The Latest Developments in the Miller-Jenkins Child Custody Dispute

On August 14, a federal jury in Burlington, Vermont, convicted Kenneth Miller of aiding and abetting kidnapping, in connection with the 2009 disappearance of Lisa Miller (no relation to Kenneth) and Isabella Miller-Jenkins, her seven year old daughter.  At the time of the disappearance, Lisa Miller was under a court order to allow resumed visitation between Isabella and her other mother, Janet Jenkins.

The back-story to this saga is by now well known.  Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were same-sex partners from Virginia who went to Vermont to have a civil union.  When Isabella was born in 2002, the women were Vermont civil union partners and co-parents, with Lisa as the birth mother.  Seventeen months after Isabella was born, the women's partnership ended, and Lisa moved with Isabella back to Virginia.  Lisa filed an action in Rutland (Vermont) Family Court to dissolve the civil union and make necessary determinations about the custody of Isabella.  This filing, as subsequently determined by the courts in Virginia and Vermont, gave the Rutland Family Court sole jurisdiction over the case and, more pertinently for this story, over custody and child visitation concerning Isabella, even though she was living with Lisa in Virginia.  The Rutland Family Court awarded legal and physical parental rights to Lisa with specified custodial visitation rights for Janet Jenkins.  However, Janet was only able to exercise her visitation rights briefly, because Lisa soon began blocking visitation.  She became an evangelical Christian, renounced homosexuality, and determined to "protect" Isabella from any further exposure to the "gay lifestyle."

In this she was encouraged by her fellow congregants and pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and eventually her legal counsel from Liberty Counsel, allied with Liberty University Law School (founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell).  Her chief legal counsel was and is Matthew Staver, dean of Liberty University Law School.

As Lisa Miller continued to defy the Rutland Family Court visitation orders (and the Virginia court orders enforcing the Vermont orders under rules of comity), she was held in contempt, assessed fines, and ordered to give Jenkins access to Isabella for a particular weekend of visitation in September 2009.  According to the Complaint, anticipating these events, she contacted and enlisted others in a scheme for her to flee the United States with Isabella. 

After several days of trial in August 2012, the federal jury convicted Kenneth Miller for his part in assisting Lisa Miller in going to Canada and making arrangements to relocate outside the U.S.  She flew to South America, ultimately finding refuge in Nicaragua, a country that does not have extradition arrangements with the United States.  After Lisa and Isabella disappeared, the Rutland Family Court granted a change of custody to Janet Jenkins, which has been upheld by the Vermont Supreme Court.  All attempts to appeal further by Lisa, acting through her attorneys (she has made no personal appearances in court for many years), have been exhausted. Her attorneys claimed to have had no contact with her since her disappearance, and have claimed to be acting based on their understanding of her wishes as communicated prior to her disappearance.

While the jury was deliberating on the criminal charges against Kenneth Miller, Janet Jenkins' co-counsel — Susan Star and Frank H. Langrock — filed suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Janet against Lisa and the long list of conspirators, whose identity was revealed through the prosecution and trial of Kenneth Miller.  They are asserting tort claims and federal Racketeering (RICO) claims.  Their detailed Complaint richly relates the facts as they were developed during the trial, and include — in addition to kidnapping and continued defiance of outstanding court orders — money laundering and mail fraud, meeting the predicate offense requirements for federal RICO charges.  Janet claims substantial damages for emotional distress, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for violation of her civil rights and the intentional tort of kidnapping her daughter.  She also seeks injunctive relief, although Lisa and Isabella Miller — presumably still in Nicaragua — are beyond the jurisdiction of a federal court to enforce its order.  She is also seeking, of course, attorney's fees and costs.

Since Lisa Miller is presumably not present in the U.S., the burden of the lawsuit falls on the conspirators and aiders and abettors alleged in the Complaint as co-defendants: Kenneth Miller, Timothy Miller, Andrew Yoder, Christian Aid Ministries, Inc., Response Unlimited, Inc., Philip Zodhiates, Victoria Hyden, Liberty University Law School, Thomas Road Baptist Church, Inc., Linda M. Wall, and Douglas Wright (Lisa's pastor at Thomas Road). 

The Complaint implicates Liberty University Law School, noting that its Dean, Matthew Staver, is also Lisa Miller's legal counsel in the Rutland Family Court case, and suggests that the Law School teaches its students to support "civil disobedience" to court orders based on their religious views.  The Complaint also notes that Lisa Miller's counsel have insisted over the past several years since her disappearance that they have had no contact with Lisa and no direct knowledge of her whereabouts, and alleges various facts from which inferences could be drawn about the accuracy or inaccuracy of these assertions.  Perhaps the Virginia bar ethics enforcers should be looking into this situation.

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