Minnesota court overturns Mom's conviction, sends message of hope

Minnesota Court overturns conviction of a Mom on criminal charges, ruling authorities conspired to deprive her of her civil rights. 
 
Photo: Minnesotta Court of Appeals

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2013 — Caroline Rice’s criminal trial on three felony counts of deprivation of parental rights followed several years of malicious prosecution in the family courts before Judge Richard C. Perkins, the same judge who presided over her criminal trial. This week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in Caroline’s favor when it overturned her convictions on the grounds that Judge Perkins and prosecutors conspired at trial to deprive Caroline of her civil rights and access to due process.

Caroline insists that staying positive and looking for the blessings in life have helped her survive the loss of her children, being left penniless, even spending time in jail for trying to rescue her own children from their violent father and what many claim is a corrupt court system.

On numerous occasions, Brent Rice’s daughters say they were so terrified of him that they feared for their lives.  When the system failed to protect them, one daughter (A.R) repeatedly ran away from home to the forbidden safety of her mother Caroline Rice’s care. Each time, Caroline was forced to return her daughter to a home she says was dangerous.  Eventually, they made a plan to escape across the border to Canada for safety.

In 2006, Caroline Rice was a devoted soccer mom going through a difficult divorce with Brent Rice, the Vice President of a well known investment corporation. A nurse by trade, Caroline set her own career aside so that she could stay home and raise the couple’s five children while Brent built his career.

Court documents show the Rice children had legitimate reasons to fear for their immediate safety in their father’s care.  The children alleged in court documents that Brent Rice was violent towards them and had hit, punched, dragged, and smashed them on numerous occasions. Daughter L.R. testified at trial about an incident when Brent Riced dragged her sister K.R. down a flight of stairs by her ankles while L.R. and A.R. watched.

When the children reported to authorities that their father had assaulted them, Brent Rice was not arrested or charged with violent crimes. Instead, Judge Perkins handled the case in family court, then awarded Brent Rice sole custody of his alleged victims.  Although Caroline Rice had no history of abusing or neglecting the children, Judge Perkins revoked all her custody rights and ordered her to purchase her parenting time from a supervised visitation provider Jackie Cardinal.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the children were telling the truth, Hennepin County social worker Susan Olson and Carver County social worker Nicole Mercil, LSW were unwilling or unable to substantiate the children’s claims.  Guardian ad Litem Brenda Dehmer also sided against the children and with Brent Rice in her recommendations that the father should have sole legal and physical control of his alleged victims.

Instead of removing the Rice children from their father’s care, the children were ordered to attend counseling, which was paid for out of pocket and through the Rice’s private insurance according to Caroline Rice.  Eventually, Brent Rice voluntarily placed A.R. into the State’s foster care system.

Vendor payment records obtained from Carver County show that:

·      Family Innovations, Inc. charged Carver County more than $107,800 for counseling services allegedly provided to the Rice family.

·      Northland Counseling Center, Inc. also billed Carver County $1,575 for marriage counseling and life skills counseling, allegedly provided to the Rice’s several years after their divorce was finalized.

·      Foster parents Thomas and Carmen Huesman collectively billed Carver County over $6,000 for, among other things, A.R.’s foster care.

Caroline Rice says some of these providers may have double bill the Rice’s and Carver County for the same services.

“We had private insurance,” says Caroline. “The county also billed for L.R. in foster care- starting June 26-2009 her 18 birthday. L.R. did not spend one day in foster care ever. Billed for a year- this is in addition to the other invoices. We did not attend counseling sessions billed for, but when we did attend we paid through private insurance.”

According to Caroline Rice, her family was not eligible for needs based public assistance during the billing periods alleged in the invoices submitted by the providers to Carver County due to her ex husband’s extra ordinarily high income. 

“When A.R. was in foster care, we used private medical insurance and we were billed for foster care since Brent had voluntarily placed A.R.,” says Caroline.

Caroline says she fears retaliation if she were to bring the billing discrepancies to the attention of the authorities.

In January of 2012, Chief Judge Edward Lynch reviewed the Rice cases and several others where children were placed at risk at the request of State Senator Julianne Ortman.

In his response to Senator Ortman, Judge Lynch concluded that “…I have found no evidence of any conspiracy, collusion, or corruption related to Carver County court proceedings…If any mistakes were made in any of the matters I reviewed, I am confident that they were not the result of any intentional disregard of the facts of the law or any conspiracy or corruption.”

This week, Minnesota’s State Court of Appeals sent a strong message of support to abused children trapped in the system when it overturned Caroline Rice’s convictions on three counts of deprivation of parental rights. In the case of State v. Rice, the Appellate Court decided that the reason why Caroline’s convictions were illegitimate was that Judge Perkins and the State’s prosecutor had engaged in various forms of misconduct during trial that violated Caroline’s civil rights and deprived her of a fair hearing.

The appellate court decided that Judge Perkins improperly excluded evidence of Brent Rice’s prior assaults on the children at trial. In the context of domestic abuse, the authorities failure to substantiate the children’s reports of violence occurring in the privacy of their own home was not evidence that the events did not occur. “While the police may not have believed K.R. or A.R., the jury may have.”

The court failed to comment on the numerous jury members that Judge Perkins allowed to be seated on Rice’s trial, despite Caroline’s objections that the jurors personally knew the Rice family for years before the case was heard.

The Rice decision represents an increasingly frequent trend where the Appeals court has refused to tow the line for corrupt trial court judges, social workers, police officers, and GAL’s who work collaboratively to undermine the safety of children and the civil rights of the parents desperate to rescue them from the profitably dangerous homes the courts order them to live in.

Does keeping Judge Perkins on the bench and the court industry professionals involved with the Rice case employed to oversee the care of Minnesota’s most vulnerable families pose a risk to public safety?

 

See Part Two for a detailed discussion of solutions.


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Anne Stevenson

Anne Stevenson is a policy analyst and consultant who researches the efficiency of publicly funded programs, then helps clients create an effective advocacy strategy and materials to improve the policies affecting their families. 

 

 

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