The Francis Joseph Story: Fit Father, Alienating Mother; Who Gets Custody?

February 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Sigh. Another day, another fit father deprived of custody of his child. Why? Well, it’s not entirely clear, but it seems that Dr. Francis Joseph, a hospitalist in the Denver area has a personality the judge in the case didn’t like. It seems that Dr. Joseph, who is both an MD and a lawyer, took too much pride in “winning” points on cross examination during the trial of his custody case. Dr. Joseph stands accused of having a “forceful, and at times, overbearing personality.”

No one claims that Francis Joseph is anything but a good, loving and capable parent. And all agree that his child’s mother, Sheena Thomason, engaged in a two-year battle against him whose purpose was to cut off all contact between Joseph and his little daughter. Only by dint of his forceful personality has Dr. Joseph been able to see and care for his child at all.

It’s undeniable that Joseph has not always been at his best during his fight to establish and maintain a relationship with his child. Some of his behavior has been less than ideal, a fact Joseph would never deny. Of course, given what he’s been through, few would begrudge him a meltdown or two. Unfortunately, one of those few turned out to be Judge Thomas Campbell of Cheyenne, Wyoming where the custody case was tried.

I’ve reviewed the pertinent documents in this case including the conclusions of the Guardian ad Litem, the arguments of the mothers’ attorney and the judge’s letter announcing his decision. The only rational conclusion to be drawn is that the judge made his decision on the basis of his own bias, against the weight of the evidence and contrary to statute law.

Francis Joseph started seeing Sheena Thomason back in 2010. He already had a son by his first marriage, a boy to whom he was very close and, by all accounts, a fine and loving father. As to Thomason, in the words of Joseph’s lawyer,

The parties began a relationship in early 2010. By mid-2010 they were engaged and living together. They planned to be married in December 2010. In late summer of 2010, Respondent became pregnant.

In October 2010 the parties broke off their relationship. In December 2010 Respondent moved to Cheyenne and began living with her parents.

To anyone with even a casual understanding of parental alienation and maternal gatekeeping, a mother who is engaged to be married, but breaks off the relationship with her fiancé shortly after learning she’s pregnant is a mother to watch. We’ve seen it far too often that that behavior is a precursor to exactly the type of alienation that occurred in Joseph’s case. Of course such a mother may have good cause to flee the relationship. She may discover his heroin addiction, his life of crime, etc. and be justified in cutting loose from him.

Sheena Thomason discovered no such thing about Francis Joseph. And it is no surprise that, from the time she moved to Cheyenne, to this very day, Francis Joseph has had to fight her for every minute he’s seen his daughter Nyssa.

So, despite his many requests to find out where and when she was to deliver his child, Thomason refused to provide Joseph any information. She told friends, neighbors, co-workers and the like, but not the baby’s father. He had to learn about his child’s birth on Facebook. When Nyssa was born in early May of 2011, Thomason refused to put her father’s name on her birth certificate. And of course she refused to allow Joseph to see his new daughter.

It took Joseph’s filing an action to determine paternity for her to do that and even then she only allowed him to see his child for 30 minutes a day, three days a week. Why did Joseph have to file a paternity action, and request and pay for genetic testing? Was there really any doubt about who Nyssa’s father was? No, as Thomason herself testified under oath, Joseph was the only man she’d had sex with near the time of Nyssa’s conception. So, particularly considering the rest of her behavior toward Joseph, it’s clear that Thomason’s goal was simply to make contact with Nyssa as hard on the child’s father as possible.

Unfortunately for her, Joseph is an excellent father, both to Nyssa and to his young son, a fact numerous witnesses, expert and lay alike, testified to at trial. Accordingly, the court issued temporary orders allowing Joseph every-other-weekend visitation with Nyssa. But that just made Thomason more determined. She went on a campaign of alienation and gatekeeping the type of which is all too familiar in family courts.

Throughout the roughly two years during which the custody case was litigated, Thomason made no fewer than 29 claims of abuse, questionable parenting and the like to a variety of law enforcement and child welfare agencies. None was substantiated. The nature of the claims was, for the most part, surpassingly trivial. Ten of the complaints were regarding diaper rash that doctors, the police and child welfare workers sought in vain.

Others were anything but trivial. Her report to immigration authorities that Joseph is not an American citizen and lives here illegally was both factually false and clearly aimed at getting him deported to his native Bangalore, India. Thomason didn’t want Joseph to have anything to do with Nyssa and she figured one good way to accomplish that would be if he were 14,000 miles away.

But Thomason didn’t stop at merely trying to alienate the infant from her father. She also made numerous other claims for the sole purpose of damaging Joseph’s career. Thomason made false claims of medical malfeasance to the medical boards of four states and false claims of child abuse to various authorities. Her willingness to lie has forced Joseph to file a lawsuit against her for slander and defamation of character.

Throughout the two years and despite numerous requests, Thomason has refused to supply Dr. Joseph any of Nyssa’s medical records. She objected to his taking his daughter to California to see his parents, Nyssa’s grandparents.

On the night before the Wyoming custody trial was to begin, Dr. Joseph traveled to Cheyenne and asked Thomason to see his daughter for 30 minutes. She didn’t even do him the courtesy of returning his call.

When asked under oath whether she thought her campaign of keeping Nyssa from her father was appropriate, Thomason testified, “I don’t know.”

At trial, none other than Dr. William Bernet, the psychologist who’s perhaps the world’s leading authority on parental alienation of children testified about Thomason’s behavior and its effects on Nyssa.

He discussed the various alienating behaviors exhibited by Respondent in this matter including, but not limited to, limiting contact with Petitioner, interfering with Petitioner’s visitation, and alleging that Petitioner is dangerous. Dr. Bernet explained that these various alienating factors, if left unchecked, would likely result in parental alienation between Petitioner and his daughter. He explained that the "targeted parent" often reacts to these alienating behaviors by becoming defensive, upset, argumentative, and even belligerent. He noted that these alienating behaviors are child psychological abuse.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when Thomason moved away to Cheyenne, taking Nyssa with her, she moved into her parents’ house. Normally, that wouldn’t be cause for concern, but her father is a registered sex offender who at least one person knowledgeable about him seems to believe may offend again. He apparently abused Thomason’s half-sister. While staying with her parents, Thomason left Nyssa alone with her father, exposing her to the risk of sexual abuse by him.

Dr. [Kevin] Richards is board certified in Forensic Psychology. He was provided with information regarding molestation perpetrated on Respondent’s half-sister by Respondent’s father. He testified as to his concerns that Respondent would place the infant in a home where a registered sex offender resides. He stated that the "bottom line" is this behavior suggests a belief that there is no need to protect the child. He warned that because the father tried, and failed, to be removed from the registered sex offender list, this indicates that whoever evaluated his case believed the father was still a risk.

Thomason’s boyfriend at the time, Trenton Greene, testified that Thomason would leave Nyssa with her parents unsupervised “one to two times per month.”

Such is the character of Sheena Thompson. What about Francis Joseph?

Ms. [Jocelyn] Miller testified that she operates the Robert A. Miller Educational Resource Center in Denver. She has known Petitioner for several years and has assisted with exchanges of Petitioner’s son, G.T. Ms. Miller has coached Petitioner on parenting skills. She stated that he is a good parent and juggles two children very well.

Ms. [Krystal] Ottersberg and her staff have facilitated many exchanges of the child at Safe Harbor. She noted that the child is always clean and well dressed and she has not noticed significant diaper rash. She testified that she saw the child two days after the September 2012, incident, when the police were called regarding the rash. She did not observe a rash. Ms. Ottersberg testified that the child appears to equally love and to be equally bonded to her parents and has age appropriate responses at exchanges.

Ms. [Jennifer] Potter is the child’s swim instructor through Infant Swimming Resources in Denver. The child has been taking swim lessons there for over a year. She described Petitioner as an attentive parent and spoke of the strong bond between Petitioner and his daughter. She babysat the child for Petitioner on one occasion and she observed that his children were very well behaved. She had no concerns that G.T. is rough with his little sister. She has never been contacted by Respondent.

Ms. [Sara] Broderson teaches and cares for N.T. at the Goddard School in Denver, a childhood learning center. N.T. arrives at Goddard clean and well cared for. She described Petitioner as a very involved and very loving parent. Ms. Broderson has never been contacted by Respondent.

In recommending that Dr. Joseph be Nyssa’s primary parent, the court-appointed Guardian ad Litem, Shelley Flot, emphasized “which parent will most likely foster the relationship with the other parent and go to the necessary lengths to ensure that Nyssa has a healthy, bonded relationship with each parent.” She concluded that Dr. Joseph was that parent.

So how could a judge conclude that Nyssa should remain in the primary custody of a mother who, throughout all the child’s life, resisted the girl’s relationship with her father at every turn? How could a judge give custody to a mother who almost certainly will continue her campaign of parental alienation? How could a judge simply overlook the fact that the same mother thought it was appropriate to leave her daughter in the care of a registered sex offender?

I’ll explore that in my next piece on this sorry case.

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