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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

Page 3 of 7

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."

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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