||Hilary's Trial: The Elizabeth Morgan Case
||Simon and Schuster, © 1992
Simon and Schuster Trade Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This 280-page well-written and understandable book presents a chronological and
detailed history of the Morgan v. Foretich case, one of the longest and most
highly publicized custody fights in history. The
author, who is both an attorney and a journalist, conferred with many
professionals in writing this book. The book begins with a helpful list of the
professionals on each side of the issue and is divided into chronological
chapters beginning in 1940 and ending in 1990.
The mother, Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, accused the father, Dr. Eric Foretich, of
sexually abusing their daughter, Hilary, and refused to let him see her. When
the court ordered the visits, Dr. Morgan hid Hilary and was sent to jail for
contempt of court. Eventually, Hilary was located in New Zealand where she was
hiding with her maternal grandparents. A hearing was held in New Zealand and
Hilary was allowed to remain in New Zealand only if Dr. Morgan stayed and
surrendered Hilary's passport to the court. Dr. Foretich, thinking of Hilary's
welfare and stability, refused to fight further.
This book provides a detailed account of a custody struggle by parents in the
midst of a sexual abuse allegation. This "war story" raises questions for all
parents and child advocates in a custody and visitation dispute: What happens if
the parents don't have the money for experts? Where are the father's rights? Can
the courts encourage parents to trust each other and work together for the
welfare of their child? True fairness and justice for families and children in
custody disputes is unlikely to be achieved with the adversary system. Although
courts are our last resort, no law school curriculum prepares attorneys for
cases such as this.
The ugly dispute took strange turns. Although five physicians, child protection
workers, and the police could find no evidence of abuse, the treating
psychologist, Mary Froning, believed that sex abuse had occurred. However, she
refused to provide the record of 84 treatment sessions to Dr. Foretich and
encouraged Dr. Morgan to disobey the court-ordered visitation. In her therapy
sessions with Hilary, she played a game called "Big Bad Wolf" which vilified the
father. When Dr. Morgan refused to produce Hilary for visitation, she was jailed
for contempt of court and served 25 months. However, she was released after the
United States Congress passed a bill specifically for her release. Dr. Morgan
took photographs of Hilary to document the abuse and then was charged with
pornography. Dr. Morgan used secret cameras to record Hilary's visits to
the father's expert, Elissa Benedek, and Dr. Benedek feared for her own safety.
Dennis Harrison, an expert for Dr. Morgan, later had his license to practice
psychology revoked for unethical behaviors and false claims about his
credentials. Dr. Morgan and Mr. Harrison frequently appeared on television
including Nightline, Phil Donahue, and Geraldo Rivera.
Both sides in this ugly dispute used Hilary for their own needs and everyone
agrees that the child was the ultimate loser. The book is recommended for
professionals who deal with sexual abuse and family issues. Hopefully, it points
the way for improvements.
Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Professor of
Social Work, West Virginia University.