Appeals court returns custody case to Arundel

Decision faults use of polygraph testimony

January 23, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A custody battle that was played out in a seven-day trial, generated 1,400 pages of testimony and cost the combatants hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees was "reluctantly" returned to the Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday on an appeal ruling.

In an 11-page decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said the Circuit Court's finding of abuse by the 39-year-old mother was flawed because of the use of testimony about the results of polygraph tests administered to the child's father by a psychiatrist who had counseled the couple.

Although the father was said, in a synopsis of the case contained within the decision, to have passed 13 polygraph tests, none were administered to the mother - and regardless, the appellate judges said, polygraph testing is not admissible as evidence in Maryland courts.

The abuse was said in the synopsis to be the result of the Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child, resulting in unnecessary medical tests or surgical procedures.

The finding of abuse that brought the trial's award of custody to the father was based on the opinions of two doctors: the psychiatrist, and a pediatrician whose diagnosis was based on a review of the psychiatrist's evaluation.

During the December 1999 trial, the psychiatrist testified that he spent more than 100 hours evaluating the child-custody case over an eight-month period and recommended - based largely on the 13 polygraph tests - that the child, now 5 years old, live with his father.

"Having found [the psychiatrist's] testimony fatally flawed, we reject [the pediatrician's] diagnosis," the appeals court said in reversing the lower court's award of custody to the father. It also overturned the Circuit Court's order that all of the child's visits with his mother be supervised.

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