Less than a stranger

She said it was abuse. He said it was manipulation. By the time a Denton court got through with this messy custody battle, a good mother would lose her kids forever.

Loveless remained composed, but clearly was embarrassed, according to several people who were in the courtroom. The gossip about that charge took about a nanosecond to make the courthouse rounds.

Katherine's attorney, Dallas lawyer Joseph Powell, had called only two witnesses--and DuMontier had not even been given a chance to deny the sex allegations--when Judge Wright cut the hearing short with the grumpy pronouncement, "I've heard all I want to hear in this case."

Wright proceeded to do his best imitation of King Solomon, asking both parents if they would rather have the children returned to the other parent, or put in foster care. When they both chose foster care, he announced, "Based on your answers, I am convinced that neither of these parents have [sic] the best interests of the children at heart, and that they probably are much more concerned with hurting each other."

Judge Wright took the kids from Andrews' custody and ordered them to stay with DuMontier's parents. He also said he would assign the children their own attorney, ordered an investigation by a court-appointed social worker, and barred anyone else from interviewing the kids about the allegations.

Those actions weren't out of bounds for such a hearing, but Joseph Powell and Andrews were very upset when the judge ordered her to go to her home, accompanied by Loveless, and return with some notes she had taken about her children's outcries.

Parts of the accusations surely were implausible, such as DuMontier having sex with his divorce lawyer. But Powell says he was surprised at how hostile and utterly dismissive Wright had been of his client's claims, which at that point were backed up by the detective. The judge seemed as if he had already decided the kids weren't being abused, Powell says, and the lawyer wondered whether there might have been some out-of-court communications between Loveless' side and the judge.

The worst of it came in a meeting in the judge's chambers. "I recall the judge calling her a liar," Powell says now. "Some unbelievable things were happening. From a lawyer's point of view, this was scary." (Judge Wright could not be reached for comment.)

Andrews says Powell told her after the hearing that she was going to be chewed up in Wright's court, and he recommended she drop the custody suit and wait to see what results the criminal investigation would bring.

But when Andrews dropped her custody case the next day, her ex-husband immediately went on the offensive.

Within a week, DuMontier brought his own custody modification suit against her--the suit that eventually led to termination of her rights as a parent. It said that Andrews clearly didn't believe the sexual abuse charges and couldn't possibly have believed the kids, because she dropped her own case.

For the counterattack, Loveless removed himself as DuMontier's lawyer, and Katherine Kinser, a member of the hotshot Dallas matrimonial firm McCurley, Webb, Kinser, McCurley & Nelson, hired on.

There was a lot of embarrassing talk around the courthouse about the accusations against Loveless, who by all accounts but his own carries plenty of political pull and has a lot of old friends in Denton courthouse circles. Loveless laughs at the suggestion, saying, "I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if that was true."

Before the August 1993 trial, there were a half-dozen hearings, dozens of depositions, and another round of sex abuse accusations that state investigators deemed "unfounded" in the fall of 1992.

Judge Wright slapped a gag order on the case--which Andrews' lawyers overturned on appeal in early 1993--and put her on supervised visitation, meaning she could see her kids only two hours a week and only within earshot of a paid chaperone.

In the meantime, both sides reached deep into their pockets to fuel the lawyers.

DuMontier, whose parents had been giving him gifts of their considerable stock holdings, won the war of representation. He paid Kinser's firm an estimated $250,000 to $300,000, while Andrews went from lawyer to lawyer, spending about half that much herself, but getting a lot less for her money. She went through $40,000 that she'd received in the divorce settlement, and was constantly bickering with lawyers about their fees.

There were also fees for the court-appointed ad litem, Jake Collier, to be paid by both parents.

In Andrews' corner, Powell dropped out early on, in June 1992. A Denton attorney and friend of the Andrews', Charles Saunders, took the case for a while, Katherine represented herself for a bit, and then Matt Davis, of the big Dallas firm Jenkens & Gilchrist, signed on and did much of the trial preparation. Six weeks before the August 1993 trial, he too dropped out. "I think it was money and some other things," Davis says, adding that he cannot recall precisely why he got off the case on the eve of trial.

"He said we couldn't win," says Andrews, adding that Davis was urging her to settle. DuMontier was offering to drop the matter by giving her two hours of supervised visitation with the kids each week until they turned 18, she recalls. The other option: He would go to trial and ask the jury to terminate her rights for the alleged emotional abuse she was inflicting on the kids--"dragging them around" from interview to interview, making them lie about their dad.

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