Newbold noyes reporting from 8 march 2012 hearing portland maine
An account of the March 8th, 2012 HearingRe: Handrahan/Malenko Custody DisputeLeaving in the dark for the long drive to Portland, the moon is setting directly before usas we drive. It is full, a blood red orange moon dissolving into the mist of morning. Thesky lightens, and by and by the sun pops up in my rearview mirror. It’s going to be awindy bright and beautiful day, the kind of day that makes the sweet sap rise in the mapletrees promising the end of a cold dark winter.In Portland the city is already awake and at work. The office buildings are full and thepark is empty. Occupy Wall Street protestors who camped there a month or more ago inthe snow have moved on, all signs of their encampment gone, as if they had never beenhere. Over all, seagulls soar and swoop in the wind. Do the seagulls laugh or cry Iwonder? I walk to the entrance of the courthouse, the sand and salt of winter grindingunder my feet, the dust blowing on the wind, a bit of grit catches in my eye.Courtroom number five is smaller that the other courtrooms, with large windows openingonto the empty park. The room is filled with the kind of light an artist’s studio shouldhave for painting portraits. With no shadows, clear and clean northern light falls on thedozen or so faces of people who sit on the three benches that face the raised judge’s area,like pews I think, in a chapel.It is 8:40 and the room is already full. The witnesses are whispering occasionally to eachother, increasing the solemn feeling, appropriate for a place I thought, where peoplesolemnly swear to tell the truth. High on the wall behind the judge’s large leather chairwall sconces cast a curved ribbed light and shadow pattern. Like haloes, they wouldhover over the judge as he sits in judgment over the sorry dramas that play out every dayin family court.But there is no judge on the bench now and neither lawyer is present, just the courtreporter getting ready for the hearing. On the lawyers’ tables before us there are stacks offiles, notebooks, an open Ipad. Igor comes in, dark and handsome, he sits down at thetable to the left, his back to us. Directly in front of me sits an older man, a beautifulyounger woman, and another handsome man. They are the husband, daughter and son-in-law of Judy Potter, Lori’s lawyer, here I imagine for moral support, and to protect Judyshould the opposing lawyer, Michael Waxman, start shouting and threatening, as he didat the end of the last hearing.We wait. Behind me other witnesses softly speak of office politics, lunch dates,problems with their cellular phones. Some are, I gather, the witnesses Michael Waxmanhas gathered to testify about the events that did or did not take place at the daycare centerat the end of January, when Lori attempted to pick up her daughter for her scheduledvisitation weekend, and was stopped by Igor’s new wife. There was some sort of tusslebetween the two women, one the mother of the child Mila, the other acting as Mila’sguardian, legal or not, and determined to keep Mila from meeting with her mom.
This tussle or scuffle, argument or assault, has resulted in a police report, charges beingfiled and counter-filed, and a DHHS finding, all of which have played out over the pastmonth or so. The police report, obtained by Michael Waxman the day after the event,was in some sort of limbo I have been told. Judy Potter, acting as Lori’s lawyer, had yetto receive a copy of the report or a list of witnesses, until the day before this hearing.There are, apparently, typed and signed witness statements came through MichaelWaxman’s office, which also appeared a few days ago, along with Lori’s hand writtenstatement, the copy barely readable.There has been another turn of events in this saga. Based on interviews with Waxman’switnesses, a phone interview with Lori, and an interview with Mila, DHHS has come to afinding in this case. The mother was at fault they say, and she caused emotional harm tothe child, her own daughter, by attempting to follow the court-ordered visitation scheduleset up a year ago, giving Lori, as Mila’s mother, weekends with her child and vacations.Lori has not seen her daughter for 9 months.As Waxman shouted in court in January, 2012, he, Waxman, would refuse to follow thecourt orders, and would not turn “that child over to that woman,” and he has seen to itthat his orders, not the court’s orders, are being followed by Igor.That child has not been turned over to that woman, and now we are met to decide theoutcome of that earlier charade, cut short by the judge fleeing the bench in January. Weall rose as the decorum normal in a normal court dissolved in chaos and tears, shouts andvile language as the lawyer, Michael Waxman, an officer of the court, spat his contemptat us and on us all.DHHS, after serious and deliberate deliberation I am sure, found Lori at fault. Quoting atlength from statements they say were made by Mila after the trauma of bring draggedaway from her mother; she was upset, they said, by her mother’s sudden appearance atthe daycare center and the struggle surrounding them, as mother and daughter tried toconnect after being kept away from each other for so long and the new wife trieddesperately to keep them apart.DHHS found the child’s statements (which read as if written by an adult) credible, validand damning, and found in them sufficient reason to find Lori at fault for attempting tosee the daughter she has been kept from for nine months, which ironically, is as long as ittook for Lori to carry Mila in the first place. Is nine months long enough for a daughter’smemory of her mother to be erased, as Waxman hoped he could do with Mila?Apparently not. But maybe, with the help of DHHS and a bit of therapy, who knows?Ironically again, other more serious statements made repeatedly regarding her father’sinappropriate behavior, statements made by the same child to mandated reporters,statements made to, validated and substantiated by professionals trained in child abuseassessment, these were statements found by DHHS to be unacceptable, to be ignored,neglected, forgotten, and disregarded. The truth, a DHHS official said, is not what areport says, but what we say it says.
Lori, the DHHS report says, caused emotional harm to her child in the brief encounter atthe daycare. It is not the repeated bumps and bruises, robberies, evidence of drugexposure, and questionable activities that the little girl experienced when, deprived ofcontact with her mother, she was left with her father, his new pregnant wife and zealouswealthy friend and lawyer, Michael Waxman, Esq. These bruises and traumas caused noharm, according to DHHS. That Mila apparently no longer attends the daycare facility,so even contact with other children and adults is denied this child - that is cause for noconcern among the officials at our Department of Health and Human Services. I will notquote this “report” here, anyone interested in finding out what bizarre conclusions DHHSofficials can come to can find it out for themselves. Suffice it to say that you can getwhat you pay for in this state, or you may not get what you pay for, but you surely payfor what you get.The DHHS report, released the day before the hearing, and given first apparently toMichael Waxman (who seems to obtain DHHS reports, police reports, judge’s decisionsand other documents long before they are available to anyone else) has put Lori in adifficult position, as it no doubt was intended to do. If she comes to court today she runsa good chance of being detained by DHHS or the Portland police on charges of childendangerment or some such, humiliated by Waxman, and denied any visitation by thecourt. As of the night before this court hearing, she was scheduled to fly to Portland fromDC, taking a day from her job, where she is teaching at American University.For Lori, aside from being a mother, obtained a Ph.D. in social sciences, so it’s DrHandrahan to you and me. I do not expect Dr Handrahan to appear in this courtroom, asbeautiful as the light that shines into this room may be. Ugly things could happen here, Isense, and there is an odor of brimstone in the air and the scent of sulfur.There is blood in the water and sharks are circling, although we can’t see them. What wecan hear are voices raised from the judge’s chambers through the thick old oak doorbehind the bench. Faint but audible, they rise and fall like swimmers calling for help inthe distance.Then the oak door slams open. Michael Waxman, not the judge or the bailiff, bounds intocourtroom. He is wearing a dark well-cut suit, and he is not smiling this time. Heannounces in his loud flat voice that the hearing is postponed, to be continued at the endof the month, the 29th he believes. He apologizes to his witnesses, and says that the delayis due to Judy Potter’s bad back trouble.Judy follows him slowly into the courtroom, moving stiffly and carefully. She lookshollow-eyed and exhausted, and does not speak, except when Michael Waxman asks ifhe, Michael, can be of any assistance to her, carrying her books or whatever. Shegestures to her husband and says with a slight tired smile that if her husband can’t carryher stuff, she will divorce him.Her husband has moved quickly to be between Waxman and her, and lifts a large bluebag of stuff. He puts the strap over one shoulder, and puts his other arm around his wife.
The bag looks bulky enough to carry about fifty pounds of paperwork. The daughter andson-in-law gather around her, help her into her coat, and this court session is over.So this time, neither the child Mila, nor the mother, Dr Lori Handrahan are present, northe judge. The hysterical ranting that accompanied the last session is also absent. Asjustice postponed is justice denied, no doubt there will be another opportunity for thewheels of justice to grind this case into the dust and grit that surrounds this court house.As I walk to my car I still cannot decide if the circling seagulls are laughing or crying.