Arlington judge accused of covering up fraud

Barbara Hollingsworth
Legal fireworks went off in Arlington's Courthouse Square recently when the Circuit Court agreed to hear an emergency motion that accuses a court-appointed guardian ad litem of padding her bill -- and the chief judge of Arlington's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of sealing court files to cover up the fraud. Delores O'Brien has been fighting for the return of her 11-year-old granddaughter since July 22, when the child was seized by Arlington Child Protective Services in Stafford County even though, as Maryland residents, Virginia courts had no legal jurisdiction over them. But ignoring such minor technicalities as the law is par for the course for this bunch.

According to the emergency appeal O'Brien filed Feb. 1, her granddaughter's guardian ad litem, Karen Grane, billed Arlington taxpayers nearly $6,000 for meetings she did not attend at her going rate of $55 an hour, including $346.50 for a six-hour "conference call."

The accusations were based on a comparison of Grane's expense vouchers with documents obtained in discovery by a Montgomery County court in a dispute between O'Brien and her former Maryland landlord.

The released documents also raise questions about possible links between Arlington CPS and a Montgomery County detective who, on Aug. 26, was allowed to interrogate O'Brien's granddaughter without a court order or subpoena on issues that had nothing to do with the case pending in Arlington. Three days later, CPS revoked O'Brien's visitation rights and started monitoring all her granddaughter's calls.

Not only did chief JDR Judge George Varoutsos again refuse to consider O'Brien's jurisdiction claim during a Jan. 26 hearing, he ordered two observers out of his courtroom before sealing her case file, "including GAL reports/vouchers."

The Jan. 26 order "serves to conceal, and thereby aid and abet the fraud of GAL Grane," O'Brien charged. "He wouldn't even let me have a copy," she told The Washington Examiner, even though she is acting as her own attorney and is entitled to one.

And the same GAL she accused of fraud is demanding that O'Brien undergo a costly psychological evaluation -- in Montgomery County -- even though the former head of Fairfax Inova's mental health division already gave her a clean bill of mental health.

O'Brien, who has never been charged with criminal abuse or neglect, also accuses CPS of ignoring her granddaughter's complaints that the foster parents left her alone with three other children and no adults present while they took a 2 1/2-day trip to Texas, and that she had been "punched in the mouth" by the couple's 14-year-old son.

In a Jan. 28 e-mail to O'Brien, CPS supervisor Sherri Brothers said that being punched in the mouth "does not meet our criteria for abuse and/or neglect." Yet O'Brien's granddaughter was forcibly removed from her home on far less evidence.

A court order for the girl's older, married sister signed by Judge Varoutsos on Feb. 18, 2009, explains why. "Investigate 9-yr-old [child's name] safety," he wrote on the order, a copy of which was obtained by The Examiner. The chief DJR judge targeted this child a year and a half before Arlington social workers were granted an "emergency removal order" to legally kidnap her.

Arlington attorney Roy Morris, who represents Ariel King -- another Maryland resident who lost custody of her then 5-year-old daughter in Arlington -- says interrogating a minor without a court order or parental permission is a violation of the child's civil rights.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

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