A Little Girl's Hell
By Susan Goldsmith
A single piece of paper certifies that Ovando Cowles and Idelle Clarke
got married on
August 18, 1985. Seven years later, the dissolution of their
union and a fight over the
custody of their daughter, now 12, has produced
17 boxes of legal documents at the Los
Angeles County Superior Courthouse
Lauren (not her real name) is a shy, dark-haired little girl who resembles
a young Brooke Shields. She is severely learning disabled with limited
reading, writing, and speaking skills. Recently, when summoned into court
yet again, Lauren seemed bewildered, nervously playing with the zipper
of her blue jacket as she waited to meet with the judge. He would pose
questions that had been asked and answered repeatedly during the six years
that Cowles and Clarke have been at war.
While Lauren almost certainly did not comprehend why she had to be hauled
downtown again, neither did many adults. Even legal experts were shaking
their heads. When the first phase of the custody battle was under way,
the county's Department of Children and Family Services had filed two petitions
against Ovando Cowles, accusing him of molesting his daughter. Yet Idelle
Clarke was back in court trying to wrest custody of Lauren from
As its name implies, the mission of the DCFS is to ensure the safety
and well-being of minors, and it files thousands of petitions a year accusing
parents of abusing or neglecting their kids. The courts generally rubber-stamp
the department's position, often severely restricting an abusive parent's
access to his or her child. But in the Cowles-Clarke case, the outcome
of the two sexual-abuse petitions was anything but usual. One was dismissed
by the court for lack of evidence, and the second was settled with a ruling
that allowed Idelle Clarke custody of the little girl while Cowles was
to receive court-monitored visits. (Cowles, who refused to speak with New
Times, has repeatedly denied in court records ever abusing his daughter.)
Then, on June 2 -- two years after the second sex-abuse petition
was settled -- the custody case took another bizarre turn. L.A. County
Superior Court Judge Carol Koppel called both parties back into court and
terminated Clarke's contact with her little girl. No phone calls, no visits.
Full custody was awarded to Cowles.
The judge then boomed to the bailiff: "Get her out of this room!"
It may seem impossible that a man the Department of Children and Family
Services insists molested his daughter could end up with sole custody of
her, but child-abuse experts say similar cases are cropping up in courts
around the country.
Typically, a mother raises allegations that the father is abusing a
child, and these are substantiated by doctors or therapists during a custody
battle. Then, the mother is accused by the father, and eventually the court,
of "parental alienation syndrome" -- brainwashing the child to allege sexual
abuse. Such women, according to the theory behind parental alienation syndrome,
are "programming" their children to fabricate the allegations so that they
will have an advantage in custody litigation. The brainchild of Dr. Richard
Gardner, a Columbia University psychiatry professor, parental alienation
syndrome has been employed by courts in Los Angeles and across the nation
to strip women of custody, even though the theory is based on Gardner's
personal observations and not on scientific research.
Despite the syndrome's widespread use, Paul Gutman, presiding judge
of the L.A. County Family Courts, recently sent out a letter calling Gardner's
theory "scientifically unsupportable." The American Psychiatric Association
has refused to include the syndrome in its diagnostic manual of mental
disorders because it fails to meet "specific and rigorous" criteria required
New Times first explored parental alienation syndrome in a cover
story (published in the March 4-10 edition) about a South Bay custody dispute
between Irene Jensen and her ex-husband. In that case, Jensen was called
an alienator by the court and stripped of custody of her 10-year-old daughter,
despite numerous reports by pediatricians and social workers of suspected
and substantiated sexual abuse by the child's father.
Similarly, Idelle Clarke has been accused again and again of alienating
and brainwashing her child by judges and court-appointed psychiatrists,
even though the DCFS (normally very skeptical of abuse allegations
raised during custody battles) conducted two exhaustive child-sexual-abuse
investigations and concluded that Lauren had been molested.
But in Clarke's case, two other factors converged to help her ex-husband
get custody of Lauren despite the DCFS' findings that he had sexually abused
her: Ovando Cowles retaliated in a lawsuit against Clarke, the DCFS, and
the county; and an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child
failed to work in the child's best interests, according to the DCFS, which
-- in an extraordinary move -- tried along with the L.A. County Counsel's
Office to have the lawyer thrown off the case.
After Judge Koppel's ruling, Clarke fought back and obtained severely
restricted visitation rights after two months without seeing her daughter.
Currently, she sees Lauren twice a week in the presence of a court monitor,
whom she pays $35 an hour; she is even prohibited from attending her daughter's
Little League games unless she brings the court monitor along.
The court's final determination as to which parent will get permanent
custody of Lauren is pending, but Clarke has been stymied at almost every
turn by the legal system and fears that -- because she has been labeled
an alienator -- she will lose custody of Lauren forever. "The last several
years of my life have been Kafka-esque," Clarke says, "and all I tried
to do was protect my daughter. But she and I have both been punished."
In the beginning, Ovando Cowles and Idelle Clarke seemed an exemplary
couple. She was a successful management consultant for nonprofit organizations
in Los Angeles, and he worked in advertising sales for a cable television
company. They lived in a five-bedroom Spanish-colonial home in Pasadena
and took vacations to Southeast Asia, Alaska, and Hawaii.
A tall outgoing man from the small California desert town of Trona,
Cowles, 46, is an Occidental College graduate with a master's degree in
public administration from USC. A disc jockey and news correspondent in
New Mexico before getting into ad sales, he smiles warmly and looks sophisticated
in his tailored suits during court sessions.
Clarke is 50 but looks much younger. She has dark-brown, wavy hair that
frames a pretty face. Although she is tiny, she has a formidable personality.
She is articulate and very persuasive, which no doubt has helped her become
a respected fund-raiser. But she is more than willing to protest when she
disagrees, which has not won her points in court. She has openly criticized
judges and psychiatrists during court sessions, questioning their values
and commitment to protecting children. Clarke grew up in Albuquerque, New
Mexico, where she studied geology and mining in college. After graduation,
she lived in Trinidad with her first husband, a petroleum engineer, whom
she divorced amicably after 11 years together. She was 37 and a successful
businesswoman when she married Cowles in 1985.
According to court records, the marriage began to deteriorate in the
early '90s, shortly after Cowles lost a job. Clarke accused him of being
withdrawn and depressed and of showing little interest in Lauren. Cowles,
meanwhile, contended that Clarke was demanding, unreasonable, and no longer
interested in caring for their daughter.
Several months after the couple filed for divorce in 1993, Clarke alleges,
Lauren seemed strange after returning home from visits with her father.
The little girl began masturbating in school, alarming school officials.
At home, Clarke noticed her daughter's vagina was irritated and red. Then,
court records show, Lauren, who was seven at the time, told Clarke that
Cowles had licked his fingers and inserted them in her vagina.
Clarke, who then had primary custody of her daughter, took Lauren to
doctors and therapists, and at first, no one -- including the DCFS -- made
much of the claims. "Sexual abuse is very difficult to prove and often
comes down to the word of the child," says John Myers, a professor at McGeorge
School of Law in Sacramento and an authority on child-sexual-abuse evidence.
Also, at first, the little girl was inconsistent as to whether the abuse
had even occurred.
Then L.A. Superior Court Judge Irving Feffer, who was overseeing the
custody case at the time, appointed psychiatrist Dr. Lionel Margolin to
evaluate the couple. Margolin, a known supporter of the parental alienation
syndrome and head of the Family Law Court Psychiatric Evaluation Panel,
concluded that Clarke was "manipulative" and "controlling" and that Lauren
"feels under great pressure from her mother to say something about her
father sexually abusing her." (Margolin had also evaluated Irene Jensen,
finding that she, too, had manipulated her daughter into making up allegations.)
Margolin concluded in his 1993 evaluation that although he was convinced
Clarke had forced her daughter to contrive the molestation claims, he could
"only say with a relative degree of certainty that Ovie Cowles is not sexually
abusing his daughter."
Although Margolin did not call Clarke a parental alienator per se, his
report suggested as much. In Margolin's view, Clarke was manipulating her
daughter into making sexual-abuse allegations against her ex-husband to
gain advantage in the custody battle. Gardner, who came up with the parental
alienation theory, told New Times that the programming of children
by their mothers to make false sexual-abuse claims against fathers is widespread
and well-recognized by experts. "This is very common, and most lawyers
who work in the field of custody disputes will agree [that] they see it,"
Gardner says. "I believe that 90 percent of sex-abuse allegations within
a custody dispute are false....In this atmosphere of hysteria, [sexual
abuse is] being over diagnosed."
Yet Kathleen Coulborn Faller, a professor of social work at the University
of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has done extensive research into sex-abuse allegations
in custody disputes and says Gardner's theory contradicts the data she
has compiled. Faller, whose research was published in the Journal of
Child Sexual Abuse, found that 70 to 72 percent of allegations of sexual
abuse against children raised within a custody battle turned out to be
true. Of the other 28 to 30 percent, she reports, very few involved women
putting their kids up to make false claims.
Even though Gardner's theory is not based on scientific research, such
experts say, it is widely accepted in a legal system that is looking for
neat, convenient ways to get rid of time-consuming custody battles. "Parental
alienation is an easy answer," Faller says. "But what you'll find pretty
universally is that people who base their work on data and documenting
things don't have high regard for Richard Gardner."
Nonetheless, Margolin's report severely damaged Clarke's credibility.
"Once you get labeled [an alienator], everything you say after that is
suspect," says Ann Haralambie, a Tucson, Arizona, family law attorney and
author of several books on sexual abuse of children and child custody.
Taking Margolin's words to heart, the court awarded Cowles primary custody
of Lauren and allowed Clarke several visits a week with her daughter.
While the custody trial was proceeding, the DCFS renewed its interest
in the case when Lauren's therapist called the department's child-abuse
hot line to report that the little girl had alleged in a therapy session
that she was being sexually abused by her father. It was the first of three
reports to the hot line that the therapist would make. The department investigated
thoroughly, interviewing both parents, Lauren's teachers, her therapist,
and others. Their conclusion: Ovando Cowles was sexually abusing
Not only Cowles but his attorney, Marc Berry, refused to speak with
Times. In court records, however, Cowles has said he "did not molest"
his child and claimed that Lauren "has [been] programmed to repeat [her]
mother's delusional and obsessive, but blatantly false and insupportable,
charges of abuse." In court records, Cowles also accuses his ex-wife of
being "vindictive" and "alienating."
(The vast majority of sexual-abuse petitions are filed in juvenile dependency
court by the DCFS, where its lawyers are required to demonstrate a "preponderance
of evidence." That standard is simpler to meet than what is required in
criminal court -- evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt." Only the most ironclad
cases are presented to the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, prosecutors
say, because it is so much more difficult to get a criminal conviction.)
Despite Cowles' denials, the DCFS was unconvinced and filed a sexual-abuse
petition against him in juvenile dependency court in December of 1994.
The department accused him of "oral copulation, digital penetration, and
fondling of [Lauren's] vagina and buttocks" on December 5 of that year
and "on prior occasions." The petition said: "The minor has been sexually
abused, and there is a substantial risk that the minor will be sexually
At the request of Lauren's court-appointed attorney, Dianna Gould-Saltman,
and over the objections of the Department of Children and Family Services,
the petition also accused Clarke of "suffering from an emotional disability
which renders [her] incapable of providing for the minor's elementary emotional
needs, putting the minor at risk of suffering serious emotional harm."
Even though the DCFS countered that "there was no factual support" for
accusing Clarke, Gould-Saltman was able to get the accusations in the petition
because of Margolin's report.
Since the petition contained accusations against both parents, the court
was prompted to place Lauren at the Five Acres residential foster-care
facility in Altadena for the next 10 months. There, DCFS records show,
Lauren continued to say that her father had sexually abused her, though
she was no longer in the custody of either parent. (She was only allowed
visits by Cowles or Clarke with a court monitor present.) She did not,
however, say anything that led therapists to believe that Clarke had emotionally
abused her, as Gould-Saltman had insisted. Three months after she was placed
at Five Acres, Lauren told the same story again, testifying in her father's
sexual-abuse trial that he had molested her.
That trial had been moved from juvenile dependency court to family court
-- over the vehement objections of the DCFS. Juvenile dependency court's
role is to protect abused and neglected children while family court presides
over divorce and custody matters. In arguing that the trial be moved, Cowles'
former attorney, Ronald Anteau, argued that because his client's ex-wife
had raised money for the Rotary Club on behalf of the juvenile dependency
court years earlier, Cowles could not get a fair trial. Experts say the
legal maneuver of moving a case is often employed by men facing allegations
of sexually abusing a child because family courts are notoriously less
likely to believe such accusations than juvenile dependency courts.
"Dependency court judges are used to seeing these kinds of cases where
the fathers look good, have girlfriends, and are raping their children,"
says Tom Lyon, a former DCFS dependency court attorney who is now an associate
professor at the USC Law School. "Family court judges are used to seeing
vindictive parents who will do anything to keep their ex-spouse from getting
custody," which makes judges less likely to believe that abuse has really
occurred, Lyon continues.
DCFS attorneys argued in family court before Judge Feffer that there
was "sufficient evidence that [Lauren] was sexually molested by her father"
and put the little girl on the stand, where she "clearly and without hesitation
testified to incidents of sexual abuse by her father," DCFS records show.
The department also included evidence and testimony from Lauren's teachers
and therapists. Despite all that, Feffer ruled there was not enough evidence
to support the sex-abuse claim against Clarke. The judge then angrily chided
Clarke for her behavior. "There is no, in the court's judgment, credible
evidence to support [abuse]. And despite the evidence that [Clarke] continually
maintains that [Cowles] is some form of a deviant -- until there is some
clear evidence to that effect -- this court chooses to believe...that there
is no such conduct being engaged in."
The judge then snapped, "[Clarke] just doesn't get it."
But it appears Feffer was the one who didn't get it.
Several months later, in December of 1995, the DCFS filed the second
child-sexual-abuse petition against Cowles based on new information
from Lauren and others. This petition alleged that Cowles had again inserted
his fingers in the little girl's vagina in September of that year.
As the second child-sexual-abuse petition was pending in juvenile dependency
court, Cowles filed the lawsuit against L.A. County, Peter Digre (then
the head of the DCFS), Supervisor Mike Antonovich, other county officials,
and his ex-wife. In it, his lawyer used the earlier ploy, contending this
time that Clarke used her influence as a fund-raiser for the juvenile dependency
court to get county officials to charge him with child sexual-abuse. The
lawsuit alleges that Clarke held a private meeting with Digre about her
case and that the DCFS then decided to pursue the sexual-abuse petitions
against Cowles and ignore her emotional abuse of the child as payback for
her fund-raising efforts. Clarke claims the contentions are preposterous,
ever meeting privately with Digre. County officials refuse
to comment on the pending suit.
Cowles also maintains in the suit that Antonovich, following a public
meeting at which Clarke spoke, tried to improperly influence the
case by writing a letter to the then-presiding L.A. Superior Court Judge
Gary Klausner about the custody dispute. In fact, in April 1995, Antonovich
write a letter to Klausner in which he said he had heard Clarke speak and
wondered why Judge Feffer had overturned the department's recommendation
that she be awarded custody. The supervisor then asked Klausner to review
the case and consider assigning another judge. Although the suit acknowledges
it is unclear what actions, if any, Klausner took as a result of Antonovich's
letter, it contends the jurist should have notified Cowles and his attorney
about the communication. The suit says Antonovich was attempting to "interfere
with or obstruct justice."
About the lawsuit, Clarke says, "If I was going to influence the way
things went, I would have hoped to have been much more effective."
Such retaliation suits, experts say, have the effect of intimidating
child-welfare authorities and sometimes making them back down.
"This is the new tactic in the backlash against women who raise child-molestation
allegations in court," says Joan Pennington, a New Jersey family law attorney
and the founder of the Center for Protective Parents, a nonprofit legal
aid foundation. "These lawsuits are designed to put the chill on and make
the departments back off the allegations. It works."
Although she would not discuss the lawsuit, a DCFS spokeswoman denies
that legal complaints have any effect on the way the department
pursues a case. "Lawsuits do not deter us from doing our job," says Pamela
Prewitt, an assistant regional administrator with the DCFS, who oversees
the office that writes and files child-sexual-abuse petitions.
But despite Prewitt's assurance, it appears that the DCFS did finally
The department settled the second petition against Cowles by mandating
that Clarke get primary custody of Lauren and that Cowles be allowed visits
accompanied by a court monitor until the department deemed a change in
the agreement appropriate. After the settlement, the custody trial resumed,
and the judge ordered another psychiatric evaluation of the couple. That
report, prepared by court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Jaye-Jo Portanova,
leveled another blow to Clarke, even though she had been vindicated by
the DCFS. Like her predecessor, Margolin, the second court-appointed psychiatrist
Clarke a vindictive, controlling woman who was pushing her daughter to
make false sexual-abuse allegations. Portanova concluded that Clarke was
employing a "polarizing parenting approach" and repeatedly cited Margolin's
finding that Clarke was a parental alienator. Portanova also found that
because Clarke, a world traveler, had supposedly once asked a friend of
a friend how to obtain a passport and reportedly had discussed with someone
how to get Lauren out of the country, she was a flight risk. "Idelle's
runaway risk needs to be addressed," Portanova wrote. "This is a serious
concern. She is mobile and working out of her home....The court and counselors
should be alerted to this very serious potential." Clarke, who has had
a passport for decades, denies ever having had the discussion and says
she never even considered fleeing with her daughter. Two weeks after Portanova's
report was filed with the court, Judge Koppel, who had taken over the case
by that time, terminated Clarke's contact with Lauren (she had been granted
unmonitored visitation by Feffer) and awarded full custody to Cowles --
despite the two sexual-abuse petitions against him.
Cowles' lawsuit against the county apparently had worked. The DCFS --
which had been advocating that Cowles was a danger to his daughter for
years -- has not been heard from since.
Lauren's court-appointed attorney, Dianna Gould-Saltman, has echoed
the parental-alienation claim almost from the day she was assigned to the
case. Gould-Saltman had very little experience representing children when
she was appointed by Judge Feffer in 1994. Despite the fact that she had
handled only two dependency court cases in her career, Gould-Saltman was
appointed by Feffer partially because (he admitted in open court) he wanted
to help out a friend who was "opening up her own office."
The appointment came after Feffer had made numerous statements in court
that he did not believe the allegations of sexual abuse against Cowles.
And early on, records show, Gould-Saltman agreed with Feffer's assessment.
Her position on the alleged child sexual-abuse became so intractable and
so detrimental to her own client, according to the DCFS, that the department
took unprecedented action. Aided by the county counsel's office, it filed
a motion with the California Court of Appeal asking that Gould-Saltman
be fired from the case for putting her client in harm's way.
"Ms. Gould-Saltman appears to have taken a family law approach in handling
this dependency matter by taking sides with the father and against the
mother, and by completely disregarding the intent behind the dependency
proceedings, which is to preserve and promote the best interest of the
minor," the motion stated. Written by county attorneys, it said Gould-Saltman
had expressed what she called a "gut feeling" that there was no molestation,
even though her own client had "clearly and without hesitation testified
to incidents of sexual abuse by [the] father." The motion alleged Gould-Saltman
had consistently "demonstrated an unwillingness to believe [Lauren's] allegations
of abuse by her father" and "attempted throughout the proceedings to disprove
allegations of sexual abuse."
Furthermore, it said Gould-Saltman supported the first sexual-abuse
petition being moved from juvenile dependency court to family court over
the DCFS' objections, which set the stage for its dismissal and for Lauren
being put back in her father's custody. Even though that petition was against
Cowles and alleged sexual abuse by him, Gould-Saltman also bucked the DCFS
by pushing the court to add the allegations that Clarke was emotionally
Gould-Saltman vigorously argued that Lauren should not be placed
with her mother even though the little girl repeatedly stated to authorities
and testified in court that this was her wish. And it was Gould-Saltman's
idea to ignore the DCFS and have the little girl placed in the foster-care
facility for 10 months.
The motion for the attorney's removal concluded that "as long as Ms.
Gould-Saltman is allowed to continue representing the minor in these dependency
proceedings, the minor remains at serious risk of immediate harm for lack
of adequate representation and is at risk of irreparable injury."
Says Lyon of USC: "I was a DCFS attorney in dependency cases for eight
years and never heard of the [county] filing a petition to get a minor's
attorney thrown off a case. That is an extraordinary thing!"
Wisconsin attorney Gregg Herman, a nationally known family law specialist,
agrees. Attorneys in custody cases involving child-sexual-abuse allegations
"usually work with the county in trying to formulate an opinion as to the
best interests of a child," he says. "I have never heard of a county trying
to get a lawyer representing a child thrown off a case."
The DCFS' extraordinary action did not faze the appellate court, however.
It turned down the county's motion, and Gould-Saltman has remained on the
case. (She makes $175 an hour representing Lauren, and billing records
show that the county has paid her $50,000 for her time on the case to date.)
Like Cowles and his attorney, Gould-Saltman refused to speak with New
Times. In court records, though, she defends her representation of
Lauren, saying she meets with the girl regularly and further relies on
a number of sources to determine how the little girl is doing. She says
Lauren is faring "far better [with her father] than she did in her mother's
custody," and "Dr. Portanova's evaluation and Dr. Margolin's evaluation
go a long way in explaining why this might be the case."
Santa Monica family law attorney Freida Gordon defends her friend, Gould-Saltman,
as "one of the leading minors' counsels in the county. Just because [the]
DCFS does something doesn't mean they know all the facts....The mother
in this case doesn't quit. You get people who have borderline personalities,
and they just keep going."
But Ann Haralambie, who helped write the American Bar Association guidelines
for attorneys representing minors in custody cases, says Gould-Saltman's
behavior in representing Lauren seems strange.
"It's unethical to go against a child's interest when you are the attorney....Lawyers
[for children in custody cases] often sabotage their clients' wishes. If
there is evidence to support a child's position, even if it's only the
child's testimony alone, you have the same obligation as when you're representing
an adult. You are required to take the position your client is advocating.
The lawyer's gut feeling that the abuse did not occur is worthless. If
you are the child's attorney and the child is clearly saying the abuse
occurred, it's your obligation to run with it."
Haralambie calls the two DCFS findings of abuse "very significant given
that many child-protective-services workers are very skeptical about [sex-abuse]
allegations in custody cases."
Sadly, she explains, what has happened in this case is typical in child-custody
cases involving sex abuse around the country. "It is a travesty," Haralambie
says, "that lawyers would give kids the illusion of a voice while undermining
their real positions."
A solution to the problem would be for children to turn around and make
trouble for their lawyers, even if they don't have the wherewithal to do
so until they are adults. "I believe things will change when more kids
start suing their lawyers for malpractice," Haralambie says.
Lauren did not sue her attorney, but her mother did on her behalf. Clarke
has filed lawsuits in state and federal court accusing Gould-Saltman of
"When a judge appoints you and you can clearly see how he feels in the
record, that he doesn't believe the sexual abuse happened and doesn't want
to hear about it, you -- as the child's attorney -- go along," Clarke contends,
"because you want more work from the court."
Idelle Clarke has declared bankruptcy because of the custody case. No
longer able to hold a full-time job because the case takes up practically
every waking moment, she is paying her legal bills with money her parents
saved to help pay for their four grandchildren's college educations. She
is represented by Burbank-based family law attorney Anja Reinke and has
also hired nationally known Louisiana lawyer Richard Ducote, who specializes
in representing women in custody cases involving sexual abuse of children.
Ducote says the sex-abuse evidence in the case "is as strong as any I've
ever seen." He says the DCFS backed off because Cowles "sued and they chickened
Despite her impressive legal team, Clarke faces a big battle in the
final leg of the custody trial, which is expected to wrap up later this
year. At a recent downtown court hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Arnold
Gold joined the chorus of those calling her "an alienator" and threatened
to seal the entire court file at Gould-Saltman and Marc Berry's request.
Gould-Saltman and Berry, Cowles' attorney, also asked the judge to have
a New Times reporter thrown out of court on two occasions and to
impose a gag order on Clarke. Before the hearing was over, Berry urged
the judge to prohibit the media from writing about the case, but Gold refused,
telling him such action would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.
In late June, Clarke finally got some powerful help -- although she
is not certain, after all she has been through, whether even this will
help her win custody of Lauren. Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, (D-Santa Monica),
chairwoman of the assembly's judiciary committee, filed an amicus brief
with the juvenile dependency court on behalf of Lauren and Idelle Clarke.
Kuehl argues that the juvenile dependency court must reinstate its jurisdiction
over the little girl, that is, take back the case from the family court.
"The facts of this case provide yet another example in a growing body
of evidence that the family court system is wholly inadequate to protect
children who are the victims of neglect, abuse, and molestation," Kuehl
states in the brief. "This case is a chilling indictment of the family
court system in Los Angeles County....In this case, the juvenile court
made specific orders designed to provide for the ongoing protection of
an at-risk child before terminating its jurisdiction. The family court,
with fewer resources to investigate abuse, neglect, or molestation allegations,
and with less experience in these matters, completely reversed the juvenile
court's determination of what was in the best interests of this child."
Kuehl's brief also criticizes Judge Carol Koppel for overturning the
juvenile dependency court's order, calling her actions "disturbing." Comments
Kuehl's attorney Syrus Devers: "There was a great deal of material in this
case indicating the child was in danger and the dependency court took steps
to protect the child, and the family court just totally overturned that.
The dependency court's opinion was completely disregarded, and now there
is a child being put through hell as a result."
Meantime, Lauren lives with her father and his new wife while Clarke
sees her daughter twice a week in the presence of a mandatory court monitor.
When she is allowed to phone her daughter, the calls are taped so that
Gould-Saltman and the court can review what she says.
"So many horrible errors have been made," Clarke says, as she faxes
off another letter to an elected official from her home office. "The court
has left my daughter entirely isolated from protection and fully under
the control of the man the county concluded sexually molested her."