Lawyers, state fight over fate of kids

Date: 2005-03-02

St. Petersburg Times

The criminal cases against John and Linda Dollar are still developing, but the courthouse battle concerning the handling of the couple's children is raging at full strength.

The Department of Children and Families and the Guardian Ad Litem's Office have demonstrated a "lack of humanity" when handling the Dollar children, Inverness lawyer Bill Grant said during a stormy news conference Tuesday afternoon.

On Saturday, Grant and law partner Bo Samargya said they represented the Dollars' 17-year-old daughter. On Monday, the lawyers filed a notice of appearance on behalf of the girl and formally asked the court to allow her to visit her siblings. They, like her, are in foster care.

The girl also asked to visit - and possibly live with - her oldest sibling: Shanda Rae Shelton, 25, of Pasco County.

Also Monday, however, a Citrus judge appointed another lawyer to serve as attorney ad litem for the 17-year-old, who is identified in court records only by the initials A.D.

The move enraged Grant and Samargya, who said they never received notice that such action was even contemplated. They said the girl has the constitutional right to legal representation - and the right to choose that representative.

There could be a hearing as soon as 8 a.m. today to clarify the child's legal representation.

To Grant, this latest move was another example of "the big hand of government" squashing the children's rights. Grant said two other Dollar children also have contacted his office.

John Dollar, 59, and his 52-year-old wife are being held at the Citrus County jail on felony charges of child abuse and neglect. Authorities say they tortured their children, using starvation, isolation, belts and pliers, among other techniques and tools.

Seven of their eight children were living with the Dollars until late January. The DCF placed those children, ages 12 to 17, in foster homes. Shelton is the Dollars' eighth and oldest child. All eight are adopted.

Grant and Samargya represent Shelton. Last month, they unsuccessfully sought permission for Shelton to visit her siblings. At the time, the DCF said Shelton participated in some abuse of her siblings.

Grant and Samargya said Tuesday that they want a judge to reconsider that decision - and to sanction attorneys from the DCF and the guardian's office.

In a separate legal filing, Grant and Samargya said those lawyers made misstatements of fact when trying to persuade the court to deny Shelton visitation.

A DCF representative could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

But in a motion that Grant and Samargya received Tuesday, the DCF asked the court to revoke Shelton's status as a participant in the court action concerning the welfare of her siblings. "This has become a very confrontational situation, and it didn't have to be," Grant said.

Grant emphasized that he didn't think the state was abusing the Dollar children. But he is upset that the children haven't been able to visit each other, that the DCF has maligned Shelton and suggested she is dangerous, and that the DCF has sought to restrict the 17-year-old's right to choose legal representation.

"She's upset. She's hurt," Grant said of the girl. He declined to say how he and his law partner met with her.

The lawyers also said that they have arranged for a local child welfare expert to serve as guardian for the Dollar children. That volunteer can access services from other professionals willing to work on the case.


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