Bringing Her Babies Home

November 4, 2019 by  
Filed under Features

A look at one mother’s struggle with the Brazos County Court System

THERE WAS RINGING IN HER EARS. Her heartbeat was audible, palms sweaty, the air had been sucked out of her lungs. She looked up at the woman on the bench in a black robe speaking to her. Alyssa could feel her lips moving, but words were not coming out. In fact, she couldn’t hear anything except the ringing in her ears even though the world was still moving all around her. Was she dreaming this nightmare? She blinked. One sentence she managed to catch right before her body decided not to participate any further, “…children are immediately awarded to father, instanter. That means right. This. Minute.” The judge’s condescending remark was overkill.

Alyssa opened her eyes and looked out the law office window. Houston attorneys Marcela Halmagean, Principal Attorney at the law firm M Halmagean Pllc and Meredith Parenti, a senior appellate attorney, were looking at her as if they were waiting for a response.To Alyssa, the flashback of that day, October 18, 2018 was still with her as it has been every day since her nightmare began.Halmagean finally spoke, “You mean to tell me that your husband admitted to putting a gun to his head 10 to 20 times, in front of you and the boys, and the Judges in Brazos County, TX, still named him “primary” of your children?” Alyssa quietly replied “yes,” tears threatening to spill over.

On March 5, 2018, her husband, Ephraim, had stormed out of their apartment, leaving Alyssa and their two babies behind. For as long as she continued to live in that apartment, she never changed the locks and her husband never returned. Two weeks after he left, he filed for divorce. Life with two boys under the age of three and both diagnosed with autism had its challenges, there was no question about that, but Alyssa had never imagined the horror that was still to come.

Alyssa’s husband had money. Alyssa did not. Alyssa’s husband has a PhD. Alyssa does not. After he filed for divorce, Alyssa still waited for him, hoping he would go through therapy and come back to her a changed man…he did not. Eventually, after several months of waiting, Alyssa filed her own petition and agreed to mediation. After a failed mediation over the summer and roughly three unusually long October days of testimony, Associate Judge Wendy Wood Hencerling of Brazos County Court at Law 1, ordered that her babies be taken away from their mother on that very day.

Through haze and disbelief, Alyssa remembered Judge Hencerling’s justifying her extreme ruling on “indicia of parental alienation.” And on that day, October 18, 2018, the Court’s ruling was only a temporary one (she was still breastfeeding the youngest). Alyssa remembered asking herself, How long will these temporary orders last? How will the boys fare without her, the only stable, permanent figure in their lives? Before she was able to process her thoughts, her two boys were immediately retrieved by law enforcement at the residence where they were staying and handed over to their father. Before that day, Alyssa remembered when she and the boys had fled their apartment in fear of their lives…she remembered her husband finding them and beating on the door demanding his guns. He had many guns in the home with Alyssa and the boys and now, he was handed over both children, but Alyssa wasn’t allowed to come within 200 feet, not even if they were on their deathbed. Alyssa wrapped her arms around her, her breasts throbbing again. She finally broke down in tears. She couldn’t help but still wonder how her youngest needing to be breasfeed would be cared for. Halmagean looked up from her computer screen where she had been clacking away for the last 20 minutes, trying to make sense of the case. She remained composed and rational. If she was in shock at hearing Alyssa’s comments, she didn’t show it. “You mean, the Court mandated a black out period of 90 days? You mean to tell me you weren’t allowed to see the children for 90 days? No contact with the children? No Facetime? No supervised visitation? No information provided to you by the husband whatsoever?” Alyssa nodded and kept sobbing unable to respond.

After a few minutes, Alyssa explained that the Judge allowed her to reunite with her children on January 18, 2019, about a month before she met Halmagean and Parenti. The Court’s Orders were on paper and Alyssa’s lawyers were looking at them. An unsupervised Standard Possession Order was set to start on January 18, 2019. It was a soul-crushing lifetime away for a mother who had never been apart from or spent a single night away from her babies. Just four days before January 18, 2019 when Alyssa’s standard possession was to begin, Judge Hencerling’s custody evaluator appointment, Kim Arredondo, PhD, wrote and submitted a sworn affidavit riddled with lies and half-truths. She had a problem with Alyssa getting to see her children. In her affidavit, she complained to the court that the pool at the residence where Alyssa was staying was a problem despite the locks, child gates, and adult supervision. She also raised a false concern about the children’s Texas Children’s Hospital diagnosis and accused the doctors of issuing diagnosis and performing medical procedures on the children only because Alyssa requested them to do so. When deposed by Halmagean, Arredondo would admit to deleting evidence from her interviews with Alyssa’s witnesses, failing to speak with the husband’s therapist, Dr. Larson, and spending a disproportionate amount of time talking with the husband’s lawyer and the Amicus in the case—another Judge Hencerling’s appointment. In that deposition, she also admitted that she charged Alyssa more than $1,000 for a visit to Alyssa’s new home, a visit which never occurred; and that the husband’s severe porn addiction and his putting a gun to his head 10 to 20 times by his own admission were never matters of any concern to her. Alyssa kept repeating to Halmagean that it’s all about the “indicia of parental alienation” that mattered to the Court and to Arredondo.

On January 15, 2019, the lawyer for the husband filed an emergency motion to stop Alyssa’s upcoming standard possession orders and used Arredondo’s affidavit in support of the emergency motion. The Court signed off on it and defeated, Alyssa’s then lawyers withdrew from the case. What are the odds? “Chozer k’mo boomerang” roughly translated to English means “it comes back like a boomerang” or “what goes around comes around.” Alyssa still can’t stop wondering what she ever did to be punished this way. She speaks fluent Hebrew; she met and fell in love with him; she married him in his country, Israel; they were happy back then…or so she recalls.

From the day the nightmares began, October 18, 2018 through June of 2019, Alyssa has seen her boys a scarce 30 hours spread out over 10 supervised visits. During those visits, her rights were constantly reduced without hearings or an opportunity for her to be heard. They called her a “Munchausen by Proxy” mom. They accused her of faking her own autism. They had to say something to take her babies away. But, the kids are still autistic and are still non-verbal. To hide these facts, the Court ordered her to only eight hours of supervised visits a month and for those hours she has to pay about $4,000. She can’t afford that nor does she have the resources to live. As of September 20, 2019, Alyssa has not seen her children and her children have not hugged their mother in over 105 days and counting. What average American parent can afford to spend $4,000 per month to see their children?

This case was so unbelievable that Halmagean and Parenti, agreeing to take the case pro bono, and Wayne Dolcefino with Dolcefino Consulting and a decorated journalist, decided to run a few stories on the case. His reporting shone a light on the conflict of interest between the Amicus attorney, Jana Foreman, and the lawyer for the husband–Foreman used to be an associate attorney for the husband’s counsel. Alyssa, a mother with no history of drug or alcohol abuse and no criminal background, is a victim of what appears to be a “good ol’ girl” network in Brazos County, TX. Money rule and Alyssa has no resources. But why? How? How does a Judge, who admitted on record that she wants to throat punch litigants, that’s aligned in her personal life with Arredondo (once charged with food stamps fraud), the husband’s attorney, and the Amicus, get away with it all? How are they not removed from the bench? “It comes back like a boomerang” or “what goes around comes around.” How and why? Time may help healing but not in Alyssa’s case. H

Photo captions from top to bottom: Alyssa has been left with nothing but photos and memories of happier days; Alyssa is continuing to fight for custody of her boys.

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