IPT Book Reviews

Title: Hilary's Trial: The Elizabeth Morgan Case  Positive Review
Author: Jonathan Groner
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1992

Simon and Schuster Trade Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 698-7000
$21.95
 

Description:

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.
 

Discussion:

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.

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