This is Part 4 of our ongoing series, the Ambrose Papers. It is an astonishing story of how the Family Court system in Connecticut could unravel a family and upend the lives of three adopted children without, what anyone in any other court of justice would call, the slightest trace of due process.
The system permitted in the divorce and custody battle between TV screenwriter Chris Ambrose, the father, and his wife, former special education teacher and longtime stay-at-home mother, Karen Riordan, a completely lopsided decision to exclude the mother from the children’s lives and hand them to the father without regard for the children’s oft stated wishes and without evidence that the mother is unfit to do what she had done their entire lives — almost always without the father – raise the children..
The children are 14, 14 and 11. They were removed from their mother, who raised them every single day of their lives, on April 24, 2020 – some 18 months ago. They are still crying to be heard. They want to go home, home being wherever their mother is.
When they were under the care of their mother.
For those who have not read the earlier installments in this series, here are the links:
I have been studying this case quite a bit, and I see now that there are at least 50 more stories to write. The injustice is blatant, but it requires explanation. No one at first will believe what happened here, for to believe it is to lose confidence in the family court system in Connecticut.
It is that egregious. I know that. That is why I have to do what I have done before; continue to reveal evidence, and explain it carefully. Give the mother and children a voice, and, with the slow, patient ear, listen, then discern, then tell the truth. .
It is important not only for these children, to return them to their mother, if not exclusively, at least with responsible shared custody, and to expose what happened. In this case, children were ruthlessly made bereft of their mother.
I do not think the Ambrose case is unique. I suspect it is going on elsewhere in family court in Connecticut, quite possibly elsewhere, in other family courts in other states. The Ambrose case is most likely a model of what is wrong with family court.
Follow the Money
Because decisions over the lives and welfare of children are decided by people making money off the decisions, and that they can make more money by making certain decisions, the influence of money has insinuated itself into the process.
This is not much of a leap of faith to believe. Everyone knows the courts favor those with money. We see it clearly in criminal cases. A defendant without money is sometimes as good as convicted. An affluent defendant has the chance at decent legal representation and his innocence can prevail in a verdict. It’s the way it works.
What makes the family court system worse, is the government is unchecked by a jury. At least, when an innocent, poor defendant is charged in a criminal case, he has some chance of overcoming the awesome might of the government by appealing to 12 of his own — the jury, who are not paid and who cannot make more money based on their verdict.
The family court is the best example of why we need juries. If any jury of 12 heard the evidence in the child custody dispute between Karen Riordan and Chris Ambrose, the result would be different. The jury is the deterrent to reckless government.
Instead, we have an all powerful judge who makes decisions of custody based on what paid attorneys, paid guardians ad litem, appointed by the judge, and their paid experts recommend.
Money has entered into the marrow of Family Court. Whether this is a subtle influence that ruins justice or whether it is open, known and notorious, is something to investigate.
The Guardian Drives Custody
A few things are certain: The children did not want to leave their mother and live with their father. They made that abundantly clear.
The court-appointed guardian for the children, the guardian ad litem, attorney Jocelyn Hurwitz, a partner in the law firm of Cohen and Wolf has billed more than $175,000 for her services in this case. She bills at $400 per hour and, as she claims in her retainer agreement, this hourly rate is a 20 percent discount over her usual $500 per hour fee.
The guardian ad litem is the court-appointed protector of the children.
In the Ambrose case, Hurwitz asked for an initial retainer of $7,500 and her retainer is clearly written so as to assume minimal participation in resolving the matter, saying she would meet at least once with the parents and at least once with children, couching her language in minimums, never maximums.
What Hurwritz did, it seems, is that, once she understood that the mother would never voluntarily quit her role as primary caretaker,, but she had no money, [and she naively trusted in law and justice] and the father controlled the money, [and was worldly wise, looking to avoid huge child support payments] the opportunity to fashion a win, win existed – with the father.
The chance to bill enormously existed, but that billing is dependent on one custody recommendation – custody to the father, exclude the mother.
This is a bold and brash statement to make against an attorney admitted to the bar, Jocelyn Hurwitz Esq.. It is a blunt statement to make, since Hurwitz’s billings go into the general fund of her law firm, Cohen and Wolf, a prestigious firm of some 45 lawyers, a firm known for wanting to win, a firm who, some say, are just as sharp a bunch of sharpies as exist in all of Connecticut, who compete tooth and nail, pen and sword, hard and furious, below or above the deck, to make sure each of them get 2000 hours of annual billings [and woe to the partner who fails].
To say that any one of them would be driven by money over the interests of children, is a hard thing to say. That an attorney could game the system to accomplish this was impossible for Karen Riordan to believe, at first.
For Chris Ambrose, a lawyer who had written for TV shows like Law and Order, Family Law, Judging Amy, Harry’s Law and others, before he made his career into shambles by getting caught plagiarizing, he knew.
He understood how the real world works.
Most people do not think the world could operate this way. But the law firm Cohen and Wolf says truthfully on their website, “Count on a firm that intently focuses on the small details while never losing sight of the big picture.”
Hurwitz, in her role as guardian ad litem, never missed a detail ever so small that allowed her to get involved in the minutest matter, at $400 per hour.
I would wager that from the day she arrived and saw the score, the father had money, mother had the intense need to protect her children, that Hurwitz discerned the big picture and never lost sight of it.
With $175,000 in billings so far [all to be paid by the father since he controls the marital assets, after he locked the mother out of their accounts] and with at least as much or more billings to come in the future, so long as the mother cannot see her children, since she will never give up, Hurwtiz is in the driver’s seat and this is a gravy train.
She knows the father is a practical man. He has always agreed to allowing Hurwitz to bill more hours. It is practical, for whatever he pays to Hurwitz as the children’s guardian, he will save in the end in whopping child support and alimony.
Yes, guardian Hurwitz sees the big and small picture with astounding clarity.
Read her retainer. Look at the language. Imagine if she had told the mother then that there would be $175,000 in billings and the case not half concluded. The sum, $175,000 represents 437 hours of her work on the case. That is a far cry from “at least one visit with the parents” and “at least one visit with the children.”
Take My Psychologist, Please
It is a simple formula. Family Court Judge Jane Grossman appoints Hurwitz as guardian ad litem. The guardian starts billing hard. To execute maximum billings, she plans to arrange to remove the mother from the family. To get the optics covered, she refers a psychologist who will do a custody evaluation report, which will lead to a baseless “determination” that the children should go with the father.
Enter the quack.
The psychologist chosen was Jessica Biren-Caverly. She has worked with guardians ad litem before. This is her living. Being recommended by guardians to do custody evaluations is her bread and butter. And the record shows she knows which side to apply the butter.
The judge in turn sides with the recommendation of the guardian ad litem backed by the psychologist. But not at once. A number of hearings, court appointments, motions, and of course the trial must occur. But the result is a forgone conclusion
The literal result of the process is that, as it has been in this case, that three women in a room decide the fate of three children.
Stay tuned for Part #5/