The Portland, Maine District Attorney is facing civil charges that she improperly used her office to intervene in a custody dispute between a father and mother. District Attorney of Cumberland County Stephanie Anderson has been sued in federal court by the father, Igor Malenko. Read about it here (Portland Daily News, 2/9/12).
So far, some of the facts seem to be undisputed and some have yet to be proved. What seems clear is that Malenko and his ex-wife, Lori Handrahan, have been in a running battle over custody of their daughter for a long time. Malenko, who has remarried, has been awarded primary custody of the girl while Handrahan has moved to Washington, D.C. He also has a court order prohibiting Handrahan from having contact with the girl except for the supervised visits she’s permitted by the family court’s order.
But on January 27th, Handrahan appeared at the child’s daycare center in Cape Elizabeth demanding that the child go with her. Malenko’s lawsuit alleges that Handrahan attempted to forcibly take the child from the center. The girl’s stepmother, Malenko’s wife, resisted and an altercation ensued. The police were called and, on viewing the custody order, sent Handrahan on her way.
Why she wasn’t arrested for violating the restraining order is anyone’s guess, but whatever the reasoning of the police, that should have ended the matter.
But it didn’t.
It was sometime over the course of the same day that [Malenko's attorney]Waxman says Anderson called police and told officers to hand the child over to Handrahan. The phone call was made after Anderson told police she would “pull the court order and review it with the judge,” reads the lawsuit.
The young girl was ultimately placed back in the care of her father after the officer involved in the incident contacted the Department of Health and Human Services — she was not released to Handrahan.
In the claim, Anderson allegedly confirms to Waxman that she reviewed the order with the judge, which is the basis for Waxman’s lawsuit against the district attorney.
“She asked the judge to interpret or clarify the decision … (and) that’s not how our system of justice works,” Waxman said.
Waxman accuses Anderson of getting involved with the case after police already determined it was a civil — not criminal — dispute.
“Somebody clearly asked her to become involved in this case and that somebody, in my view, was not the police officer,” he said. “Somebody in Handrahan’s camp asked Anderson to get involved with this case. She agreed to do that and she agreed to work on behalf of Handrahan.”
In short, a county official who’s job is to prosecute criminal cases, used the power of her position to intervene in a civil matter, order the police to turn the child over to the non-custodial mother and then attempt to intimidate the family judge by demanding that he/she “clarify” an order that was already sufficiently clear. Such, at any rate, is how it looks from here. All doubtless will be made clear in the discovery phase of the federal case against Anderson.
And let’s not forget; Handrahan’s behavior toward her daughter and her ex-husband has already been sufficiently bad that the family court has granted her only supervised visitation. That likely means either that she’s a danger to the child or a danger to kidnap the child in the view of the family court judge. It’s bad enough that the District Attorney should abuse the power of her office in any case, but to intervene in a custody matter on behalf of a mother who’s already been found to be possibly dangerous to the child is outrageous.
Anderson says she’s never been sued in 20 years as DA. But that doesn’t mean she’s never abused the power of her office before on behalf of litigants in custody matters. Will other parents read about the lawsuit against her and be emboldened to come out of hiding and raise similar issues? We’ll see.