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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.)

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.

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: