News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - January 8, 1993
Author: TANYA ISCH CAYLOR OF THE NEWS-SENTINEL
A Kosciusko Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that he has no jurisdiction in a child-custody case involving a former resident of a Winona Lake boarding school now that the girl has left the state.
The school's director still has some explaining to do, though.
Attorneys representing the girl's father intend to question Hephzibah House founder Ron Williams next week about everything from the school's curriculum to charges that students are put on a liquid diet for failing to memorize Bible verses.
The answers to those questions - to be presented at a Jan. 29 custody hearing in Orange County, N.Y. - will help determine whether 15-year-old Sarah will live with her father in New York or her mother in Tennessee.
They also may aid a state welfare investigator, who is reported to be making inquiries about Hephzibah House after a News-Sentinel interview with Sarah last week.
State law prohibits the Division of Family and Children - formerly known as the welfare department - from revealing whether it is investigating Hephzibah House , a religious boarding school for troubled teen-age girls.
Nonetheless, a welfare investigator was seen in Warsaw yesterday in the company of an Indiana State Police trooper.
Tim Elliott, state supervisor of Child Protective Services, could not confirm the sighting. "All I can tell you," Elliott said, "was that he was not in Indianapolis."
Sarah - whom The News-Sentinel is not identifying by her last name because she was sexually abused by her stepfather - was sent to Hephzibah House in February by her mother.
Last week, during a court-ordered visitation with her father, Sarah said school officials punish girls who don't memorize their weekly Bible verses by giving them a "protein drink" instead of dinner.
She also said she had missed six months' of menstrual periods during her 10-month stay at Hephzibah House - a common complaint of women who have lived at the home.
Sarah's mother, alerted that a hearing had been set in Kosciusko County to discuss awarding temporary custody to Sarah's father, picked Sarah up that night and drove her back to Tennessee.
Neither Sarah nor her parents - nor Williams - were at yesterday's hearing. There wasn't much point in discussing a child-custody case in Indiana when neither the parents nor the child they're arguing over live in this state.
Judge Robert Burner took about 30 seconds to rule that he no longer had jurisdiction in the case.
Burner can order Williams to cooperate with the father's attorneys as they prepare their case for the New York hearing, however.
Warsaw attorney Paul Refior, representing Hephzibah House , declined to comment when contacted last night at his office.
But the father's attorney, Anthony "Toots" LaBella, said he has been told that Hephzibah House will provide him with an informational videotape.