Bleak House

After more than a decade, a local family is still locked in a battle over alleged abuse. Will a lawsuit bring this case to an end?

| October 23, 2013
Michael Clark, of Moon Township, and his siblings have sued their father in civil court over alleged abuse they say they suffered as children.
- Photo by Heather Mull
Michael Clark, of Moon Township, and his siblings have sued their father in civil court over alleged abuse they say they suffered as children.

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By 2005, though, Michael and his older sister — the siblings who best remembered their parents being together — were not seeing their father at all. Disputes over visitation focused on the younger two children, and the pending criminal case.

Rather than face a trial on the sex-abuse charges, in December 2006 Kevin Clark pleaded "no contest" to three lesser counts of endangering the welfare of a child. In a "no contest" plea, a defendant accepts a sentence without asserting guilt or innocence. Judge Gerard Bigley sentenced Kevin Clark to one year of probation for each count, running concurrently.

State law defines "endangering the welfare of a child" as taking place when a parent or guardian "violat[es] a duty of care, protection or support." Kevin Clark's lawyers say the offenses to refer to the incidents in which he held his children out from the balcony (the very behavior the district judge had called "not the best type of playing").

Val Clark had another interpretation. Based on her understanding of what prosecutors had told her, she says, "I believed this could be used in any civil case and that he was convicted of sexual abuse." But the definition of endangerment does not mention sexual abuse. And a no-contest plea can't be used against a defendant in a related civil trial.

"This was supposed to be our closure, but apparently there have been no consequences for him," says Val Clark.

"It's like the Twilight Zone," Michael Clark says. "There have been so many times when we have been told that we would be protected, but it's never happened."

And so they have turned to the civil suits, which allege a range of physical and psychological abuse in 2001 or before, which contributed to long-lasting psychological and physical trauma.

But the Clark children's first order of business was trying to get Mulligan removed from the case — and again they have been frustrated.

Flynn, who requested Mulligan take the case, says he did so because she is "very familiar with the parties, the issues and the allegations, so it made absolute sense to have the case assigned to her. Besides, she will not be the ultimate decider of the facts; the jury will be."

Mulligan is up for retention on this November's ballot, and her return to the bench is recommended by the Allegheny County Bar Association. Her reputation has reached all the way to Philadelphia, where Cervone says that even if he finds some of her actions in the Clark case "a little odd," he's always heard her spoken of as a "stellar judge who is beyond impropriety."

But while Schuchardt, Michael Clark's lawyer, says Mulligan is generally fair, he argues that she should not be hearing this case because of her history with it. She has, after all, already issued opinions expressing doubt over whether sex abuse ever took place — which is a key claim likely to be argued in her courtroom.

"It is highly unusual to have a case overseen by a judge who has already rendered a written opinion on the ultimate issue," he says.

And while a jury will hand down a final verdict, Schuchardt says, "The judge will decide questions of law, which includes, crucially, what facts the jury gets to hear." For example, he says, Mulligan has ruled that testimony and prior orders from the custody case will be inadmissible.

Schuchardt asked Mulligan to recuse herself. When she refused, he appealed, but Administrative Judge W. Terrence O'Brien, too, denied the request.

In a brief order, O'Brien noted that a jury would hand down the actual verdict. Her earlier rulings "show neither bias nor the appearance of bias," he wrote.

But Cervone, for one, says judges should recuse themselves when there is "either substantive conflict of interest" or if there is "an appearance of impropriety" — an appearance that may exist "inside the minds of the parties involved." Such an appearance "will be hard for [Mulligan] to avoid" here.

The fact that a jury will ultimately decide the matter "helps insulate the case, but not entirely," Cervone adds. "Continuity should not be the primary concern here, what should be of concern is overall fairness and getting a full hearing of the facts."

Author and abuse-expert Bancroft puts the matter more succinctly:

"It's absolutely preposterous," he says. "She has already made rulings in the case."

Bancroft adds that family-court proceedings are often prone to suspicions of favoritism. That's one reason he opposes sealing records in any case.

"If a judge is going to rule, for example, that sexual abuse didn't occur, then those findings should be made public," Bancroft says. "[Sealing family court cases] is a severe violation of due process and it is protecting the court and its appointees from scrutiny."

Michael Clark's concerns are more immediate. Currently, all four children's suits are set to be consolidated for a single trial, to be held next spring.

"Even though I feel like the odds are stacked against us," says Michael Clark, "we have to push forward."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the disposition of the complaint Val Clark filed against Dr. Mark King.

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Comments (12)

Showing 1-12 of 12

A truly stellar job of investigative reporting!

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Posted by geebee14 on 10/23/2013 at 9:05 AM

Good article about tragic abuse, that is sadly the tip of the iceberg (links bottom) 1,2,3

Why is no one protecting the children? The guilty person wins the battle; but loses the war, which costs the lives of innocence lost!

Please follow up to ensure that the truth is exposed, before it is too late, as in the Nathan Grieco tragedy in PA 1

"They said [Jerry Sandusky] has a heart of gold and wouldn't do something like that. so they didn't believe [the victim],"2

Why, is the child abuse that Jim reported, still being covered up, by the same government, who is prosecuting those involved in the Penn State scandal?

1) Jim reported child abuse to protect a child, as required by law.
2) CPS deliberately released confidential identity of the abused child and mandated reporter and solicited false complaints to help the abuser, instead of protecting the child.
3) State Police summary confirmed ". . . . Violations (by government officials) of the Crimes code. . exist.”
4) Letters from Office of Attorney General & State Police are contrary to state's own legal record.
5) The statute of limitations is currently open based on fraudulent concealment of criminal violations and also new continuing violations by law enforcement.
6) Legislators wrote to PA Attorney General Kane to investigate and form a bipartisan coalition of legislators in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to create a bipartisan coalition to investigate child abuse reporting in Pennsylvania, but Attorney General Kane has not responded since March 5, 2013, despite repeated follow ups.

What will be done to prevent another tragedy?

Thank you

1-http://old.post-gazette.com/custody/partone.asp

2-http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2012/06/jerry_sandusky_trial_central_m.html

3-https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sag37aAf1WU

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Posted by Jim Singer on 10/23/2013 at 7:49 PM

It would seem to me that there is a lot more to this story than even this decent sized article can cover. There are several facts omitted from this that a simple comment cannot convey! Many others have been affected by this Judge and her less than scrupulous rulings. We need to make it a priority to not accept any kind of corruption in our city!

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Posted by Riley Webb on 10/24/2013 at 1:33 PM

Parts of this news story were confusing. Therefore, it is good that that this story was updated about the complaint Val Clark filed against Dr. Mark King. There should be more updates! Thank you

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Posted by Jim Singer on 10/24/2013 at 5:07 PM

What a stellar job of investigativeI ,not so good.
I know that family and lived by them. Where is the part about kicking the crap out of his wife everyday? .Its good to see that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde move out ,now peace and quiet .

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Posted by JS on 10/25/2013 at 9:45 AM

Mike is a hero for speaking out! Although the article skims the surface of the abuse this family has suffered, the "edited" version does not even begin to describe the injustices inflicted on this family.

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Posted by Kimberly Myers on 10/25/2013 at 11:08 AM

It is SO blatant that the "for profit" Courts of the USA ( and all over) know it is much easier to generate an income through the family court than it is criminal court.
The Family court knows that a protective parent will do whatever it takes to keep a child safe, and an abuser will do anything to keep access to his little victim ( usually a surrogate of the other parent) . So the higher the "conflict" and the richer the parents, the more lucrative the case.
So "out in the open" the family court denies abuse, on purpose, because it takes more money to prosecute a criminal.
Make no mistake... MONEY is their bottom line, at the expense of Children everywhere.
To validate this FACT.... the DA's office will simply look the other way when it is a parent who is a perpetrator.... so the "allegations" appear "made up"; If you notice, not I have not heard of one protective parent being brought up on charges on false allegations..... because frequently, the abusers get what they want ( unhindered access to their victim).....so why sue for false allegations? They got what they want.
I invited The police to put me up on charges of false allegations.... because I know the truth. One of us was guilty, and it was not me or my daughter.
Michael did a fantastic job....he is a good man because of the support he got from his Mom.

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Posted by Tina Po on 10/28/2013 at 8:39 PM

I want you all to know this Judge Kathleen Mulligan is up for retention on this upcoming election-day. Please vote NO on her retention!

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Posted by Bob Riddle on 10/29/2013 at 10:51 AM

Wow this story is heart wrenching! Hats off to the young adult above for all of his courage and strength! And may God give him and his siblings the strength to fight and win this unjust battle they have endured. First I'd like to say I can't comprehend the judge in this situation. Why continue on these young adults civil case if you are a family court Judge? Are there not enough civil judges to do their job in that area? Do you not have enough work in family court? I believe I read this judge is up for retention.... if so, why would the judge even want the civil case when it says she has already made so many opinions on the case in family court. I believe that would make it a huge conflict of interest and could shine a bad light on this judge for re elections. As for the defendants attorney... you probably should have said "NO Comment". My opinion...you did not make yourself look good in this article. You basically talked out of both sides of your face. In one of your comments you claim the charges that remained were based on the balcony incident not sexual charges. In another comment you state "most" of the sexual charges were dropped. Well "most" does not constitute all! News flash I searched and found the article on the internet of the charges against their father and they were clearly of sexual nature. And this crap of protecting abusers by claiming the other parent must be putting the stuff in the children's heads or that the children must have some sort of problem that they would make these claims..is absolutely sickening and just a cop out to not protect children. Hello wake up people ..these are no longer children you can claim are controlled by a parent. These are grown adults with minds and voices of their own. And the "Aspergers" excuse for the one child's claims to be false is just absolutely ridiculous and frankly an insult to all Americans who suffer Aspergers/high functioning autism. As for the professionals who claim children must have two parents even at the expense of abuse..you all are a bunch of nut balls and don't deserve children of your own. If you think a child learning how to fish from their father or throw a ball from their mother out weighs protecting them from abuse then maybe you deserved to be in one of the abused children's places instead of the child abused. Why don't you start listening to what the children want?? Why don't you ask abused adult children if they would have rather grew up with one parent then with the abuse that will forever haunt them?? And I believe I read the father is a eye physician..really? So...anyone could be taking their vulnerable children to the physician not knowing his background??? Sickening!

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Posted by Sickened on 10/30/2013 at 6:27 PM

http://abington.patch.com/groups/kevin-avard-speak-up-tv/p/speak-up-guest---jeanie-melton-gaurdian-ad-litem-from-hell

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Posted by Speakup on 11/01/2013 at 11:09 AM

Please Check you local Patch.com I have posted another horror story concerning the Guardian Ad litem from Hell. http://abington.patch.com/groups/kevin-avard-speak-up-tv/p/speak-up-guest---jeanie-melton-gaurdian-ad-litem-from-hell

Judge Ronald W. Folino was fully aware the Guardian was not an Attorney ...OOPs?

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Posted by Speakup on 11/01/2013 at 11:21 AM

http://wilkesbarrescrantonig.com/2014/04/08/gag-orders-evidence-control-judiciary/

Gag orders: Further evidence of an out-of-control judiciary?

Judges like Allegheny County Family Court judge Kathleen Mulligan hide behind the premise that the order is necessary to protect minors. Judges are able to prevent vital information from being presented or heard in the courtroom by using children as metaphorical human shields, thereby protecting their own misdeeds and the wrongdoings of physical and sexual abusers.
See more...

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Posted by Val Clark on 04/10/2014 at 12:05 PM
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