Nolan of the Boston Daily wrote, “In the Wake of Jerry Sandusky”, in which he observes that one of the recurring themes of the victims’ testimony was “Who would believe a kid?” He uses Damon’s case as an example of how sexual abuse reports are not taken seriously or investigated properly in family courts. Nolan says, “If enough of them come forward and enough of us start to listen, maybe one day one day when the question is asked — who would believe a kid? — the answer will be different.” Damon is hoping the answer will be different for him. 

District Attorney Dean Flippo: Office: (831) 755-5070 Email: 
Richard Ducote, Consulting Attorney: Office: (412) 687-2020 Email:
Damon’s videos to the public and EAA: Safe Kids International

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Kentucky should teach Rhode Island's Attorney General and Judges

Click once to enlarge photo. Video is posted at 

On July 24, 2012, WKYT reported that Kentucky Judge Charles Hickman sentenced former social worker Geri Murphy to five years in prison after she admitted she had lied about sexual abuse cases involving children. She pleaded guilty to nine counts of falsifying documents. Though she had been living in Florida, Judge Hickman said she must serve her time in Kentucky.  
Prosecutors said that Murphy left children in homes where they were being sexually assaulted, that she never looked into the claims, and that she then lied to the state. Among the more disturbing cases listed in her indictment is the sexual abuse of a three-year-old by the biological father. 

A state official testified that abuse continues because of Murphy's actions."The fact that these children could be left in the hands of possible abusers is particularly disturbing to the court," said Judge Hickman, who denied probation, saying it "would diminish the seriousness of these offenses."

Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley commented "I feel like it sent a message---the system meant to protect children cannot be breached without serious consequences."

I wonder whether Rhode Island's Attorney General Peter Kilmartin will ever prosecute anyone involved in the case reported at where DCYF contracted with the Providence Center to have licensed social worker Haven Miles "reunite" two sisters with their biological father despite their terror of him, as Miles described in her own reports. The case illustrates why allegations of child sexual abuse and domestic violence--often felonies--do not belong in a civil courtroom where adversarial litigation fails to investigate the most obvious evidence.

The case of Jerry Sandusky at the University of Pennsylvania has brought new insights to the methods used by pedophiles. Last Sunday, Jenifer B. McKim, reported in the Boston Globe how diligent prosecutors search for evidence to use against those who target infants and toddlers because these children have no words to describe the crimes committed against them. Her article, "Photo emailed from Mass. man led to vast child pornography network," is posted online at

How do young children disclose horrific sexual crimes to adults who would rather not understand what they are saying? In the Little Hostages case, social worker Haven Miles admitted that she had no way of knowing whether the sisters had been sexually abused by their father. But once DCYF hired Miles to reunite the girls with their father, she probably never saw their graphic artwork. The younger sister was three when she allegedly expressed her fear of her father's "sausage games" to a home child care owner, day care staff, hospital staff, and others. The girl drew her father like this, showing the multiple fingers and shaded, enlarged genitals that are common in drawings by genuine sex abuse victims:

I saw her older sister's drawing of a huge erect penis in scorching red, which was so graphic I did not dare publish it on the Little Hostages blog. Both drawings would show how farfetched the father's claim was when he blamed their mother for putting those ideas into their daughters' heads, as if she were capable of demonstrating male erection and ejaculation in such a memorable manner. And yet, DCYF became complicit in the father's defense and delivered the girls to him using federal "reunification" funds. Whether DCYF even bothered to search for evidence may never be known, since Family Court Associate Justice John Mutter imposed an unconstitutional gag order and sealed both the divorce and DCYF files. 

Since DCYF appears to be so readily manipulated by defense attorneys,  Rhode Island prosecutors must aspire to at least as high a standard as Kentucky's Office of Attorney General, and Family Court judges must begin to feel disturbed when apparent crimes against children are reduced to civil matters. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Steve Hart deserves a great Father's Day

(Click once to enlarge.) 

(More to come . . . . ) 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

PAS to be argued in California Court of Appeals

On June 13, 2012, at 9 A.M., the California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District Court, Division 3, at 300 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, will hear oral argument on the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome ("PAS") in child sexual abuse cases in McRoberts v. Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. B234877.  

Patricia J. Barry, attorney for Sera McRoberts, will present oral argument on the violations of due process and equal protection that Sera McRoberts and her children experienced during the trial on the two daughters' allegations of sexual abuse against their father, Steve Lesserson.  Ms. Barry argued and won the first sexual harassment case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Merritor vs. Vinson.  The Amicae (several national domestic violence organizations and California Senator Sheila Kuehl having signed on) are represented by Erica Reilley of Jones Day who will present oral argument on the lack of scientific validity and inadmissibility of evidence of PAS.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have rejected PAS as both unscientific and failing to meet evidentiary standards. It is not listed in any of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals. Yet, Stan Katz, Custody Evaluator and Expert Witness of the infamous McMartin Preschool Trial and the Michael Jackson molestation cases, used PAS against Sera McRoberts to change custody to Mr. Lesserson, despite the fact that one of the daughters had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Some Rhode Island judges still lend credence to PAS, which was featured in the Bar Association's 2004 Guardian ad Litem Training Manual and as recently as the April/May 2012 issue of the Rhode Island Bar Journal. 

For a pdf of the McRoberts Amicus Brief, send an email to ParentingProject@ with "Amicus Brief" in the subject line. 

For further information, contact Patricia J. Barry, Attorney, 213-995-0734,

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Curious Case of Robert Karns

My April 25th post below ("Hen's teeth and heroes") mentioned the Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel's "Petition for Disciplinary Action" against Attorney Robert Karns and his hearing to be held on Monday, May 21st, at 24 Weybosset Street, Providence. I attended and found it curious. And curiouser.

The first order of the day was to be certain the witness chair would not collapse under a succession of personal injury lawyers. Some of the twenty-odd chairs in the Disciplinary Board's modest hearing room are, in fact, broken. (The room is ominously lined with file boxes from lawyers whose businesses they have closed. I wondered if the chairs were donated by those offices.)

Disciplinary Board member Attorney Laura A. Pisaturo hauled over a green captain's chair and tried it out herself before offering it to a witness. She took her seat at the hearing table with Attorney Matthew L. Lewiss, who chaired the hearing, and Public Member John E. Moran III, who verified for the record that he is not related to the complainant, Louise Moran.

Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Barbara Margolis represented Ms. Moran, who attended with her private attorney. Based on the exhibits and testimony, this appears to be the chronology of the case:
  • On January 31, 2012, Rhode Island construction worker William Moran died of carbon monoxide exposure, and others were injured in a West Virginia hotel. 
  • The next day, West Virginia Attorney Michael Bee called Rhode Island Attorney Robert Karns (who knew him from their work on traumatic brain injury cases) and asked Karns to find out about the Rhode Island victims since Bee was working on a lawsuit.  Karns was in the middle of an IT seminar, but he called Investigator Ryan McCormack and asked him to look into the case and to provide victims with Attorney Bee's website and with Attorney Karns's business card.  
  • On February 3rd, McCormack went to the home of Mr. Moran's widow, Louise Moran. She was not at home, but McCormack talked with a family friend, Randolph Baker, who told McCormack to return and speak to Moran. 
  • On February 7th, after the funeral, McCormack returned to the Moran home, and Ms. Moran told him she had hired another lawyer. 
  • A week later, on February 14th, Moran wrote a letter of complaint against Karns to David Curtin, Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Her letter arrived on February 21st. 
  • On February 27th, Mr. Karns wrote to Mr. Curtin, admitted his violation of Rule 7.3, and apologized. 
  • More than three weeks later, on March 21st, Curtin petitioned the Disciplinary Board to hear the case.
  • On March 28th, Karns's attorney Amato A. DeLuca filed his client's answers to Mr. Curtin's Petition.

At the hearing, DeLuca called on several colleagues of "Respondent-attorney" Karns to testify under oath to his character. Some had been his opponents in the courtroom, but all spoke highly of his integrity, hard work, and generosity. One said she believed he was simply doing what he could to help a member of the Bar from another jurisdiction. "That's Bob," she said, describing his "selfless" attitude: "Whatever you need, I'll help you out." 

After more lawyers praised Karns, Louise Moran, who sat next to me, grumbled to her private attorney, "This is ridiculous." Five lawyers testified to the respondent's decency, and one asserted that it was not Karns, but Ms. Moran's attorney who was pursuing this "for pecuniary gain." (After that witness returned to his seat, Ms. Moran's attorney summoned him to the corridor, where a separate commotion ensued.)

Finally Mr. Karns took the witness chair and told how he had phoned McCormack during a break in his seminar and asked the investigator to "look into" the case, but he had no idea McCormack was returning to the Moran home a second time. McCormack was a thorough and "dogged" investigator, said Karns. Before leaving the chair, Karns apologized to everyone in the room, and most emphatically to the widow. 

She took the witness chair next -- a youthful woman, in her 30s or 40s, and told about receiving lawyers' solicitations by mail -- perhaps thirty of them -- which she immediately discarded. Those are entirely legal under Rule 7.3, which prohibits soliciting prospective clients in person or by telephone ("real-time contacts"), but permits mailings.  

There was a lot that was curious about this hearing: 
  • The essential witnesses -- Mr. Baker and Mr. McCormack -- never appeared. Only they could clear up what Karns said to McCormack, what was said on the first visit to the Moran home, and whether Baker had asked McCormack to return. That degree of hearsay calls the entire proceeding into question.   
  • Was the West Virginia lawyer proposing a class action suit? Given the circumstances of the case, this seems likely, and it might have left some wiggle room under Rule 7.3 that Karns did not exploit. 
  •  And what about that extraordinary apology? Even Karns's lawyer said he would not have counseled his client to apologize if he had represented Karns then. But if someone is truly harmed, an apology matters. 
In “The Art and Power of the Apology” Sarah Kellogg notes that attorneys who make their living at medical malpractice "are suspicious of [apologies] because they see their cash cow breaking free of the barn and running down the lane."*  Yet here was the patriarch of an entire family of malpractice lawyers (Karns's two daughters, son, and son-in-law all practice in his firm) offering his own abject apology. 

Even if Karns's apology was a cynical attempt to deflect the Disciplinary Counsel, it is hard to understand how the case ever came to demand the public money and time devoted to this proceeding when Family Court attorneys commit wholesale violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct (as I have found researching countless child custody cases) without ever facing disciplinary proceedings or judicial reprimands.

This appears to have been the complaint of a woman who attended the hearing and disrupted it at the end by calling the entire Bar Association to task. (I was so stunned by her outburst that I failed to take notes, but Ms. Margolis rushed to bring Mr. Curtin into the hearing room, and Mr. Lewiss hastily adjourned the hearing.) 

Later Curtin observed with amazement that this woman wonders why she "lost custody of a child who isn't even hers." 

I learned there is more to her case than that, and her bizarre behavior is far more understandable in context. I have met many parents -- and stepparents -- who have been traumatized by the unaccountable behavior of Family Court lawyers in violation of Rule 8.4 (c) against engaging "in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" -- like those who tormented the child pictured at the top of this blog, or others I have written about in and  

I asked Mr. Curtin a few weeks ago if the Disciplinary Counsel's Office can identify the most common complaints against Family Court lawyers. He said it is impossible to know, since his office does not keep a record of the types of complaints in various courts. I have written to ask Mr. Curtin to have his office compile a simple database that would show the full range of public concerns about the behavior of attorneys, the Rules they are accused of violating, and the Courts where this alleged behavior occurred. 

When I met with him, Mr. Curtin spoke of his efforts to uplift the profession and to help lawyers deal with destructive patterns in their personal lives and practices rather than simply function in a punitive role. This is an important goal for his Office. 

I am not a lawyer and do not know Mr. Karns. But the case against him appears unreasonable and punitive. In what universe did this rise to the top of lawyers' offenses? If police were content to set unreasonable speed traps to boost their statistics but failed to address violent crimes within the community, we would cry foul. 

Deputy Counsel Margolis described the procedure ahead: the hearing panel will meet to decide on a sanction which they will recommend to the full Disciplinary Board with a written decision. The Board will forward their recommendation to the Supreme Court that will issue an Order -- probably sometime in the fall. 

This seems like a good time for the Supreme Court to direct its Disciplinary Counsel to focus on  those violations that most egregiously damage the honor of Rhode Island's legal profession -- including "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" forbidden by Rule 8.4 (c).  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mary Kennedy: Death by Court-ing

Mary Richardson Kennedy hung herself last week, reports Mail Online: "Court records show that as well as battling with debts and depression, she was also fighting a losing battle with her estranged husband as he relentlessly built a case against her in their custody battle.

"The son of the late Sen Robert F. Kennedy, he filed temporary restraining orders against Mary that a Westchester judge signed on March 28, April 19 and again last Friday, documents show.

"He also filed an order of protection last September and got another judge to hold her in contempt of court later that month, according to the Post."

At other times, the article reports, he praised her as "extraordinary," but he used the court to control her by filing multiple restraining orders. He tried to get full custody of the children by claiming she was unfit while he publicly replaced her with his actress girlfriend, Cheryl Hines.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How federal funds influence family courts and harm children

In a report by Anne Stevenson, Huffington Post notes that the top five federal HHS programs endanger women and children:
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program it created transformed welfare policy by drastically reducing and shifting federal assistance away from the homes of mothers and children and into the homes of violent offenders. In an article entitled "How Federal Welfare Funding Drives Judicial Discretion in Child-Custody Determinations and Domestic Relations Matters" fathers and rights activists Lary Holland and Jason Bottomsly explain that this policy has backfired because the incentives are structured so that the state will only benefit if children are removed from loving homes:

"In essence, the federal guidelines wanted the states to function as collection agencies, recovering financial support from parents who had willfully abandoned their parental responsibilities to their children. The result, however, was different from the intent and has caused the state welfare programs to adjust their environment to have a greater need, which has caused the program to collect from willing parents that would ordinarily provide a loving environment for their children absent a court order limiting a parent's involvement. Despite the original intent of the IV-D welfare program, it now provides an incentive for the states to use their family courts to produce forcibly absent parents in order to increase the states' IV-D welfare caseload."

The bureaucratese is hard to fathom, but the outcome--removal of children from loving homes--is exactly what we have been watching in Rhode Island Family Court over these years.

For more on those five programs, see the article at

We need the Rhode Island General Assembly to get some clarity with an objective audit of the role of federal funds in removing children from loving homes, taking them into state custody, and even awarding sole custody to the abusive parent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hen's teeth and heroes

It was odd last month when the Rhode Island Supreme Court's Disciplinary Counsel David Curtin reportedly filed a complaint accusing Attorney Robert T. Karns of unethical conduct for twice offering his services to a tragically bereaved widow (Tracy Breton, “Lawyer faces disciplinary hearing,” The Providence Journal, March 30, 2012, Section: Rhode Island; Page A5 COURTS).

Mr. Karns’s representatives had barely rung that doorbell twice. There was no contract, no litigation. He apparently admits he violated Rule 7.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibits lawyers from soliciting prospective clients.

His offense seems minor compared to years of Family Court litigation full of blatant violations that have removed parental rights with no due process, no notice, no hearing, no evidence, no cross examination—all done in the usual way, ex parte, through so-called “emergency” orders when no emergencies existed, sometimes with DCYF involvement and behind closed doors.

Mr. Karns’s offense does not compare to the lifelong damage done to traumatized children by lawyers in cases I have written about at,, and

Based on those cases, I had long ago concluded that the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Counsel and Rhode Island’s Rules of Professional Conduct have less bite than a hen’s teeth.

I plan to attend Mr. Karns’s hearing at the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, 24 Weybosset Street, 2nd floor, Providence, on Monday, May 21st at 3 pm to gain some understanding of what needs to be done to end the wholesale violations going on in Family Court and in DCYF.

Meanwhile, I will look again at the record of the current “Trophy Child” case,, where three attorneys, Cynthia Gifford, Cherrie Perkins, and Kerry Rafanelli, allegedly violated Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct

Finally, we need heroes, not hen’s teeth. So it is good to know that the Bar in Texas (where the election of judges still inclines the scales of justice toward campaign contributors) that Talmage Boston has produced a book of positive role models “reestablishing the legal profession’s once hallowed reputation”--Raising the Bar: The Crucial Role of the Lawyer in Society

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Order in the Court

Yesterday I sat in an unusual courtroom in Providence Family Court. I was alone. There was something different about the space that took me a while to absorb. What was it?

My eyes lingered over the dark wood paneling, the carpets, seats for litigants, lawyers, the public, the judge's bench, the witness stand extending to one side, the clerk's desk to the other: solid, warm, even reassuring. What was I noticing?

I recall the first time I entered a courtroom in Rhode Island Family Court over two decades ago--how chaotic it was full of people. Something seemed incongruous. What was it?

Then I remembered: Taped to the paneling behind the clerk were photos of her family and some children’s drawings. The stenographer had mounted family pictures, too.

I had not thought of the significance then, but it seemed inappropriate. Had Rhode Island privatized its public courtrooms into office cubicles? This was one of my earliest introductions to our state’s small-town culture in Family Court.

I’m sure the people who put up their pictures were good-hearted. They may have felt it would humanize the space to see family photos on the wall. They did not intend to communicate any subliminal message about who you need to know to protect your children in this Court.

I did not fully appreciate how unsettling those family photos were until yesterday, when I sat in a courtroom without them.

I have seen courtrooms in Family Court with bouquets of flowers on the bench--perhaps to make the setting less austere for people who find this place deeply traumatic. I have seen candy bowls and lollypops for children getting adopted. (I don't remember if the judge offered candy at our son's adoption, but I do remember his clarity in saying: This child has all the rights of any child born to you. That was sweetness enough for us.)

In one Rhode Island courtroom I saw a statue of the blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales aloft. I even saw a judge's omerta-warning taped to the bench--Silence is Golden.

But the courtroom yesterday took my breath away with its uncluttered simplicity. Behind the judge's bench at either side stood the only decoration a courtroom needs: the flag of our country and the flag of our state.

A courtroom whose judge upholds our laws with justice and mercy needs nothing else.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chief Judge Bedrosian is changing the rules

(Click once to enlarge.)
Last week I went to Providence Family Court to observe a hearing in the "Textron Case" (mentioned in my post of March 16, 2012). I learned about another reform of Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian -- a new 9-page green version of the old "DR6," the financial form that has been the object of much lawyerly gaming in the past (as the baby shown at the top of this blog discovered in her teens, but that's another story).

No one in the courtroom seemed to have one of these new DR6 forms, but the fact that the Defendant’s attorney knew the form should have been submitted -- and the judge agreed -- suggested that a new wind is blowing.

In the Washington County case that I have been reporting at, "Barbara," the client of Cynthia Gifford and Cherrie Perkins, submitted one incomplete DR6 in four years and failed to include the amounts of her financial resources in that skimpy 2-page document.

Six months ago, Chief Judge Bedrosian promulgated the new rule that requires the green 9-page DR6 to be filed with each Miscellaneous Complaint, Answer, Counterclaim, etc. The color makes it easy to find in the file and hard to fraudulently create without the client's freshly notarized signature.

This strikes me as an important reform. Detailed financial reporting always seemed like a no-brainer that could have avoided hundreds of costly hours wasted in this Court. Chief Bedrosian's reform could seriously crimp the freewheeling style of many Family Court attorneys. It could greatly reduce the number of frivolous motions that now clog the Court.

Another of Chief Bedrosian's reforms makes my work harder, but protects the process against documents mysteriously disappearing or getting hopelessly jumbled in court files. Under this reform, those viewing the file can still copy documents, but may no longer remove the prongs holding them in the file.

It is difficult and expensive to make clear copies of thick files on a photocopier. I could not have figured out the legal abuse in the current TrophyChild case without scanning every document in the public files.

Hopefully Family Court will move toward electronic data, much like the federal courts, which could greatly simplify the filing and retrieval of documents.

I am glad to endure any reforms that mean Family Court is becoming more ethical and just. The three cases I mentioned in this post represent four children--now young women. This month, the youngest (in the Textron Case) turns 12, and the oldest (pictured above) turns 23. I have met them all. Because of them and others like them, I take these reforms personally.

I first opposed Judge Bedrosian at a Judicial Nominating Commission hearing in 1996 because of a decision that she later defended as conforming to the rules. I argued that her decision harmed the child pictured at the top of this blog, a victim of domestic violence. Judge Bedrosian criticized my “ignorance of the requirements of judicial conduct.”

Ironically, her reform of the DR6 hits at the heart of that case and each of the other cases I have mentioned in this post -- the enormous financial inequities that set these three Family Court custody cases on such an unequal playing field. Parents who are forced to litigate pro se, or with pro bono attorneys, seldom prevail for long in this Court.

Their abusers keep returning to assault them again and again. And where will they find the money to appeal to a higher court when decisions harm their children here?

The Court seldom sees these children or how much they suffer. It is good to find Chief Judge Bedrosian addressing problems related to children’s trauma and the bad practices that have prevailed too long in Family Court.

She deserves credit and encouragement to keep working at those parts of this system that are most unjust, including:
1. The abuse of so-called “emergency” motions that
a. are not true emergencies or that
b. should be referred to Superior Court’s domestic violence court (without placing the financial and emotional burden of legal defense on alleged victims).

2. The abuse of ex parte motions that
a. prevent judges from hearing the other side in a timely manner
b. produce orders that spread misinformation in the community.

3. The failure of lawyers to complete paper work in a timely manner
a. when drafting orders after hearings,
b. when submitting documents to the other side for review before getting the judge’s signature, or
c. when completing paperwork for child support.

4. The Court’s use of clinicians that violates
a. HIPAA regulations,
b. ethics of mental health professionals, and
c. rules of the insurance industry against reimbursing for court-ordered services.

5. The need for judges to sanction lawyers under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Family Court needs a roadmap for the countless people struggling to find their way through these labyrinthine rules and procedures that often seem intentionally confusing and inconsistent from one judge to the next. Despite my worst fears, maybe this is exactly the time when we need an experienced teacher in charge.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Should this Court be saved?

Since the General Assembly created Family Court and Rhode Island taxes pay handsomely for it, how would you recommend our legislators can control its abuses of power?

Examine the case described at (Click on January 15th, 2012, to start at the beginning) and send your confidential suggestions to Anne Grant at

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Cabals of Court, Part 2: The Cranston Cabal

Click once to enlarge.

The cavernous marble corridor of Garrahy Courthouse was nearly empty. It was mid-afternoon, and the daily rush had cleared. Attorney William Holt stood, a silhouette against the wall of windows above Dorrance Street.

From the way he stared at me, I suspected he had read my "Overcoming Abuse" column in Sunday's Providence Sunday Journal under an editor's bold headline: R.I. court system further victimizes battered families (July 18, 1993, p. E-1).

Was Holt fuming? Or about to offer me some new disclosure? Both proved true.

Barely able to suppress his rage, he scolded: This is called Family Court, not just because it deals with family issues. But we are family. We attorneys call each other "brother" and "sister." Chief Judge Jeremiah is like a father to us. When he is attacked, we will always come to his defense.

What if your family is dysfunctional? I asked. Can you make changes from the inside, or do you need our help from outside?

He said he had to think about it, which seemed promising.

Bill Holt became the first attorney that our Mothers on Trial support group recognized as a key player in The Cranston Cabal, conceived in the hurly-burly of Cranston City Hall during the years Edward DiPrete was mayor, from 1978 to 1984. Holt had proven his value as DiPrete's administrative assistant during a liquor licensing imbroglio in the early 80s.

Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr., had paid his political dues as Republican chairman in Cranston. He spent fifteen years as assistant city solicitor and six more as solicitor while Edward DiPrete was mayor.

After DiPrete became governor in 1985, Jeremiah advanced to the statehouse as his executive counsel. Two years later, when DiPrete's turn came to fill a vacancy on Family Court (before legislative reforms established the Judicial Nominating Commission), the governor tapped Jeremiah. Barely a year later, in 1987, DiPrete acknowledged Judge Jeremiah as his "closest friend" and made him chief of Family Court.

The Cranston Cabal also produced Kathleen A. Voccola, who became Cranston's first woman city lawyer when DiPrete named her to fill Jeremiah's former position as assistant city solicitor in 1979. Governor DiPrete made Voccola the first woman to serve as the state's liquor control administrator, saying the appointment was in line with his "continuing efforts to place qualified women in positions of authority and responsibility."

Voccola was not the first woman that Republicans invited to serve as sacrificial lamb by running her against popular Attorney General James O'Neil in 1988. She lost that race as expected, but a year later, DiPrete made her a judge on Family Court.

By then an ethics complaint had been lodged against the governor for steering state contracts to campaign contributors. Nearly a decade passed before DiPrete made a plea deal to protect his son from prosecution and went to prison himself for bribery, extortion and racketeering in 1998. The whole truth has never emerged, and DiPrete's friends on Family Court escaped unscathed.

Jeremiah skated away from his own brush with the Ethics Commission. He and Voccola sat on the Governor's Juvenile Justice Commission, where she made, and he seconded, a 1997 motion that awarded $56,000 in federal money to a police organization that sublet space from attorney Holt in Jeremiah's Cranston office building and paid some of that rent directly to Jeremiah.

"Holy mackerel!" Jeremiah exclaimed to the press when his conflict of interest became public. "I never even thought of that."

By the time a grievance against him reached the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline in 1998, Voccola had been named to that body, and the Commission found no basis for the complaint.

In 1999, the Ethics Commission also exonerated Jeremiah, rejecting the recommendation of its own staff, who had urged a full-blown ethics trial and provided 64 pages of findings and exhibits.

Rhode Island has a tradition of powerful families with modest headquarters, like the godfather, himself--Raymond Patriarca's mob headquarters at Coin-O-Matic, 168 Atwells Avenue, Providence. Jeremiah's unpretentious office building at 995 Park Avenue gave no clue to the power he wielded. His tenants, like Holt and attorney Patricia Murray-Rapoza, seemed to gain preferential treatment and prominence at Family Court, where lawyers jockey for rich litigants in custody cases that can provide oodles of billable hours until children turn 18.

Consider the Textron Case, where a wealthy vice president, accused of being a "sexual predator," reached a settlement with help from his attorney, William Holt. Patricia Murray-Rapoza had followed Holt as property manager for Jeremiah and bought the building from him on May 2, 2001. This might have relieved Jeremiah of embarrassing conflicts if he had not agreed to take back the mortgage. The Chief and Murray-Rapoza joked in court about the regularity of her payments to him.

On May 18, 2001, Judge Voccola appointed Murray-Rapoza to be guardian ad litem for two young sisters. One girl turned out to be daughter of the Textron vice president, and Holt launched a custody case against the girl's mother in Family Court and a law suit in Superior Court demanding that she return a diamond ring her boss had given her.

Holt described the woman as a "gold-digger" without appreciating the irony of how that word may fit him as well and other lawyers on the case. At one point, two divorce lawyers became so jealous of the money doled out to Murray-Rapoza that they crafted a document identical to hers and got Judge Gilbert Rocha to sign it, giving each one $5,000 of marital assets and creating three guardians ad litem for two children.

When Chief Judge Jeremiah assigned the case to Judge Rocha, he must have known the judge's daughter, Patricia Rocha, was Textron's attorney, who had worked with Holt on the settlement for his client to leave the company in 2001 by claiming the man was legally blind and therefore entitled to enormous payouts from disability insurance.

And when the insurance company's lawyers arrived in Rhode Island, seeking a transcript relevant to the man's two-million-dollar disability claim, Judge Rocha sent them home without it. They returned a month later with a formal motion to get the public record.

While both Holt and Murray-Rapoza contended the man was legally blind, neither Social Security nor the insurance company agreed. Indeed, the evidence of deceit led U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lisi to deny his bid for U.S. citizenship in 2006 on grounds that he "has not established the statutory prerequisite that he 'has been and still is a person of good moral character'" ("Memorandum and Decision," CA 05-398ML, p. 9).

Since that time, the man has secured U.S. citizenship and will return to Family Court next month. I described this case more fully in August 2010. (In the index below, click on 3. A, B, C, D, E.)

It is time for the General Assembly to examine the exorbitant waste of public funds and the damages done by the cabals of Rhode Island Family Court.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Legal Watch under way to take custody cases to SCOTUS

Legal experts are watching for the best test cases to get violations of Constitutional due process to the U.S. Supreme Court. For more, click on the title above.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Cabals of Court, Part 1

In January 2011, NBC 10 news reported that Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian had called in state police to investigate the Family Court's head mediator David Tassoni. Bedrosian's predecessor, Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah, had made Tassoni a law clerk intern in 1997.

Though Tassoni had neither the college nor law school degrees he claimed, he rose quickly to a top administrative position at Family Court, reporting directly to Jeremiah. He seemed ubiquitous, moving from courtroom to courtroom, case to case.

In 2004, Tassoni told me he was working closely with Judge Bedrosian on the training manual for guardians ad litem, which promoted the Court's use of the so-called "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS)--a legal strategy by which abusers can control their families and often claim sole custody of their children. PAS has proven lucrative to lawyers and psychologists and deadly to victims of domestic violence.

David Tassoni told me he had found a psychologist who "understood parental alienation." He brought Lori Meyerson, PhD, from her cramped country office to Providence, where she moved into the Regency Plaza and became one of the Court's expensive favored clinicians to "reunite" children with parents they dreaded.

In her first case as a guardian ad litem, Meyerson testified for a father who bragged that he owned Family Court. He relished intimidating his ex-wife by sitting at the entrance to the courtroom in the chair he had autographed when he was deputy sheriff in that same room before his well publicized arrest for felony domestic violence in 2004.

Dr. Meyerson told the Court that the man's legal problems were settled and that he should win sole custody of his eleven-year-old daughter, who was terrified of him. Applying the PAS theory, Meyerson blamed the girl's mother for "alienating" the girl against her father.

Meyerson did not fulfill the basic requirements of the manual for guardians ad litem. She never visited the two parents' homes. She did not interview school officials or local police, who had visited Chief Judge Jeremiah to ask why seven judges had recused themselves instead of giving the deputy sheriff's ex-wife a restraining order.

Fortunately the Court knew the man better than Meyerson, and the girl stayed with her mother. But she grew up with constant anxiety that the Court's psychologist might give her to her father.

In 2006, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) warned that the "parental alienation" argument does not meet evidentiary standards and should be stricken from custody evaluations. But it was already well established in Rhode Island.

(Click once to enlarge:)

The fact that Bedrosian quickly dislodged Tassoni when she became chief judge suggests that she might be on course to bring some of the transformation needed at Family Court.

In the past, I have criticized her for failing to protect victims of domestic violence. But she is using her authority to build awareness about trauma and hopefully will continue to confront the schemes that make even the best-intentioned judges subject to the cabals of court.

In 1992, I was facilitating a support group called Mothers on Trial that discovered the cabals by connecting the dots from one case to another. The same lawyers and psychologists kept appearing in their cases, pursuing similar strategies, and competing for the most bankable litigants.

The cabals have made Family Court a very dangerous place for families trying to escape violence or child sexual abuse.


For more on "parental alienation," see my post, "Who is Norbara Octeau?" on February 14, 2012, at

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian is proving me wrong . . .

and I could not be happier.

In 2010 I testified against her becoming Chief Judge of Family Court. I feared that she was entrenched in a court culture that seems not to care about low-income litigants, that is especially catastrophic to battered mothers and traumatized children.

Frankly, I could not support any of the candidates for Chief, because the cases I had researched and watched unfold in their courtrooms suggested that none of them would confront the culture of cronyism and cabals that plagued the Family Court under Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr.

I will write more about those concerns later at the Trophy Child blog, but now I want to focus on the important departure Chief Bedrosian undertook this week with her statewide training that participants praised as transformative to their understanding of traumatized children and likely to change the way they work.

The Chief Judge, who was a teacher before she became a lawyer and judge, intends to have more trainings. Over five hundred professionals, including Family Court judges, lawyers, staff from DCYF, the Department of Education, Juvenile Corrections, the Offices of Child Advocate and Attorney General, and many others stayed from start to finish through two days packed with substantive information.

The open way she structured this conference may finally dismantle the silos that have kept Rhode Island's agencies and decision-makers closed off from each other far too long.

The keynote presentations by James E. Greer, MD, and Robert B. Hagberg, LICSW from The Mind + Body Project focused on brain development in children who suffer abuse and neglect. Mr. Hagberg is deputy Director of the RI Division of Casey Family Services, and Dr. Greer is Medical Director of the Child and Family Unit at the Providence Center and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Brown University Medical School. (Dr. Greer's perspective sounds entirely different from the Brown clinicians who serve as "hired guns" at Family Court. Mr. Hagberg, though a therapist himself, insists that words in a therapist's office are not as helpful as physical activity to relieve a hurting brain.)

Much of their message could also pertain to children traumatized, not only by parents, but--often far worse--by legal abuse and neglect after they have been caught up in the machinery of DCYF and Family Court.

A panel of former foster youth from the RI Foster Parents Association Youth Leadership Board spoke compellingly about their experiences and affirmed the need for more youth involvement in future trainings. Their motto could be the focus of an entire conference: "Nothing about us without us."

One teacher told me the training was full of A-ha! moments that helped her understand things going on in her classroom. The governor, a mayor, both U.S. senators brought words of strong affirmation.

Dr. Janice DeFrances, director of DCYF, was scheduled to speak on "Putting Children First" in the context of DCYF's educational initiatives, but could not attend due to a death in her family. But her leadership, alongside Chief Judge Bedrosian's, is key to the depth of content and the breadth of participation--judges alongside former foster youth, teachers and front-line staff.

Such a paradigm-shifting event signals new readiness to hold powerful decision-makers accountable to shared standards and to finally break through the cabals of court that have held sway too long.

That process will not be quick or easy, but it has finally begun.

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: