Child Protection: A Novel of Deception by Don Rice, Jr.

All Rights Reserved ©

Endgame

May 28, 1993

In the Nelson House Annex building farther up Market Street, the days’ third session of Dutchess County’s Family Court was in progress. Present in the small courtroom were Steve Winthrop and his court-appointed attorney, Miles Cross; Janice Rance, the attorney for CPS; Lacey Garfield, the caseworker; and Nelly Foreman, the law guardian appointed by the court to represent Steve’s son Martin.

The judge, the Honorable Jacob Crandall, was a venerable old man who didn’t like being toyed with. But he wasn’t used to people who fought back against CPS in any substantive way. And this respondent, Mr. Winthrop, had filed a ‘color of law’ claim in the Federal District Court in New York City. Sure, the suit had been dismissed, but without prejudice, meaning he could re-file it at any time. Just the thought was troubling. How could this young man with no formal education beyond high school, have learned so much about the law that he could be such a threat to CPS?

Setting aside his ruminations, he asked, “Are the parties ready to proceed?”

The three lawyers answered affirmatively. Then Judge Crandall said, “Miss Rance, you may begin.”

The young woman stood at her table, looked over at the others in the room, then stated, “The State moves that Mr. Winthrops’ parental rights be terminated forthwith, that the minor child, Martin Winthrop, remain in the custody of the Dutchess County Department of Social Services until such time as a suitable adoptive family can be located, and that the said minor child be put up for that adoption.”

Steve sat up stiffly in his chair. “What?” This had come with no warning at all; even the other two lawyers in the room were surprised. Steve’s lawyer put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t say anything, Steve. This isn’t going to happen.”

He smiled at his client. “Trust me for once, okay? I’ve got this.”

The judge looked at Miles Cross. “Is your client going to engage in any further outbursts, Counsellor?”

“No, your Honor. But we would like to ask Miss Rance on what basis she is making her motion.”

Crandall looked at Rance. “Counsellor?”

“Your Honor, the Respondent, with two exceptions, has repeatedly refused to co-operate with the Department’s re-unification plan. He stopped going to the required parenting classes. He’s refused to go for psychological counselling to deal with his anger issues. And he’s refused to attend the Family Incest Program. We feel that, because of his lack of co-operation, he is and will remain unfit to regain custody of the child.”

Miles stood up. “Your Honor, my client didn’t go to those programs because I instructed him not to. We’ve been over this already, about a year and a half ago. Even though this Court ordered them to do so, opposing counsel has yet to offer any evidence demonstrating the need for Mr. Winthrop to attend those programs.”

Rance countered, “Your Honor, there are allegations that Mr. Winthrop engaged in excessive corporal punishment. We have sworn statements from Miss Garfield here,” she pointed at the caseworker, “and her supervisor, Joan Dillon, stating that Mr. Winthrop expressed serious anger toward both of them, which caused them to terminate his visit with the child. We also have a sworn statement from City of Poughkeepsie Detective Lieutenant Robert Steinmetz that Mr. Winthrop expressed extreme anger toward him as well, and stormed out of his office, slamming the door on the way. And the reason the child was removed from Mr. Winthop in the first place is that there was significant bruising on his lower back from being beat by Mr. Winthrop.”

“Well,” the judge said, “that would seem to be enough to require counselling for anger issues, I would think.” He turned to face Miles. “What’s your response to these statements from Miss Rance?”

“I have a question to ask counsel before I respond, your Honor.”

“Proceed.”

“Given that we’ve dealt with this issue previously in the Court, Miss Rance, on what basis do you still claim that my client should go to F.I.P.?”

“The interview with the child conducted by Detective Steinmetz. About seven months ago.”

“I assume there’s a recording of that interview?”

“No, there isn’t, as far as we know.”

“Can we call the detective up here without a subpeona, your Honor?”

The judge answered quickly, “If he agrees to come voluntarily. Otherwise I’ll issue a subpeona at the end of this session.

“Is there any evidence, Miss Rance, to support your statement that my client was angry at the detective? That he ‘stormed out and slammed the door’?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Detective Steinmetz delivered a tape recording to my office of that meeting.” She looked at the judge. “May I play it here, your Honor, in open court?”

Miles looked amused. “Open court? You’re being funny, aren’t you? These courts are anything but open. Nobody permitted but the parties involved, no reporters allowed... “

“That will be enough, Counsellor,” the judge said. “This Court is run the way the State of New York says it’s to be run in the laws it passed.”

“Forgive me, your Honor. I’d like to here that tape as well.” Miles sat down, and Rance pulled a tape player out of her legal briefcase, plugged it into a nearby wall socket, and turned it on.

They listened for about fifteen minutes, until they heard Steves’ last words to Steinmetz: Then get the fuck out of my face. Don’t even think of calling me back unless it’s to apologize, or I will file a harassment complaint against you. You got that, you son of a bitch?

Judge Crandall looked at Steve over the top of his glasses. “Is that your voice on the tape, Mr. Winthrop?”

“Yes, your Honor.”

“You had some choice words, didn’t you?”

“I had cause, sir.”

“That’s neither here nor there, son. For the most part, you’ve been very well behaved in this Court, notwithstanding a couple minor outbursts. But this does lend credence to Miss Rances’ claim that you’ve been uncooperative.”

“The tape is a lie, your Honor.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The tape is a lie.”

“Forgive me, but didn’t you just say that was your voice on there?”

“Yes sir, it is my voice. But that tape is not complete. I sat in that office for over half an hour, with the recorder running the entire time. So about half of the tape is missing. It’s been edited. Heavily edited.”

Rance stood up again. “Your Honor, Detective Steinmetz delivered a complete recording of his meeting with Mr. Winthrop. Mr. Winthrop is falsifying.”

The judge looked at Miles Cross. “Counsellor?”

Miles stood up once again. “Your Honor, if I may, I’d like to request the Court have the tape analysed for tampering. There are clicks in the playback, very hard to hear if you’re not listening, that could indicate erasures or even copying for the purpose of creating a tape with only what someone wanted heard on it, this tape being that copy.”

“I object to that insinuation, Mr. Cross!” Rance was livid; he’d gotten to her.

The judge said, “I trust you have a reason for your statement, Mr. Cross?”

“I do, your Honor. I happen to know the tape that Miss Rance played today is either not the original, or has been intentionally erased.” He looked over at Rance, who sat fuming, staring daggers at him.

“Well,” Crandall rejoined, “don’t keep us waiting. How do you know this?”

“Because I have in my possession a copy of an original recording of my clients’ meeting with Detective Steinmetz.”

Rance jumped out of her seat once again. The judge gave her a warning look, and she sat back down. Then he asked, “Detective Steinmetz sent a copy to you, then?”

“No, your Honor. I got the tape from my client.”

Rance jumped up yet again, and before Crandall could speak, she yelled out, “Objection, your Honor! There’s no way Mr. Winthrop has a copy of this tape!”

Miles smiled, enjoying some private joke. “Ah, but he doesn’t have a copy of that tape, Miss Rance. He has, and I have, a copy of a tape that he made himself of that meeting.”

Rance sputtered, “That... that’s illegal! According to New york State law, no recordings may be made without the consent of all parties being recorded! And I don’t believe the Detective would have consented to Mr. Winthrop recording that meeting!”

Miles stood there smiling still while watching Rance. Finally, when Crandall suggested he respond, he said to the judge, as though nobody else was even there, “Well, I’m not so sure about that. Miss Rance is technically correct. According to the law, nobody is permitted to record a conversation without the express consent of that person. Detective Steinmetz, being the one who made the recording in that player on Miss Rances’ table, clearly gave his consent by being the one who made that recording. My client, obviously, consented to that recording. And since the recording my client made is identical to the original recording, before it was, as my clients’ recording will show, doctored up, it seems to me that the one Mr. Winthrop made is perfectly legal.”

Crandall looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “I’m not aware of any case law on a situation like this one. I think I’ll listen to the tape your client made, Mr. Cross, in my chambers during recess. I’ll make my ruling on this, and only this, when we return this afternoon. Then we’ll continue.” He turned to the Guardian Ad Litem. “I understand you have someone you’d like to call as a witness, Miss Foreman?”

Nelly Foreman stood up. She’d remained quiet through the session, watching carefully all that was happening, and secretly admiring the daring of the young Mr. Winthrop. “Yes, your Honor,” she replied. “I do.”

“Very well. It’s 11:45 now. Court is adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.” He banged his gavel, and everyone else made their way out the door.


Wilbur Steinmetz sat at his desk in the Church Street office he occupied. He was finishing up a report on his investigation into the Winthrop case. Though he was loathe to admit it, he was engaged in that time-honored practice of all bureaucrats, patsies and bought-and-pad-for tools of the power brokers: he was trying to cover his ass.

He’d just put his pen back in the desk drawer when he heard a car pull into the parking lot. He looked up as the outside door opened. Three men came in. They were all dressed in suits tailored to minimize the bulge under the arm where they kept their weapons. This looked like trouble. His hand still in the desk drawer, he pushed the ‘record’ button on his cassette tape recorder, thanking God he’d put a new blank in the slot. He wanted someone to hear whatever transpired if anything happened to him. “Can I help you gentlemen?”

The one on the left asked in response, “Remove your hand from the drawer”. He complied as the man asked him, “Are you Wilbur Steinmetz, lieutenant of detectives for the City of Poughkeepsie, New York?”

“Yes, I am. And who are you?”

“U.S. Marshal. You’re wanted for questioning and charges as an accomplice under Title 42 United States Code Section 1983, conspiracy to engage in criminal actions under color of law.”

Steinmetz stood up quickly, his legs pushing the chair back against the window sill, jarring the flower pots sitting there. “Conspiracy to... What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t conspired in any criminal activity. Show me your ID and warrant.”

The lead agent handed a paper to the detective in one hand while flipping open his identification case with the other. “My identification is sufficient to vouch for the men with me.”

Steinmetz looked at the card in the case, saw that it was legitimate, then turned his attention to the warrant. He skipped past the headings, and read aloud, the paragraph outlining the cause of action. “Attempted coersion under color of law of wrongful confession from a United States Citizen in support of a fraudulent action by the Dutchess County Department of Social Services Child Protection Unit.”

He shoved the paper back toward the marshal. “What the fucking hell is this crap? I’ve never supported any kind of shit like this!”

“That’s none of my business, Lieutenant. My orders are to pick you up for questioning, not to explain anything about why you’re being charged.”

Steinmetz glared at the three men. “Do I get my phone call?”

“After we’ve processed you at Foley Square.”

“Foley Square? The Federal courthouse in the City? That’s eighty miles from here. My wife will wonder why I haven’t gotten home yet.”

“That’s not my problem. Are you going to come peacefully, or do we need to handcuff you?”

“I’ll go peacefully. I have nothing to worry about. My wife will simply think I have an emergency situation to investigate. I am a police detective, after all.”


The deputy at the door had to do a double-take at the identification cards he was being shown. Is that really a Federal marshall coming in here? With a bunch of deputy marshalls? The answer was yes, of course. Who would want to fake something like that in this little city?

He opened the door to let them through, acutely aware of the stares he was receiving from both the case workers and the clients who were in the vicinity of the security door.

When they were through, he turned to go to the front lobby desk to let the office supervisor know what was going on. He never made it. A strong hand grabbed his arm and pulled him back, not exactly roughly but not gentle either.

The marshall said, “You’re coming with us. We don’t want any surprises.”


Althea Mitchell looked at the clock on the wall above her door. 11:43. Less than 20 minutes to lunch time. she thought.

Her office door opened, and in came a pair of men in suits. “Can I help you?”

One said, “Althea Mitchell, we’re U.S. Marshalls. We’re here to place you and others under arrest for your part in an unlawful conspiracy to kidnap children.”

“What? Is this some kind of joke?”

“No joke, Miss Mitchell. Please come around the desk.”

Dumbfounded, she obeyed the order. As she entered the wide hallway, she saw two of the department supervisors, Diana Simonetti and Joan Dillon, also being led away. A moment later she saw Jack Overton and Rory LaPointe also being escorted out of their office cubicles. She wondered how this had ever happened. Nothing in her training, meager though it was, covered this kind of thing...


Three female United States Marshals entered the Fox Street medical office of Dr. Romilda Yarrow. The senior Marshal presented her identification and asked the receptionist, “Where is Dr. Yarrow?”

The woman, a young blonde, stammered, “She … she’s with a patient right now. Wait here and I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“Do that. And tell her that if she doesn’t come out, we will go back there to find her.”

The woman almost ran through the door to the examining rooms. Two minutes later she re-emerged, following a thin, fragile-looking older woman with white hair and a heavily wrinkled face.

The doctor demanded imperiously in a slight Germanic accent, “What is the meaning of this intrusion? Why have yo come here?”

The senior Marshal asked, “Are you Dr. Romilda Yarrow?”

“I am. And you haven’t answered my questions, young lady.”

“Dr. Yarrow, you are under arrest for the falsification of medical records pertaining to children in the care of Duchess County Department of Social Services’ Child Protective Services. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. If you give up these rights, anything you say may be used against you in court. Do you understand these rights?”

“Yes, yes, I understand them. You are making a grave error. I have done nothing to deserve this treatment. But I shall come with you peacefully.”


Back in the courtroom, everyone who had been there was once again present. The judge came out of his chambers carrying a tape player. The bailiff intoned, “All rise. This Court will now come to order.”

Crandall placed the tape on the dais in front of him as everone sat back down. He said, “This is an interesting tape, I must say. About nineteen minutes longer than the one you played, Miss Rance. And with none of those clicking noises we heard before. In fact, I’m inclined to play it now so we can all hear it. Are there any objections? None? Very good. Let’s give it a listen.” He pushed the button, and the tape started.

This time they heard the entire interview, including the pauses when, Steve had explained, Steinmetz was writing something on the legal pad.

The judge stopped the tape at the point where Steve had asked Steinmetz if he had recorded the interview with Martin. He turned to Rance. “Counsellor, this is an interesting point that Mr. Winthrop raises on the tape. Has the Department, or Doctor Yarrow, recorded any of the interviews or examinations of his child?”

Rance looked at the social worker, Lacey Garfield, who shook her head. Then she answered Crandalls’ question. “No, your Honor. It’s not required that we record them, so we don’t.”

“Letter of the law, Counsellor? Commendable. But perhaps the law is in error in this type of matter. We even record interviews with criminals, except for when they’re with their attorneys. Without the family court, issues of child abuse would be heard in criminal courts because it is a criminal offense. We handle them here because we want to preserve families whenever possible, right? So it seems to me that interviews, at least in cases where there’s the likelihood of contention as there is in this case, should be recorded. It may not be the law, Miss Rance, but I think it is a common sense precaution. As we just heard Mr. Winthrop so aptly express, without a recording, how do we know the child wasn’t coaxed or even coerced?”

“I should object, your Honor, but I’m not going to at this juncture.”

He smiled. “Why, thank you, Counsellor.” Then he started the tape again.

He stopped it several minutes later, again to address the CPS attorney. “Were you aware that Detective Steinmetz disagreed with the autopsy report?”

“No sir, I wasn’t.”

“Did you, or any of the caseworkers involved, ever see or read the report?”

Rance looked again at Garfield, who again shook her head. “No, your Honor. The subject never came up.”

“Let me see if I understand this. You have a man whose wife died, leaving him with a child to raise by himself. You come to suspect that he neglected and abused that child, but also that he either molested him, prostituted him, or both. You insist that he has anger issues, but never looked at the pertinent information that might be in an autopsy report?”

“We regarded that as unconnected with the abuse.”

“Then why did you want him to get counselling from a psychologist or psychiatrist?”

“To deal with anger issues, your Honor.”

“I see. Thank you, Counsellor.” He started the tape again, playing it this time until the end, which, on this tape, included a minute of traffic noise after the door slammed.

“Well, this puts a somewhat different light on things,” Crandall said. Turning to Miles, he asked, “Is there anything you’d like to add before we get to the GAL,

Mr. Cross?”

Miles stood up. “Yes, your Honor. I’d like to point out that the anger issues brought up by opposing counsel are normal reactions to abnormal situations and circumstances. In my view, allowances must be made. I’d also like to enter into evidence these two reports from Doctor Milford Johannsen and Doctor Benjamin Garrett, the psychologist and psychiatrist that CPS sent Mr. Winthrop to for their evaluations of his mental and emotional condition.”

Rance stood up. “Objection, your Honor.”

Crandall turned to her. “What grounds, Counsellor?”

She looked down at the table in front of her, then mumbled something. When the judge prompted her to speak more clearly, she repeated, “Withdrawn.” Then she sat back down.

“Summarize the reports for the Court, Mr. Cross.”

“In the briefest possible terms, both doctors found that Mr. Winthrop is simply not capable of doing the things CPS accuses him of doing, your Honor. I suspect that’s why they didn’t enter these reports into evidence themselves.”

“Would you care to make a formal complaint?”

“No, sir, I think I’ll pass.”

“Good choice, I think. Is there anything else?”

“Yes, your Honor. Regarding the F.I.P. Program, I’ve done some research at the behest of my client. It seems that even when there is no evidence to support going to this program, once enrolled, you’re considered to be guilty of molesting your child. If you insist on your innocence, you’re considered to be in denial, so that the only way to complete the course is to admit that you did it, even if you didn’t. And if you don’t complete the course, then they call it ‘refusal to cooperate’ and it gives CPS grounds to begin TPR procedings. I believe, your Honor, that in the past, this was called a ‘Catch-22’.”

Rance didn’t bother to stand up as she cried, “Objection! The Family Incest Program isn’t on trial here!”

The judge looked at her sternly. “Miss Rance, need I remind you that this is a civil proceeding, not a trial. Your objection is over-ruled. Although it does bring up an interesting question. Is it the custom to refer clients to programs like F.I.P. without supporting evidence?”

Rance finally stood up. “We have supporting evidence, your Honor. We have the reports of Doctor Yarrow, CSW Frederick Davidson and Detective Steinmetz. That more than meets the legal requirements for reasonable suspicion.”

“Oh, yes. Doctor Yarrows’ report. Where is that? I don’t recall having seen it entered into evidence.”

“I have it in my briefcase, your Honor.” She reached in the case and withdrew a file folder, glanced inside, then handed it to the bailiff, who then passed it up to Crandall.

The judge glanced through, found a passage, then read it aloud. “ ‘Child tells of a nightmare of toilet overflowing and Daddy fixed it. Child also tells of being chased by monsters in his sleep and Daddy chases the monsters away.’ Miss Rance, perhaps you can tell me how this relates to sexual abuse, because it looks like an ordinary, everyday event, a toilet overflowing, and a child having a bad dream.”

“You’d have to ask Doctor Yarrow about that, your Honor. She’s an expert in these things; that’s why we use her.”

“I see. I’ll take that under advisement. In the meantime … “

Miles Cross cut him off. “Forgive me for interrupting, your Honor, but I’d like to mention that Doctor Yarrow is listed as ‘practice limited to adolescent medicine’. If that’s the case, why is the County sending toddlers to her?”

“She is certified in treating sexual abuse,” Rance answered without prompting.

“Interesting. Who certified her? And without any certification in psychiatry or psychology? I think we should subpeona the good doctor.”

Judge Crandall said, “I’ll take that under advisement as well, Mr. Cross. But next time, wait until I’m finished speaking before you say anything. Consider this a warning.”

“Yes, your Honor.”

“Well, then. Is there anything else?”

“No, your Honor, not at this moment.”

“Miss Rance?”

“Not at this time, your Honor.”

“All right, then let’s hear from the law guardian. Miss Foreman, if you will?”

Nelly Foreman stood up, a slightly built youngish woman with brown hair and wire-frame glasses. “Thank you, your Honor. I must say today’s session has been quite … shall we say, educational?”

“Yes, Counsellor, it certainly has. I understand you have someone to present to the Court in this matter?”

“Yes, your Honor. I have Mary Watson of the Pougkeepsie Childrens’ Home. She’s the caseworker assigned to the Winthrop family.”

Both women at the other table looked very surprised as Nelly opened the door and beckoned Mrs. Watson in. She was a handsome, middle-aged woman with dark wavy hair. She smiled at Steve briefly as she sat at the third table, directly behind Steve and Miles. A fourth table, to her left, was empty.

The newcomer was asked to state her name and occupation for the record, and the Court Recorder punched it in on the dication machine. Then she added, “I’ve been the caseworker on this case ever since Martin Winthrop was sent to the Home a year and a half ago. I’ve worked with this family, and see no reason why Martin shouldn’t be returned to the custody of his father.”

Crandall politely told her, “Mrs Watson, our normal procedure is to wait until asked a question before making any statements. Then, if either I or any of the attorneys require elaboration, then it will be asked for. Miss Foreman should have explained this to you before your arrival. But for now, we accept your statement.”

Mary Watson nodded in response, and the judge indicated silently that Nelly could begin her case. While the bailiff swore the witness in, the guardian ad litem opened her notebook, skimmed the notes and questions she’d written throughout the three-year history of the case. Then she asked, “Mrs. Watson, You’ve read the case notes sent to the Childrens’ Home by CPS, is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“And in that time, have you witnessed anything that would tend to support any of the allegations in this case?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“There hasn’t been any indication of any violent or sexual acting out by Martin, either during visits with his father or with any of the other children in the Home?”

“No, nothing even remotely like that. But I was told … ”

“Objection. Not pertinent to the question.” Janice Rance was floundering, and she knew it.

“Sustained.”

“Did anyone at CPS ever call to discuss the case with you?”

“Yes.”

“Briefly, what was the gist of it? Summarize if you will, please.”

“MSW Linda Weatherall, one of the supervisors, wanted me to know that they were not happy with Mr. Winthrops’ living arrangements, that the person he’s with is suspected of molesting his own three sons, but also Martin.”

“Did Mrs. Weatherall say what evidence they had to support this?”

“Yes, she said that they had medical reports on each of the children.”

“Did they forward those reports to you for your records?”

“No. I asked her to, and she said that she couldn’t send them to me.”

“Did she say why?”

“Yes, she said that they were part of a bigger investigation, tieing Mr. Winthrop and his housemate, Mr. Hall, into some child slavery ring. Then she said she had other work to do and hung up.”

“Do you know anything about who Mr. Winthrop is living with?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I know about Mr. Hall having his children taken because he’s helping Mr. Winthrop.”

Rance was on her feet again. “Objection! That’s a completely different case and has nothing to do with this one!”

“Sustained. Mrs. Watson, we don’t need any information about Mr. Hall unless it pertains specifically to the matter before the Court today.”

“All right, your Honor.”

The judge asked if the opposing attorneys had any questions. Rance indicated she didn’t; Cross did have a few.

“What do you know about any connection between Mr. Winthrop and Mr. Hall that pertains directly to this case against Mr. Winthrop?”

Rance objected. “Leading question.”

“Sustained.”

“Okay then. Do you know anything about that?”

“Yes.”

“Please describe your knowledge for the Court.”

“There was a point where, after months of trying to convince Mr. Winthrop we want to help reunite his family, he came into my office after his visit with Martin. As is our custom and policy, he brought Martin with him. After asking him how the visit went, he reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew some photographs. He showed them to Martin. One was of himself, another was of a priest, who was wearing a clerical collar and black shirt and pants, and the third was a black man I had never seen before.”

“Why did Mr. Winthrop show those pictures to his son?”

“Objection,” Rance declared. “Calls for speculation.”

Nelly rejoined, “Not speculation; actual knowledge.”

Judge Crandall said, “Let’s see where this is going, shall we? You may answer the question, Mrs. Watson.”

“As Mr. Winthrop was showing the pictures, he asked Martin who they were. Martin, of course, identified his fathers’ photo immediately, laughing. He identified the priest as ‘Uncle Paul’. But the third picture, whom Mr. Winthrop identified as Mr. Hall, well, Martin said he didn’t know who that was. Then Mr. Winthrop apologized for springing this on me. He said that he had to … ”

Rance, by now getting tired of the near-constant up and down, stood wearily and called, “Objection. Hearsay.”

The judge replied, “Mr. Winthrop is sitting right here, Miss Rance. We can ask him afterwards if anything the witness says is false. Over-ruled.”

“I want to protest the ruling for the record.”

“So noted. Proceed, Mrs. Watson.”

“Thank you, your Honor. As I was saying, Mr. Winthrop told me that he had to do this ‘show and tell’ type thing in order to prove to me that the claims made by CPS were not true.”

“And how did you respond?”

“I replied that I’d been trying to get him to trust me, to trust us at the Home, ever since Martin was first placed there. I said that when I first read the case reports from CPS, I knew it was false, but that I had to work within the system. I also said that if I’d told him this at our first meeting, he wouldn’t have believed me.”

“And how did he respond?”

“He said, you’re right, I wouldn’t have.”

“One more question, Mrs. Watson. How did you know the CPS documents were wrong?”

“Oh, that was easy. Two things caught my eye. In the reports that supposedly confirmed sexual abuse, it said that there was penetration. Yet there was no sign of any physical trauma on the child. That’s just not possible, especially with a child so young.”

“Objection, witness isn’t qualified to make that determination, she’s not a physician.”

Before Crandall could rule, Mary Watson said, “I’ve asked about a dozen doctors, mostly pediatritians, about this, and they all tell me the same thing. And one of those pediatricians was one of Martin’s three regular physicians, all in the same office, on Forbus Street going toward Raymond Avenue. They’ve been the childs’ doctors since he was born.”

The judge said, “Well, I was going to sustain the objection, but Mrs Watsons’ statement, unless that’s also objected to, leads me to over-rule. Might I assume, Mrs. Watson, that at least one of those doctors would be willing to support your statement in court?”

Nelly broke in, “They would, your Honor. At the very least, all three of them who were actually Martins’ physicians. They’ve all provided me, directly and separately from Mrs. Watson, notarized statements that are identical in substance to what Mrs. Watson just told us.”

“I see. Miss Rance, do you have any further objections?”

She looked up at the judge, then at the other faces around the room, then back at Crandall. “No further objections, your Honor.”

“Do you have any questions for cross-examination?”

“No questions.” Rance looked and sounded depressed and defeated.

“Mr. Cross, do you have any further questions?”

“No, your Honor.”

“Very well. Does anyone object if I make my ruling now, or do any of you have anything further to add? No? All right, here’s my ruling. The minor child, Martin Winthrop, is to be returned to his fathers’ permanent custody as soon as Mr. Winthrop has established a home of his own suitable to raising his son. The unproven allegations against Mr. Winthrop are to be expunged from all records except for those of this Court, except where other Courts may have competent jurisdiction. That means the Federal Court at Foley Square in New York City, in case you have any doubts as to my meaning, should Mr. Winthrop decide to re-file his lawsuit.

“I include this in my ruling because I want it on record that this Court will have no culpability and will not participate, except under order from a higher Court, in any procedings against Mr. Winthrop, unless further procedings in this court are warranted by the presentation of evidence prior to any further action on the part of the Child Protective Service.

“All of those records maintained by this Court, including any and all the exculpatory evidence presented here today, are to be sealed, with the exception of that singular recording owned outright by Mr. Winthrop, and may only be unsealed by order of this Court upon a showing of probable cause. Dutchess County Department of Social Services is hereby ordered to assist Mr. Winthrop in attaining all services necessary to feed, clothe and shelter his son.”

He banged his gavel once. “So ordered. This Court is adjourned.”

Steve Winthrop and his attorney Miles Cross were the first ones out the door, being closest, while the County attorney was still gathering her papers. Nelly Foreman and Mary Watson were right behind them. But the two women almost rammed into the men, who were stopped just past the threshold. They looked up, and saw a group of two men and two women wearing blue windbreakers bearing big gold letters on the left breast: FBI.

Steve stared at them. Tracy Williams caught his eye and winked slyly. Charlie Richardon and Gustavo Rivera nodded at them, and Marissa Montalvo silently mouthed, Later. They moved to one side when the CPS lawyer and the social worker came out, saw the agents, and stopped.

Charlie came to the front. “Lacey Garfield. Norma Rance. You’re under arrest for violation of 42 United States Code Section 1983. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one may be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?”

Steve, Miles, Nelly and Mary ran down the stairs, got outside the building and stood waiting for the agents to come out with their prisoners. They watched as the Boulware brothers held the door for the two women as they were ushered into the back of the waiting van. Then Charlie got behind the wheel, Gus on the passenger side, and the rest in the back with Rance and Garfield.

As the van drove off down Market Street, Steve felt three sets of eyes on him. He turned toward his companions of the moment and smiled. “Well, what do ya know?”

Miles asked, “Do you know them? That female agent winked at you.”

“At me? You sure about that, Miles?” Then he laughed. “The one that didn’t wink was my wifes’ twin sister. The other one ... Well, let’s just say there are possibilities. But I have to get my life back in order before I can explore them.”

Mary Watson said, “Well, Steve, if that’s the calibre of companion you have, I for one would not want to get on your bad side. I do want to say, though, that I think you’ll have problems getting DSS to follow those orders. The Childrens’ Home will pick up the slack if necessary. First thing is to get you an apartment that you can bring Martin home to. Get some furniture, dishes, stock the cupboards. Call me Monday and we’ll get right to work on that.” She smiled, shook Miles’ hand, and stood back as Nelly shook hands with both men and softly said, “Well played, gentlemen. And good luck to you and Martin, Mr. Winthrop.” Then the two women walk across the street to Alex’s for coffee and discussion.

Steve joined Miles crossing the street right behind the women. Then they continued on up the Main Mall to Miles’ office.

Three months later, in the same Family Court room, Judge Crandall interrupted the attorney for CPS, who had been released from custody along with all her co-conspirators, much to the chagrin of almost everyone. “Miss Rance, I do not want to hear anything about VOCAL or any other group or individual associated with Mister Hall. I do not want to hear anything more about Mister Hall’s association with Mister Winthrop. You’ve had ample opportunity to produce evidence in both of those cases to support the County’s position, and you’ve failed to do so. My ruling in this matter, therefore, is that you will return Mr. Halls’ children to his custody by the end of the month. That gives you two weeks to conclude all paperwork and make all arrangements necessary to comply with this Order.”

He banged his gavel. “Case dismissed.”

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