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.

Kinser, like her client DuMontier, declined to comment for this story.

A collection of striking characters and moments of high tension and absurdity made the DuMontier-Andrews trial anything but a routine event in the Carroll Courts Building, a colorless glass cube a few blocks from Denton's main square.

Gregory Shamoun, a young, ego-driven Dallas litigator partial to alligator shoes and $1,000 Euro-cut suits, hired on as Andrews' attorney, but he knew his case wasn't ready. "Any lawyer worth their salt likes to paint their own picture, recruit their own players," he says. "Because I came in on the eve of trial, there was an enormous amount of paint I didn't have and couldn't get."

Long before the trial began, Kinser, an orderly and well-prepared lawyer, knew she had the all-important court-appointed expert witnesses on her side, and they would testify that the kids' stories were not to be believed.

Judge Wright--who had been replaced by Judge Jerry Woodlock, from Gainesville--had put Anne Friemel, a therapist and director of a child assessment center in Amarillo, in charge of analyzing the children's psychological and emotional conditions, reviewing their relationships with their parents, and getting to the heart of the abuse allegations.

Friemel, who was Kinser's lead witness, testified that her team of experts had concluded that the children's accounts of abuse had been "implanted in them as opposed to experienced."

Among the red flags, she said, was the children's lack of affect as they told their stories to a trained interviewer. "Katie told it in an upbeat way," she testified. "Most kids would display some shame and guilt as they're telling it."

Over Shamoun's objections that she was not qualified to discuss psychological disorders, Friemel said that the children were subjected to "parental alienation syndrome," which she described as "a coupling of brainwashing plus children doing whatever is necessary to alienate the other parent."

Susan Levisay, a Denton clinical social worker who counseled the kids and their father, described it as a disorder that develops when one parent programs a child against the other. "Unconsciously, a child knows that he or she is being turned against part of his or herself...There's a great deal of pain involved that comes across not very dramatically."

She said the DuMontier children displayed such symptoms.
To try to make his case that kids should be taken at their word, Shamoun underlined for the jury the children's repeated and consistent outcries, which extended to letters they had written to the judge and their attorney. He poked holes in Friemel's credentials and thoroughness, getting her to admit on cross-examination that the only investigation she did into whether DuMontier might be homosexual was to ask a few of his friends--and quiz the flight attendants on a Southwest flight she happened to be on--if there was any gossip about him being gay or bisexual.

Shamoun pointed to a report from a psychologist on Friemel's team, Dr. James Warnica, which said that the children's "placid rendition" might have come because they had talked about this so many times before.

Before the end of the first day of testimony, Judge Woodlock admonished Shamoun for his aggressive courtroom demeanor. "For the record, Mr. Shamoun made a face at me a while ago," Woodlock announced at one point. By the end of the three-week trial, Woodlock drew up a list of seven such sins--among them, jostling Jake Collier to wake him up from his not-infrequent napping in the court, and wearing jeans with a hole in the crotch to a weekend session--and cited Shamoun for criminal contempt. (Shamoun later hired a Denton lawyer and plea-bargained to a $300 fine.)

"Gregory [Shamoun] did a lot of things I wouldn't do, but looking back at it, he had to be a real jerk to get any point across," says Charles Campbell, a Dallas attorney who handled the appeal in the case. "Woodlock was openly belligerent toward Gregory. He was sustaining nearly all of Kinser's objections and very few of his."

Because Kinser had the supposedly neutral experts on her side to knock down the allegations of abuse, Shamoun called Dr. William Tedford as his witness on the veracity of the children's outcries.

Tedford had interviewed the children in the spring of 1992, but had been barred by Judge Wright's order from talking with them again.

Based on those single interviews, he said, "In my opinion, the children were basically telling the truth...that there was inappropriate sexual behavior going on at their father's home and that they were being taken to someone who was trying to get them to keep quiet about it and stop making accusations."

That person was social worker Susan Levisay, who Tedford said had a "clear-cut conflict of interest" because she was being paid by DuMontier, whom she also counseled. "It just seems, in my opinion, to be unprofessional," Tedford testified.

Tedford had a raft of criticisms of the Friemel team's work as well, but Woodlock barred him from testifying about anything that happened in Amarillo. "It seemed they had Shamoun tied in knots," Tedford recalls, talking at his office near the SMU campus.

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