News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - January 30, 1993
Author: FROM STAFF, WIRE REPORTS
A March 25 trial date has been set in an interstate custody case involving a 15-year-old girl who formerly attended the fundamentalist Christian school, Hephzibah House , in Winona Lake.
Court papers filed this week in Orange County, N.Y., Family Court show the girl's mother, Mary, accused the father, a 60-year-old Teamsters union truck driver, Lucius, of immoral behavior and abandoning his children.
Judge Andrew P. Bivona yesterday set the March 25 trial date, and delayed making a decision on a request to have the case moved back to Tennessee, where the mother and daughter have lived most of the time since they moved from Orange County in 1987.
If Bivona rules he has jurisdiction over the case, he will decide which parent is better fit to raise the child.
The father has asked the court to grant him custody of Sarah and her 12- year-old brother since he learned the girl had been sexually abused by her stepfather and was placed in the school by her mother.
The stepfather has pleaded guilty and is serving a prison sentence.
The girl is a former student at Hephzibah House , which provides firm guidance and "correction" for rebellious girls with disciplinary problems. It has an enrollment of about 20 girls ages 12 to 16.
The mother removed the girl from the school late last month after her father won the right to visit her at school.
The father has compared the school to a concentration camp.
In court papers, the mother says her ex-husband knew about Hephzibah House 's practices early last year and agreed not to interfere.
In recently filed court papers, the mother argues that the father had no contact with the children from 1987 to 1992, and gave up summer visitation rights in exchange for not having to make child-support payments. The papers said he only became involved with his children's lives when his eldest daughter tracked him down through the Social Security Administration in February 1992. Last week, Sarah's father said he lost the energy to visit his children because his wife repeatedly resisted and because of the distance.
The mother's attorney is Melvyn Leffler of Newburgh, N.Y.
Lucius' attorney, Anthony "Toots" LaBella, said last night that the Tennessee judge who earlier this month denied emergency temporary custody to Lucius has refused to sign an order granting the New York court jurisdiction.
''I'm somewhat concerned," LaBella said, noting that a jurisdictional dispute between the courts could tie up the case for months.
''For Sarah's sake, this issue needs to be resolved." Because Sarah was a victim of abuse, The News-Sentinel is not using her last name.