Y et another mom begging big daddy to relinquish a little power and give her back her children. Show your support and contact:
Victoria Pierce, SE Director
National Alliance for Family Court Justice
Los Angeles Daily Journal
November 23, 1999
Suffer the Children
A Mother Pleaded for the Courts to Protect Her Kids. She Is Accused of a Witch Hunt.
A Mother's Plea Leaves Her Accused of Hysteria
By Cheryl Romo
Daily Journal Staff Writer
Pioneer - Every Tuesday morning, Karen Anderson, a mother at war with the
court system of Amador County, (CA) gets into her battered 1987 Chevy Spectrum and makes the two-hour drive to Sacramento to lobby legislators and the governor at the state Capitol. Her quest is a seemingly simple one: to protect her three youngest children. The reasons for it are not so simple.
Anderson wants her children returned to her - and she accuses the legal system in her small rural county of giving full custody of her three youngest kids to an ex-husband she claims is a child molester. It is a charge her former husband, Donald Hoverson, has steadfastly denied. His attorney, Helen Page, who is also the Amador Consolidated Court's family law facilitator and its former ombudsman, told the Daily Journal she could not discuss the case. However, Page described the long-running child custody battle as "extremely complicated" and said the public has been "blatantly misinformed" about it. Before recusing himself, the first judge in the custody case that began in 1995 went so far as to call Karen Anderson's claims against her ex-husband a hysterical witch hunt and ordered the mother to apologize to the entire community for her sins in exchange for being able to see her children. She refused. Others see the case in a different light. Amador County attorney Bud Lewis, a retired deputy district attorney, said he began as an impartial observer of the custody case and soon became a believer in Anderson's cause. Court and county officials, he said, have set out to "crucify" the mother for daring to criticize local government by exercising freedom of speech and taking her grievances outside the county to the court of public opinion. "This would not have happened if the case had been in juvenile dependency court because that court could have though of the best interests of the children," Lewis said. What's best for children is not at the top of the priority list in family law courts, he said. "These people are biased," he said of the court and opposing counsel. "They have identified their role in life as to get Karen. The real victims are the children. Something that should cause everyone to pause is that someday these kids will be adults, and they will go home to their mother." In addition to lobbying state lawmakers, Anderson has picketed the Amador County Courthouse in Jackson, written op-ed pieces for the local newspaper, filed a "patriot's" lawsuit in federal court naming dozens of officials as defendants, became a national spokeswoman, and founded a local organization called M.A.M.A., short for Mothers Against Molesters Alliance. While Anderson has been lifted to the level of sainthood by some outside her tiny community - particularly women's rights groups, - she is a woman scorned and vilified by many of those who live and work in conservative Amador County. "She has a special talent for hooking people's resentment," Lewis said. And until the seemingly domestic violence-related deaths in Pioneer (Amador Co. CA) this September of three young children who were the grandchildren and step-grandchildren of two former U.S. congressmen, no situation has so polarized this community like the Anderson-Hoverson custody battle. People here say the county has been slow to wake up to the fact that domestic abuse exists. Some blame the community's "good old boy" network and the court in Amador County for turning a blind eye to home-based violence. Yet the chief judge, who founded the county's Domestic Violence Council, says these critics are misinformed. In the continuing Anderson case, where nothing has been proved or disproved, the mother has become the focus of attention rather than the allegations of molestation against the father. During nearly two dozen interviews over a two month period with members of the legal and mental health communities as well as with local residents, many described Anderson as a publicity hound more interested in attention than in protecting her three children. In conversations with current and former county officials, she was often derisively called "our leading citizen", and "that Anderson woman." As a result of her unwavering public stand and refusal to compromise, the mother has received hate mail, been accused of a controversial malady called "parental alienation syndrome," lost her home and business to pay legal fees and been forced into bankruptcy. The word most often used to describe her is "obsessed." And she agrees. "I told my children I would protect them," she said. "I didn't ask for this, you know." One of Anderson's three former attorneys, who asked to remain unidentified, said that "mistakes get made and a lot of things happened in this case that shouldn't have." Her current attorney, Richard Mata of Los Angeles, said he became intrigued with the case because a mother lost her children for nothing more than an allegation. And, at the last court hearing in October, Mata said, the judge was effectively attempting to stifle Anderson's freedom of speech for reasons that made no sense to him. "Ms. Anderson has been very vocal in Sacramento and in the local newspaper. And somehow the court thought it was having an effect on her children." the general practitioner said. "The last court ruling was unfair because there was no clear-cut evidence that she is alienating her children from their father by speaking out in the public arena." But Larry Dixon, a former Amador County district attorney and the court-appointed counsel for the three Hoverson children, described the custody battle - which began as a divorce case in August 1994 - as "extraordinary." He defended the court's action in placing the children in the sole custody of their father. "It does have some rather strange twists in it," he said, citing Anderson's federal lawsuit and a separate appeal court decision upholding the local state court's action in the custody matter. "The court reached the conclusion that the children were being emotionally damaged and therefore changed custody." Court records indicate the work "extraordinary" may be too tame a word. According to court transcripts, for instance, Superior Court Judge Harold Bradford, a visiting judge from neighboring Alpine County, said he had seen false accusations of sexual abuse several times and thought they were becoming a "phenomena of this county and the adjoining Calaveras County." He told Anderson and her attorney they should "be scorned for embarrassing yourselves and your community" by bringing false accusations - and, even if the allegations were true, they were at best "minor sexual abuse," and Hoverson "is entitled to see his children regularly and in a meaningful manner." Then, on October 31, 1996, Bradford said, "I had the privilege one day when I was stationed in New England in the Navy to spend Halloween evening in the town of Salem, Mass. Many of you may remember that Salem, Mass. was the location during colonial days of trials and persecutions and prosecutions and punishments for witchcraft. History tells us that that witchcraft's fright that went through Salem, Mass. was hysterical and, as we know, unfounded on any factual basis I don't think Jackson is an appropriate town for anything resembling witchcraft. I don't think Amador County is an appropriate location for unfounded hysteria. This case is really just a divorce." This case began in February, 1995, following Hoverson and Anderson's divorce. Anderson, a dog trainer with three teenage boys from a previous marriage, received full custody of her three younger children by Hoverson. Her ex-husband, a construction worker, was given liberal visitation with his children, two girls and a boy. Not long after, Hoverson indicated that he would like to see his kids more often and, when the parents could not agree on a schedule, they returned to court. Hoverson v. Hoverson (Anderson), 94-FL-0084. Then, after a visit with her father, the couple's 6-year-old daughter allegedly complained to her mother that her dad was doing "sick" things to her. The child then began having emotional problems and was acting out in a sexual way. After a medical checkup, a doctor made a report of suspected child abuse to the Amador County Department of Social Services. A social worker for the department later made a similar report, and the county Sheriff's Department launched an investigation. She made a similar disclosure to a therapist, who also filed a suspected abuse report with DSS. During this period, the couple's 4-year-old daughter returned from a visit with her father and complained of genital irritation. The mother contacted the Sheriff's Department and was told to take both girls to the University of California at Davis Medical Center for an examination. Reports indicate some medical evidence pointing toward sexual abuse of the oldest girl, and the children began receiving counseling funded by the county's Victim/Witness Assistance Program. On completion of its investigation, the Sheriff's Department recommended prosecution and turned the case over to the district attorney's office. However, wrinkles appeared. Hoverson said he believed that one of Anderson's teen-age sons may have molested the two girls. And Anderson - who maintains she was instructed to do so by a Sheriff's Department investigator, who later denied the claim - made a videotape of her oldest daughter making accusations against her father the night before the child presented the same allegations to law enforcement. Yet all three of the Hoverson children - including the girls' 9-year-old brother, who said he repeatedly saw his father get into bed with his little sisters - accused the father of wrongdoing. In November 1995, Superior Court Judge Susan C. Harlan, the presiding judge of the Amador Consolidated Courts, appointed Dixon as attorney for the Hoverson children and a local psychologist, Larry Leatham, as an evaluator, in the custody case. "The appointment was a little extraordinary," sand Dixon. "Family law was not a normal part of my practice, but how can you say 'no' to a presiding judge?" Then, in February 1996, the district attorney's office, then headed by Steven Cilenti, now in private practice, launched a criminal investigation, and Hoverson's visits with his children halted. Cilenti turned the case over to the grand jury, and the oldest girl testified that her father had molested her. While some jurors later acknowledged likely sexual abuse, the grand jury found not enough evidence to proceed criminally against the father. Cilenti recently told the Daily Journal he could not comment on the case, but the current DA, Todd Riebe, who was the county's public defender at the time of the criminal investigation, said "there was failure to indict." The Amador County Department of Social Services then decided to drop its investigation. It explained its action in court documents submitted in the custody case. "There is insufficient evidence to assess the children's risk of being molested by their father. If the medical evidence supported that (one of the children) was molested, there would be a further question of who molested her." Matthew Zanze, the head of DSS, wrote. And because Anderson had made a tape to document her oldest daughter's allegations, Zanze continued, deciding whether the child had been coached was difficult. "In any case, this child has been psychologically damaged by the conduct of her mother, whether well-meaning or not." Bradford, who came in to hear the custody case after Harlan recused herself, ordered supervised visits between the children and their father. In September 1996, the court-appointed evaluator testified that Anderson, whom other therapists had found to be a loving and stable parent, had something called "parental alienation syndrome." The judge then gave Hoverson full custody of his children. Anderson was denied any contact whatsoever. In reaction, two therapists who had been involved in counseling the children for DSS protested by leaving their jobs. One of them told the Daily Journal that she was told to "look the other way" when they took three children from a mother and gave them to the perpetrator. There was a serious lack of support from child protective services - and I felt law enforcement was not backing the safety of children." And a child-abuse prevention specialist who had counseled one of the Hoverson children submitted an affidavit to the court disputing the court-appointed psychologist's diagnosis of the mother. "There is nothing that I observed in Ms. Anderson that would lead me to believe that she engaged in any course of conduct of alienating the children from their father," Cookie Hurd wrote. "Ms. Anderson was distraught and unwilling to believe that her child could have experienced this kind of abuse. She attempted to deny it to herself." But Dixon, the children's attorney, told the Daily Journal that the outcome for Anderson had more to do with her own behavior than the parental alienation syndrome diagnosis. "It was not the foundational basis for changing custody. The court did that on its own motion after reviewing the Sheriff's Department videotapes and the Karen Anderson tape. The court reached the conclusion that the children were being emotionally damaged and therefore changed custody." On July 15, 1997, in an unpublished opinion written by Associate Justice Fred K. Morrison and with concurrence by Associate Justices Robert K. Puglia and Connie M. Callahan, the Third District Court of Appeal sided with Bradford in In re: the Marriage of Donald and Karen H., C024242. The appeal court charged Anderson with "fabricating evidence by coercing one of her children to accuse the father," evading discovery requests, turning to "structural attacks" and failing to explain why the trial court was procedurally defective. "No due process violations occurred. The failure to follow lawful evidentiary rules caused the exclusion of the evidence, not the personal whim of the trial judge," the opinion states. By this time Anderson was admittedly desperate, out of money, and acting as her own attorney. She said she could not afford to appeal to a higher court. So, after being persuaded by a patriots' rights organization, she filed a pro per civil rights suit in the District of Columbia. As defendants she named everyone from her ex-husband to Amador County officials to the governor of California in a conspiracy to deny her access to her children. Anderson v. Hoverson, 98CV00115 (CCK). While the federal suit was eventually dismissed without prejudice, in the interim it became an issue in the Amador County custody case - and led to the eventual self-recusal of Bradford. Following community outrage about his conduct in the case as expressed in voluminous court documents, the judge, who denied he was biased or prejudiced against Anderson, on March 16,1998, wrote: "Her obsession with litigation now exposes the County of Amador to unnecessary legal fees and expenses as it resists her frivolous claims in the federal court. Her obsession with claims of wrongdoing on the part of others increases the cost to Amador County for counsel appointed to represent the interests of her children. This litigation should have been a rather featureless and ordinary dissolution of marriage [but] respondent's false claims of sexual abuse of the children by petitioner generated needlessly extensive and expensive litigation; those claims have been litigated, found to have been without merit, which finding was affirmed on appeal." Another visiting judge, this time retired Stansilaus Municipal Court Judge J. Augustus Accurso, came in to hear the case. At present, Anderson has been allowed monitored visits with her children, and Hoverson retains custody. Attorneys in town refer to the case as a "tar baby." The DA's office has reportedly investigated attorneys involved with the case, and the court-appointed psychologist is now facing state disciplinary proceedings. "The investigation of the evaluator, I think, will have the biggest impact on this case," Mata said. Anderson continues to agitate, often wearing a T-shirt with Bradford's picture on the front and her children's pictures on the back. "My children will never, ever reach their full potential after what they've been through," she said. "I promised I would protect them, but the system wouldn't let me. Nobody has stood up to these people." One of Anderson's supporters, Pioneer resident Elise Hoover, said, "Karen is a wonderful mother, but she's not a plaster saint. And that's a good thing. I know other people who are going through similar situations, and they fold up. This whole situation has exposed the fact that everything is not peach-keen wonderful here. She is not going to go away. She has nothing left to lose." Cheryl Romo Lawmakers Question Abuse Theory Parental alienation syndrome is a controversial psychological theory developed by Richard A. Gardner, a professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University. The theory holds that a parent (generally a mother) is responsible for accusations of sexual abuse if they arise during a child custody case. Gardner, who has self-published a number of books on the subject and who testifies in child custody cases as an expert witness, believes that some mothers are capable of consciously or unconsciously programming their children into saying false things about fathers in order to retain custody. In the last decade, Gardner has traveled around the country lecturing judges about the syndrome and suggesting they be on the lookout for it in custody cases. Many women who have accused the fathers of their children of sexual abuse, he feels, were victims of sexual abuse themselves or have other sexual problems. Others disagree, but do not dismiss the notion that in some cases parental alienation syndrome may be a reality. One of them, Kathleen Coulborn Faller, a professor of social work and director of the Family Assessment Clinic at the University of Michigan, contends that parental alienation syndrome is open to opposing interpretations and that a child's affinity for one parent could have many causes. As a diagnostic syndrome, she wrote, "it is only useful for mental health professionals in explaining the symptom presentation if they know from other information that an abuse allegation is a deliberately made, false accusation. The syndrome cannot be used to decide whether the child has been sexually abused. As a consequence, it is of little probative value to courts making decisions about the presence or absence of sexual abuse." In addition, the California Women's Law Center in Los Angeles contends, the diagnosis commonly is used as a weapon against mothers. "From our perspective, it should not be recogniz3ed for several reasons," said staff attorney Marci Fukuroda, a specialist in family law and domestic violence. "It is not a recognized psychological or psychiatric disorder. And in family law cases, it is more often than not abused Even if it's true, the potential for abuse is so great. "We are seeing far too many cases where the children end up with an abuser because the mother was labeled an "alienator." It has become a weapon. And a lot of attorneys are discouraging their clients from mentioning domestic violence or sexual abuse because they think it will cause their clients to lose custody." Recently both U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and state Assembly member Sheila James Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, have questioned the use of parental alienation syndrome in the court system. In an Aug. 16 letter to the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court concerning a case in which parental alienation syndrome was alleged against a mother who accused her child's father of molestation, Kuehl, the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, wrote that "the testimony of children who disclose sexual abuse is almost always discounted, and the parents who try to protect the child from further abuse are viewed with suspicion. Courts are too willing to accept the molester's explanation that the other parent is manipulating the child to make the accusations. This is especially true when, as in this case, the molester is a upstanding person by all outward appearances." Kuehl has asked the courts to "erase the influence of Dr. Gardner." She also thinks judges need to be aware that "arguments based on his theories are invalid, and recommendations by therapists based on his work are extremely suspect and should not be adopted without careful scrutiny, or even perhaps a second opinion." -- Cheryl Romo
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