It has been three years since I lost the right to be a mother to my two beautiful daughters, now ages 13 and 15. I think about all the things I have missed - caring for them when they’re sick, helping with homework and taking vacations. But mostly, I pray they are safe.
My name is Linda Marie Sacks. I’m an Ormond Beach, Florida, mother whose life began reeling out of control in April 2002 after an administrator at my daughter’s school called to tell me that my then-7-year-old was sexually acting out. I was quick to follow the school administrator's advice and took my daughter to a therapist. Then Sunday School officials called to tell me that my daughter was talking in class about performing oral sex on her father. At age 8, in her therapist’s office, my eldest daughter drew the family picture shown after the fold that depicts her father as an erect penis with legs.
I didn’t want to believe it. But after eleven years of marriage, I filed for divorce (Case 2004-30312 FMCI) and asked the Volusia County Court system to protect my children. Instead Volusia County Judge Shawn L. Briese called my daughter a liar, identified me as the problem for believing her and, for three years now, I’ve only been allowed to see my daughters twice a month for an hour-long supervised visit at The Family Tree House Visitation Center in Daytona Beach.
Now that I know the stories of so many other mothers like me -- Wendy Titelman in Georgia, Annette Zender in Illinois, Danielle Malmquist in Tennessee -- I’m so thankful for those two hours a month. My daughters tell me how much they love me during those hours.
I know what you are thinking: This mother has done something wrong. But I am a squeaky-clean soccer mom, no drugs, no alcohol, no arrests, no abuse, no infidelity, nothing. I was an active school volunteer - and for many years the class mom for both of my daughters’ classes.
My daughter's teacher said, "If you, of all Mothers, can lose custody of your children and be placed on Supervised Visitation, then America better wake up, because anyone can."
The only thing that I can think I did wrong was naively believe in the United States justice system.
During hearings, each time I tried to submit information about why I am worried about my daughters' safety, the court system stopped me. The father asked for and was granted a protective order on testimony from the children’s therapist who wrote in reports about suspected sexual abuse and watched as my eldest daughter drew her father as an erect penis with legs. Testimony was not allowed from the Sunday School volunteer who heard my daughter tell a classmate that "She sucks her daddy's penis." Three times, Dr. Kathy Pearce, a licensed clinical psychologist from Melbourne, Florida, has come to the Daytona Beach courthouse, ready to testify that she is concerned the father is sexually abusing the children and each time she was turned away.
Justice for Children, a Houston-based national child advocacy organization, wrote a letter to Volusia County law enforcement authorities, including Department of Children and Family Administrator Reggie Williams, expressing concern that the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of my daughters were never properly investigated.
The letter was used in a motion by the children's father to complain that I was still a problem and had not accepted the court’s ruling that no child abuse has taken place. From the bench, Judge Briese did not show concern about the points raised in the Justice for Children letter but instead wanted to know who had contacted the organization.
I’ve spent more than $130,000 in legal fees trying to help my girls. In 2008 the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals in Daytona Beach reversed Judge Briese’s custody decision (Case 5D07-1682), and ruled that the judge had abused his trial court discretion, violated my due process rights and ordered the custody decision be retried in the lower court. Despite the appeals court ruling and numerous motions to have him removed from the case, Judge Briese has continued to deny me full contact with my children.
Instead, just a few months after the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruling, Judge Briese quickly set another custody hearing, denied to admit any of my evidence or witnesses and again ruled that I be allowed only supervised visits with my daughters.
I had paid my appeals attorney more than $85,000. The appeals court concluded that Judge Briese "reversibly erred" when he took my children away. But the justice system sent me right back to the judge who the appeals court judges said had abused his trial court discretion and violated my due process rights. I again found myself in disbelief. How can this be called justice?
But these are my children, and I made a promise to them that I would do something every day to get them back, and I will never stop. I have to believe that one day justice will prevail - not only for my two wonderful daughters but for all of the children thrust into America's broken family court system.
So now, I spend hours each day teaching myself the justice system. As a pro se litigant, I filed another appeal with the Fifth District Court (Case 5D09-3752).
I also successfully requested another hearing to get my children back in the lower court. Six months ago, Judge Briese granted that hearing for this month.
Within days the father's attorneys filed a subpoena in the lower court demanding I appear for a lengthy deposition and filed a motion to end my precious two-hour-a-month supervised visit with my girls.
So now Judge Briese has changed his mind about allowing my hearing to consider reuniting me with my daughters to proceed. Instead the judge is demanding I submit to this lengthy deposition during my hearing time.
I don’t understand how this can be happening. I can learn the rules but apparently they will never apply to me or my children.
I have dutifully complied with every court order. But last week, I demanded that my hearing to reunite with my children be held and that my witnesses that I subpoenaed be allowed to testify. The hearing was scheduled for three days, so the next day I went back again to demand my hearing.
Dr. Pearce, who had long been ready to testify that an 8-year-old should not know what an erect penis looks like nor have any idea about how oral sex is performed, was again there to be heard. This time I filed an emergency motion requesting Dr. Pearce, the Melbourne therapist, be allowed to be heard about her concerns for the childrens' safety. According to Florida state law all judges must hear evidence being offered concerning child abuse.
But again Judge Briese refused to allow Dr. Pearce to be heard.
I don’t know what else to do so I’m writing. I’ve sent out press releases. I’m hoping someone with the power to help my children will hear my cries. And the cries of so many parents just like me.
All documents linked are filed with the court and public record, though I have replaced my minor children's names with D1 for my eldest daughter and D2 for my youngest. The court docket for this case can be seen at www.clerk.org, click "Search Online Records" in the upper right corner, click "Case Inquiry," accept the terms, then enter case number 2004 30312 FMCI.