You may be wondering why I didn’t post my regular Friday installment of my review of Michael Farris’s book, Anonymous Tip, last week. The answer, of course, is that the Duggar story broke just as the week ended, and I found I didn’t have the time or energy to put into following Peter Barron through some of his initial investigative legal work. Instead, I watched in surprise as my Josh Duggar police report post garnered over two million pageviews in a matter of days. But things have started to slow down in the past few days, and I find myself eager for a return to normalcy.
Let me take a moment to explain the context of this series for my new readers. Over the past few years, I have written many times about efforts by Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), to undermine social services investigations and protect HSLDA member families from scrutiny in the name of parental rights. In 1996, Farris published Anonymous Tip, a moralistic warning story of an innocent family caught up in a fraudulent social services investigation. I began reviewing this book page by page several months ago, examining the themes therein.
If you are interested in starting at the beginning, go to the Anonymous Tip tag and then go back to find the first posts in the series. For those not interested in reading back through several dozen posts, I’ll offer a quick and dirty summary.
Gwen Landis’ ex-husband Gordon called in a fraudulent anonymous tip to a social services hotline alleging that Gwen had abused their four-year-old daughter Casey. Donna, a social worker, threatened her way into Gwen’s home and then strip-searched Casey, but while Gwen admitted to spanking Casey, Donna found no bruises or signs of abuse. As Donna left, Gwen called her a “witch” and a “nazi,” and Donna, angry at Gwen, conspired with her boss, Blackburn, to fake evidence of bruises and take the case to trial.
Gwen’s first lawyer, Bill, both sexually harassed her and proved to be inept in the courtroom. As a result, Gwen lost custody of Casey for one week, during which time Casey will be observed and evaluated by a psychologist. Peter, a dashing dark-haired lawyer, found Gwen sobbing in the parking lot and offered to take her case. Bizarrely, Peter explained that he wouldn’t harass her as Bill did because he (Peter) believed the Bible did not permit divorced women to remarry. Peter then went back to the office and discussed how hot Gwen is with his coworker, Joe.
And that is where we pick up today.
Peter’s first call was to Bill Walinski. Before he could officially begin work on the case he had to secure Walinski’s withdrawal.
One thing I’ve noticed about Farris’s writing is that he not infrequently includes scenes that seem extraneous or unnecessary while completely omitting scenes we’d really like to see. For instance, we saw nothing of Casey’s visit to the doctor (to the extent that I thought it hadn’t happened), but we’re about to be given a tour of the legal intricacies involved in switching from one lawyer to another.
“Bill Walinski, please. This is Attorney Peter Barron calling.”
“I’m sorry, he’s on another call, but I’ll slip him a note to let him know that you’re holding if you like,” said the secretary while flicking her cigarette. Walinski wasn’t really on another line, but the I-will-slip-a-note answer was part of the regular drill to make Walinski seem important to the caller, and at the same time make the caller feel important as well.
I’ve trained that girl well, Walinski said to himself as he put his feet up on his desk while reaching for the phone.
Here Farris continues his tell-don’t-show writing style. Honestly, we already knew this about Bill—he played a similar trick on Gwen and her father, Stan, handing his secretary an empty folder and pretending it was a successfully completed case, and in that case Farris also took pains to explain what Bill was doing and why.
Peter asks Bill to fax him a “substitution of counsel in the Gwen Landis case.” Bill objects.
“If Gwen calls me and asks me personally to withdraw, I will,” Walinski countered.
“It’s your right, of course, to have the client personally discharge you. And I will tell Gwen to do that if you insist. However, if you make her call you for this, I will first give her the number of the ethics office of the state bar in Seattle.”
The phone went dead for twenty seconds. Walinski finally said, “What’s your fax number?”
Peter mentions the ethics office, of course, because of Bill’s sexual harassment and exploitation of Gwen—behavior that was so clearly unethical that it could land him in very big trouble.
Next Peter calls Gail, the prosecutor. Once again he gets the runaround.
“Ms. Landis already has an attorney. I was just in court with him this morning. Walinski I believe the name was.”
“Mrs. Landis has decided to substitute counsel and I’ll be appearing on her behalf next Tuesday at the hearing.”
“I can’t discuss anything about the case with you until I get the substitution of counsel.”
Just like a Seattle lawyer, Peter thought. Hypertechnical.
So here’s the thing. I’m not a lawyer, but I looked up substitution of counsel and this is something that requires formal paperwork. The reason for this should be obvious—you wouldn’t want just any lawyer to be able to call the prosecutor’s office, claim to represent you, and then get a copy of your records. But apparently doing things by the book, as she is supposed to, makes Gail “hypertechnical.”
Also, notice that Gail says “Ms. Landis” and Peter responds with “Mrs. Landis.” This is no accident. This is Peter putting an emphasis on Gwen’s (formerly) married status.
“You’ll have the substitution form by fax within half an hour,” Peter said tersely. “And along with that, you will get a written request for all reports by social workers and police officers. I understand there were three people who entered the Landis home. I would like all three of their reports. . . . I’d like to pick these up by 4:30 at your office.”
What time is it now? Well, Peter got back to his office at 1:50, twenty minutes late for his 1:30 appointment, and then met with the clients he’d kept waiting. After that, he told his compatriot and his secretary about the case, and they laid out a battle plan. Next, Peter called Bill. By now, it’s probably close to 3:00.
Gail says she’s not sure she can get all of those reports together in time—she doesn’t even have copies of the reports filed by the second social worker or the police officer, she says. When Peter says he needs them quick because he’s “coming in late” to the case, Gail offers to push the next hearing back for a week. Peter objects, knowing this would mean an additional week in foster care for Casey.
“Since we haven’t met,” Peter began, “you wouldn’t have the opportunity to know that I normally try to extend every courtesy to opposing counsel. And when we deal with each other in the future, I’m sure I’ll have a chance to show you that I’m easy to work with. But I really must move quickly if I’m going to properly represent this lady next week.”
Given that Peter was “terse” about Gail’s refusal to give up information without the substitution of counsel, which is how it’s supposed to work, I don’t buy for a minute that Peter actually extends every courtesy to the opposing counsel. This is one of those believe-what-I-say-and-not-what-I-do moments.
Gail ultimately assented to Peter’s demand for immediacy, but rather than being upset, she was excited. Why? Because she “immediately knew she would be challenged by a much more aggressive lawyer at the next hearing.”
She smiled at the idea. She didn’t just like winning. She liked beating the best. Maybe this Peter Barron will be a worthy adversary. He’d have to be better than that half-witted idiot this morning, she thought.
Well, that’s . . . interesting.
Next Peter goes to see Gordon.
At 3:30 the white Explorer pulled up in front of an apartment complex on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Northwest Boulevard. Peter looked at the directory, chose the building on the right and went down a half-flight of stairs to the first-floor units. At the first door on the left, he paused and range the bell.
I’ll leave it to our Spokane expert to explain what this means about the type of apartment Gordon lives in!
The first thing Peter notices is that Gordon’s drinking problem is worse than Gwen indicated. Peter introduces himself as an attorney and says he has come to speak with Gordon about his “daughter and former wife.” Gordon immediately assumes that this is about his back child support and moves to shut the door, but Peter reaches out and blocks the door, assuring Gordon that it’s not about the child support.
If a social worker were to block a homeschooling parent from shutting the door, Farris would call foul. Here, it’s apparently okay. Because reasons.
“Mr. Landis, I think it would be better if I came in and told you about all this in private. I assure you I am just here to seek your support for Gwen and Casey.”
Something in the way Peter said their names shot a pang of jealousy through Gordon. But he said, “Come on in—just for a minute.”
Apparently Peter’s hots for Gwen is already affecting how he says her name. So much for his whole speech to Gwen about how he won’t creep on her because he can’t marry her because Gordon.
Also, if anyone can tell me what this sentence means, you win one internet:
The apartment wasn’t in a terrible mess as Peter half-expected.
Once Peter settles in, we get this:
“Mr. Landis, your daughter and wife are having trouble with the child welfare authorities.”
Um. They’re divorced. Gwen is no longer his wife.
“Someone called the child abuse hotline and claimed that Gwen spanks Casey excessively . . . “
Actually, the claim was that Gwen beats Casey with a stick. I’m more than a little bit upset that this becomes “spanks Casey excessively,” but then Peter hasn’t seen any of the official reports yet, so everything he has so far is from Gwen. (Which also seems odd—wouldn’t Peter want to see the official accusations himself before interviewing Gwen’s ex?) I still think this is Farris’s bias showing through.
Anyway, Peter explains that a social worker strip-searched Casey and falsely accused Gwen of leaving bruises, and that Gwen had just lost custody of Casey for a week.
It was far more than Gordon had bargained for. He didn’t want this much trouble. And he knew that if it was ever discovered he had made the call, the chances of Gwen returning to him would be gone forever.
You, Gordon, are an asshole.
“You’re kidding,” Gordon said. “Gwen’s a good mom. She would never do that. We don’t get along about everything, but she’s a good mom to Casey.”
Peter exhaled heavily with relief. “That’s what I was hoping you would say.”
Peter explains to Gordon that the prosecution made a mistake in not notifying him, as Casey’s father, and Gordon confirms that he was indeed not notified. Peter asks Gordon if he will sign an affidavit that he wasn’t notified and that Gwen is a good mom and “has never bruised Casey by spanking her.” Gordon agrees, and Peter says he will come back the next day with the affidavit for him to sign.
“What time will be good for you?”
“Oh, anytime. I’m out of work right now; been lookin’ real hard though.”
“How about 10:30?”
“Fine with me,” Gordon said with relief. He didn’t want to be awakened too early.
And then there’s this:
Peter got up, shook Gordon’s hand and walked to the door. “Your cooperation will really help your daughter and wife—I mean, former wife. Sorry.”
“I’m sorry she’s my former wife, too. I’d like her back any time,” Gordon said with discernible sadness. “Any time,” he repeated, closing the door.
First of all, it should not be that hard for Peter to keep it straight that Gwen is Gordon’s ex-wife. But also, with Gordon’s response, Farris is cementing for his readers what he has already mentioned at least twice—that Gordon wants Gwen back. That’s important, because for Farris and his readers, it underlines the illegitimacy of Gwen’s divorce and how wrong it would be for Peter to pursue or marry her.
I’m running out of steam here and I really wanted to make it through Peter’s entire afternoon here. I’m going to bulldoze through the rest of this and try to keep things moving.
Farris tells us that at 4:00 that afternoon Gail scrutinized the reports of Rita Coballo and Officer Donahue but didn’t see anything out of order.
She handed them to her secretary to make copies and leave them on the receptionist’s desk for Peter Barron. The secretary assured Ms. Willet that the receptionist would recognize Barron by sight—asking for his Bar Identification Card would not be necessary. “He’s something of a minor heartthrob here in Spokane. All the receptionists know him,” the secretary laughed with a touch of distain.
If we didn’t already know how handsome and good looking and dashing Peter was, we know it now.
Next Gail calls Donna to talk about the schedule for Casey that week.
The physical had been scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. with Dr. Stratton. The child would be taken to Dr. McGuire for psychological evaluation on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. [Donna] Corliss had decided to use McGuire for the psychological and parenting assessment of Gwen Landis as well. She was expected in his office Thursday at 5:00 p.m.
Farris is big on detail, here.
Willet writes out the notice requiring Gwen to see Dr. McGuire at that time, passes it on to the receptionist to give Peter, and then turns her mind to other cases, of which we learn she has plenty.
Farris tells us that at 5:00 Peter was back in his office with the reports. He pauses to call Gwen at the hospital (where she works as a nurse), wanting to tell her about both the scheduled visit with Dr. McGuire and his visit to see Gordon. I’m not sure how he knew she was at the hospital at that time, but okay. Gwen says she’s busy and can’t talk, but could call him on her break at 7:00. Peter says that’s no good because “after six our incoming phone calls are intercepted by an answering service.” He offers to come meet her at the hospital instead, and that’s that.
Peter next reads (and rereads) the reports. According to Farris, he “found little on which to build his case.” Instead of finding the smoking gun Farris says he was hoping for, he only found unanswered questions.
Why was there no mention of bruises in the police officer’s report?
Why were there no pictures taken of the bruises? Pictures of brusies were a CPS trademark.
Why was there no description of the bruises in either the Corliss or Coballo reports? Both noted the existence of bruises, but other than the term ‘fading bruises,’ any particular description was missing.
And so we learn that Rita, too, is in on the deception—or else that Donna has somehow doctored her report—because Rita, like Donna, saw no bruises on Casey. That’s three people so far who know the affidavit’s claims are a lie.
Next week we’ll pick up with Peter’s visit to Gwen at the hospital at 7:00. I wish I could give you an overlying theme for today’s post, but this passage was so scattered and all over the place I’m not sure I can. Peter Barron went hither and yon, slaying dragons and saving kittens. But in all seriousness, Peter Barron did have a very busy afternoon indeed. I mean he only met Gwen at, what, 11:00? Noon? Busy busy Peter.