Published on December 18, 2002 by San Francisco Weekly
by Bernice Yeung
Alanna Krause believes that much of her hellish childhood could have been avoided. Now she's suing her father, her therapist, and her lawyer in an effort to prove it. How did it come to this?
On a typical November day at Northwestern University, the winter snow begins its descent onto the campus, located just north of Chicago. It's a few days before Thanksgiving, and from Alanna Krause's desk in the rear of the classroom, the view out the window looks like a Norman Rockwell painting: brick buildings, wind-whipped trees, and branches weighted with snow. Today is the last meeting of Alanna's upper-level Zen Buddhism class; finals start in two weeks. It's also Alanna's 19th birthday.
A self-possessed young woman with long, brown hair swept away from her face, Alanna spent most of her childhood in the Bay Area. She has a charming smile and a quick, inquisitive mind. An honor roll student, Alanna is confident and ambitious, active in dorm politics, spending her free time at the campus radio station and singing and dancing in a Beastie Boys cover band.
In many ways, Alanna's academic and social success is unsurprising. She grew up in a well-to-do family in Marin County. Her mother, Lauren Simone-Smith, is an artist with multiple college degrees. Her father, Marshall Krause, a prominent civil liberties attorney before his third retirement in 2000, worked for the ACLU in the '60s and has argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court six times.
Despite her pedigree, Alanna's life before college was nothing short of hellish, fraught with physical violence, institutionalization, and running away -- much of which could have been avoided. As a 10-year-old in 1993, Alanna had gotten tangled up in the crony-driven Marin family courts during a bitter child custody battle between her parents. Throughout the custody case, she begged to live with her mother, because, she claimed, her father was physically abusive and often left her at home alone.
But in the end, the system granted custody of Alanna to her dad, despite some troubling circumstances. According to a report submitted to the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts, Alanna's therapist had had a "seemingly intimate" relationship with her father (which he denies), and both the court-appointed evaluator and her court-appointed attorney relied on questionable science in making their recommendations. Once he had custody, Marshall Krause checked Alanna into a locked residential treatment facility in Utah for five months, though she had no criminal history or evidence of mental health problems. When she returned to her father's care at age 13, Alanna decided that she couldn't live with what she attests were constant fights and the threat of physical confrontation, so she ran away to Los Angeles. A juvenile court there finally placed Alanna with her mother in Ojai, where she lived until she left for college last year.
Now a young adult, Alanna seems to have put most of her childhood behind her. She appears amazingly well-adjusted, despite flashes of bossiness (she's often able to get people much older than she -- photographers taking her picture, her mother -- to defer to her). Alanna says she'd prefer not to think about her troubled past at all, but she's nagged by the conviction that she's not the only child to have suffered due to the flawed family court system. On Nov. 1, she filed a $135 million lawsuit against her father, her court-appointed attorney, and her family therapist. She says she wants to send a message that children need to be heard in the family court system, and she believes the lawsuit will send that message loud and clear.
Alanna Simone Krause was born on Nov. 26, 1983, into a life of privilege. She lived in spacious Marin County homes and attended the finest private schools. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, Alanna was always pretty. Her intelligence showed at an early age, and her parents placed her in educational programs for gifted children.
Marshall Krause and Lauren Schneider had met in San Rafael in 1978. They were married two years later, and friends say they were well matched intellectually, with mutual interests in spirituality and liberal politics. But marital tensions soon developed, reaching a peak when Alanna was about 5. Krause, an elfin man with salt-and-pepper hair, small, dark eyes, and huge flaps for ears, says the source of their domestic problems lay with Alanna's mother's mental illness, which he began to notice in August of 1989. "It was obvious that I was the cause for her anger and hatred, and she focused whatever illness she had on me," says Krause during an interview in his cluttered and chilly home office in San Geronimo, near Fairfax.
In contrast, Alanna's mother, who remarried in 1997 and now goes by the last name Simone-Smith, claims Krause was "abusive," and insists that he played mind games with her, to which friends attest. "It was psychological manipulation," says Marty Kent, who has known the family since 1984. "I wasn't in their home all the time, but it added up to a picture. Lauren is a very sensitive person and [Krause] knew her sensitivity. She had a fine mind that could easily be twisted by a hard-hitting lawyer."
From the quiet of her dorm library, Alanna remembers the edginess that pervaded her early family life. "I have a vivid image of them screaming at each other," she says. "I was always scared of my father." In court documents, Alanna also states that she witnessed her father become violent with her mother. (Krause, however, says that it was Simone-Smith who "was constantly physically attacking me.")
After months of intense couples' therapy, the Krauses separated in 1989. During the separation and the contentious divorce proceedings that followed, Krause and Simone-Smith had joint custody of Alanna. The divorce was finalized in 1992, and soon after Simone-Smith had a breakdown. "I was weakened from the divorce," she says by phone from her Ojai home. "I crashed. I couldn't hold it together. I had a total nervous breakdown, but I was on my feet again by March 1993."
Legal documents show that Simone-Smith had been taking anti-depressants since 1990, and that she was treated for depression in a San Diego facility in October 1992 and was released in March 1993. She says she has been stable since then, and 1998 juvenile court documents describe Simone-Smith's depression as stress-induced and "in remission." Krause claims that Simone-Smith is still mentally ill.
During her mother's treatment, Alanna lived with her father, and the parents returned to a seemingly functional custody arrangement once Simone-Smith returned to the Bay Area. But disputes arose again, and in December 1993, Krause initiated court proceedings because he claimed that Simone-Smith was withholding Alanna from him.
Simone-Smith explains that Krause would not agree to a visitation schedule Alanna wanted, and that he also refused to see Alanna for two weeks and then blamed Simone-Smith for the rift.
Krause has a different take. "Lauren wouldn't let me visit Alanna," he insists. "I didn't want to fight about custody. I wanted 50-50. But Alanna's mother wanted 100 percent, and she ended up with 0 percent. Not that I asked for it, but I was given sole custody of Alanna, and I did my best to raise her."
In addition to speaking at national conferences on domestic violence and child abuse, Alanna has written articles about her experience as a child in the family court system, where, she says, she felt like "property to be divided."
"Hundreds of years of legal history have lead the United States to implement a system that ensures that every party in a legal proceeding gets a voice," she wrote in an article in a San Francisco legal publication. "But there is a forgotten minority that is not afforded these basic rights. ... Children get their 'best interests' represented by adults. We children have no choice and no recourse when those adults have their own agenda."
On top of dealing with the usual complexity of family court cases, the Krauses were arguing in the Marin County family courts, known for cronyism among a clique of judges and attorneys who called themselves the Family Law Elite Attorneys, as documented in numerous newspaper articles (including an October 2000 SF Weekly article, "Odor! Odor in the Court," by Matt Isaacs). As a result of the actions of the FLEAs, one judge at the center of the group became the subject of an FBI probe.
Commissioner Sylvia Shapiro, who acted as the judge in the case, along with two of Marshall Krause's attorneys, Judith Cohen and John McCall, are affiliated with the FLEAs. (Krause himself was a past president of the Marin County Bar Association.) Shapiro assigned therapist Dr. Edward Oklan to serve as the court-appointed evaluator, and asked attorney Sandra Acevedo to represent Alanna, then 10. Alanna was not allowed at any of the proceedings.
Throughout the case, Alanna tried to make clear that she wanted to live with her mother. She says she told her family therapist, Oklan, and Acevedo her concerns. As Alanna's current lawsuit claims, "Krause repeatedly, intentionally, violently, and cruelly assaulted and battered" her. She begged Acevedo to enter evidence of her father's behavior, but Acevedo did not do so. Alanna began writing letters to Shapiro saying that she wanted to live with her mother and visit her father every other weekend. Alanna closes one letter (her mother kept copies) by writing in large letters, "Please listen!" She never received a response.
Shapiro declined to speak about the specifics of the case, but said via phone that she is "satisfied with the decision, which I made in accordance with the facts as I understood them."
But Alanna says Shapiro never heard her side of the story. "I tried several ways [to get my message across]," Alanna says. "I was a kid, but I was interested in what was going on. I knew this decision would affect my life."
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