The Case from Hell Part 5

The most notorious child-custody battle in memory heads for its bitter end

Today Gievers says she entered the Nogues case for one simple reason: because four children were unjustly languishing in the foster-care system. "They needed an attorney," she explains. "And since I don't believe any child should be stuck in foster care, I said, 'All right, I'll represent them.'" Judging from court documents that chronicle her involvement, however, Gievers's explanation doesn't quite ring true.

In her initial appearance before a judge, July 11, 1991, Gievers identified herself as counsel for guardian June Shaw, not as an attorney representing the children. According to a memo sent that same day from Guardian Ad Litem program director Joni Goodman to Judge William Gladstone, "Karen Gievers has agreed to represent June Shaw and the Program in any depositions of June by the Nogueses' attorney, Edward Carhart."

Her more specific duty, Carhart asserts, was to keep Shaw -- whose actions in the case are now under criminal investigation -- from giving a sworn statement. As Guardian Ad Litem attorney Robin Greene explained a few months after Gievers entered the case: "I'm a separate attorney for the children. Karen Gievers, as a result of the criminal case, represents June."

In recent months, Gievers's claim that she represents not Shaw but the four youngest Nogues children, has led her to press relentlessly for the parents to be cut off from their kids altogether. While Gievers dismisses the shift as a semantic quibble, the Nogueses' lawyers argue that she is attempting to distance herself from June Shaw and the Guardian Ad Litem program specifically because federal law prohibits a guardian's attorney from presenting evidence in court of child abuse or neglect.

More telling, Carhart says, Gievers's actions have tainted her reputation as a child advocate. "If Ms. Gievers wants these kids out of what she calls 'foster care,' why has she served as the chief impediment to reunification of this family?" Carhart wonders. "Why did she lobby Judge Gladstone to disregard evidence that the children she calls her 'clients' are in danger in the Porras home?" Time and again, Carhart insists, Gievers's fiercely adversarial courtroom style has distracted attention from the real issue: the painful fracturing of the Nogues family. One such incident occurred last May, after New Times published a story detailing Diane Schetky's testimony. Gievers demanded an emergency hearing to hold HRS attorneys, the Nogueses, and their lawyers in contempt, based on her contention that someone had leaked Schetky's confidential report to the media. To Carhart it was just another example of Gievers's ability to shift the focus from human suffering to legal haggling.

Gievers, who is president of the Dade County Bar Association and an announced candidate for state insurance commissioner, stresses that she is merely defending her clients' rights. But Carhart says he has trouble understanding how her clients are served by maneuvers such as Gievers's recent demand for a hearing to determine if Andres Nogues's parents should be allowed to visit their grandchildren, whom they have not seen for almost two years. "What the hell have the grandparents done?" Carhart roars. "What is Karen Gievers doing trying to cut these four small children from every single member of their family? Is she afraid any outside contact will break Michelle's control over these kids?"

Yet despite her strident advocacy and long involvement in the Nogues case, Gievers appears surprisingly unfamiliar with some of its most important details. For example, when asked recently by New Times about Ellen Christopher's 1990 investigation of alleged abuse against the youngest Nogues child, which suggested the five-year-old had been sexually abused while in the Porras home, Gievers stated that she didn't have "a present recollection of that specific report."

Rather than address obvious mistakes made early in the case, she has repeatedly emphasized to reporters that her "clients'" wish to remain in their current placement. "Children have rights," she says. Gievers insists the Porras home is a healthy, "nonadversarial" setting.

For those who have watched the psychic transmutation of the four youngest Nogues children, that claim is dubious. Videotapes taken over the past five years reveal children who have had their identities slowly, mercilessly turned inside out. The parents they once adored have become objects of murderous hatred at the same time that a severe dependence on Michelle Porras has prompted one daughter to suggest that she would rather commit suicide than return home.

While the three older siblings are now living happily with their parents, their three younger sisters and brother remain phantom pawns, hidden from the press, shielded from the courtroom drama that swirls around them, and thanks to Gievers, forbidden from seeing any relatives besides each other and Michelle.

Home videos taped while the Nogues family was still intact picture all four children cavorting happily around their Kendall home, in company of parents, siblings, and numerous pets. Videotaped depositions taken in late 1989, just six weeks after their forced departure, reveal them to be in good spirits, if somewhat disoriented. Indeed, during these sessions, and in subsequent statements to police and HRS investigators, the youngest children repeatedly deny that their parents ever abused them. They express confusion about why they've been taken from their parents, and a desire to return home.

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