"Family Feud" is more than a television show — it can be the real thing in some families.
It’s not a very pleasant reality to contemplate, what with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays on the horizon. But take heart.
There are family feuds, and there are family feuds on steroids.
Take the case of Jade Green and her fractious relationship with her parents, Jack and Angela Howser.
“... to say they had a falling out would be an understatement,” writes federal appeals court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Why is a federal judge commenting on the nature of their family relations? Because one dispute led to another and then to another. Eventually, they all ended up in court, where the Howsers were ordered to pay nearly $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages to their daughter.
On top of the $1 million judgment, which was affirmed Nov. 7 by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, the state’s attorney and sheriff of Lawrence County, which is located on the Indiana border near Vincennes, settled out of court for $75,000 with Green. She had named them along with her parents in a lawsuit that alleged they all had conspired to violate her civil rights.
What kind of dispute leads to this level of acrimony? Green and her parents, who lived in Lawrenceville, were fighting over who would have custody of Green’s then-4-year-old daughter.
Here’s what happened, as related by Barrett in her lengthy decision.
The Howsers, who publish a newspaper called The Disclosure, did not believe Green was providing a “suitable home” for their granddaughter. So they “enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor and a private investigator to help them wrest custody” of the child from Green.
Back in 2014, authorities arrested Green on a trumped-up bad check charge, took the child — identified only as E.W. — and gave custody of her to the Howsers.
“... over (Green’s) protests, the sheriff let (Jack Howser) carry her daughter away,” Barrett wrote.
That, of course, was all illegal because the authorities ignored Green’s statutory right to “consent” to giving custody of E.W. to the Howsers.
After Green tried to regain custody, she was arrested again, this time on a phony theft charge contrived by her parents. Eventually, the parents obtained guardianship of E.W. and orders of protection keeping their daughter away from her daughter.
“These orders were the opening salvo in a custody battle that extended for months,” Barrett wrote.
Green eventually regained custody of her daughter. That’s when she hired Mattoon lawyer Kent Heller to file a civil rights lawsuit against her parents and the authorities.
Specifically, she alleged her parents conspired “with state officials to violate her due process rights to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of her daughter.”
The Howsers wanted to explain to the jury that heard their case why they felt compelled to take E.W from Green. But the judge didn’t allow any testimony on that because Green’s “bad behavior is not a defense to violating her rights.”
But the jury heard plenty of evidence about what the Howsers did to pressure their daughter on the custody question.
“Over (Green’s) objection, the county sheriff placed her daughter in the custody of people (the Howsers) who had recently blackmailed her with nude pictures, tried to break up her marriage, vindictively fired her from her job and conspired with law enforcement officers to forcibly take her child,” Barrett wrote.
In ruling in Green’s favor, jurors ordered the Howsers to pay $470,000 in compensatory damages — $120,000 in lawyer fees and $350,000 for mental and emotional pain. They also ordered Jack and Angela Howser each to pay $250,000 in punitive damages.
The Howsers’ conduct, the court said, was “reprehensible.”
“Their conspiracy with law enforcement officers to forcibly take E.W. was intentional, manipulative and deceitful,” Barrett wrote.
When it comes to child custody disputes, people do crazy things. Love, after all, is blind.
But what of the law officers involved in this bizarre series of events? Did they not realize or care that their sworn duty is to uphold the law, not take sides in family disputes?
The Lawrenceville police chief got “cold feet,” Barrett writes, after two of his department’s officers “expressed concern that the planned arrest might not be above board.”
What caused the second thoughts?
The officers “showed the police chief the Illinois statute governing child custody after an arrest; as the officers read the statute, it required either a parent’s consent to the child’s placement or placement into the custody of child services.”
In other words, the law states authorities can’t take a child from X and give custody to Z. The officers also told the chief “about the rift between the Howsers and the Greens.”
The chief’s reservations didn’t slow down the Howsers. Mr. Howser then secured the assistance of the county sheriff and they all, acting with the approval of the state’s attorney, executed the bogus arrest warrant.
It’s not a happy story. But in even the darkest cloud, there’s a silver lining.
Feuding families whose feuds aren’t as toxic as the Green/Howser feud have something to celebrate as the holiday season approaches.