RUTLAND, Vt. -- A judge refereeing a child-custody dispute between former lesbian partners balked Friday at issuing a contempt citation for one of them and instead gave her 30 days to appear in court with the girl or face arrest.
Lisa Miller has disappeared with 7-year-old Isabella Miller-Jenkins, and Miller's former partner renewed her call for help finding the girl.
"Every day I wonder where she is, and if she's OK," said Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven. "Every time the phone rings, I hope it is someone calling to tell me they have found her."
Miller, the girl's biological mother, was ordered to surrender custody of Isabella on Jan. 1, but she failed to do so. The girl is now considered a missing person.
On Friday, Family Court Judge William Cohen - who had ordered the custody change two months ago - rejected Jenkins' plea for a contempt-of-court citation against Miller but found her in violation of his previous order. He set a Feb. 23 court date, saying if Miller doesn't appear with the child then, he would issue a warrant for her arrest.
He did not rule out referring the matter for a criminal prosecution on custodial interference.
A lawyer for Miller participated in the hearing by telephone. She told Cohen she doesn't know where Miller and the girl are now, and that she hadn't had any communications with her. The Forest, Va., apartment that was her last known address has been abandoned, according to Sarah Star, Jenkins' attorney.
The hearing Friday was the latest legal salvo in a long-running custody battle for the couple, who were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. The baby was conceived via artificial insemination and Miller gave birth in 2002.
In 2003, Miller and Jenkins broke up, and Miller moved to Virginia, renouncing homosexuality and becoming an evangelical Christian. She was granted custody of Isabella, but Jenkins got visitation rights.
Courts in Vermont and Virginia have since ruled in favor of Jenkins on the custody issue, most recently on Nov. 20, when Cohen - frustrated by Miller's refusal to obey court orders - ordered her to surrender custody to Jenkins, even though she isn't the birth mother.
"My goal has never been to separate Isabella from her other mother, Lisa," Jenkins said outside court Friday. "I just want what is best for our child, and that is to know both of her parents," said Jenkins, who encouraged anyone with knowledge of the girl's whereabouts to contact local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"Please help me find my child," she said.
During the hearing, Miller attorney Rena Lindevaldsen said she had no recent contact with Miller and asked to withdraw from the case, saying she couldn't represent her adequately without knowing what Miller wants.
Cohen rejected the request, saying that Lindevaldsen remains her attorney in a motion before the Vermont Supreme Court and that she couldn't withdraw as Miller's attorney in one Vermont court and stay on as it in another.
Jenkins said she last saw the girl a year ago, when they spent a three-day weekend together.
"It's so tragic, because when I would go to see my daughter, when we would be saying our goodbyes, I always tried to focus on the next time we were going to be together, knowing in the back of my mind that it might never happen," she said. "The last time I had her, she said `Am I ever going to see you again?' So I don't know if something was already being planned. That's where my brain goes now, because of what's happening.
"What 7-year-old ever says that to her mother? `Am I ever going to see you again?'" Jenkins said.
For those unfamiliar with the case, Newsweek did an excellent piece. It's quite sad and really scary that they are taking this long to find Isabella, who knows what this crazy lady is doing at the moment or where she is.