The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Custody Disputes Now Tougher for Battered Moms

In domestic law on June 28, 2011 at 11:11 pm

It’s been 25 years since Phyllis Chesler wrote “Mothers on Trial” to help women fight their child-custody battles. In this excerpt from her revised book, she reviews what’s changed, for better and worse.

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Custody battles can take a very long time. They range from only several years to more than 15 or 20. They may have profound legal, economic, social, psychological and even medical consequences for years afterward, perhaps forever.

(WOMENSENEWS)–Going through a custody battle is like going through a war. One does not emerge unscathed. Yes, one may learn important lessons, but one may also be left broken and incapable of trusting others, including our so-called justice system, ever again.

What’s changed since I first started researching and writing about custody battles?

Documented domestic violence does get factored in somewhat more than before. Where real assets exist, judges have the power to award more of them to mothers and children. Fewer mothers and fathers automatically lose custody or visitation because they are gay or because they have high-powered careers.

However, certain injustices (crimes, really) that I first began tracking in the late 1970s have now gotten much worse. For example, battered women are losing custody to their batterers in record numbers. Children are being successfully brainwashed by fathers, but many mothers are being falsely accused of brainwashing. Worse: Children with mandated reporters–physicians, nurses or teachers–who report to them that they have been sexually abused by their fathers are usually given to those very fathers. The mothers of these children are almost always viewed as having “coached” or “alienated” the children and, on this basis alone, are seen as “unfit” mothers.

I understand that this sounds unbelievable. But it is still true. The mothers of raped children, who are also described as “protective” mothers, are seen as guilty of “parental alienation syndrome.” The fact that this concept, first pioneered by Dr. Richard Gardner and widely endorsed by fathers’ rights groups, has been dismissed as junk science does not seem to matter. Most guardians ad litem, parenting counselors, mediators, lawyers, mental health professionals and judges still act as if this syndrome were real and mainly find mothers, not fathers, guilty in this regard. In 2010 the American Psychiatric Association was still fighting to include a new disorder in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”: the parental alienation disorder, to replace the debunked parental alienation syndrome.

‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’

In 2009 and 2010 more than 50 mothers from 21 U.S. states and a number of foreign countries all shared their stories with me. Their cases took place between the late 1980s and 2010. Some cases are still ongoing.

eloquent, beautifull

In some instances, I spoke with the mothers in person or at length on the phone. Some mothers filled out questionnaires, but many also sent additional narratives and documentation. Some mothers sent me eloquent, beautifully written, full-length memoirs. Some wrote pithy but equally heartbreaking accounts of their marriages and custody battles.

With a few exceptions, most of my 2010 mother-interviewees said that the system was “corrupt” and that lawyers and judges don’t care about “justice,” are “very biased,” or can be “bought and sold.”

See more at


The “Trial Within a Trial” Court-Appointed Custody Evaluators Waste Judicial Resources and Parents’ Funds

In domestic law on June 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Page one: an illustration of the process
Page two: a conversation by psychs about a child custody evaluation
Page three: the same psychs discuss a diagnostic dilemma

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(1) The parties each have a limited but adequate amount
of litigation funds. Each of them hires a lawyer.

(2) Lawyer A subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(3) Lawyer B subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(4) The witnesses are deposed, and each party’s evidence
is examined by the other.

(5) A date is set for hearing, for which the judge has
allowed adequate time to hear all the evidence

(6) At the hearing, the witnesses testify in court, and
the documentary evidence is introduced into court, all in accordance with the rules
of evidence that have been developed to help assure the reliability of
the evidence, and subject to cross-examination.

(7) The judge makes a decision. Maybe it’s appealed. And maybe it’s not. But for now at least, it’s…

(8) Done.

The primary reason psychologists and other mental health professionals
should be banned from the family court systems, except to answer
limited and narrowly-defined questions actually within their expertise,
is that their presence does not add value, but rather, wastes court, lawyer, and litigant time, money and resources.


Consider two cases, below, simplified to highlight pertinent parts. In both cases, Parent A and Parent B are contesting
custody. There are a number of statutory custody factors which the judge
must consider. Some factors carry with them a presumption regarding how
they are to be weighted or who has the burden of proof, and other factors
do not.


(1) The parties each have a limited but adequate amount
of litigation funds. Each of them hires a lawyer.

(2) Lawyer A subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(3) Lawyer B subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(4) The witnesses are deposed, and each party’s evidence
is examined by the other.

(5) A date is set for hearing, for which the judge has
allowed adequate time to hear all the evidence

(6) At the hearing, the witnesses testify in court, and
the documentary evidence is introduced into court, all in accordance with the rules
of evidence that have been developed to help assure the reliability of
the evidence, and subject to cross-examination.

(7) The judge makes a decision. Maybe it’s appealed. And maybe it’s not. But for now at least, it’s…

(8) Done.

Continued, next page: The Detectives
and on page three: The Diagnosticians

Belief in Benefit Where None Exists.
Isn’t it Time We Ditched this Bad
Also see therapeutic
jurisprudence index

Psychology is not science -- or good law

Arguments made by custody evaluators for not turning over test records and data, and why those arguments are wrong

Why therapeutic jurisprudence must be taken out of our family courts

“On the basis of the ‘best interests of children standard’, mental health professionals are not currently capable of offering scientifically derived opinions detailing an appropriate custodial placement for a child.” — Daniel A. Krauss & Bruce D. Sales, Legal Standards, Expertise, and Experts in the Resolution of Child Custody Cases, 6 Psychol.Pub.Pol.L.866 (2000)

Otto & Donohue: Child Custody Law – Limited Science and a Flawed System

Friendly Parent Concept, A Flawed Factor

Guardians ad Litem in Custody Litigation

Sound Research or Wishful Thinking?

& Ramsey: Child Custody Evaluations: the need for systems level outcome
assessments (2009)

Psychologists and Custody Evaluation Reports – Illusions of Expertise,
Ethics and Objectivity

House of Cards – Psychology & Psychotherapy Built on Myth


Coordinator Issues

Emily Buss on Why children should not be deemed to have “associational rights” and why third party guardians ad litem, forensic psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals cannot possibly assess a child’s interests in this regard. Her arguments apply to a wide variety of assessments.

Reevaluating the Evaluators – Rethinking the Assumptions

Evaluator Quotes

Studies indicate that parents who are subjected to the forced and artificial arrangement of their families by third party evaluators have two to two and a half times the rate of relitigation of parents who do not undergo the custody evaluation process. See Ash, P. and Guyer, J.J. (1986b). Relitigation after contested custody and visitation evaluations. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 14, 323-330; and Johnston, J.R. (1999) Developing and testing group interventions for families at impasse. Final Report submitted to the Statewide Office of Family Court Services, Administrative Office of the Courts, Judicial Council of the State of California, San Francisco.

CASE TWO, having the addition of a helpful

(1) The parties each have a limited but adequate amount
of litigation funds. Each of them hires a lawyer.

(2) Lawyer A subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(3) Lawyer B subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence pertaining
to each of the statutory custody factors.

(4) The witnesses are deposed, and each party’s evidence
is examined by the other.

(5) A date is set for hearing for which the judge, peeved that the case didn’t settle, and in the habit of avoiding responsibility for custody issues, allows inadequate time to hear the evidence.

(6) At the hearing, the lawyers rush through an inadequate
presentation of their respective cases. At the end of this inadequate cursory
hearing, the judge does not feel that he has sufficient information to
make a decision, and so his ruling, as he anticipated for that likelihood, is for the appointment of a custody

(7) The parties are ordered to take a portion of their
litigation funds and divert them to payment of the evaluator. When one
party objects, the judge makes a snappy quip poo-pooing this objection
and pointing out that the party had plenty of money to hire a private lawyer
and issue lots of subpoenas and do depositions.
(The delays also screw up decision-making on financial issues)

(8) The evaluator,
a psychologist or other mental health professional, not qualified

by training to act as a judge or investigator or legal analyst,
let alone pose as an “expert” in these matters, who nevertheless
believes he is the “eyes and ears of the court” and
all-around uber-mavin, commences his detective
        He reinterviews some of each party’s witnesses
and ignores others. He decides that he needs to hear from school personnel, doctors, and other
“collaterals” who have not been introduced by either party
and proceeds to send these people letters, and hold telephone and in-person
interviews with them. Some of them he finds credible, and some not, and
on his own, weights what they have to say accordingly.
        He second-guesses the parties’ respective presentations
of the various custody factors, and decides that some of them, such as
“morality” are not relevant. He ignores legal presumptions or
burdens of proof applicable to others, because he does not understand them.
He applies a criminal law burden of proof (“beyond a reasonable doubt”)
to factors that strike him as being similar to criminal matters. To others
that he feels come within some area of his “scientific expertise”
he applies the standard of “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty”
— and if they don’t meet that, discounts them altogether.
        He has the parties and the children come back and forth to his office for multiple meetings in different combinations. He also has all of them sit for a battery of psychometric tests. He decides that there are diagnoses
that could be applied to one or both parties, as well as additional issues in the case that they could
have but did not introduce, and so includes these.
        He does a home study in which he fantasizes about whether he would enjoy living as a kid in the parties’ respective houses…. etc.

(9) The custody evaluator issues a report with recommendations,
which may or may comport with what the judge in Case One would have decided,
but frequently are somewhat or altogether different, and in some cases are
completely crackpot, the result of ignorant thinking riddled with bias. But let’s not presume anything for purposes of this exercise, and say only that Party A likes the recommendations and Party B does not. If
one or both parties now have been drained of available funds, an unhealthy, unjust, or unworkable settlement
might occur at this point. If not…

(10) A date is set for a second hearing, for which the court
again allows inadequate time to hear the evidence because he thinks he
can rely mostly on the court-appointed custody evaluator’s recommendations. This second hearing is going to be primarily about, not the
case, but the custody evaluator and what he did.

Even though the court has shortchanged the parties’ time at both hearings,
the combined time, with the addition of multiple interim hearings and discovery squabbling, will now likely far exceed what the judge in Case One had
to provide.

(11) Lawyer A issues subpoenas and gathers evidence pertaining
to the custody evaluator, his training, and the favorable and/or new witnesses and
hearsay evidence he used in his report, in order to support Lawyer A’s
case at the upcoming second hearing. Some of this involves re-doing work
already done for prior witnesses who, according to the evaluator,
provided evidence different from their prior testimony.

(12) Lawyer B issues subpoenas and gathers evidence pertaining
to the custody evaluator, his training, his investigation process, his
tests, and unfavorable and/or new witnesses and hearsay evidence he used in his
report. Some of this is requires legal wrangling with a recalcitrant psych, or psycho-babble-specific work, which induces Lawyer B to hire a consulting forensic. Some of this involves re-doing work already done for prior witnesses
who, according to the evaluator, provided evidence different from their prior testimony.

(13) The amount of legal work for the parties and lawyers, and the complexity and cost of the case now has been increased exponentially. Exacerbating this…

(14) Party B hires a reviewing evaluator to help him prove
that the court-appointed evaluator was inexpert, untrained, biased, or
otherwise did his evaluation improperly, and plans to move for a second

(15) Lawyer A issues subpoenas and evidence pertaining
to the custody evaluation reviewer, his training, his thinking processes,
and depending upon how bad the court appointee apparently was, also may
hire a consulting forensic…

(…) At some point it’s such a mess that no one remembers
what the issues in the case originally were. Years may go by. Judges
rotate and change. Parties run out of money. Lawyers withdraw
for nonpayment. Tempers flare. Mistakes are made. Squabbling
over discovery
geometrically increases.. Because of the lengthy time in which
the litigation continues, new events occur which have to be addressed.
Temporary judicial orders based on inadequate and bad evidence have been
repeatedly uttered, contested, and possibly appealed. A frustrated judge
may order a parenting
. One or the other party may be ordered into various supervised visitations or therapies at the recommendation of the custody evaluator, or of a guardian ad litem who thinks that custody evaluators know what they are doing. Parties positions harden and polarize. An inordinate amount of parental time and money, resources
that otherwise should have gone to the family and for the children is
forever gone… and it just goes on and on…

An improvement, do you think?    

…Children need This?  



Why “Therapeutic Jurisprudence” Must Be — and Will Be — Eliminated From Our Family Courts

In domestic law on June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Children need. . . THIS?

The routine broad involvement of these expert witnesses must be recognized by the legal profession as the egregious misjudgment it is, as well as fostering ethical violations that must be addressed by state bar ethics rules.

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Lawyers’ unacknowledged conflicts are destroying the quality of family law representation.
One of the problems
with the rise of therapeutic jurisprudence and the placement of non-legal
systems into the courts is the subtle denigration of long-established precepts
of lawyer independence and due process. One of the multiple ways this happens
in the family courts is through the common development of multidisciplinary
collegial relationships and business referral.

Lawyers in these
positions will be tempted to rationalize to themselves, as well as maintain
the posture in the community at large, that the expert’s opinions, even
when they are adverse to his client, are scientifically valid — even when
they may not be, even if they are deeply flawed or completely bogus. These
lawyers may rationalize to themselves that the validity of the science
is not their responsibility because, after all, lawyers are not “scientists”.

The lawyer who naively
or purposefully steps down the path of multidisciplinary practice, regularly
exchanging referrals and engaging in other close associations with nonlawyer
case participants (a practice that is encouraged by mixed-discipline organizations
such as the AFCC under the Orwellian assumption that this somehow fosters
justice and works to “improve” the courts) in fact has sold his
professional soul to the devil — literally

The conflict of interest
problems are inherent in the nature of the association. They exist even
when there is no explicit association or referral relationship. They are
not the same as having a professional relationship with another lawyer
who regularly may be on the opposing side of a case, because unlike the
lawyer colleague, these individuals are case participants — witnesses
or even parties. They are not akin to neutral judges or magistrates, the
bailiffs or other courthouse personnel. None of these truly neutral courthouse
persons advocates for a position in a case, testifies as a witness, or
participates as a party proper (as do some GALs).



Seattle Times special report: Twisted ethics of an expert witness

In domestic law on June 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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Stuart Greenberg was at the top of his profession: a renowned forensic psychologist who in court could determine which parent got custody of a child, or whether a jury believed a claim of sexual assault. Trouble is, he built his career on hypocrisy and lies, and as a result, he destroyed lives, including his own.

Stuart Greenberg

For a quarter century Greenberg testified as an expert in forensic psychology, an inscrutable field with immense power. Purporting to offer insight into the human condition, he evaluated more than 2,000 children, teenagers and adults. His word could determine which parent received custody of a child, or whether a jury believed a claim of sexual assault, or what damages might be awarded for emotional distress.

Greenberg had proved such a toxic force — a poison coursing through the state’s court system — that it took more than three years for lawyers and judges to sift through his victims and account for the damage done.

The reporting for this story

To uncover the secrets Stuart Greenberg had buried, The Seattle Times got court files unsealed in the superior courts of King and Thurston counties. Through a motion filed by the state Attorney General’s Office, the newspaper also got an order lifted that barred public inspection of Greenberg’s disciplinary history. Reporters obtained other documents — for example, Greenberg’s emails at the University of Washington — through public-records requests, and interviewed colleagues of Greenberg, as well as parents he had evaluated.

But his formidable career was built upon a foundation of hypocrisy and lies. In the years since Greenberg’s death, while court officials wrestled over his estate, The Seattle Times worked to unearth Greenberg’s secrets, getting court records unsealed and disciplinary records opened.

Those records are a testament to Greenberg’s cunning. They show how he played the courts for a fool. He played state regulators for a fool. He played his fellow psychologists for a fool. And were it not for a hidden camera, he might have gotten away with it.

Hiding his past

“That is boilerplate,” says Terry West, who was the Examining Board of Psychology’s program manager at the time. “That’s standard language in any stipulation.”



Fundraising Update: NO WAY OUT BUT ONE

In domestic law on June 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Vodpod videos no longer available.

No Way Out But One : Fund Raising Update by Garland Waller (Please spread widely)

In domestic law on June 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Dear Friends: Click here….No Way Out But One for update

Fundraising Update from Garland Waller on Vimeo.


Click here to donate even just $5.00

We have good news, bad news and more good news. The real good news it that post-production of the full-length version of No Way Out But One is going great. We have received the never before seen FBI files, and we are finishing up our final interviews. This is really going to be a powerful story about one remarkable mother’s efforts to keep her children safe, and the harrowing experience that Child and Family Court has become for so many protective parents and children.

The bad news is that we are coming up on the deadline for contributions to Kickstarter and we have a long way to go. But the other good news is that if we can get a substantial number of modest $5 individual contributions – yes honestly, just $5 will do it – someone will kick in a major grant to help us reach the final goal of $20,000 to complete and distribute the film.

We are deeply indebted to the women and men who have already given generously because we are getting there, but this one particular donor wants to see that there really is a GROUNDSWELL OF SUPPORT. It’s all in the numbers.

If you have already given, thank you and if not, you can still help soooo much. Just post this, send this, get this word out.

Ask friends to compare it to a skipping a latte…. or just give $5 because by adding $5, so many can help reach $20,000 for a good cause. The issue is so important. We, in this group, already know that. The issue of family court injustice affects so many people’s lives.

We are totally dedicated to the project. But we must have this funding to complete all the work we need to do.

So, yes, I am begging, please post this request on FACEBOOK, Tweet it, send it out to your groups – all your groups. It’s a numbers game. Help us win!

Tell your friends, all they have to do is click here….

No Way Out But One

Thank you.


No Way Out But One


In domestic law on June 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm
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Confusion on the Role of Law Guardians
The Matrimonial Commission’s Report and the Need for Change

Confusion on the Role of Law Guardians
The Matrimonial Commission’s Report and the Need for Change
By Nancy S. Erickson

n February 2006, after holding many hearings throughout the state, the Matrimonial Commission appointed by Judge
Judith Kaye and headed by Judge Sondra Miller issued a final report addressing many issues important to the matri-

monial Bar, including issues regarding law guardians for children. The Commission made a good start in the quest to
deal with problems surrounding the law guardian system; for example, it recommended that the term “law guardian” be
replaced by “attorney for the child” (AC), because the term “law guardian” can cause confusion in the minds of attor-
neys and litigants alike. However, in spite of the clarification a name change might bring, there remains much confusion
as to the role and power of the AC. Without clarity on this issue, the children, the courts and the public will remain
unprotected against ACs who misuse their power in that role



GAL Power

In domestic law on June 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Also see: The Guardian Ad Litem Scandals – Legislative Reforms Needed

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A guardian ad litem report lead to a change in child custody. The report was a product of “shoddy investigation” and involves “lies told in court,” according to a source.
Divorced parents with minor children often fight over custody and visitation rights, producing courtroom decisions that are complex and often heartbreaking for at least one parent. This story takes a rare public look into that system for two reasons:
First, it involves the kind of complicated, personal and family situations that make these cases so difficult to adjudicate. Secondly, there is the additional drama of conflict combined with allegations of questionable performances among the justice system officials themselves.
Clark County Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg recently removed two children from their mother’s home, even though no petition for such action was before the court. Schienberg based her temporary decision on an allegedly flawed report prepared by a court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL).
When the mother’s attorney criticized the GAL report and refused to apologize for her comments, the commissioner held the attorney in contempt and fined her $500.
The commissioner’s ruling is under appeal, with a hearing pending. Meanwhile, the two minor children have been moved to the custody of their father. He has issued multiple threats of legal action against the writer and any publication who would publish a story about this case.
In Washington State, court commissioners are appointed by superior court judges. They are not elected by the public, but they have many of the same responsibilities and authorities as a superior court judge.

A family law guardian ad litem is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child, often during divorce or custody proceedings. In addition to family law matters, a GAL can be appointed to assist anyone a court deems legally incapacitated. Clark County commissioners and judges appointed GALs 396 times in 2010, according to Superior Court Administrator Jeffrey Amram.

GAL reports are confidential. However, the author obtained a copy of the GAL report from an undisclosed source after concerns were raised about contents of the report and the commissioner’s ruling.

In August 2008, the mother received “primary residential placement” of the two minor children as part of a court-approved parenting plan. After more than two years of continuing conflict between the parents, the father filed an October 2010 contempt motion against the mother for violation of visitation rights.

Case didn’t seek custody
The commissioner, in early December, held the mother in contempt for certain violations. At the same time, she approved a motion to require that transfer of the children for visitation times take place at the Vancouver police station due to conflict between the parties.

In November, the mother filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, asking for restricted visitation time with the father until he received counseling for anger management. The father, responding in December, said there was insufficient proof for a major modification of that plan.

That is the issue before the court that led to the appointment of Vancouver attorney Meredith McKell Graff as Guardian ad Litem to investigate the matter.

According to the mother’s attorney, Vancouver attorney April Brinkman, the GAL report was supposed to be finished by the first of February 2011. However, it was not submitted to the court until May 12, and it came with a blockbuster recommendation that the children be removed from the mother’s home and the father be given primary residential placement.

A source close to the case, who asked not to be identified, said there were significant concerns about the integrity of that 26-page report, which were ignored by Commissioner Schienberg. The source called the report a product of “shoddy investigation” and involved “lies told in court” by Graff.

One of the more disturbing allegations against the mother is referred to as the “wiener game.” It was reported to Child Protective Services at an unspecified time, according to the confidential GAL report. While bathing with her children, the report says, the mother “taught each boy how to stimulate himself to erection… then balance an action figure toy on their erect penis. The longer they can hold the toy on their penis is the winner (sic).”

It has been almost a decade since the Clark County parents in this case were divorced. Subsequent battles over custody of their children have included numerous allegations between the parties of child abuse, sexual abuse, stalking and harassment.
The father allegedly has forced his children to write false accusations against their month, including allegations outlines in a recent police report. In that June 1 report, Battle Ground Officer Joshua Phelps wrote:
“I asked [redacted] about his mom making him lie about things. [Redacted] told me that she did not do that, but their father told them to write that down.”
It doesn’t appear, at this time, that police or Child Protective Services have substantiated allegations against either parent, but due to the long record of conflict it’s no surprise that the court saw need for an independent and objective view of a GAL.
A lie in court? 
Attorney Meredith Graff did not respond to several requests for comment. For updates on the case, visit the blog, VanVoice Blotter, at

to the father and his current wife, stating:

“The guardian ad litem is also an attorney and these minors (sic) attorney, and she informed us today that if you print or allow Mr. Griffith to print a story about

AL investigation takes a turn 

The court order appointing Meredith McKell Graff as GAL instructed her to “investigate and report the factual information to the court concerning parenting arrangements” of the two children. Graff’s final report was unequivocal in its recommendation.

“The children in this matter… are at extreme risk of harm if they remain any longer in the mother’s home,” the report states. “They should be removed immediately.”

Subsequent concerns about the GAL report are voiced prominently by the mother’s attorney in the motion for reversal of Commissioner Schienberg’s temporary order.

High on the list of concerns about the May 12 report is a statement by Graff that she interviewed the references for both parents. That conflicts with her statement of May 24 in which she declared, “I did not interview (the mother’s reference); my legal assistant performed this task.”

Neither statement revealed the actual fact that Graff’s assistant, Heidi Atwood, actually interviewed all four references listed in the report.

“As the guardian ad litem’s legal assistant,” wrote Atwood in her May 24 declaration to the court, “in order to save time… I was given the assignment of calling all the guardian ad litem references and asking them the questions requested by the guardian ad litem … ”

Atwood is not listed on the court-approved guardian ad litem registry, and there’s no record that she has completed any of the required training to work as guardian ad litem. She is a 40-year-old college student at Washington State University whose only professional license in Washington is as a Notary Public, according to Graff’s law office and state documents. 


A lie in court? 

Court transcripts of the June 2 hearing include Graff’s statement that she couldn’t obtain a release from the mother to get medical records. “Because (the mother) did not sign a HIPAA release with her doctor … I did not get medical records from the mother,” said Graff.

However, Brinkman has since filed with the court a copy of just such a release, signed by the mother on March 29 and faxed to Graff’s office, according to Brinkman. 

Further, Graff didn’t need that release to get the information. The court order appointing her includes a signed “release of information” provision giving her access to all pertinent records, specifically including health care records, for both parents.

The GAL report says that Graff has “minimal concerns with the father,” despite the fact that she quoted a 2007 psychological evaluation saying that the father has “issues with chronic and intense anger;” that he is “not able to express negative feeling appropriately;” that he is “over-controlled with brief, impulsive episodes of acting out;” and that he is “sensitive to rejection and has a subtle paranoia that is expressed as jealously or possessiveness. He can be hostile when criticized and has little self-awareness.”

The doctor who conducted that psychological evaluation of the father also evaluated his current wife, saying she is “aggressive and striving,” and “defines her view as the correct one and assumes that to disagree with her is simply a demonstration of one’s lack of understanding.”

Graff’s report did not disagree with that impression, but said the children need a controlling adult in their lives. “Even though the father’s wife may appear to some that she is ‘controlling,’ she is actually what the boys need right now,” Graff wrote.

The report recommended that both parents enter counseling, but held “no reservations” about having the children moved to primary residency with their father.


Many issues of credibility 

Graff used Child Protective Services reports to help form her recommendation that the children face eminent harm in the mother’s care. However, none of the allegations against the mother have been substantiated by Child Protective Services, police or the county prosecutor’s office, according to available court documents.  

Graff considered various allegations of both parents to be less than credible.

“The parents — both of them — have engaged in CPS and the police far too often, and too many times with false or misleading information, in order to discredit the other parent,” Graff stated.

It’s not clear, then, why allegations from one side would become grounds for such a significant recommendation. There is also a matter of various subjective and inflammatory words and phrases used in the report.

The report at one point says that the mother “remade herself into a sexual abuse zombie,” and later says a photo of the mother and her new husband “shows them tonguing like reptiles.” Nothing clarified the use of those phrases as part of an evaluation of parenting skills.

The GAL report also indicates that Graff did not interview the children’s doctors, teachers, psychologists or neighbors.


Lack of balance in interviews 

Graff — or rather, her assistant, Atwood — interviewed three references for the father but only one for the mother, an imbalance that casts doubt on fairness of the investigation. And despite Graff being assigned the investigation in December, Atwood didn’t start requesting interviews with the mother’s references until May 10, according to numerous court documents and the declaration of a veteran Oregon police officer.

Officer Jason Maddy stated, “The law office of McKell Graff left a voicemail for me Tuesday, May 10, 2011, sometime during the afternoon. Records indicate that the voicemail was the first and only time that Atwood called Maddy. He planned to call Atwood on May 13, but Graff completed her report on May 11.

Maddy, an experienced investigator, was bothered by the one-day callback window. “I would never even think of just calling someone and leaving a message and writing the report the next day without hearing from them,” Maddy stated. He further stated that he “would have been able to provide very important information about how I have seen (the mother) interact with her children.”

Another reference provided by the mother said she didn’t receive the request for an interview until May 11. By the time she called Graff’s law office the report already was filed, and Atwood wouldn’t document what she said would have been favorable statements about the mother.

Even more disturbing, although Graff may have stopped taking statements in support of the mother on May 11, she continued taking statements against the mother even after the report was filed with the court. In her May 24 declaration, Graff references new allegations against the mother that surfaced after the confidential report was filed on May 12.

“I have been now told,” wrote Graph in that declaration, “that the children have been punished for telling me things that the mother did not want me to know or the children to tell me.”


Second-hand allegations 

Graff appears to have disregarded her direct observations of the mother’s house in favor of statements from unidentified sources.

 “The mother’s home is chaotic and dirty,” Graff stated in her report. However, she wrote that the house was staged to look clean during her lone visit there.

“The mother made a point of having me go ‘say goodnight’ to each boy before beginning the interview,” Graff wrote. “I am concerned this was an effort to get me to walk down the hall to show me that the house was ‘neat,’ rather than how it had been prior to its staging for my visit.”

The report cited an unnamed source who reported to Graff that the mother put a large amount of “stuff” in storage so Graff would not see the usual state of the house.

In contrast, Graff was very impressed with the father’s home, where she made multiple visits. She wrote: “Going in, one feels a sense of peace and calm.” Although records indicate that there was only one investigative interview at the father’s house, Graff wrote, “I have been to the (father’s) home on more than occasion.”

The father’s house is in an upscale neighborhood, and court documents indicate that the father makes substantially more money than the mother. Graff said, however, that those factors were not taken into consideration in her recommendation.

“To be clear,” she wrote, “my recommendation for (the father) being named the primary residential parent is not based on socio-economic factors. I have been appointed in other cases where the recommended placement was for the poorer home of the two parents.”

She continued, in one of the report’s more unusual narratives: “One can be clean, neat, organized, and poor, with clean, ragged clothes and one can have money and worldly possessions and be dirty, chaotic, and provide no supervision for children, along with allowing them to be sexually abused within the grand, expensive home.”


GAL invoices for thousands more 

Graff is seeking payment of almost $2,500 more than was first authorized by the court, which wrote in its appointing order: “The guardian ad litem fee is $75 per hour up to $750, the maximum the guardian ad litem may charge without additional court review and approval.”

That full $750 was paid months ago through combined payments from the parents. But according to Graff, she has racked up 41.6 hours to date for a total bill of $3,120. She stated in a court document that it would be “appropriate for the court to order the parties to share an additional $2,370.”

The GAL invoice does not explain how many hours her assistant worked, of whether those hours are included in the billing.


Commissioner’s fully endorses report 

The June 2 hearing, held in open court, included specific reference to contents of the confidential GAL report. And Commissioner Schienberg seemed very pleased with the quality of the report.

“First of all,” Schienberg said in the hearing, I want to thank Ms. Graff for her work. I think you did an excellent job; it was very thorough … I think she did an excellent report.”

The commission, however, went beyond stating her positive impression of the report. When April Brinkman questioned the lack of supporting documents in the report, Schienberg was quick to demand that Brinkman apologize to the GAL.

“There’s no evidence to support anything that the GAL has said,” Brinkman stated in court. The transcript record of that statement provides no information on tone, volume, body language or any other factor except the words themselves.

“Excuse me, you’re going to apologize right now to this Court and to Ms. Graff,” said Schienberg, “or I will hold you in contempt. You apologize, now.”

Brinkman declined to apologize, was held in contempt of court and was fined $500.

Schienberg said in the hearing that her decision to relocate the children was based on the GAL report, statements made during the hearing and unspecified “documents in Volumes 4 and 5.” 

According to the court transcript, Brinkman did not receive those documents, and they were not listed in Graff’s report.

At one point, Brinkman asked Schienberg if “the guardian ad litem is supposed to attach any document she used to the report the Court considers?” Schienberg responded:

“Okay. I took the report that Ms. Graff has provided me and her comments, she is an officer of the court. I trust that when speaks to the court, she is not lying to the court. She has an excellent reputation in this court. She is a person who has done a number of guardian ad litem reports, always well done, always thoroughly researched, always coming to an unbiased, no prejudicial conclusion. I value her work.”

Perhaps reflecting the volatile nature of cases before her court, Commissioner Schienberg has attracted a Facebook page entitled “Fire Washington Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg.” The page has 30 members and includes comments from people who have had family law matters before her court.

Schienberg, reached via e-mail with a request for comment on this story, said she could not comment on an ongoing matter.


Legislator interested in case 

Washington State Rep. Ann Rivers of the 18th District and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was contacted by the mother with concerns about this case. Rivers confirmed in a phone interview that she spoke with the mother and is “concerned” by the issues raised.

“Anytime we have children put into a destabilized system, families lose out,” said Rivers, adding that she is in the “infancy stage of research” and is seeking more information from state legal staff.

Rivers said she believes that parents should place their responsibility to their children above any personal disagreement with each other. As for certain unusual language in the GAL report, Rivers said it wasn’t the kind of thing she would expect to see in a formal report.

Meanwhile, the author and The Vancouver Voice received emailed threats — from the father’s email account — of legal action if the investigation into this case continues. A June 16 email also suggests that Graff is providing legal assistance to the father and his current wife, stating:

“The guardian ad litem is also an attorney and these minors (sic) attorney, and she informed us today that if you print or allow Mr. Griffith to print a story about these minors, you and Mr. Griffith will be served with lawsuits, liable to start.”



Custodial Father Charged in Daughter’s Death, sadistic physical abuse

In domestic law on June 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Testimony indicated that after Lauren was removed from her mother’s home in August 2009, the girl became dangerously emaciated — and was subjected to sadistic forms of physical abuse –in the seven months she would spend in the custody of her father, Ryan, and her stepmother, Brittany.

Amplify’d from

MUNCIE — With her father and stepmother already facing long prison terms, authorities aren’t letting up in their investigation of the events that led to the March 2010 death of Lauren McConniel.

On Tuesday, a third adult who lived in the South Ebright Street house where 5-year-old Lauren spent her final months was arrested on charges stemming from her mistreatment and death.

Robert E. Lee, 44 — the stepfather of Brittany McConniel, Lauren’s stepmother — is charged with aiding, inducing or causing neglect of a dependent, a Class A felony carrying a standard 30-year prison term; three counts of battery, a Class D felony with a standard 18-month sentence, and failure to immediately report child abuse, a misdemeanor.

Lee, listed on court records at addresses in both Muncie and Farmland, was arrested late Tuesday afternoon, and was being held without bond in the Delaware County jail.

Details of the allegations against Lee were not available Tuesday night, although more information was expected today after related court documents are unsealed.

Lee, his wife and their adult daughter also lived with the McConniels.

Lauren died in Riley Hospital for Children on March 9, 2010, apparently after her as-yet-unexplained ingestion of a lethal amount of table salt, which caused seizures and brain injuries her malnourished body could not recover from.



Man wanted to skip ‘child parenting classes while arguing with the Mother. Sentenced 12 years for aggravated Child Abuse

In domestic law on June 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm
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Walter A. Brown said he was sorry his 3-month-old daughter was injured last summer when her mother, Amanda Cozart, fell on the baby during an argument between the parents.

But both Judge Richard Mitchell and State’s Attorney Chris Reif said they don’t believe the account Brown gave during his sentencing Tuesday and it shows his lack of taking responsibility for severely injuring the child when he battered her a year ago.

Mitchell sentenced Brown to 12 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections — a sentence Reif offered in exchange for Brown agreeing to proceed with a stipulated bench trial in May.

The judge found the 41-year-old Jacksonville man guilty of one count of felony aggravated battery of a child after reviewing evidence submitted in a 12-page stipulation of facts.

Brown read a statement in which he recounted how the baby was accidentally injured June 24, 2010, while he was arguing with Cozart at the North Clay Avenue home of his ex-wife, April Dawne Brown.

Walter Brown accused Cozart of hitting him during an argument over Cozart wanting him to skip his child-parenting class that night. When he pushed Cozart, she fell on the baby. He ran out of the house not knowing his daughter, Amelia, had been injured until he talked to his daughter, Brittinni Brown, 18, later that night, he said.

The aggravated battery of a child charge was Walter Brown’s third felony conviction. His two prior felony convictions were for aggravated battery in 1989 in Cook County and unlawful delivery of cannabis in 1996 in Morgan County. He also had five misdemeanor and 14 traffic convictions.

Peoria doctor Channing Petrak was prepared to testify injuries to the child’s brain were significant and included a lack of oxygen event, bleeding and skull fractures consistent with “abusive head trauma,” according to the stipulation of facts. The baby had bruising over a large portion of her scalp and forehead, around her eyes, along the nasal bridge near the ears and on the pallet. She also suffered posterior rib fractures the doctor said are rarely seen in infants because of an accidental cause and are highly specific for abuse.

“The mother and father did not get along,” Kesinger said. “It was a very tumultuous relationship.”

Walter Brown was arrested July 25 after Shannon County, Mo., deputies spotted him camping in a wooded area near Eminence, Mo.

Cozart, 27, has denied her daughter’s injuries were accidental. She described the manner in which Walter Brown picked up the child “similar as to how an individual would be grabbing a chicken by the legs.”

Cozart, who is facing charges similar to those filed against Walter Brown, was prepared to testify that he “picked Amelia up by her legs and swung her around, hitting her head on the playpen and then threw Amelia into the playpen,” a court document said.

Cozart also was going to testify “as to … times when she would personally observe the defendant blowing cannabis smoke into Amelia’s face,” the document said



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