DIVORCED DAD HAS WAITED 7 AND A HALF YEARS TO SEE HIS KIDS
Rockwall, TX – THE MAN is all buttoned-down suburban professional – starched khakis, a blue pinstriped short-sleeved shirt, reading glasses dangling on a string, tasteful loafers burnished to a dull sheen. His demeanor radiates competence, calm, rectitude – an organized approach to getting things done.
Stephen Warren is a builder from the upscale Music City suburb of Hendersonville, home of the man in black, Johnny Cash. He came into the boom town atmosphere of Big D and the Metroplex a decade and a half ago, met, fell for, and married a lusciously attractive Southwest Airlines flight attendant after dating over a period of ten months – and then, the trophy wife-to-be and the glittering future came crashing into the reality of the kind of civil hassle over kids, property, prestige, income, security – the very stuff of health and sanity, and it’s not over yet.
A District Judge will hear a motion for contempt on 9/11 – in September – and Warren will be one step closer to getting to see his kids after an agonizing decade while lawyers, social workers, docs, clerks, lawyers, and more lawyers filed reams of paperwork, all of it designed to make a man just throw up his hands and walk away in the face of mounting legal fees, motions, orders, frustrating delays, and other legal attitude checks.
“They just wait for you to run out of bullets, run out of money. Then they tell you they’ll drop all orders if you will sign over your parental rights,” said Stephen Warren, his considerable frame filling an armchair at a conference table where he discussed court records of a monumental body of litigation that has become the major plot in the story of his life.
The flood of paper that vomited out of dueling word processors since 2003 represents a cash money legacy of nearly one million dollars in fees and expenses.
This one is not going to walk away. There’s a reason for his struggle. “I’d like to know I can make some kind of difference, and this will never, ever happen again.”
The pending motion to be heard is one for contempt for eleven counts of violation of orders relevant to the possession or access of his kids. Warren, acting as a possessory conservator, alleges he has been repeatedly denied the right to see his kids. The judge could send his ex-wife to county jail for six months on each count, and when she gets out, he’s asked the Court to keep her on community supervision for the maximum term of ten years.
IF YOU ASK to see the record of petitions, pleadings and motions IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF LESLIE DIANNE WARREN AND STEPHEN ANTHONY WARREN AND IN THE INTEREST OF S.G.W., A.F.W, AND E.R.W, CHILDREN, a Deputy District Clerk will carry out a weighty shelf-load of bulky folders that woul four feet tall if stacked atop one another.
Cause No. 1-03-498, filed in the 382nd District Court, is a legal briar patch of human misery that tells the story of numerous protective orders filed in domestic violence complaints involving injuries; the loss of one child’s life; a legal battle over health care that centers around the issue of HIPAA confidentiality and pre-existing medical conditions; the record of two sexual assault complaints, the indictments of which were dismissed when the Criminal District Attorney signed motions affirming his inability to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt; and a lengthy battle over the extended perjury of staff members at a certified supervised parental visit center located on the deep end of Harry Hines Boulevard who erroneously insisted they never received a completed intake form for purposes of classification of Warren’s status in order to properly handle his visits with his daughters. A trip to the visiting center revealed they had not one, but two fully completed intake files, extremely detailed instruments in the neighborhood of 50 pages, single spaced, when a staff member handed them over casually, saying Warren might possibly need them. Another staff member testified he did not turn in an intake packet in a previous court appearance. That prompted a lawsuit.
But, then, his relations with his ex-wife were rocky from the start.
HE RECALLS FLYING from Texas to Little Rock on an airline “buddy pass,” where Leslie was checked into a hotel during a day off, and arriving to knock on her hotel room door, only to be greeted by an outraged spouse who demanded to know just what he thought he was doing and why he was there. Nonplussed, he said he just thought he would surprise his bride of two months with a quick visit during her stay at Little Rock. She tried to slam the door in his face.
Taken aback, Warren obediently handed over his wallet when she demanded it and said if he tried to follow her into her room, she would call police. Then she locked him out.
There he stood, the subject of a domination game that left him in very dire circumstances, about five dollars in pocket change to his name, with no ID or credit cards, and facing a long trip home. An obliging limo driver loaned him the money to ride the dog back to the Metroplex.
Matters only trended in one direction – downhill – from that point on.
PROTECTIVE ORDERS issued by Justice and District Courts over the years reveal a story of her biting his neck, cutting one of his wrists with a kitchen knife, and making threats. An accusation of aggravated sexual assault against her and then three years after their divorce, one of their daughters, resulted in his release on $250,000 bond for two and one-half years. The prosecutors dismised each of indictments when they prosecutor admitted they could not prove the cases.
During that period of dire poverty he lived through in the west Texas oil production capital of Odessa, he modified a storage unit with a built-in office and toilet into a studio apartment with an improvised shower rigged on the sink.
“Let me tell you,” he recalled, “it can be real cold out here, some mornings in the winter time.”
THEN CAME THE DAY when a single engine Cessna he was piloting had a power failure blamed on lack of cylinder pressure at 500 feet on climb out. As a result of the crash, Warren has three titanium rods inserted into a broken spine. A former student athlete, he learned early in life that you’ve got to be a big part of the recovery if you want to work through an injury. You’ve got to want it. Today, he can twist and turn, bend and reach as a result of intense physical therapy.
What happened while he was still languishing in the twilight shadows of a morphine pump following surgery for a broken back caused him to go into a coma and flatline, an incident which in its aftermath jolted him wide awake.
It seems a couple visited him after moving their camper into the compount where he lived, renting a storage unit directly across the alley from his. Though he barely knew them, they had heard of his ill fortune – just wanted to check on him and see if he was all right.
A nurse caught them making repeated stabs with the thumb at the hand control in an attempt to overdose their bedridden prey.
MORPHINE BRINGS BACK another bitter memory in the life of Stephen Warren. The baby of his family, E.R.W., was born with a terminal defect, Tay Sachs, a rare disease that rendered her life expectancy at less than a decade. There is no known cure, so he sought help from the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children at Dallas. That touched off a lengthy court battle over hospitalization and medical insurance in which his ex-wife switched her children from the Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans he maintained on them to Medicaid – because of the government proscription against being turned down because of pre-existing conditions.
Warren didn’t get a chance to see if experimental stem cell therapy might play a role in his child’s recovery. She drifted away in a sea of pain, borne on the cushions of morphia.
“Who knows,” he said, speaking in choked tones, gazing at his interlocutor from red-rimmed eyes, “maybe she was put on this Earth for that purpose, to learn about how to cure that disease.”
His ex-wife and her spiritual friends held a little ceremony to “say goodbye” to the child. He wasn’t invited. Then they held two funerals for her. In one they buried her where his wife chose; the other was a memorial service in which he was surprised he would not inter his child in a burial plot he had arranged to purchase for his family. Police patted down he and members of his family, detained them for a number of hours, and would not let them sit in the tent at the graveside services, but stand in the hot sun, aloof from the ceremony.
During the last 15 months of the doomed child’s life, he never got to see her, or to arrange alternative treatment.
When his attorneys applied for a death certificate, they learned his ex-wife had already obtained 26 copies of the instrument previously. He has no idea why, but it is a known fact that most insurance carriers require a minimum of four copies to process life insurance claims.
THEN THERE WAS THE CASE of the exploding ceiling fan.
Leslie was moving into an elaborate Highland Park layout they were building. and she came home with a honey-do. She demanded he install two ceiling fans at the house they were moving out of – immediately – and he tried to comply. But when he made the installation, for some reason the entire attic exploded in flames and the house burned completely to the ground when he flipped the breaker to supply electrical power to the new fans.
“The fire inspectors said there was something wrong, there,” he says laconically. “I don’t know what. I don’t think they ever got to the bottom of it. I just don’t know.”
A VIDEO HE MADE of his oldest child, S. G. W., at the age of five tells a very sad story. She is nearly 15 today. At first, the child would only turn away from the camera and shy away, saying “Poppy” had done “a bad thing” to her. Finally, after a reluctant series of unresponsive answers, she told her father that “Poppy” had grabbed her “private” with his hand. She slammed her tiny palm down on the area, and gripped firmly. And then when asked if he had kissed her anywhere there, she told her father Poppy had kissed both her anus and her vagina, indicating that by her gestures with her tiny hands.
It’s a very reluctant performance by a very frightened child. It’s painful to watch. He delivered the video to a member of the Criminal District Attorney’s staff, but for one reason or another, neither he or his boss reached a decision open a file or investigation prior to their exit. The Assistant DA committed suicide; the DA went away on misuse of government funds.
“I’M AFRAID that if those children ever make an outcry,” said Warren. “I don’t think…I just don’t…think,” he said. Overcome with emotion, he feigned sleep at his place on a couch, where he had moved to watch the video. And then he left. It was hard to watch his back as he walked away, leaving the elegant little conference room with a finality that spoke volumes.
So mote it be.
– The Legendary