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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.

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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