By HEATHER RAWLYK
Unfounded allegations of child sexual abuse cost a Severn man months of quality time with his two young daughters and his job as a mortgage consultant with a local bank.
A county jury found that the false light put on [accused name withheld] and the punitive damages he incurred after his ex-wife falsely accused him of sexually abusing their children were worth $850,000.
Last week's decision came more than a year after another county Circuit Court judge awarded [accused name withheld] full custody of his girls, now 7 and 8 years old.
[accused name withheld] was seeking $13 million in damages from his ex-wife, [ex-wife name withheld] of Hanover, in a two-day civil hearing in Circuit Court in Annapolis.
According to [accused name withheld]'s attorney, Lorraine Lawrence-Whittaker, the couple had two young daughters. In 2005, the couple divorced. They entered into a custody agreement under which each parent would have equal time with the children.
But two months into the agreement, trouble began, [accused name withheld] testified in court. He said he was scheduled to have the girls over for Christmas 2005. As the holidays approached, his ex-wife said she wanted the children with her.
[accused name withheld] said his ex-wife sent county police to his home, alleging that the children were in trouble and that he was trying to take them out of town.
The following February, on Valentine's Day, [accused name withheld] had custody over his eldest daughter while his ex-wife had their youngest girl. After that visit, it was alleged that [accused name withheld] sexually abused his eldest daughter during the visit. The allegations were investigated and ruled unfounded.
Over the next two years [accused name withheld] was accused of sexually assaulting both daughters seven more times. All of the accusations were ruled unfounded. He testified last week that as the allegations accumulated, questioning by detectives went from hour-long talks to two- to three-hour interrogations.
During the investigations, he lost custody of his children. After an allegation in March 2006, [accused name withheld] wasn't allowed to see his girls for nine months. Starting in September 2007, following a separate allegation, he went six weeks without being allowed to see his girls.
The false reports also affected his job.
In 2006, sometime after his company's human resources department was notified of a court subpoena for child sexual assault, [accused name withheld] was let go from his job at the bank, he testified. He was not able to find work with a bank until January of this year, he said.
- This is what is wrong with society. Instead of giving the man the benefit of doubt, and put him on temporary leave, until the court case is decided, they just assumed he was guilty and fired him.
All eight allegations, between February 2006 and March 2008, were first made to a therapist that [ex-wife name withheld] took her girls to see. It is mandatory for therapists to report sexual abuse of minors that they learn about in private sessions.
Lawrence-Whittaker said the girls' mother was the only person alleging sexual assault to the therapist on behalf of her daughters. She said [ex-wife name withheld] would tell the therapist that the girls confided to her about the repeated sexual abuse.
But the girls denied to various parties, including court-appointed officials, that anything ever happened.
In February 2010, after a two-day trial, Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. ruled that the allegations were false and that [accused name withheld] did nothing to his children. Harris reversed the earlier custody decision, giving primary custody to [accused name withheld]. The girls' mother now gets visitation.
Lawrence-Whittaker said the case since has gone to the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld Harris' ruling.
[accused name withheld] testified that the years of false allegations damaged his relationship with his daughters. He said he has become withdrawn with the girls and is afraid to do things normal parents do - like hug or snuggle with his children while watching a movie.
"I don't let them stay in my room a lot," he said. "I have to distance myself from them, no matter how much I care about them, because of the way things have transpired."
"… I don't want to put myself into a position like that at all."
[ex-wife name withheld]'s attorney, Michael G. Morin, said [accused name withheld] did not suffer enough to get the money he was demanding.
- Well, let Michael G. Morin get accused of the same, then see how he changes his mind.
He said his client didn't publicly accuse her ex-husband.
"He has suffered zero damages except his ego," Morin said.
He called [accused name withheld]'s lawsuit "a shot at the lottery."
But the jury thought differently, awarding [accused name withheld] $2,000 in attorney's fees for malicious prosecution, $800,000, including attorney's fees, for being placed in a false light, and $50,000 in punitive damages.
The hearing was a chance for [accused name withheld] to defend himself, his attorney said.
It was his "one chance to come before a jury and tell his story and tell what the allegations of sexually abusing your two young daughters do to you," Lawrence-Whittaker said.
"She dragged him through the mud," she said.
[ex-wife name withheld] said she simply communicated her concerns of sexual abuse based on what her daughters were telling her and the emotional behavior that took place during those times.