Masha Allen and the faith-based agenda
Three weeks ago we reported about the motion to withdraw as filed by Robert N. Hunn with the Federal District Court of New Jersey.
In the mean time several new facts have emerged that call for an update, but before going into details let me first give a brief introduction to the case for those unfamiliar with its details.
In 1998 Masha was adopted from Rusia by a single man from Pennsylvania, by the name of Matthew Mancuso. Mancuso had applied for adoption with the Families Thru International Adoption (FTIA) office in New Jersey in August 1997. This office was run by Jeannene Smith.
FTIA and Jeannene Smith discontinued their cooperation early 1998, after which Jeannene Smith founded Reaching Out Thru International Adoption (ROTIA). As a result of this break-up, Manuco moved his application for adoption to ROTIA, which at the time was not yet a licensed agency.
Still ROTIA managed to place Masha with Mancuso and took upon them the post placement requirements as demanded by Russian authorities. ROTIA failed dramatically monitoring Masha's placement with Mancuso. At the time Masha arrived at Mancuso's home, there was no bed room for her, instead she was forced to sleep with him.
Over the years Mancuso, sexually abused Masha, took pictures of her and distributed those over the internet. No one ever paid a visit and no one ever checked up on Masha. Mancuso sent ROTIA a forged post-placement report in the name of a non-existing agency, which ROTIA failed to check-up upon. Instead of visits to his house, ROTIA and Mancuso had a couple of phone calls.
In 2003 Mancuso was arrested for the distribution of child pornography, on which occasion police learned Masha was living with him. Masha was taken into custody of the Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Familiies (CYF) in Allegheny County, who placed her after an initial checkup at the Pittsburg Children's Hospital with one Lynn Ginn, who at the time was a foster parent with Families United Network.
Lynn Ginn herself was a troubled young woman who grew up in Georgia under the name Kimberly Murphy, a name she later changed to Lynn Ginn, when she started a new life admitting herself to the Peniel Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a faith-based drug rehab center. Supposedly Kimberly/Lynn suffered from anorexia at the time.
Through the Peniel Center, where she stayed twice, once in 1998 and once in 2001, Lynn Ginn met Cheryl Allen, a black evangelical judge, who had introduced praying in courtroom and who sought a seat in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Judge Cheryl Allen took Lynn Ginn in her home (something Lynn Ginn later denied under oath) and got her counseling through Theotherapy, a faith-based service for which Judge Cheryl Allen served as a board member.
As Judge Cheryl Allen's poster child, Lynn Ginn became a foster parent for Families United Network and had several black children placed in her home. Before Masha was placed with Lynn Ginn, two children had already been removed, because of alleged abuse, yet somehow she was considered a suitable candidate to take care of Masha.
In October 2003, six months after Masha's placement with Lynn Ginn, a report was made, which among other things concluded:
- Masha had not been tested for Hepatitis B and C, RPR and HIV despite recommendation by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburg
- Masha's immunizations in the US were not in CYF files
- Recommendation for psychiatric evaluation and therapy as made by Dr. Sharon of A Second Chance Wellness Center were not followed up. Instead Masha received counseling once per week at the Bethany Baptist Church from an unlicensed counselor.
Despite these red flags CYF and Familes United Network took no action.
In January 2004, Lynn Ginn changed her name to Faith Allen, to mark a new beginning in her life and in honor of Judge Cheryl Allen, who later that year presided over the adoption hearing of Masha. The Pittsburg Post Gazette wrote a hagiography of Judge Cheryl Allen on the day of the adoption hearing, and with that enough appeal to the white constituency was made to launch a second campaign for a chair in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Around the time of the adoption hearings Faith Allen was being counseled by Charles Brown, a pastor of Potter's House Ministry, a predominantly black evangelical church in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. During one of these counseling sessions Faith Allen was supposedly brought under hypnosis during which Brown fondled and sexually touched her. Faith Allen decided to video tape the next session and four months later took the evidence to the police.
The Pennsylvania district attorney presumably found this case more important than the conviction of Matthew Mancuso and the first court hearings in the case against Charles Brown were already scheduled for December 2004.
Meanwhile the Toronto police had several child pornography images in their possession they couldn't identify. In February 2005 they decided to go public with those photos in an attempt to find the girl being abused. Several people recognized the location the photos were taken and the unknown girl in those pictures became known as "Disney World Girl".
In May 2005 the connection between Masha and Disney World Girl was made. Several media appearances followed and all of a sudden the Pennsylvania District Attorney found reason to press charges against Matthew Mancuso for child abuse (a Federal court had already convicted him for the production and distribution of child pornography).
Late June 2005, James R Marsh was retained "to uncover the truth about Masha's government-approved international adoption by Matthew Mancuso". Contact was made with Sen. Kerry and Sen. Isakson, who upon learning her story decided to promote a law that allowed for stronger sentencing of people downloading child pornography and allowed for compensating the victims portrayed. This would later become Masha's Law.
In November 2005 Matthew Mancuso was sentenced for the abuse of Masha and at the same time the names of FTIA and ROTIA surfaced in relation to Masha's adoption, as well as that of Adagio Health, which had done the home study.
On December 1, 2005, Masha appeared on ABC news PrimeTime, followed by appearance in January on the Oprah show and on CNN. Meanwhile things were not going well for Masha and in March 2006 she attempted to kill herself. By that time she has moved several times, never been at one place for more than 6 months and she still hadn't received the mental health care required. Instead she was being counseled by unlicensed evangelical quacks. All help was being refused unless it is faith-based.
In May 2006, Masha appeared before Congress to testify in a hearing related to the exploitation of children on the internet. During these hearings Congress decided to use its power to subpoena to force FTIA, ROTIA and Adagio Health to release the paper work related to Masha's adoption. Two month later President Bush signed Masha's law, which allowed her to demand compensation from everyone convicted for downloading her images.
On September 20, 2006 the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute awarded Faith Allen with an Angel in Adoption™, lauding her for giving Masha a safe home.
The next day Faith Allen and Masha were still in Washington DC when some event happened as a result of which Masha ended up with a woman by the name of Amanda Slaten, a friend of Faith Allen and whose daughter was a friend of Masha, living in Douglasville, Georgia.
A week later Faith Allen and her attorney Diane Sternlieb went to the house of Amanda Slaten to take custody of Masha. Amanda Slaten refused to let Masha go, because of a possible abuse situation. After consultation with the Georgia Department of Family and Children's Services, Masha went home with Faith after having told Amanda Slaten's daughter, she was going to go with her mother and act as if everything was O.K. and then kill herself. Later that day, after intervention of James Marsh, Masha was taken to Douglas General Wellstar hospital for evaluation.
On that same day, Congress had a second hearing, where several people involved in the adoption of Masha by Matthew Mancuso were being heard. It was during that hearing we learned about the total negligence of the agencies involved and the lack of responsibility any of the parties was willing to take.
In conjunction with the events of that day, Faith Allen dismissed James Marsh.
In February 2007, James Marsh filed a notice of claim against Allegheny County CYF, Families United Network et al. for the handling of the adoption of Masha by Faith Allen. This notice gives Masha the right to sue the officials in Allegheny County until the age of 21.
Later that year Faith Allen filed a grievance with the Georgia Bar against a partner of James Marsh for interfering with parental rights, using confidential information against her, refusing to cease communication with Masha, having made false accusations and refusing to release files and other papers related to Masha. The Georgia Bar dismissed the grievance and advised to have a guardian appointed for Masha.
At that time Faith Allen had moved back to Pennsylvania, avoiding the advice of the Georgia Bar to appoint a guardian for Masha, by living under another jurisdiction.
By the summer of 2008, Faith Allen had retained another lawyer by the name of David S. Bills (Diane Sternlieb was no longer Faith Allen's lawyer when the Georgia Bar dismissed the grievance), who hired Robert N. Hunn of Kolsby, Gordon, Robin, Shore and Bezar (KGRSB) to start a lawsuit against FTIA, ROTIA and Jeannene Smith. In September 2008 a Civil Action Complaint was filed.
In January 2009 things turned sour between Robert N. Hunn and Faith/Bills, upon which Hunn filed a motion to withdraw.
That is about as brief a summary we can give about the Masha Allen case and many important details we have not mentioned for brevity sake.
After we wrote about the motion to withdraw, now little over two weeks ago, someone signed up on Pound Pup Legacy under the name "Friend of Masha" who first warned me not to speculate about the reasons of Robert N. Hunn's motion to withdraw and in a later comment started trashing James Marsh and wrote a very weird interpretation of the events happening at the house of Amanda Slaten.
In this comment, "Friend of Masha" further wrote:
Well, other than than Marsh having obviously been fired as their attorney and then having apparently had some interesting interactions with the State Bar of Georgia (from which he has purported to quote and rely upon some alleged document, but never actually made it public), there is not much in the public record, or published in any respectable, sourced newspapers or other real journalistic endeavors.
This alleged document has now surfaced, since James Marsh released the letter of the Georgia Bar to Pound Pup Legacy, yesterday. With that we have fulfilled our duty as real journalistic endeavor, whether we are a respectable, sourced newspaper or not.
Since the latest update on the case against FTIA et al., three documents have been released. First David S. Bills wrote a letter to Judge Donio asking for a fifteen day extension to respond to the pending motion, later followed by a SUPPLEMENTAL MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN SUPPORT OF MOTION OF COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS FOR LEAVE TO WITHDRAW. In this document Robert N. Hunn argues why Jeannene Smith cannot be part of a hearing, in which Hunn explains his motion to withdraw, on the ground of attorney client privilege.
Finally PLAINTIFF’S RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO MOTION OF COUNSEL TO WITHDRAW was released on April 7, 2009. This document was written by yet another party, Steven A. Haber, of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, LLP.
In this response the argument is made why Robert N. Hunn should not be allowed to withdraw from the case.
There are several phrases in the argument that gave me the impression the withdrawal has to do with money.
It is a well-established under New Jersey law that the attorney-client relationship is highly fiduciary on the part of counsel and is imbued with ultimate trust and confidence, with the attorney’s obligations transcending those prevailing in the commercial marketplace and imposing special and unique duties, to include the utmost fair and honest dealings, undivided loyalty, and safeguarding and honoring the client’s interest over the lawyer’s.
An attorney has certain obligations and duties to a client once representation is undertaken. These obligations do not evaporate because the case becomes more complicated or the work more arduous or the retainer is not as profitable as first contemplated or imagined
Attorneys must never lose sight of the fact that “the profession is a branch of the administration of justice and not a mere money-getting trade.”
I am not going to speculate here, but will try to place this motion to withdraw in the context of previous retainments. First Faith Allen retained James Marsh, then Diane Sternlieb, then David Bills, then Robert Hunn. If all of these lawyers were retained on a percentage basis, each will take a share of a percentage of the money Masha will receive when winning the case against FTIA et. al. In that sense the string of lawyers having been retained is detrimental to Masha's case. The more the pie has to be divided the more uninteresting the case becomes for a lawyer.
Is it all about the money? We may never know. What we do know is that six years after being rescued from Matthew Mancuso, Masha has still not received any compensation from the agencies involved in her adoption. Six years in which she could have received professional support. Six years in which she could have lived in a stable family.
So much more progress could have been made, but authorities in Pennsylvania made that impossible by pushing a faith-based agenda.
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In the matter of the withdrawal of Robert N. Hunn from the case of Masha Allen v FTIA et al., Judge Donio has today decided upon a public hearing on May 15, 2009.
This is a surprising development, since Robert N. Hunn objected against a public hearing on grounds of client attorney privilege.
On May 15 we may learn much more about the reasons behind the motion to withdraw, with that I can finally put my speculations about these reason to rest.
Public hearing turned into conference call
The scheduled public hearing apparently has been changed into a conference call. So afterall we may not learn why Robert N. Hunn filed a motion to withdraw.
Masha and the Media
In the above article I mentioned a letter I received from James Marsh, sent by the Georgia Bar related to a grievance filed by Faith Allen against an associate of Mr. Marsh.
Yesterday I received another letter related to this grievance, written by Scott M. Hollander, executive director of KidsVoice. In the letter Mr. Hollander denies the story behind the grievance as spun by Faith Allen and her attorney Ms. Sternlieb.
The letter also sheds some light upon the media appearances Masha made:
It's interesting to see the same sentiment, of Mr. Marsh parading Masha in front of the media, is reflected in both the suggestion made by Ms. Sternlieb and in a comment made on this site.
Mr. Hollander's letter touches upon an important aspect of Masha's case, the desirability of media exposure to cases like Masha's. There is a fine line to walk there, I believe. On the one hand the general public should be aware of the dangers involved in child placement. As long as people don't know about lax regulation of adoption agencies, nothing will change and cases like Masha's are waiting to happen. On the other hand, there is first and foremost the interest of the child involved. In that regard, I wonder how much good it has done Masha to be a co-star in the Faith Allen show or the Judge Cheryl Allen show for that matter.
How do we protect a child, while avoiding to protect the interests of adult business that needs exposure? It's an interesting issue. In some cases the blatant abuse of these protective measures is obvious. There are cases where the identity of dead kids is being protected in the name of the best interest of the child. It's easy to see in such situations, the child placement system is hiding behind protective measures created for children.
In Masha's case it's not all that cut and dry. Without media exposure, which our site contributes to, only few people would have known about the negligence of the agencies involved in her first adoption. Without media exposure the entire farce put up on behalf of Judge Cheryl Allen would not have happened. Without media exposure that farce would not be talked about.
It's a tough call. How can we guarantee children are not further abused by media attention, while getting people more knowledgable about the wrong doings in the child placement system?
I am always concerned when using the identities of minors in these adoption gone wrong cases. However, in Masha's case it was already public so I do not think her story was off-limits.
However, parading her around Oprah, Nancy Grace and other shows with Faith was going too far in my opinion and where the line should have been drawn.
In Masha's case the first publicity is related to her adoption by Faith Allen in the court of Judge Cheryl Allen, which is not so much about Masha (called Mea in the article), but is a hagiography about the Judge. The article is part of a political campaign to get Judge Allen elected for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Masha's case only became public after WESH 2 was able to interview Faith Allen and Masha in May 2005. Before that the case had only been known for several months because the Toronto police was searching for "Disney Girl", but was not related to Masha yet. So Masha's appearance on Oprah and Nancy Grace is directly related to the decision to seek publicity with the WESH-2 interview.
Is the wrong media message being sent?
One of the posted articles refers to Masha's haunting image as being an international symbol of Internet child sex abuse. While the nature of the sexual abuse she endured is indeed outrageous, more outrageous is the fact that an adoption agency approved this man to be this child's father-figure.
This case is not just about Masha's images appearing on the Internet, for many a pedophile to see This case is about irresponsible adoption agencies and a complete lack of professional accountability. This case is about children being placed in dangerous situations and laziness within the child placement industry. Putting the Internet child porn aside, there is a much bigger issue at stake. How does a single man, who sexually abused his own daughter, get approved to adopt a child living in a foreign orphanage?
Without a glitch.
This case SHOULD have loads of media attention because this case is not just about kids being found on pornographic websites -- this case is about adoptions that go without a glitch
This is what I think of. This situation was a VERY clear example of a homestudy provider and adoption agency who both failed in their jobs, and failed Masha dreadfully.
As I've stated in
As I've stated in another comment, the Nancy Grace interviews were narrowly focused to help Masha promote Masha's Law. It was unrelated to Oprah, an appearance both Mr. Marsh and I adamantly opposed including sending written notices to the show's production staff. Any suggestion that Nancy Grace had anything but Masha's best interests at heart is simply wrong.
For the Record
My law firm was initially contacted by Faith Allen on June 21, 2005. This was three days after a huge profile written by reporter Maggie Farley appeared prominently in the LA Times (http://articles.latimes.com/2005/jun/18/nation/na-girl18). By June 21, 2005, the day we were contacted, numerous agents, script writers, and independent producers were clamoring to purchase a piece of Masha's story.
This commercialization effort was engineered by Farley who solicited Faith directly as follows: "they will probably purchase the rights to the articles that I have written that brought the story to their attention." Farley then advised that the "value" of the life rights for Masha's story was around $5000 for a network like Lifetime. We eventually sold those same life rights to Lifetime for $50,000. Farley then offered to hook Faith up with two friends of hers, ICM agent Ron Bernstein and independent film producer Mark Lorber, to get the process started.
Farley closed her pitch to Faith with the following:
Coincidentally this version of the $tory sounds remarkably similar to Farley'$ "reporting" from June 18, 2005.
Lorber immediately picked up the pitch by hawking Carey Nelson Burch at the William Morris Agency as someone who should get a piece of the action.
WESH television reporter Robert Kealing, as a follow-up to his on-air feature of May 24, 2005, arranged an all-expense paid trip for Faith and Masha to Florida starting June 27, 2005 which included a so-called "studio tour." I made the following request directly to him on June 24, 2005:
WESH subsequently aired a story reporting on Faith and Masha's visit to Orlando and the station's key role in bringing the story to the masses.
Still unexplained is this reference I only recently discovered in a June 8, 2005 television interview of United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan who told CNN Insight's Jonathan Mann http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0506/08/i_ins.01.html that Masha "has been adopted by a very loving family who has changed her name and moved her to another part of the country, where she can make a new start and have a very, very wonderful life ahead of her." Mann's reaction: "That's astounding!" What's even stranger than Mann's response, however, is his cryptic epilogue:
All of this was pending on June 21, 2005 when our firm was initially contacted by Faith for assistance selling the "Masha story" to an eager public. Our firm's response was to immediately shut down all media contact for six months to evaluate the effect of all of this on Masha and to prevent any further media exploitation.
It was only after Masha's therapist authorized a full face interview by ABC as being therapeutically beneficial ("in order for Masha to begin telling her own story independently of Faith") that we agreed to the ABC Primetime Story which ran on December 5, 2005. We did not discover until mid-February 2006 that immediately after the Primetime story ran, Faith fired Masha's therapist who appeared on the show.
On the topic of Oprah, me and my colleagues were vehemently opposed to the Oprah story. Judge Allen reportedly insisted that Faith and Masha appear on Oprah and that she be involved with the effort including accepting round trip airfare, meals and accommodations paid by Oprah. When we suggested that judicial ethics might prohibit such largess, Judge Allen apparently withdrew from this effort.
When it became obvious that Oprah's format for the show was detrimental to Masha's mental health - an on stage meeting between Masha and Mancuso's daughter Rachelle (Oprah's staff insisted that Masha and Rachelle stay in different hotels and have no contact prior to the show) - we wrote the following to Kelly Jansen, the 20-something Harpo producer responsible for the segment:
When then wrote the following to Faith:
I then spoke with Jansen and told her, in no uncertain terms, that the Oprah show was canceled. She immediately called Faith who insisted on doing the show. Ultimately, our client Faith Allen went against the advice of counsel and appeared with Masha on Oprah. I refused to attend the show and participate in any way.
Throughout the entire 15 month period we represented Faith Allen and her daughter Masha, it was our client Faith Allen who decided, directed and dictated the course of events for herself and her minor daughter Masha Allen. Attorney ethics required us to follow our clients' direction. When Masha's situation got worse during the spring and summer of 2006, attorney ethics required us to undertake efforts to protect Masha's interests, which we did, and were immediately fired by Faith.
I am always concerned when
I am always concerned when parents use their adopted children to gain a little extra attention and celebrity.
Use Their Adopted Children
As a former neighbor of Jon and Kate Goselyn, I'm concerned when parents use their children to gain a little extra attention and celebrity.
Does your concern extend to biological children as well?
The notion that "parading"
The notion that "parading" Masha around in the media will somehow damage her MORE than the THOUSANDS OF HER IMAGES on the Internet, images that will remain and multiply there in perpetuity, is ridiculous. Unlike rape, incest and sex abuse victims whose victimization plays out in secret, victims of child pornographers do not and never will have any privacy. Masha's images are among the most ubiquitous on the Internet. Her brave decision to speak out - a decision that was made in consultation with her therapist's approval - was a courageous attempt to raise awareness for other victims. Her intent was also to force the people in an alarming array of well respected social service agencies who were truly really responsible for her circumstances to confront in the most immediate and compelling way the consequences of their collective negligence.