February 22, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents
Monday’s post was about a thoroughly scurrilous article penned by Laurie Udesky. It masquerades as journalism but is anything but. Udesky channeled the claims of the “protective” mother movement and made next to no effort to locate anyone who could provide balance.
As I mentioned, much of the bias in her article stems from the fact that she chose one type of case, in which apparently abusive fathers received some form of child custody despite the mother’s allegations against him, and no others. Why not give an example of an abusive mother? Why not give an example of a court that investigated claims of abuse and drew the correct conclusion? As to parental alienation – that Udesky dubbed a “dubious” theory – why not interview a qualified expert who understands that PA is all too real? Why not offer a case in which parental alienation occurred and the judge correctly identified it and issued the appropriate order?
There are a thousand problems with Udesky’s shoddy and misleading article, but perhaps most prominent is her refusal to seek, find and report on any case that contradicts her thesis. To do so would be an act of actual journalism; failure to do so is an act of agitprop.
As I said, it’s not as if cases of that nature would have been that difficult to locate. A telephone call or two to the right people could have produced dozens. But Udesky never made those calls.
So the coincidence struck me when, in researching other aspects of Udesky’s piece, I ran across a case that is very much what I’m talking about. The point being, that, if I can find one more or less by accident, surely Udesky could have done so if she’d set out to.
The case is that of Michael and Suzanne DeWalt. Here’s the information I quoted from one Texas court of civil appeals.
The dispute began with Suzanne’s accusations of abusive conduct by Michael against their son. Rather than seek a modification of the conservatorship, Suzanne filed suit to terminate Michael’s parental rights. Michael denied the allegations and replied by filing a motion requesting sole custody of the child. The trial court temporarily suspended contact between Michael and his son and appointed psychiatrist Maureen Adair to conduct an independent evaluation of the circumstances to determine whether Michael’s continued contact with the child would be in the child’s best interest. Upon Dr. Adair’s recommendation, the court allowed Michael supervised visitation with the child…
The case was eventually tried on the merits, and the jury named Michael sole managing conservator of Jeremy. Immediately after the trial, Suzanne fled with the child rather than comply with the verdict.
That was in 2002, when Jeremy was five years old. The family court trial was two weeks long. In it, Suzanne unquestionably had the opportunity to tell her story to the jury and her story was that her ex-husband was a child abuser of the worst sort. Here’s how the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals described her allegations:
In her unsuccessful suit to terminate Michael’s parental rights, Dewalt had alleged that Michael and two adult cousins had repeatedly physically and sexually abused J.M.D. during a June 2001 visitation period, including engaging in “oral sexual activity,” “sexual fondling,” and “defecation and urination upon the child.”
So clearly, Suzanne presented those claims to the jury. It must also be said that she wasn’t in court alone. She was represented, for the two-week trial, by one of the most aggressive lawyers anywhere working for so-called “protective” mothers, Richard Ducote of Louisiana. The result was that the jury not only didn’t believe Suzanne’s claims, but seemed to think that she was less than fit as a mother. Otherwise, why did it rule that Michael should be his son’s “sole managing conservator” (Texas’ term for custodial parent)?
But Suzanne wasn’t satisfied with simply airing her complaints in court, even represented by a zealous attorney. Well before the trial in family court was over, she’d made extensive plans, involving her parents, neighbors and acquaintances, to kidnap the child and abduct him to Mexico. And that is exactly what she did. While the trial was still in progress, she had her parents hide the boy and, with the judge’s order of sole managing conservatorship to Michael still ringing in her ears, Suzanne fled the courtroom and took her son to Mexico.
Almost three years later, she was apprehended in the northern Mexico city of Zacatecas, arrested and returned to Texas to face charges of aggravated kidnapping. There again, she attempted to air her claim that her crime of kidnapping should be excused because she was protecting her son from greater harm. In short, she asserted the defense of “necessity.” In hearings out of the presence of the jury, she and her lawyers were able to present that evidence to the judge. The judge, much like the jury in family court, rejected her claims and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that decision. Suzanne was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Jeremy meanwhile had been returned to his father. My internet research turned up no evidence that Michael DeWalt has subsequently been charged with any form of child abuse or neglect or that Jeremy has ever been the subject of a CPS investigation.
From all that, it’s fair to say that Suzanne’s claims of sexual and physical abuse were vetted by one jury and more than one court. Needless to say, at least one mental health professional did the same. None of the people charged with deciding the merits of her claims found them believable under the evidentiary standards that were in effect. And of course the family court jury seems to have doubted her fitness as a parent.
Finally, given that no subsequent evidence suggests abuse of Jeremy by his father, it seems altogether fitting to conclude that no abuse occurred and that Suzanne, however certain she was of what she was saying, was simply wrong.
In short, the DeWalt case looks very much like one Laurie Udesky might have used as balance, had she chosen to write a balanced piece. It’s an example of a case in which a mother who spoke of herself as “protective,” was in fact an abuser herself. Indeed, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ description of Suzanne and Jeremy’s lives in Mexico is what we’ve come to expect in parental abduction cases.
I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.
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