Zero-sum game

A mother who hasn't seen her children for five years gets no help from a Denton County court

Dallas woman who lost custody of her two children after she was accused of coaching them to lie about her ex-husband now doubts she will see them until they are adults.

Katherine Andrews, a former flight attendant, has been barred for the past five years from seeing her two children. She was pushed a few steps further back last week in a Denton court when a judge ruled that her case would be shelved for the foreseeable future.

"We lost about as big as you can lose," says Mark Andrews, Katherine Andrews' second husband, who agreed that his wife might never prevail in court.

The case (written about in a Dallas Observer cover story, "Less than a stranger," April 10, 1997) highlighted use of a controversial psychological theory called "parental alienation syndrome," in which one parent--usually the mother--supposedly brainwashes the children into having an irrational hatred of the other parent.

In a 1993 trial, after hearing two psychologists testify that Andrews had induced her children into lying about being sexually abused by their father, 10 of the 12 jurors decided to terminate Andrews' parental rights.

The verdict was overturned on appeal three years later, and the Texas Supreme Court upheld the reversal in February 1997. The appeals panel ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support what it called the "drastic remedy" of termination.

Despite this reversal, Andrews is still prohibited from seeing her kids--now ages 13 and 15--and a new round of legal battling has ended in a fashion typical of this case. Each side is accusing the other of something the other side denies, and maintenance of the status quo means Andrews remains estranged from her children.

"Basically we're saying there's no reason I shouldn't be seeing the kids. Please reinstate my visitation," says Andrews. "They're saying, 'No, we don't want you to see the kids.'"

The father's lawyer, Kathy Kinser, says that simply isn't so. Kinser, who has represented airline pilot David DuMontier throughout much of the decade-long dispute, says her client "has more than once been willing to follow a mental-health professional's advice and never once has he taken a position not to follow their recommendations." If such an expert were to say it would be in the children's best interest to see their mother again, he would agree, she says.

Kinser adds that last summer the two sides agreed to follow a psychologist's plan and, "she [Andrews] just quit. And she picked the expert. We didn't hear from her again for a year."

David Parker, Andrews' lawyer, says the truth is "precisely the opposite. She had done everything humanly possible to see the children."

Andrews is barred by a 1994 injunction from getting near the children or attempting to communicate with them in any way. She says she has in the past resisted proposals to allow her only supervised visits. "That's what they give to criminals," says her husband, Mark.

Andrews says she has dropped her opposition to supervision, at least at the outset, but other hurdles continue to be added to the fight.

Kinser, who has been adept at making Andrews pay for her tactical mistakes, says Andrews herself added the tallest hurdle last October. She filed suit in federal court against her ex-husband, Kinser, and more than a dozen judges, social workers, court-appointed experts, child welfare workers, and others involved in the 1993 trial and related court actions--in Andrews' words, "everyone who did not protect the children."

Andrews, who is asking the court for $5 million in damages for what she claims was an ongoing conspiracy to violate her civil rights, filed the case pro se, meaning without a lawyer. At present, a magistrate has suspended all activity in the suit while he considers requests by the defendants to dismiss it.

But Kinser claims that Andrews' legal briefs are so well researched that she must be getting professional legal help. That's why Kinser is taking the case seriously. She asked the judge in the Andrews-DuMontier custody case at a hearing last week to suspend all proceedings until the federal lawsuit is resolved.

Kinser and Charles Fortunato, who is representing several defendants in the federal case, told visiting Judge Harry Hopkins at the hearing in Denton that it would be impossible to get anyone who has been involved in the custody case to testify while a multi-million dollar federal suit is hanging over them.

"Being a federal defendant is not a pleasant place to be," Fortunato told Hopkins.

Andrews' attorney in the custody battle, David Parker, argued that the issues in the two cases are so dissimilar that one will not affect the other.

"Katherine Andrews has not seen her children in five years; that's five years of Christmases; five years of no birthdays, no contact whatsoever," he said, arguing that to suspend action in the case will result in keeping her from her kids.

But Hopkins, in his questions to the attorneys, made it clear he was concerned that witnesses would feel the heat of the federal case, and might feel coerced by it. He granted Kinser's request to "abate" all proceedings.

The ruling brought Andrews to tears. Her husband led her, crying, from the courtroom.

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