The following post is by guest author, Aine Nistiophain
This is part II of a two-part article. Read Part I, Finding Ground Zero in Connecticut, here.
WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2013 - In Connecticut, the phrase “for the sake of the children” is often thrown around on custody cases involving child victims of violent crimes. However, cases like 9-year old Max Liberti’s suggest that some family court appointees are more likely to favor the opportunity to continue billing families for unnecessary, even fraudulent services, over what is best for the child.
After all, children living in safe environments do not need Guardian Ad Litems (GAL), evaluations, or therapy to protect and rehabilitate them. When Max disclosed that his father raped him, the GAL and other professionals charged his family a whopping total of $1.5 million for their services. Yet most of the 40+ professionals assigned to his case spent little or no time with Max, or did not know him at all before making recommendations that forever severed his relationship with his mother.
Often the court appoints a GAL to advocate for the child’s “best interests” instead of asking the children for direct input. The GAL then bills the parents for asking other strangers appointed onto the case what’s best for the children.
In 2003, the Connecticut court decided that the GAL has the exclusive right to speak on the child’s behalf, yet there are no requirements as to how much time a GAL must spend with their ward. To clarify the GAL’s role, the court drew the bright line rule that “Just as it is not normally the province of the attorney to testify, it is not the province of the guardian ad litem to file briefs with the court.” (In re Tayquon H., 821 A.2d 796 [Conn. Ct. App. 2003]).
While the Judicial Branch provides free certification trainings for GAL’s, there is no central oversight process in place to review the quality of their work, yet they enjoy qualified immunity for their actions.
What exactly is the Judicial Branch training GAL’s to do?
GUARDIAN AD WHO? THE SKIPP-TITTLE CHILDREN
When Susan Skipp’s daughter Gabrielle truthfully disclosed that her father assaulted her family, Susan was ordered to use the majority of her income to pay the fees of various court appointed professionals she could not afford. Attorney Mary Brigham was appointed as the children’s GAL, and Dr. Kreiger and Dr. Horowitz were appointed to assess the family and provide them with therapy. A court issued an order forbidding Susan from speaking to the children about the litigation, seeking domestic violence support for them, or “disparaging” the father who allegedly assaulted them.
As GAL, Brigham billed the children’s home at a rate of $300 per hour to represent the children’s wishes and best interests. Billing records show that between September 2010 and November 2011, she billed over 196 hours, including only five meetings with the children. It’s impossible to tell whether the children met with Brigham alone, how long these meetings were, or what was said.
Invoices show during this period, Brigham’s time was largely spent talking to other providers who barely knew the children or recently met them, emailing unnamed parties, speaking to Dr. Tittle and his attorney, and talking about billing matters. Susan was also charged for the time Brigham spent drafting, filing, and successfully prosecuting motions, including as many as three motions she personally filed seeking to hold Susan in contempt for nonpayment of GAL fees. Susan says that last July, Judge Robert Resha held her in contempt, then threatened to incarcerate her if she refused to immediately liquidate her teacher’s retirement pension to pay Brigham $20,000 in fees.
Susan also saw Horowitz and Kreiger’s unorthodox billing practices as red flags that made her doubt the legitimacy of the appointments.
“My divorce agreement states that the parents will see Dr. Krieger for parent counseling. Instead, Dr. Krieger drafted up an agreement for co-parent mediation,” says Susan. This was improper she says, because “Mediation is a legal service that is not covered by health insurance and must be court ordered.”
Susan says that Kreiger charged Aetna for treatment, despite the fact that she was required to provide him with a $2,500 retainer and pay expenses out of pocket. She questioned whether Dr. Kreiger was billing for treatments that were unnecessary or improperly performed.
“Dr. Krieger also performed psychological evaluations on the family,” Susan says. “Those need to be ordered by the court too, and were outside the scope of his appointment as a counselor.” Susan adds that one such evaluation had flawed results because it was done against medical advice immediately after her car exploded, leaving her hospitalized with head injuries.
When Susan requested copies of the records and bills, then questioned Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Krieger’s refusal to address the assaults or the father’s struggles with addiction and the law with the children, both providers recused themselves from the case.  However, Brigham then asserted privilege on the children’s behalf, thereby prohibiting Susan from obtaining documentation from either provider.
“While Kreiger and Horowitz testified in trial that there was no domestic abuse, they both used domestic violence codes when billing Aetna,” says Susan. Dr. Horowitz testified that he used one medical chart for 2 children, used the wrong billing codes with the insurance company, then failed to inform the parents and the GAL that he had diagnosed the children with serious mental disorders.
Brigham decided it was “not in the children’s best interests” to have them testify at trial.
“ARE YOU HERE TO SAVE US?”
Once when their father refused to pick his children up for three days of parenting time, I had the pleasure of meeting Susan’s children. The children seemed traumatized not only by the violent crimes perpetrated against them, but also by the fickle will of the courts to intervene on a moment’s notice and upend their lives without including them in these decisions. Given their isolation and the infrequent, yet intensely hostile interactions between Brigham and the children, it was no wonder they sought answers from me the moment their mother left the room.
“Are you here to save us?” Gabby asked. “Someone has got to help mom stop my father. We are afraid because he hurts us.”
“No honey,” I told them, “I’m just a journalist, I can’t save anyone.”
They begged me “Please write something to make Mary Brigham listen so the court will not make us live with my father.”
My heart was heavy because they too felt the inevitable, that darkness was coming for them, and they knew they were helpless to stop it.
With Judge Munro’s trial decision not yet issued, in September 2012 Dr. Tittle sought to permanently sever all of Susan’s parenting rights and access to the children. Judge Gerard Adelman heard testimony that the children refused to visit with Dr. Tittle for the stated reason that they feared for their safety. When Brigham refused to talk to them about these concerns, the children refused to get in the car with her. Brigham told the children she was unconcerned, then demanded they get in the car so she could bring them to Dr. Tittle’s [which they did not do.] Consequently, Judge Adelman granted Dr. Tittle’s motion for sole custody with the caveat that the court would permanently terminate all of Susan’s parenting rights if she were even 5 minutes late for any future visits.
One week later, I attended the hearing on Dr. Tittle’s second motion to terminate Susan’s parental rights. Judge Munro called Judge Adelman’s orders “draconian,” then criticized Brigham’s role in instigating the proceedings by acting outside the scope of her appointment as Dr. Tittle’s “taxi driver.” As we left the courtroom, Brigham informed me that she had filed her affidavit of fees a month ago. Subsequently, neither I nor the court staff were able to locate Brigham’s affidavit.
Ultimately, Judge Munro awarded Dr. Tittle sole custody of the children, then constructed a “set-up-to fail” parenting plan that effectively terminated Susan’s access to the children. Susan retains the right [on paper] to purchase a few hours per week with her children at Visitation Solutions, Inc., which is affiliated with Horowitz and Krieger, and located over an hour away from the home she and her children once shared.
Judge Munro denied Susan’s request for alimony, then awarded Brigham $70,000 in fees, despite the fact that Brigham never filed an affidavit disclosing her billing. After Judge Munro recused herself from hearing Susan’s case, Brigham’s subsequent motions to garnish Susan’s wages were denied pending the outcome of Susan’s appeal.
Since October 2012, Susan filed for bankruptcy and has not been able to afford to purchase time with her children. Dr. Tittle has refused to allow the children any contact with their mother, and remains on criminal probation for driving under the influence, reckless driving, and evading responsibility (leaving the scene of an accident.)
Brigham has scheduled a status conference for April 4th to discuss payment of her fees, garnishment of Susan’s assets and tax returns.
Who’s best interests have been served?
IS THERE A COMMON DENOMENATOR?
Horowitz and Dr. Kenneth Robson often conduct the court’s “free” GAL certification trainings together with Judge Munro. Court records show that when Dr. Kenneth Robson and Horowitz are involved and the State is paying, the parents are often ordered not to communicate with their children about the trauma they experience. The GAL exclusively communicates directly with Horowitz about the children’s care, and only the GAL will speak to the children about the litigation.
“One of the core issues is the qualified immunity GAL’s enjoy, which results in much of the judicial outsourcing to them,” says advocate Peter Szymonik. He points out that a major reason why parents cannot even find relief from excessive GAL fees in bankruptcy is that the court categorizes it as child support, which is nondischargable. “This leads to excessive and unnecessarily billings which permanently financially devastate parents.”
While Szymonik says the system is biased against parents, Journalist Keith Harmon Snow has documented over 70 CT cases where fathers who committed legal offenses, have gained custody of child victims. The mothers were often required to purchase parenting time through outrageously expensive, even corrupt supervised visitation providers, who extorted them out of relationships with their children. Now permanently destroyed and bankrupted by abusive, often deadly State sponsored litigation, these families have no recourse.
“GALs are, in fact, paid by judges even ahead of child support,” says Szymonik. “This translates into a multi-million dollar fraud and state sponsored corruption which is financial devastating families and parents, harming children, and fleecing taxpayers.”
To additional documentation related this journalist’s investigative report on the Connecticut courts:
(1) 2-22-2011 Transcript re: Liberti v. Liberti:
(2) CT Resource Group Contract With CT Judiciary re: Court Staff Education:
(3) CT Resource Group Court Invoices Part 1:
(4) CT Resources Group Court Invoices Part 2:
(5) Dr. Horowitz’s Testimony re: Medical Billing Irregularities (Tittle v. Tittle):
(6) Dr. Horowitz’s Bills re: Boyne v. Boyne:
(7) Dr. Kreiger’s Documentation re: Tittle v. Tittle:
(8) GAL Mary Brigham’s Invoices re: Tittle v. Tittle:
(9) Maureen Murphy’s billing re: Liberti v. Liberti:
(10) N.J. Sarno’s Billing re: Liberti v. Liberti:
(11) Dr. Robson’s Court Invoices:
(11) Dr. Robson’s Billing re Liberti v. Liberti:
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