This is Part #16 of The Ambrose Papers, the story of the divorce and custody case of Christopher Ambrose and Karen Riordan, which began in July 2019. Three children have been apart from their mother for 19 months, enforced by a no-contact order by Connecticut Family Superior Court Judge Gerald Adelman.
Mia, Sawyer, and Matthew
To Disqualify or Not
On November 9, 2021, at a status hearing, Judge Adelman was accused of bias by attorney Nickola Cunha.
Later that day, Judge Adelman issued an order seeking a hearing on whether he should recuse himself from the trial. A hearing was held on December 1, before Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher. On December 10, Judge Moukawsher denied the motion, finding no evidence of bias on the part of Judge Adelman.
The Story of Ambrose and Riordan
In 2018, Christopher Ambrose lost his job as a screenwriter on the TV show Instinct, after being caught plagiarizing from another TV show, Bones.
Ambrose, trained as a lawyer, had written for Law and Order, Judging Amy, Family Court, Harry’s Law, NCIS New Orleans, and other TV shows. Caught plagiarizing in Hollywood, he was unemployable.
He came back from Hollywood and NYC to his home in Westport, Connecticut. For the first time in a decade, he began living full-time with his wife and three children.
Once back home, and unemployable, Ambrose realized:
- He and his wife had several million in savings but it was community property.
- He might never work as a screenwriter again.
- His wife believed he was gay and his children finding gay porn on his phone supported this belief.
- All three children were bonded to their mother and did not want to spend time alone with their father, who wanted to be unnaturally close to the two boys, including sleeping in bed against a child’s expressed wishes.
- Karen placed a chair in the youngest son’s bedroom so that Ambrose would not hop into bed with him
- Being a high-income earner, Ambrose might be saddled with high child support and alimony payments if divorced.
Ambrose covertly transferred marital assets into his control. He converted Karen’s six-figure inheritance from her mother, which was hers, into an account in his name.
In July 2019, Ambrose filed for divorce, retaining Nancy Aldrich as his attorney. Her son, William Haskell, is a state senator whose district includes Westport. State senators have influence in the reappointment of judges in Connecticut.
In August 2019, Judge Eddie Rodriguez awarded Karen primary custody of the children. Karen did her best to encourage the children to have a relationship with their father, but they disclosed behaviors that made them uncomfortable being with him.
In September 2019, Judge Rodriquez was suddenly replaced with Judge Jane Grossman.
GAL Controls Fate of Children
The court agreed to appoint a guardian ad litem [GAL], an attorney appointed to protect the child’s interests. Ambrose’s attorney, Aldrich, recommended Jocelyn Hurwitz, of the law firm of Cohen and Wolf.
Hurwitz bills at $400 per hour. Because Ambrose controlled the marital assets, he paid Hurwitz and approved the scope of her work.
Normally a GAL can bill for limited services: e.g., an interview with parents, a meeting with children, etc. But Ambrose let Hurwitz do work outside normal parameters. Hurwitz billed more than 450 hours, totaling more than $180,000, as of now, as billings show, she only saw the children five times.
Karen objected to the waste of money. She tried to get the court to limit spending marital assets on unnecessary billings.
Enter the Custody Evaluator
In order to help decide how custody of the children should be handled, GAL Hurwitz recommended custody evaluator Dr. Jessica Biren-Caverly, Ph.D.
The mother raised the children. The father popped into their lives after being unemployed. All three children told the custody evaluator they distrusted their father, that he was abusive, nasty, and had a propensity of lying.
Behind his back, the children referred to him as “P”, which stands for Pinocchio.
Ambrose had control of several million dollars.
Dr. Biren Caverly was recommended by GAL Hurwitz. Caverly’s business is custody evaluation, and it is a referral business. Caverly understood Ambrose would pay for the report, and for her to testify at trial. She understood also that Ambrose was willing to reward GAL Hurwitz with plentiful billings.
Dr. Caverly could net $20,000 if the father was pleased. If he was not, there was no guarantee she would even be paid for her services. The mother had no money.
Caverly’s custody evaluation report recommended Ambrose get full custody and the mother should not be in contact with them for 90 days.
Caverly, a psychologist, and not legally qualified to make medical diagnoses, even if Karen was her patient, which she was not, put in her report that Karen had an unspecified personality disorder. An unspecified personality disorder is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
Caverly could not pinpoint any disorder, for such might be treatable, such might not be serious or disabling. Caverly recommended a treatment therapy of isolation of the children from the mother.
GAL Hurwitz duly advised Judge Grossman that the father should have sole custody of the children and she had the backing of the expert, Dr. Caverly Ph.D.
On April 24, 2020, Judge Jane Grossman awarded temporary custody to the father, and issued a no-contact order for the mother, despite Karen having no record of abuse, no complaints by the children, no criminal record, no diagnosis of incompetence, and despite the children having lived with her all their lives. The children, ages 13, 13, and 10, were shocked and terrified when they were removed from the home they had known all their lives and put into the home of a virtual stranger, their adopted father.
Months Drag on Without Mother
After three months, the order was extended. The desperate children took to social media [Pinterest] to post criticisms of their father. According to them, he secretly records them and keeps them in isolation. He took the doorknobs off the doors and put bells on the doors to jingle when they went in and out. Ambrose took their cell phones and internet away.
In August 2020, Ambrose told the Madison Police Department that Karen was assessed by Dr. Biren-Caverly and found to have personality disorders and was mentally ill and dangerous.
Karen’s attorney, Nickola Cunha, in turn, went to the Madison PD seeking an investigation, based on their social media posts, concerning their safety and wellbeing while in the care of their father.
Madison PD Detective William DeGoursey went to Ambrose’s home for a wellness check and found [and later testified under oath] that concerns were raised regarding the eldest child, Mia, not receiving her mental health medication, not feeling safe at her father’s home, and engaging in self-harm by cutting herself. The children had thoughts of suicide, and disclosures of Ambrose’s excessive drinking and inappropriate sexual contact with two of the children was confirmed by all three children.
Detective DeGoursey sent the two oldest children to Yale New Haven Hospital by ambulance for a peer review. The youngest child went with the two oldest children. At the hospital, it was determined by Yale staffers that a 96-hour hold should be placed on the children to keep them from their father. The children were released to his brother, Neil Ambrose, their paternal uncle, who they did not know.
The Yale New Haven Hospital records of all three children, including their allegations of sexual abuse by the father:
An investigation was truly warranted. But a strange thing happened. Detective DeGoursey later testified that he relied on the investigation he believed was being conducted by the Department of Children and Families’ William Villanueva.
Villanueva, however, said he relied on an investigation by the Madison Police Department.
This resulted in the fact that two agencies in place for the safety and well-being of the children did nothing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. Each thought the other was doing it and the children were returned to their father, who punished the children for reporting on him.
Second Round Dismissed
On December 1, the children again alleged sexual abuse by their father. Seeking to protect her children, Karen got a restraining order issued by Judge Price Borland against the father. Karen took the children to Connecticut Children’s Hospital where they were examined.
Another 96-hour hold was placed on the children, keeping them from their father. But GAL Hurwitz rushed to Judge Grossman and got a court order returning them to the father within 24 hours.
Connecticut Children’s Hospital recommended all three children return for a SCAN (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) evaluation on December 15, 2021. But Ambrose did not bring the children for the SCAN. DCF’s Stacy Falk confirmed Ambrose was a “no show” for the SCAN for the children but did not require him to reschedule appointments.
In January, two of the children were evaluated by a forensic team. Following the evaluation, a Multidisciplinary Task Force recommended the children not go home with the father, finding allegations made by the children credible. Custody of all three children was removed from Ambrose by DCF.
Moving with lightning swiftness, always remembering who paid her fees, GAL Hurwitz had fired all medical providers once Ambrose got temporary custody, leaving only Dr. Robert Horwitz, the court-appointed family therapist selected by GAL Hurwitz. It is Dr. Robert Horwitz GAL Hurwitz calls upon to disparage the mother and endorse Ambrose. Dr. Robert Horwitz also has his bills paid by Ambrose.
Then the choir, GAL Hurwitz, Dr. Biren-Caverly and Dr. Robert Horowitz, persuaded the Department of Children and Families that the children were fabricating allegations of sexual abuse so they could go back home to their mother.
GAL Hurwitz explained to DCF that the court ruled that sole custody was given to the father by Judge Grossman for a reason. The children stayed with their father who punished them for reporting his abuse.
GAL Hurwitz realized that as long as the mother had any knowledge of the children’s suffering, she might be able to finally get criminal charges lodged against the man who paid her $400 per hour.
GALD Hurwitz blocked Karen from accessing the children’s medical and educational records and refused to provide Karen with updates on the children’s wellbeing. Karen was now completely in the dark about her children. Ambrose, who kept the children in isolation in a remote rural home, must have breathed easy. His children were captive and he was the captor.
He won. Ambrose had blocked Karen from all their marital assets, failed to pay bills submitted by Karen, and withdrew undisclosed sums of money at his sole discretion. He spent well over six figures on his lawyer, the GAL, and custody evaluator, while Karen did not have funds to pay for a lawyer.
Enter Judge Adelman, the Unbiased
On March 31, 2021, the divorce and custody trial of Chris Ambrose and Karen Riordan began.
Judge Adelman began by declining to hear Karen’s motion in limine, a complaint of a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II. Instead, the trial started with criticism that Karen failed to comply with discovery, which was inaccurate. Karen was the party who requested discovery.
GAL Hurwitz wanted to attend every day of the trial. Attorney Cunha, Karen’s attorney, protested.
It is rare for a GAL to attend every day of a divorce case. If this family was poor it would not be requested, but Ambrose was not poor. This would result in billings of $3,000 per day helping Hurwitz earn some $90,000 that she would otherwise not earn.
Karen objected to this expenditure, thinking that money paid to the GAL was half hers, even though Ambrose controlled it.
Ambrose, on the other hand, supported the GAL attending every hour of the trial — a trial conducted via teleconferencing, which meant GAL Hurwitz could mute her computer and work and bill on other matters, while billing $400 per hour on this case. If she missed anything of significance, she had access to the transcripts and could bill for reading them.
With a little finesse, Hurwitz could triple her billings.
Judge Adelman ruled GAL Hurwitz could attend every minute of the trial, at $6.67 per minute, as it might permit her to change her mind about the children never seeing their mother.
That settled, the unbiased Judge Adelman then set about denying or ignoring every one of Karen’s motions
Karen made motions for
- access to the children.
- access to the children’s treatment records
- appointment of an attorney for the children since they disagreed with the GAL and should, at their ages, have a say in where they live
- access to marital funds,
- to allow equal access to marital funds to pay legal fees
- access to marital financial records
- support [with Ambrose paying her with her own money]
- enforcement of support,
- enforcement of requests for discovery.
Judge Adelman proceeded to trial, without a thought about why Karen should not see her children or have access to any marital funds.
Because the trial was held on select days of the week, it dragged on for months.
Ignoring Facts Might Be Bias
The allegations of abuse of the children by the father were ignored by Judge Adelman.
Ambrose blocked access to marital funds, failed to comply with production of records, failed to honor support payments, and isolated the children from their mother, their family and friends they had bonded with and known all their lives.
Adelman denied the mother contact with her children despite the fact that there was no petition by the State, no action by child protective services against the mother, and no professional medical judgment before the court that required isolation.
The isolation has gone on for more than 600 days. [There is not a day that goes by that the children do not weep or try to get someone to help them get back to their mother. I risk writing this for their father will punish them, but someone with authority might consider the corruption that has occurred if they know that the children are suffering abuse at the monster’s hands.]
Judge Adelman ignored evidence of educational neglect, emotional abuse, medical neglect, and sexual assault of the children.
Instead, he determined to punish Karen.
Judge Adelman issued a ‘search warrant’ for Karen’s hard drive absent specifying what information was to be obtained from her personal property. He had a finding of contempt in the matter when she did not comply and fined her $1000.
Karen was unable to pay because Ambrose had taken all her money.
Adelman upheld Ambrose’s subpoena for her personal phone records, which held no cause in a no-fault dissolution action, nor of suspected criminal conduct. Ambrose wanted to know who Karen was talking to in the media.
Judge Adelman then admitted phone records of two persons not joined in the suit, the evidence having nothing to do with a marriage dissolution action and normally would not be admissible, except in his capricious court.
Then Judge Adelman issued a gag order on Karen, in his attempt to thwart public interest in the case, making the mother responsible to the court for the conduct of third parties in the media. He clearly did not want scrutiny of this case.
He then issued a restraining order to prevent Karen from driving near the house of her children.
He next ordered her to sign joint tax returns prepared by Ambrose, though she had no way of determining their authenticity since she had no access to the marital assets or how Ambrose spent the money or earn investment income from it.
Karen refused to sign tax returns that she could not verify were accurate. Finally, Adelman ordered Karen to sign over the last joint marital account that Ambrose did not control solely – sign it over to Ambrose’s control.
Where We Are Now
This takes us back to the hearing of whether Judge Adelman should be recused for bias.
Judge Moukawsher determined he should not. He found no evidence of bias, he said.
To be fair, Judge Moukawsher understands the system is flawed, going so far as to make the shocking admission that the Connecticut Family Court “isn’t serving the public interest very well.”
Judge Moukawsher pointed out the culprits too — those who make a fat living from fighting parents/spouses, and those who make more if the conflict is great. Those whose interests are in direct conflict with the needs of children, lawyers for the parents, guardians-ad-litem, custody evaluators and mental health therapists. All of them feed off a system by slowing it down. Billable hours is the name of the game.
Judge Moukawsher wrote, though denying the disqualification of Judge Adelman, “Those who feel aggrieved by the system by which we handle family disputes should think calmly and well. The process needs to be reformed. This court agrees with them on that. But they should be assured that the purpose of the process has always been justice. Imperfect, human justice. Let them reflect on that too. If they come to believe it, they have nothing to lose but their bitterness.”
“the process has always been justice”? I must disagree with the judge. The process has always been money. Driven by money.
And bitterness? No, those who oppose the money vultures will not lose their bitterness. Anyone who has a morsel of sympathy and a grain of intelligence, who will take time to study this case, will see that a travesty has occurred against the children. They will be bitter as all good-hearted people must.
If you study the Ambrose case, you will glean, I believe, that an outrage to human decency has been implemented here. This case is perhaps a bellwether of all that is wrong with Family Courts throughout our land.
It will make you bitter and demand change.
In this case, the children should be returned to their mother, even if it cuts short the paydays of Hurwitz, Aldrich, Horowitz, and Caverly and runs counter to the rulings of Adelman and Grossman.
Stay tuned for our next report. We have many more reports forthcoming.
See our past reports: