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Girl, Interrupted 

Alanna Krause believes that much of her hellish childhood could have been avoided. Now she's suing her father, her therapist, and her lawyer in an effort to prove it. How did it come to this?

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
On a typical November day at Northwestern University, the winter snow begins its descent onto the campus, located just north of Chicago. It's a few days before Thanksgiving, and from Alanna Krause's desk in the rear of the classroom, the view out the window looks like a Norman Rockwell painting: brick buildings, wind-whipped trees, and branches weighted with snow. Today is the last meeting of Alanna's upper-level Zen Buddhism class; finals start in two weeks. It's also Alanna's 19th birthday.

A self-possessed young woman with long, brown hair swept away from her face, Alanna spent most of her childhood in the Bay Area. She has a charming smile and a quick, inquisitive mind. An honor roll student, Alanna is confident and ambitious, active in dorm politics, spending her free time at the campus radio station and singing and dancing in a Beastie Boys cover band.

In many ways, Alanna's academic and social success is unsurprising. She grew up in a well-to-do family in Marin County. Her mother, Lauren Simone-Smith, is an artist with multiple college degrees. Her father, Marshall Krause, a prominent civil liberties attorney before his third retirement in 2000, worked for the ACLU in the '60s and has argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court six times.

Despite her pedigree, Alanna's life before college was nothing short of hellish, fraught with physical violence, institutionalization, and running away -- much of which could have been avoided. As a 10-year-old in 1993, Alanna had gotten tangled up in the crony-driven Marin family courts during a bitter child custody battle between her parents. Throughout the custody case, she begged to live with her mother, because, she claimed, her father was physically abusive and often left her at home alone.

But in the end, the system granted custody of Alanna to her dad, despite some troubling circumstances. According to a report submitted to the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts, Alanna's therapist had had a "seemingly intimate" relationship with her father (which he denies), and both the court-appointed evaluator and her court-appointed attorney relied on questionable science in making their recommendations. Once he had custody, Marshall Krause checked Alanna into a locked residential treatment facility in Utah for five months, though she had no criminal history or evidence of mental health problems. When she returned to her father's care at age 13, Alanna decided that she couldn't live with what she attests were constant fights and the threat of physical confrontation, so she ran away to Los Angeles. A juvenile court there finally placed Alanna with her mother in Ojai, where she lived until she left for college last year.

Now a young adult, Alanna seems to have put most of her childhood behind her. She appears amazingly well-adjusted, despite flashes of bossiness (she's often able to get people much older than she -- photographers taking her picture, her mother -- to defer to her). Alanna says she'd prefer not to think about her troubled past at all, but she's nagged by the conviction that she's not the only child to have suffered due to the flawed family court system. On Nov. 1, she filed a $135 million lawsuit against her father, her court-appointed attorney, and her family therapist. She says she wants to send a message that children need to be heard in the family court system, and she believes the lawsuit will send that message loud and clear.

Alanna Simone Krause was born on Nov. 26, 1983, into a life of privilege. She lived in spacious Marin County homes and attended the finest private schools. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, Alanna was always pretty. Her intelligence showed at an early age, and her parents placed her in educational programs for gifted children.

Marshall Krause and Lauren Schneider had met in San Rafael in 1978. They were married two years later, and friends say they were well matched intellectually, with mutual interests in spirituality and liberal politics. But marital tensions soon developed, reaching a peak when Alanna was about 5. Krause, an elfin man with salt-and-pepper hair, small, dark eyes, and huge flaps for ears, says the source of their domestic problems lay with Alanna's mother's mental illness, which he began to notice in August of 1989. "It was obvious that I was the cause for her anger and hatred, and she focused whatever illness she had on me," says Krause during an interview in his cluttered and chilly home office in San Geronimo, near Fairfax.

In contrast, Alanna's mother, who remarried in 1997 and now goes by the last name Simone-Smith, claims Krause was "abusive," and insists that he played mind games with her, to which friends attest. "It was psychological manipulation," says Marty Kent, who has known the family since 1984. "I wasn't in their home all the time, but it added up to a picture. Lauren is a very sensitive person and [Krause] knew her sensitivity. She had a fine mind that could easily be twisted by a hard-hitting lawyer."

From the quiet of her dorm library, Alanna remembers the edginess that pervaded her early family life. "I have a vivid image of them screaming at each other," she says. "I was always scared of my father." In court documents, Alanna also states that she witnessed her father become violent with her mother. (Krause, however, says that it was Simone-Smith who "was constantly physically attacking me.")

After months of intense couples' therapy, the Krauses separated in 1989. During the separation and the contentious divorce proceedings that followed, Krause and Simone-Smith had joint custody of Alanna. The divorce was finalized in 1992, and soon after Simone-Smith had a breakdown. "I was weakened from the divorce," she says by phone from her Ojai home. "I crashed. I couldn't hold it together. I had a total nervous breakdown, but I was on my feet again by March 1993."

Legal documents show that Simone-Smith had been taking anti-depressants since 1990, and that she was treated for depression in a San Diego facility in October 1992 and was released in March 1993. She says she has been stable since then, and 1998 juvenile court documents describe Simone-Smith's depression as stress-induced and "in remission." Krause claims that Simone-Smith is still mentally ill.

During her mother's treatment, Alanna lived with her father, and the parents returned to a seemingly functional custody arrangement once Simone-Smith returned to the Bay Area. But disputes arose again, and in December 1993, Krause initiated court proceedings because he claimed that Simone-Smith was withholding Alanna from him.

Simone-Smith explains that Krause would not agree to a visitation schedule Alanna wanted, and that he also refused to see Alanna for two weeks and then blamed Simone-Smith for the rift.

Krause has a different take. "Lauren wouldn't let me visit Alanna," he insists. "I didn't want to fight about custody. I wanted 50-50. But Alanna's mother wanted 100 percent, and she ended up with 0 percent. Not that I asked for it, but I was given sole custody of Alanna, and I did my best to raise her."

In addition to speaking at national conferences on domestic violence and child abuse, Alanna has written articles about her experience as a child in the family court system, where, she says, she felt like "property to be divided."

"Hundreds of years of legal history have lead the United States to implement a system that ensures that every party in a legal proceeding gets a voice," she wrote in an article in a San Francisco legal publication. "But there is a forgotten minority that is not afforded these basic rights. ... Children get their 'best interests' represented by adults. We children have no choice and no recourse when those adults have their own agenda."

On top of dealing with the usual complexity of family court cases, the Krauses were arguing in the Marin County family courts, known for cronyism among a clique of judges and attorneys who called themselves the Family Law Elite Attorneys, as documented in numerous newspaper articles (including an October 2000 SF Weekly article, "Odor! Odor in the Court," by Matt Isaacs). As a result of the actions of the FLEAs, one judge at the center of the group became the subject of an FBI probe.

Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro, who acted as the judge in the case, along with two of Marshall Krause's attorneys, Judith Cohen and John McCall, are affiliated with the FLEAs. (Krause himself was a past president of the Marin County Bar Association.) Shapiro assigned therapist Dr. Edward Oklan to serve as the court-appointed evaluator, and asked attorney Sandra Acevedo to represent Alanna, then 10. Alanna was not allowed at any of the proceedings.

Throughout the case, Alanna tried to make clear that she wanted to live with her mother. She says she told her family therapist, Oklan, and Acevedo her concerns. As Alanna's current lawsuit claims, "Krause repeatedly, intentionally, violently, and cruelly assaulted and battered" her. She begged Acevedo to enter evidence of her father's behavior, but Acevedo did not do so. Alanna began writing letters to Shapiro saying that she wanted to live with her mother and visit her father every other weekend. Alanna closes one letter (her mother kept copies) by writing in large letters, "Please listen!" She never received a response.

Shapiro declined to speak about the specifics of the case, but said via phone that she is "satisfied with the decision, which I made in accordance with the facts as I understood them."

But Alanna says Shapiro never heard her side of the story. "I tried several ways [to get my message across]," Alanna says. "I was a kid, but I was interested in what was going on. I knew this decision would affect my life."

Simone-Smith, meanwhile, says she could not afford a lawyer, and represented herself in the custody battle until the last few months. Throughout the case, observers say, she was often overwrought and exasperating, undercutting her allegations that Krause was physically abusing and neglecting Alanna.

"Lauren was representing herself, and Marshall had a great attorney," says Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd, Krause's former law partner and a FLEA whistle-blower. "Marshall himself is a superb attorney, and he is totally into the most precise details of everything, and how to manipulate things. No, she'd be no match for him. Lauren is tearing her hair out, trying to figure out what is going on -- why she doesn't have any money, why her child is being taken away from her. And [John] McCall is standing there with the respect that he is given, and Marshall is there with all the respect that he is given, and then there's Lauren, this former hippie.

"And Lauren would lose it. She'd be crying, castigating the court for its failure to hear the child or her. Poor Lauren was not treated very nicely, and she did not treat the court very nicely, either. She was contentious, emotional. The little girl was caught in the fray. The whole system seemed to be saying, 'Here's the former president of the Marin County Bar Association, who had worked at the ACLU, a prominent attorney. Why should we believe this kid?'"

Alanna told Edward Oklan about her father's behavior and about how much she wanted to live with her mother, but his August 1994 recommendation to Shapiro focused primarily on Simone-Smith's mental health history as evidence that she was an unfit parent. Some of the information for the report came from Lana Clark, Alanna's family therapist, whom, Alanna says, her father was dating.

Los Angeles court papers say that Krause and Clark had a "seemingly intimate relationship" and refer the court to "the enclosed documents by Dr. Clark, particularly the ones signed "fondly' and the ones with little hearts." Krause denies a romantic relationship with Clark, and says she is an "outgoing, loving person," the type who closes all of her letters by writing "Love, Lana." (Lana Clark declined to comment for this article because she said she had not yet been served with Alanna's lawsuit.)

From his own interviews and information from Clark, Oklan produced a report that stated: "It is my medical opinion that [Simone-Smith] clearly has a biological mental illness, which I would diagnose as bi-polar affective disorder, mixed mania and depression, subacute, untreated for many months." He reported that Simone-Smith's supposed illness and her denigration of Krause had led Alanna to develop "Parental Alienation Syndrome," a controversial diagnosis not recognized by the American Psychological Association, in which one parent is assumed to have brainwashed the child against the other parent. Oklan based his decision to recommend awarding sole custody to Krause on his diagnosis of PAS, and says that he did not find Alanna's allegations of abuse by Krause credible.

"I do not believe [Krause] is either physically or emotionally abusive to Alanna and do believe that [Simone-Smith's] interactions with Alanna foster regression, alienation toward her father, and disruption of her independent functioning at school ...," Oklan wrote in his report.

Controversy around the legal application of PAS has arisen precisely because numerous cases presented by the media -- and acknowledged by the courts themselves -- document horror stories of the diagnosis being used to award sole custody to an abusive parent. (New Times L.A., for example, published "A Little Girl's Hell" by Sandra Goldsmith, which told the story of Ovando Cowles, to whom the L.A. Department of Children and Family Services awarded custody of his daughter based on a diagnosis of PAS, despite the fact that the court believed he was molesting her.)

About three months before Oklan filed his report with the court, Alanna's attorney, Sandra Acevedo, also used PAS to recommend that Krause receive sole custody of Alanna. Acevedo, too, found no credible reports of abuse by Krause, and stated in her May 1994 declaration to the court that she believed it was Simone-Smith who was emotionally abusing Alanna through "intentional campaigns to demean and disparage Father."

In her declaration, Acevedo wrote, "In closing, it is my sincere belief that Mother has alienated Alanna from her father, from her therapist, her attorney. ... Alanna has grown toxic toward any person other than her mother."

Simone-Smith denies Acevedo's allegations, and says she has never tried to alienate Alanna from anyone.

Alanna, too, was frustrated with her attorney. "Sandra Acevedo spent her allotted time with me parroting my father's words, attempting to convince me that I really wanted to live with him. She ignored my reports of abuse," Alanna wrote in her article for the legal newspaper.

Indeed, the role of the court-appointed attorney for children in family court cases has generated discussion among legal professionals, and most everyone agrees that such attorneys are rarely offered enough training. Family law cases are often complex, and the role of minor's counsel varies from case to case according to the judge's orders. Though the attorney is ultimately charged with looking out for the "best interest of the child" -- and "as appropriate, to communicate the child's wishes to the court" -- the role can be interpreted differently.

Sandra Acevedo says she felt she did everything she could to properly represent Alanna. "[Minor's counsels] are a group of hard-working, committed attorneys," she says. "There is a lot of misperception that we are somehow favored by the courts, and in reality, we are doing our very, very best to represent kids in some of the worst family law cases."

Outside the courtroom, the physical fights between Alanna and her father continued. In a February 1994 incident that required medical attention, Alanna hurt her back as a result of an altercation with her father. Alanna says she was talking on the phone with her mother when her father got angry. According to an affidavit filed with the L.A. Juvenile Courts, Krause "picked me up ... flat, horizontal, at about the height of his shoulders. ... He was still so mad, that he threw me down, flat on my back. ... I was scared. ... He pinned me down on the floor and yelled at me with his face in my face. I don't remember what he was screaming, but it was something about the phone. I hurt a lot."

Krause acknowledges that there was a struggle during a fight, but he "picked her up, she struggled, and she fell out of my arms and landed on her back on the kitchen floor. I put her in her room gently." He claims to have a document from Marin Child Protective Services that absolves him of abuse, but then says he can't provide it and, at the last minute, that his attorney has it.

The custody battle lasted for about five months. In the end, based on the recommendations of evaluator Oklan and attorney Acevedo, Shapiro gave full custody of Alanna to Marshall Krause. Simone-Smith was granted supervised visits, though she says her attempts to see Alanna were "stymied" by Krause. Mother and daughter kept in close contact by phone, though their first supervised visit did not occur until Christmas Day 1996.

"Family court proceedings were complicated," Alanna says, reflecting on the case. "Custody was like dividing assets. I was a leverage tool, a point of contention. Yeah, it got crazy. I'm not going to say my mom was a perfect angel. She made mistakes, but she was well-intentioned. There were 100 times where turns were made in the wrong direction."

Alanna pulls up a chair in her dorm library and settles herself confidently into it. She looks like any college student in a white blouse and flared jeans with a bohemian print, but she appears especially steady and focused, as if she'd been preparing herself for this discussion.

At the mention of her father's name, Alanna's words become angry. "He's the kind of guy who would stand up and fight for civil rights for his entire life but deny even the most basic civil rights to his family," she says. "He could be whatever persona benefited him the most. He's always wearing a mask. I never felt he was being real."

But when pressed, she admits that her time with her father wasn't all bad, as if she knows that being too spiteful might come off as unbecoming. "I did have a relationship with my father," she concedes. "As a kid, it seemed he knew everything. I get my love for the Constitution from him, much as he didn't follow it himself. Whenever I hear NPR, I think of him. He would always have it on in the car, and I used to think it was so boring.

"The truth is, I don't hate him. I cut him out [of my life] in self-defense. I really feel that I will get hurt if I get anywhere close to him."

She searches for an analogy, her hand waving in the air. "I mean, how cool are black widows? They're really cool! But you're not going to hang out in a room with them. Because they're dangerous."

Krause says he also has fond memories of his time with Alanna, though his recollections are strangely vague. "We both liked games and fun," he says from his home office, his lips pulled into a sharklike smile. "Birthday parties, going places and doing things. Reading, discussing politics and social issues."

Alanna hasn't spoken to her father in about three years, and Krause must ask a reporter how his daughter is doing and what she's majoring in at college. If there are fuzzy images of happier moments between father and daughter, they are of times many, many years ago.

After the custody dispute, Alanna went to live with her father in a house on a private, unpaved street in San Geronimo. Alanna, then 10, says he often left her on her own. "My dad was always going to meetings, and he'd stay overnight at other women's houses. Our house was in the middle of the forest. I was totally alone in this big, dark house."

Krause says that he doesn't know what Alanna means when she says he stayed at women's houses, and that he always found "companions" for her if he was not going to be home. About her aloneness, he says, "That's such a subjective thing. If she felt that, then it was true. Maybe it was more than she felt comfortable with. But I don't think she made a big deal out of it [then]. If she had, I would have done something about it."

Bored and sometimes scared by herself, Alanna would call her mother. They spent marathon sessions on the phone, singing songs or playing math games. Alanna also buried herself in books, reading comics and fantasies, and, she claims, "the entire psychology section of the library." "Books saved me," Alanna says. "We didn't have a TV. We were in the middle of the woods. I rented shelves of books. I read voraciously, and I'd disappear into a book. Then I was no longer in that situation." She came to see the library as a refuge, and sometimes when she'd try to run away, her father would find her there.

When Krause was at home, Alanna claims, they argued constantly, and sometimes these fights became physical. In 1995, the physical discipline made its way outside their house. Alanna was in the sixth grade, and Krause became upset with her at her junior high school because he saw a poem that she'd written about loving her mother. He pushed Alanna against a wall, and a teacher called Child Protective Services after watching Krause "swearing at Alanna, grabbing her by her shoulder or arm, and shoving her about," according to juvenile court documents.

Krause, however, denies abusing Alanna, and says that in the school incident, he had simply grabbed Alanna's arm and the teacher who called CPS "didn't understand" the situation. "I have two other children and three grandchildren, and I get along with all of them," Krause says. "If I had been a child abuser, it would have come out in my older children."

That summer, Krause sent Alanna to camp in Santa Rosa. On her last day, Krause picked her up and told her that instead of going directly home, they were going to visit a friend in Utah. Alanna says she was puzzled, but didn't protest.

After several days' drive, Krause pulled up to the Island View Residential Treatment Center, a locked facility in Syracuse, Utah, for children with behavioral or mental problems. Court documents show that the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan -- which Krause unsuccessfully sued for coverage of the Island View stay -- noted it did not have any record of Alanna having behavioral or emotional problems during summer camp; Krause had used independent psychologists to refer Alanna to Island View. Krause says he checked Alanna, then 11, in to the $6,000-a-month institution because Lana Clark and two other psychologists recommended it. Clark had diagnosed Alanna with Parental Alienation Syndrome; Krause says she was "going out of control."

Alanna says she was traumatized by her time at Island View. "I had never had sex, tried drugs, or been arrested," Alanna says. "I was an almost straight-A student. Everyone else was 16 or 17 years old. They were prostitutes, gangbangers, or heroin addicts, teen parents. I'd go to AA and say, 'Hi, my name is Alanna and I've never had alcohol.'"

She says she underwent therapy in which she was forced to say that she loved her father, and that her mother was crazy. "They would tell me, 'Your dad is not a bad father and your mom is crazy.' They would hold me in there until I would say it. I remember staring at the light reflecting against the wall, and those ideas seeping into my brain. I realized what I needed to do was to pretend that it was working. But I had to stay in touch with both realities at once. There was the me that I was inside, and the me that I showed to the outside world. Every night, it was like that movie Memento, and I would remind myself, 'OK, this is real, and this is real.' I remember thinking, 'This is weird. Is this a movie? Is this my life?'"

Dr. Jared Balmer, executive director at Island View, says that many children who enter his facility have similar reactions. "A majority of the children here think that they have no problems," he says. "But they think that everyone else has lots of problems."

Alanna stayed at Island View for five months, with her father visiting every few weekends. When he came, they'd either undergo joint therapy or he'd take her on excursions into town. Simone-Smith, however, was not allowed to visit her daughter; Alanna could only make 10-minute calls to her mother after she'd earned phone privileges -- six weeks into her stay. To maintain contact, they sent each other letters, which were screened by the Island View staff.

When Alanna was discharged, Krause sent her to boarding school at Harker Academy in San Jose. Alanna says she enjoyed her time there, though on weekends she had to catch a train and a bus to Richmond, where her father picked her up for a couple of days' stay in San Geronimo.

After graduating from Harker at age 13, Alanna returned to live with her father, though she had already decided she wasn't going to stay. "Every time I told him I wanted to live with my mom, he'd say, 'Maybe when you're older,'" Alanna says. "But I realized that if it didn't happen now, it was never going to happen. It started to feel like maybe it would be a possibility that I could live on my own and survive."

Less than a week into her freshman year at the local San Geronimo high school, her father gave her a ride to school. Alanna never made it into the building. Instead, she walked to the bus station and bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, carrying nothing but a backpack that held a change of clothes and a toothbrush.

Alanna spent the next two months on the run in L.A., staying at first with a distant relative of her mother, who'd written to Alanna when she was at boarding school. "There was a lot of hiding out. I'd stay a couple nights here, couple nights there," Alanna says. "The people I was staying with would know someone I could stay with. And they knew someone. It was a very scary time, running and hiding, like a criminal on the run."

Alanna eventually found herself at the home of Kathy Schneiderman, another distant maternal relative. She stayed there for a few weeks, hiding in the house most of the time because she was too afraid to register at a school. While she was there, though, Alanna created discord within the family.

"She was really smart, really bright, but she was very disruptive to my family," says Schneiderman. "She was so used to not living in what I consider to be a normal family, and Alanna would tell my children, 'You don't have to listen to [your parents], they just want to be in charge of you.' After three weeks, my husband and I were fighting and my kids were not listening to me."

Once Alanna had overstayed her welcome at the Schneidermans, she went to live with Lynne Geminder, yet another distant relative on her maternal side, and her family. Geminder says that the girl could be manipulative; it seems Alanna disrupted the Geminders' life, too.

"It's fair to say that it was not at no price that we kept her in our home," says Lynne Geminder. "She wreaked havoc in my house."

Though Geminder is wary of Alanna, she also sympathizes with her. "My recollection was that there were problems between the parents and neither one was a saint," she says. "Between the two of them, there was wildness, nothing a kid should have to endure or cope with."

Meanwhile, Krause had hired a private detective to stake out Simone-Smith's Ojai home because he was convinced that Simone-Smith had either kidnapped Alanna or encouraged her to run away. The detective never found evidence of kidnapping, though Krause is still certain that Simone-Smith planted the idea in Alanna's head, a charge she denies.

"I did not tell Alanna to run," Simone-Smith says. "What I told her was to find your own strength."

Through a series of soap opera-like coincidences involving a teacher, Alanna's stepbrother, and his mother, Krause discovered that Alanna was staying with the Geminders, who convinced Alanna to turn herself in by calling the Department of Children and Family Services.

Several months of interviews with social workers and therapists and attorneys ensued while Alanna continued to live with the Geminders. Krause pressed to have the case remanded to Marin County and asked that the court look at Marin County evaluator Oklan's recommendations. Instead, the L.A. Juvenile Courts took the case, because, as Commissioner Stanley Genser, who oversaw the proceedings, says, he "wanted the truth."

Genser ordered an independent psychological evaluation by Dr. Daniel Kramon. The file is confidential, but Genser says that after he read Kramon's report, he formed several opinions: "I didn't find the allegation that the mother alienated the child credible," he says. "It didn't fit the usual picture of parental alienation. [Alanna] didn't spend enough time with her mother. And there's child abuse and there's child abuse. It was he said, she said.

"Alanna was getting older, and she wanted to live with her mother, and I couldn't find anything saying that [the] mother was really a risk."

Krause has this to say about the Kramon report: "It was a cursory report, and Dr. Kramon said we were both fit to be parents."

The L.A. Department of Children's Services also submitted a report to Genser in January 1998, which stated, in part:

- "The department believes that the minor did suffer from physical abuse by her father on several occasions and this was substantiated from several sources."

- "The Marin County Child Protective Services was remiss in not responding to many of the referrals and simply dismissing them as "custody dispute' issues."

- "The department is disturbed that it discovered the father had made arrangements with the Island View Residential Treatment Center to have the minor Alanna admitted on the day of this hearing. Particularly as the minor does not exhibit any signs of psychotic behavior, is not presenting in a manner that is an [sic] danger to herself or others ...."

- "Although a lot of information has been submitted to the department with recommendations from the Marin County area, the department is inclined not to believe a great portion of that material. The department believes that the assertions of this [sic] Lana Clark, Ph.D., is biased information due to the seemingly intimate relationship which existed between Mr. Krause and Dr. Clark. In addition, Dr. Clark is the individual who provided Dr. Oklan with a majority of his information. ... [I]nformation fed to Dr. Oklan was therefore biased and likely not credible."

Krause says the latter report was biased, because the caseworker who prepared it "believed everything Alanna said" and failed to interview him. (The report shows that the social worker interviewed Krause twice by phone.) Edward Oklan says that his findings were "misconstrued" by L.A. County.

But the juvenile court case never got much further than a series of reports and court appearances. Genser says that after a few meetings, Krause simply gave up on the case, and in order to make Alanna a ward of the court, agreed to plead no contest to the use of "inappropriate discipline," among other things. Custody automatically went to Simone-Smith.

"The father just gave in, probably because he wanted to salvage his relationship with his daughter," Genser says.

Alanna was overjoyed with the results. After a few more months with the Geminders, she moved in with her mother and stepfather in Ojai in May 1998, at age 14, excited to establish a normal teenage life. In her mother's care, she finished high school as an honor student and was accepted to Northwestern University, where she decided to double major in Asian studies and art. Her contact with her father faded. "They were years I felt safe and not ripped up by the roots," Alanna says.

Looking back, Alanna says that while she sees the Marin family courts as her undoing, she sees the L.A. Juvenile Courts as her savior.

"In the L.A. Juvenile Courts, that's where I got some faith in the system restored," Alanna adds. "Juvenile court is about kids, it's not family court. The [juvenile court] judge would say, "OK, parents, I don't know what you guys are doing, but what's in the best interest of the kid?'"

Alanna emerges from her dorm room bundled up in a colorful patchwork jacket and a thick wool scarf. In her gloved hands, she carries a recent fashion acquisition from the local drugstore -- electric-blue earmuffs, which she dons with considerable pride. She steps out into the brisk evening to make the 10-minute walk to the student center.

If there are demons lurking from her childhood, Alanna is good at hiding them. She presents herself as well-balanced, smart, and even cheery. She chatters happily about her role in the dorm and her love of dancing. Once inside the center, she greets several students with a wave.

Despite all this forward momentum, Alanna can't forget her experience with the family courts. There's still audible anger and frustration in her voice when she talks about the custody battle. She remains so indignant that last month she filed the $135 million lawsuit against her father, attorney Sandra Acevedo, and therapist Lana Clark because she believes it will bring her closure and offer her a sense of justice.

"I want to right a bunch of wrongs," she says.

In the suit, she accuses all three defendants of "intentional infliction of emotional distress," "conspiracy to deprive plaintiff of access to the courts," and "tortious interference with mother-child relationship." In addition, she accuses her father of assault and battery, and claims that both Lana Clark and Sandra Acevedo committed malpractice.

Krause says that he is "saddened" by the lawsuit. "I would like Alanna to get on with her life and not get bogged down with this," he says. "There's no point in all of this except to injure me. And they [Alanna and Simone-Smith] have. They've injured me."

Alanna's case is unique for many reasons. "Clients have sued lawyers and therapists before, children have sued parents before," says Alan Scheflin, a tort law professor at Santa Clara University. "What makes this case significant is that, putting aside the nature of the theories in the complaint, this is really a way of saying that the family court system is screwed up. And just because [one person] does something wrong doesn't mean the whole system is screwed up, but this case signals the idea that we need to look more closely at how [minor's counsels] function, and whose interest they are serving."

The case is certainly not a sure win. It will be especially difficult, some legal experts say, to make the case against Alanna's attorney, since a minor's counsel often acts with great discretion. "To have so many professionals go the wrong way here is unusual in the sense that we usually have checks and balances," adds Vivian Holley, a San Francisco family law attorney. "You can't always believe everything a child says."

But Alanna's attorney, Richard Ducote, believes Alanna's case shines a spotlight on how some family courts fail to listen to children. "What we're doing with this case is we're holding [the defendants] to the same standards as everyone else," Ducote says. "If we forgot Alanna was a child, and we put her in this situation as an adult, she would be suing someone who beat her up and who denied her a relationship with her mother, and an attorney and a therapist who sold her out. The same [legal] standards should be applied to kids. There is this illusion that we are protecting kids, while we're actually doing so much damage to them."

It is an expensive form of therapy, but Alanna says the lawsuit will help her heal. "I had no rights," Alanna has written of her experience in Marin family court. "I felt like I was witnessing the proceedings from the wrong side of soundproof glass. Children are not parties in divorce proceedings -- we are property to be divided. Yet children are people, too. As citizens, we must be afforded our human and legal rights. And when those adults who are supposed to speak for us fail, we need some recourse."

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Bernice Yeung


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