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Victoria Pierce, SE Director
National Alliance for Family Court Justice

Los Angeles Daily Journal
November 23, 1999
Suffer the Children
A Mother Pleaded for the Courts to Protect Her Kids. She Is Accused of a Witch Hunt.

A Mother's Plea Leaves Her Accused of Hysteria
By Cheryl Romo
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Pioneer - Every Tuesday morning, Karen Anderson, a mother at war with the

court system of Amador County, (CA) gets into her battered 1987 Chevy
Spectrum and makes the two-hour drive to Sacramento to lobby legislators
and the governor at the state Capitol. Her quest is a seemingly simple one: to
protect her three youngest children.
The reasons for it are not so simple.
Anderson wants her children returned to her - and she accuses the legal
system in her small rural county of giving full custody of her three
youngest kids to an ex-husband she claims is a child molester.
It is a charge her former husband, Donald Hoverson, has steadfastly denied.
His attorney, Helen Page, who is also the Amador Consolidated Court's
family law facilitator and its former ombudsman, told the Daily Journal she
could not discuss the case. However, Page described the long-running child
custody battle as "extremely complicated" and said the public has been
"blatantly misinformed" about it.
Before recusing himself, the first judge in the custody case that began in
1995 went so far as to call Karen Anderson's claims against her ex-husband
a hysterical witch hunt and ordered the mother to apologize to the entire
community for her sins in exchange for being able to see her children. She
Others see the case in a different light. Amador County attorney Bud
Lewis, a retired deputy district attorney, said he began as an impartial
observer of the custody case and soon became a believer in Anderson's cause.
Court and county officials, he said, have set out to "crucify" the mother
for daring to criticize local government by exercising freedom of speech
and taking her grievances outside the county to the court of public opinion.
"This would not have happened if the case had been in juvenile dependency
court because that court could have though of the best interests of the
children," Lewis said.
What's best for children is not at the top of the priority list in family
law courts, he said.
"These people are biased," he said of the court and opposing counsel.
"They have identified their role in life as to get Karen. The real victims
are the children. Something that should cause everyone to pause is that
someday these kids will be adults, and they will go home to their mother."
In addition to lobbying state lawmakers, Anderson has picketed the Amador
County Courthouse in Jackson, written op-ed pieces for the local newspaper,
filed a "patriot's" lawsuit in federal court naming dozens of officials as
defendants, became a national spokeswoman, and founded a local organization
called M.A.M.A., short for Mothers Against Molesters Alliance.
While Anderson has been lifted to the level of sainthood by some outside
her tiny community - particularly women's rights groups, - she is a woman
scorned and vilified by many of those who live and work in conservative
Amador County. "She has a special talent for hooking people's resentment,"
Lewis said.
And until the seemingly domestic violence-related deaths in Pioneer (Amador
Co. CA) this September of three young children who were the grandchildren
and step-grandchildren of two former U.S. congressmen, no situation has so
polarized this community like the Anderson-Hoverson custody battle.
People here say the county has been slow to wake up to the fact that
domestic abuse exists. Some blame the community's "good old boy" network
and the court in Amador County for turning a blind eye to home-based
violence. Yet the chief judge, who founded the county's Domestic Violence
Council, says these critics are misinformed.
In the continuing Anderson case, where nothing has been proved or
disproved, the mother has become the focus of attention rather than the
allegations of molestation against the father.
During nearly two dozen interviews over a two month period with members of
the legal and mental health communities as well as with local residents,
many described Anderson as a publicity hound more interested in attention
than in protecting her three children. In conversations with current and
former county officials, she was often derisively called "our leading
citizen", and "that Anderson woman." As a result of her unwavering public
stand and refusal to compromise, the mother has received hate mail, been
accused of a controversial malady called "parental alienation syndrome,"
lost her home and business to pay legal fees and been forced into
bankruptcy. The word most often used to describe her is "obsessed."
And she agrees. "I told my children I would protect them," she said. "I
didn't ask for this, you know."
One of Anderson's three former attorneys, who asked to remain unidentified,
said that "mistakes get made and a lot of things happened in this case that
shouldn't have."
Her current attorney, Richard Mata of Los Angeles, said he became intrigued
with the case because a mother lost her children for nothing more than an
allegation. And, at the last court hearing in October, Mata said, the judge
was effectively attempting to stifle Anderson's freedom of speech for
reasons that made no sense to him.
"Ms. Anderson has been very vocal in Sacramento and in the local newspaper.
And somehow the court thought it was having an effect on her children."
the general practitioner said. "The last court ruling was unfair because
there was no clear-cut evidence that she is alienating her children from
their father by speaking out in the public arena."
But Larry Dixon, a former Amador County district attorney and the
court-appointed counsel for the three Hoverson children, described the
custody battle - which began as a divorce case in August 1994 - as
"extraordinary." He defended the court's action in placing the children in
the sole custody of their father.
"It does have some rather strange twists in it," he said, citing Anderson's
federal lawsuit and a separate appeal court decision upholding the local
state court's action in the custody matter. "The court reached the
conclusion that the children were being emotionally damaged and therefore
changed custody."
Court records indicate the work "extraordinary" may be too tame a word.
According to court transcripts, for instance, Superior Court Judge Harold
Bradford, a visiting judge from neighboring Alpine County, said he had seen
false accusations of sexual abuse several times and thought they were
becoming a "phenomena of this county and the adjoining Calaveras County."
He told Anderson and her attorney they should "be scorned for embarrassing
yourselves and your community" by bringing false accusations - and, even
if the allegations were true, they were at best "minor sexual abuse," and
Hoverson "is entitled to see his children regularly and in a meaningful
Then, on October 31, 1996, Bradford said, "I had the privilege one day when
I was stationed in New England in the Navy to spend Halloween evening in
the town of Salem, Mass. Many of you may remember that Salem, Mass. was the
location during colonial days of trials and persecutions and prosecutions
and punishments for witchcraft. History tells us that that witchcraft's
fright that went through Salem, Mass. was hysterical and, as we know,
unfounded on any factual basis … I don't think Jackson is an appropriate
town for anything resembling witchcraft. I don't think Amador County is an
appropriate location for unfounded hysteria. This case is really just a
This case began in February, 1995, following Hoverson and Anderson's
divorce. Anderson, a dog trainer with three teenage boys from a previous
marriage, received full custody of her three younger children by Hoverson.
Her ex-husband, a construction worker, was given liberal visitation with
his children, two girls and a boy. Not long after, Hoverson indicated that he
would like to see his kids more often and, when the parents could not agree
on a schedule, they returned to court. Hoverson v. Hoverson (Anderson),
Then, after a visit with her father, the couple's 6-year-old daughter
allegedly complained to her mother that her dad was doing "sick" things to
her. The child then began having emotional problems and was acting out in
a sexual way. After a medical checkup, a doctor made a report of suspected
child abuse to the Amador County Department of Social Services. A social
worker for the department later made a similar report, and the county
Sheriff's Department launched an investigation. She made a similar
disclosure to a therapist, who also filed a suspected abuse report with DSS.
During this period, the couple's 4-year-old daughter returned from a visit
with her father and complained of genital irritation. The mother contacted
the Sheriff's Department and was told to take both girls to the University
of California at Davis Medical Center for an examination. Reports indicate
some medical evidence pointing toward sexual abuse of the oldest girl, and
the children began receiving counseling funded by the county's
Victim/Witness Assistance Program. On completion of its investigation, the
Sheriff's Department recommended prosecution and turned the case over to
the district attorney's office.
However, wrinkles appeared. Hoverson said he believed that one of
Anderson's teen-age sons may have molested the two girls. And Anderson -
who maintains she was instructed to do so by a Sheriff's Department
investigator, who later denied the claim - made a videotape of her oldest
daughter making accusations against her father the night before the child
presented the same allegations to law enforcement. Yet all three of the
Hoverson children - including the girls' 9-year-old brother, who said he
repeatedly saw his father get into bed with his little sisters - accused
the father of wrongdoing.
In November 1995, Superior Court Judge Susan C. Harlan, the presiding judge
of the Amador Consolidated Courts, appointed Dixon as attorney for the
Hoverson children and a local psychologist, Larry Leatham, as an evaluator,
in the custody case. "The appointment was a little extraordinary," sand
Dixon. "Family law was not a normal part of my practice, but how can you
say 'no' to a presiding judge?"
Then, in February 1996, the district attorney's office, then headed by
Steven Cilenti, now in private practice, launched a criminal investigation,
and Hoverson's visits with his children halted. Cilenti turned the case
over to the grand jury, and the oldest girl testified that her father had
molested her. While some jurors later acknowledged likely sexual abuse, the
grand jury found not enough evidence to proceed criminally against the
father. Cilenti recently told the Daily Journal he could not comment on the
case, but the current DA, Todd Riebe, who was the county's public defender
at the time of the criminal investigation, said "there was failure to
The Amador County Department of Social Services then decided to drop its
investigation. It explained its action in court documents submitted in the
custody case. "There is insufficient evidence to assess the children's risk
of being molested by their father. If the medical evidence supported that
(one of the children) was molested, there would be a further question of
who molested her." Matthew Zanze, the head of DSS, wrote. And because Anderson
had made a tape to document her oldest daughter's allegations, Zanze
continued, deciding whether the child had been coached was difficult. "In
any case, this child has been psychologically damaged by the conduct of her
mother, whether well-meaning or not."
Bradford, who came in to hear the custody case after Harlan recused
herself, ordered supervised visits between the children and their father.
In September 1996, the court-appointed evaluator testified that Anderson,
whom other therapists had found to be a loving and stable parent, had
something called "parental alienation syndrome." The judge then gave
Hoverson full custody of his children. Anderson was denied any contact
In reaction, two therapists who had been involved in counseling the
children for DSS protested by leaving their jobs. One of them told the
Daily Journal that she was told to "look the other way" when they took three
children from a mother and gave them to the perpetrator. There was a
serious lack of support from child protective services - and I felt law
enforcement was not backing the safety of children."
And a child-abuse prevention specialist who had counseled one of the
Hoverson children submitted an affidavit to the court disputing the
court-appointed psychologist's diagnosis of the mother. "There is nothing
that I observed in Ms. Anderson that would lead me to believe that she
engaged in any course of conduct of alienating the children from their
father," Cookie Hurd wrote. "Ms. Anderson was distraught and unwilling to
believe that her child could have experienced this kind of abuse. She
attempted to deny it to herself."
But Dixon, the children's attorney, told the Daily Journal that the outcome
for Anderson had more to do with her own behavior than the parental
alienation syndrome diagnosis. "It was not the foundational basis for
changing custody. The court did that on its own motion after reviewing the
Sheriff's Department videotapes and the Karen Anderson tape. The court
reached the conclusion that the children were being emotionally damaged and
therefore changed custody."
On July 15, 1997, in an unpublished opinion written by Associate Justice
Fred K. Morrison and with concurrence by Associate Justices Robert K. Puglia
and Connie M. Callahan, the Third District Court of Appeal sided with
Bradford in In re: the Marriage of Donald and Karen H., C024242. The appeal
court charged Anderson with "fabricating evidence by coercing one of her
children to accuse the father," evading discovery requests, turning to
"structural attacks" and failing to explain why the trial court was
procedurally defective. "No due process violations occurred. The failure
to follow lawful evidentiary rules caused the exclusion of the evidence,
not the personal whim of the trial judge," the opinion states.
By this time Anderson was admittedly desperate, out of money, and acting
as her own attorney. She said she could not afford to appeal to a higher
court. So, after being persuaded by a patriots' rights organization, she
filed a pro per civil rights suit in the District of Columbia. As
defendants she named everyone from her ex-husband to Amador County officials
to the governor of California in a conspiracy to deny her access to her
children. Anderson v. Hoverson, 98CV00115 (CCK).
While the federal suit was eventually dismissed without prejudice, in the
interim it became an issue in the Amador County custody case - and led to
the eventual self-recusal of Bradford. Following community outrage about
his conduct in the case as expressed in voluminous court documents, the
judge, who denied he was biased or prejudiced against Anderson, on March
16,1998, wrote:
"Her obsession with litigation now exposes the County of Amador to
unnecessary legal fees and expenses as it resists her frivolous claims in
the federal court. Her obsession with claims of wrongdoing on the part of
others increases the cost to Amador County for counsel appointed to
represent the interests of her children. This litigation should have been
a rather featureless and ordinary dissolution of marriage [but] respondent's
false claims of sexual abuse of the children by petitioner generated
needlessly extensive and expensive litigation; those claims have been
litigated, found to have been without merit, which finding was affirmed on
Another visiting judge, this time retired Stansilaus Municipal Court Judge
J. Augustus Accurso, came in to hear the case. At present, Anderson has
been allowed monitored visits with her children, and Hoverson retains
Attorneys in town refer to the case as a "tar baby." The DA's office has
reportedly investigated attorneys involved with the case, and the
court-appointed psychologist is now facing state disciplinary proceedings.
"The investigation of the evaluator, I think, will have the biggest impact
on this case," Mata said.
Anderson continues to agitate, often wearing a T-shirt with Bradford's
picture on the front and her children's pictures on the back. "My children
will never, ever reach their full potential after what they've been
through," she said. "I promised I would protect them, but the system
wouldn't let me. Nobody has stood up to these people."
One of Anderson's supporters, Pioneer resident Elise Hoover, said, "Karen
is a wonderful mother, but she's not a plaster saint. And that's a good
thing. I know other people who are going through similar situations, and
they fold up. This whole situation has exposed the fact that everything is
not peach-keen wonderful here. She is not going to go away. She has
nothing left to lose."
Cheryl Romo

Lawmakers Question Abuse Theory

Parental alienation syndrome is a controversial psychological theory
developed by Richard A. Gardner, a professor of child psychiatry at Columbia
University. The theory holds that a parent (generally a mother) is
responsible for accusations of sexual abuse if they arise during a child
custody case.
Gardner, who has self-published a number of books on the subject and who
testifies in child custody cases as an expert witness, believes that some
mothers are capable of consciously or unconsciously programming their
children into saying false things about fathers in order to retain custody.
In the last decade, Gardner has traveled around the country lecturing
judges about the syndrome and suggesting they be on the lookout for it in
custody cases. Many women who have accused the fathers of their children
of sexual abuse, he feels, were victims of sexual abuse themselves or have
other sexual problems.
Others disagree, but do not dismiss the notion that in some cases parental
alienation syndrome may be a reality.
One of them, Kathleen Coulborn Faller, a professor of social work and
director of the Family Assessment Clinic at the University of Michigan,
contends that parental alienation syndrome is open to opposing
interpretations and that a child's affinity for one parent could have many
As a diagnostic syndrome, she wrote, "it is only useful for mental health
professionals in explaining the symptom presentation if they know from other
information that an abuse allegation is a deliberately made, false
accusation. The syndrome cannot be used to decide whether the child has
been sexually abused. As a consequence, it is of little probative value to
courts making decisions about the presence or absence of sexual abuse."
In addition, the California Women's Law Center in Los Angeles contends, the
diagnosis commonly is used as a weapon against mothers.
"From our perspective, it should not be recogniz3ed for several reasons,"
said staff attorney Marci Fukuroda, a specialist in family law and domestic
violence. "It is not a recognized psychological or psychiatric disorder.
And in family law cases, it is more often than not abused…Even if it's
true, the potential for abuse is so great.
"We are seeing far too many cases where the children end up with an abuser
because the mother was labeled an "alienator." It has become a weapon. And
a lot of attorneys are discouraging their clients from mentioning domestic
violence or sexual abuse because they think it will cause their clients to
lose custody."
Recently both U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and state Assembly
member Sheila James Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, have questioned the use of
parental alienation syndrome in the court system.
In an Aug. 16 letter to the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior
Court concerning a case in which parental alienation syndrome was alleged
against a mother who accused her child's father of molestation, Kuehl, the
chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, wrote that "the testimony of
children who disclose sexual abuse is almost always discounted, and the
parents who try to protect the child from further abuse are viewed with
suspicion. Courts are too willing to accept the molester's explanation that
the other parent is manipulating the child to make the accusations. This
is especially true when, as in this case, the molester is a upstanding person
by all outward appearances."
Kuehl has asked the courts to "erase the influence of Dr. Gardner." She
also thinks judges need to be aware that "arguments based on his theories
are invalid, and recommendations by therapists based on his work are
extremely suspect and should not be adopted without careful scrutiny, or
even perhaps a second opinion."

-- Cheryl Romo

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