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Winnebago County justice on trial: High-profile defendants named in $300 million lawsuit

July 1, 1993

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117994596513210.jpg’, ‘Photo provided by Julia’s Gallery’, ‘(From left) Julia Bornhuetter-Colloton, Rhonda Griffith-Kraut, Deborah Orlando-Cooney and attorney Stanley F. Kaplan at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago to file their federal complaint May 16.‘);

In a federal class-action lawsuit filed May 16 in Cook County, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli (R) and 17th Judicial Circuit Associate Judge Steven Nordquist (R) were among the defendants named in a $300 million lawsuit. Local attorneys Dan Cain and Kathryn Bischoff, Rockford Public School District 205, various doctors, therapists, counselors and representatives of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) were also named.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants “have acted in consort to deprive the plaintiffs … of their constitutional rights of due process under the Federal Constitution by depriving them of custody of their children without due process, without a hearing, in violation of various statutory provisions; falsifying ‘docket sheets’ which are the official record of court proceedings, and other actions.”

Plaintiffs Deborah Orlando-Cooney, Rhonda Griffith-Kraut and Julia Bornhuetter-Colloton are claiming “substantial emotional and physical injury.” According to Stanley F. Kaplan, attorney for the plaintiffs, as many as 20 plaintiffs are expected to take part in the class-action suit by the time it reaches the courtroom.

“I’ve been doing this kind of work for 45 years,” said Kaplan, calling elements of the case “the most egregious conduct that I’ve ever seen.”

Kaplan alleged: “Violation of constitutional rights, children taken away from parents—in this case, three mothers—without a hearing…One judge and one child rep involved in all three of the cases. To me, it just seems more than a coincidence that all this is happening…It’s beyond my comprehension as to how these things have been going on.”

Kaplan also alleged, “All that we’re trying to seek is to have somebody accept responsibility for things that have been done that go way beyond whether a ruling is correct or incorrect.”

The more than 1,100-page lawsuit was filed Wednesday, May 16. As a result, many defendants have not had an opportunity to review the entire lawsuit. Some of the defendants refused to comment for this story, while others did not respond to requests for comment.

The Defendants

Paul A. Logli

Following her report of verbal abuse to police in 1998, Bornhuetter-Colloton received a letter from Logli’s office. Despite the documentation of domestic abuse six months earlier, resulting in an order of protection against Bornhuetter-Colloton’s then-husband, Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle R. Rock suggested Bornhuetter-Colloton’s most recent report may have been false.

Bornhuetter-Colloton’s ex-husband did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

In the letter, which is an exhibit in the lawsuit, Rock wrote, “If this office is notified in the future of this or any similar activity, we will consider authorizing a criminal complaint against you and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.”

The civil lawsuit filed May 16 alleges Logli’s office failed to protect Bornhuetter-Colloton, and further alleges Logli was behind Bornhuetter-Colloton’s involuntary admission to Singer Mental Health Center in 1997.

A document from the Janet Wattles Center indicates police were instructed by Logli to have Bornhuetter-Colloton’s then-husband prepare a petition for involuntary/judicial admission. Logli’s office then issued the writ for detention.

Based on the husband’s report to Father Eric Barr of St. Rita’s Church regarding threats allegedly made by then-wife Julia, Bornhuetter-Colloton was held for more than three days at Singer.

A psychiatrist evaluated Bornhuetter-Colloton during her involuntary stay. According to the psychiatrist’s report, the Collotons had been discussing the possibility of divorce.

The psychiatrist reported, “She had previously complained about her husband’s abuse, and she believes he is trying to get custody of the children after the divorce by making her case ‘mental.’”

Bornhuetter-Colloton’s husband filed for divorce the day after she was discharged.

“It is reported that her husband said she had bought a 9mm handgun and wanted to commit suicide and take others with her,” the psychiatrist’s report adds. “There is no evidence of this…We did not find any reason to keep her in the hospital; she is not a danger to herself or others.”

In 2004, a Class III felony charge was filed with Logli’s office, alleging Bornhuetter-Colloton was harassing her daughters’ counselor, John A. Budzynski, by attempting to set up a mediation meeting.

Bornhuetter-Colloton pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. Bornhuetter-Colloton was placed on probation, fined and required to send a letter of apology to Logli.

Deborah Orlando-Cooney also alleges the State’s Attorney’s Office did not fulfill its duties with regard to the prosecution of an eavesdropping case against her estranged husband.

Logli did not respond to a request for comment.

Hon. Steven L. Nordquist

Judge Nordquist presided over the divorce of Deborah Orlando-Cooney and her husband. Orlando-Cooney alleges Nordquist violated her constitutional rights and those of her children through a series of orders specifying Orlando-Cooney may have no contact with her two sons. According to the lawsuit, the orders were issued without notice or a hearing.

Allegedly, Nordquist issued similar unconstitutional orders in the divorce/custody cases of Bornhuetter-Colloton and Griffith-Kraut.

In all three cases, the custody of the children was awarded to their fathers.

In July 2006, Nordquist was reassigned to only preside over civil cases after a drunk driving arrest for which he pled guilty. Nordquist was placed on a year of court supervision and fined $2,300.

Responding to The Rock River Times’ request for comment from Nordquist, Todd Schroeder of the Trial Court Administrator’s Office indicated judges are prohibited from commenting about pending litigation.

Kathryn Bischoff

Attorney Kathryn Bischoff was appointed by Judge Nordquist as the children’s representative in the custody cases related to Orlando-Cooney, Griffith-Kraut and Bornhuetter-Colloton. The lawsuit alleges Bischoff conspired with Nordquist and Lyle Rossiter Jr., M.D., to deprive Orlando-Cooney and her children of their rights. Bischoff is also accused in the lawsuit of “various acts in detriment to the Constitutional Rights of the two other named Plaintiffs and their children.”

Bischoff was appointed by Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) to the position of Truancy Hearing Code Officer. The City Council approved the appointment at the rate of $95 per hour Oct. 20, 2006.

The day after the lawsuit was filed in federal court, Morrissey was asked whether the allegations against Bischoff would affect her position in the truancy court. Stating he had not yet been made aware of the lawsuit, the mayor declined to comment.

As of publication, Bischoff did not respond to a request to discuss the allegations, or how they might affect her truancy court position.

Daniel J.Cain

Rockford attorney Dan Cain is alleged to have violated a gag order by sharing the contents of a report by Dr. Lyle Rossiter with his client, Orlando-Cooney’s husband, in the custody matter. Allegedly, Rossiter’s assessment favored immediate transfer of custody of the children to their father.

The lawsuit alleges Cain prepared an emergency petition for change of custody on behalf of his client, reportedly using phrases pulled directly from Rossiter’s letter to Kathryn Bischoff, the child representative appointed by Judge Nordquist.

Although Rossiter recommended immediate transfer of custody, Rossiter’s report, an exhibit in the lawsuit, also alleged Orlando-Cooney “believes attorneys Kelly Vecchio, Dan Cain, and Kathryn Bischoff, and Judge Steven Nordquist, are all corrupt and/or in one degree or another intent on thwarting her and the interests of [her minor children] in Winnebago County Court proceedings.”

The lawsuit states: “As a result of this alleged fraud, Judge Steven Nordquist entered a ‘gag’ order…t

hat prevented [Orlando-Cooney’s] attorney from disclosing Dr. Rossiter’s report and preventing her attorney from properly representing her in court the next day on June 15, 2005.”

June 15, 2005, Cain asked Nordquist for an order of protection and a temporary change of custody based on Rossiter’s letter to Bischoff.

Court records show Orlando-Cooney’s attorney, Alex Abate, told Nordquist: “Your Honor, for the record, we are just receiving this. We have not had any chance to review it or prepare for it.”

Nordquist then allowed a brief recess for both parents to read Rossiter’s report before ordering a transfer of custody and issuing an order of protection barring Orlando-Cooney from contact with her children. The lawsuit alleges Orlando-Cooney was the only party who’d been unaware of the contents of Rossiter’s letter to Bischoff, and was therefore at a disadvantage.

In the suit filed May 16, plaintiffs’ attorney Stanley F. Kaplan alleges the court violated a state statute by allegedly not allowing the report to be made available 10 days prior to a hearing for the purpose of review and cross-examination.

Cain did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

Rockford Public School District

Per the lawsuit, a Rockford Public School District teacher is alleged to have “engaged in very questionable behavior with the father of [Griffith-Kraut’s daughter] over a period of a few years leading up to the emergency OOP [Order of Protection].” The lawsuit further alleges the teacher neglected to report a suspected incident of child abuse by the father to the DCFS.

An exhibit in the lawsuit, a referral written by the teacher in 2005 regarding a behavioral problem with Griffith-Kraut’s daughter, reveals: “Father picked [minor daughter] up, talked with staff, and took her in the bathroom for a talk. I stood in doorway to listen and monitor. He talked with her calmly. I heard two swats with his hand.”

In a 2004 e-mail to the teacher, Griffith-Kraut’s ex-husband wrote, “I really need your help to try to get [the couple’s minor daughter] out from under Rhonda’s messed up control!”

The teacher responded: “Report cards are coming out next week. I think that should be enough to show the people you need to show.” Both the e-mail exchanges are exhibits in the lawsuit.

It is also alleged in the lawsuit the teacher made a report to DCFS indicating Griffith-Kraut had been abusive to the daughter. Griffith-Kraut argues the call to DCFS was in response to Griffith-Kraut’s ex-husband having been reported. Griffith-Kraut was cleared of wrongdoing by Administrative Law Judge Gary Golian in the incident.

Griffith-Kraut further alleges she was alienated from school events, and school administrators allegedly ignored her requests for a conference and updates on her daughter’s progress—despite the expiration of the order of protection against her.

In the suit, Kaplan referenced a state statute in a letter written to Rockford Public School District attorney Stephen Katz:

“Unless there is a petition alleging serious endangerment to the child’s emotional, mental, physical or moral well-being, there can not be any restriction on visitation,” Kaplan wrote. “There must be a hearing before there can be any restrictions. There is no pleading on file; there is no order of restriction; yet the school authorities … predicated upon the father’s statements, refused access to the mother.”

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson, attorney Stephen Katz and Assistant Superintendent Linda Hernandez did not respond for comment.

John (Jay) A. Budzynski, M.A., L.C.P.C.

John Budzynski has been the licensed clinical professional counselor for Julia Bornhuetter-Colloton’s two daughters since 1998. Budzynski is alleged to have misrepresented facts by allegedly claiming Bornhuetter-Colloton made numerous false reports to DCFS.

In a 2001 letter written to Addus Health Care and Family Services—the agency where supervised visits between Bornhuetter-Colloton and her children took place—Budzynski stated, “Ms. Bournhutter [sic] has also been sent a letter from State Attorney Paul Logli’s office threatening legal action because of a false report that she filed against Mr. Colloton alleging domestic violence/battery.”

In the $300 million case summary, Kaplan states, “There are facts that prove that Julia Colloton’s reports of domestic violence, alleged molestation, bruising on her daughters have been confirmed by collateral resources.”

Exhibits of the complainants in the suit include a police report of domestic violence on Bornhuetter-Colloton by her then-husband in 1997. Although their children were allegedly present during the incident, Bornhuetter-Colloton’s daughters were not allowed to testify in the matter.

Budzynski is accused of consorting with Kathryn Bischoff to suppress facts related to the incident in which Bornhuetter-Colloton sustained whiplash and was awarded an order of protection.

A 2000 emergency room report from SwedishAmerican Health System, which is contained in the lawsuit, indicates possible abuse to one of Bornhuetter-Colloton’s daughters at the hands of her father, which was reported to DCFS.

In a letter to Bischoff, Budzynski wrote, “Since this last report is in conflict with my clinical observations of the relationship between [minor child] and [and her father], I have to question the origins of the supposed evidence of abuse that Attorney Bischoff reported to me that the examining doctor documented.”

Budzynski added it was “inconceivable” the father could have perpetrated the act resulting in the diagnosis and alleged Bornhuetter-Colloton may have fabricated the story.

The lawsuit claims, “Budzynski did not report to DCFS or authorities that [minor child], again, stated that she was molested by her father…because he felt the allegations were untrue.”

Despite the doctor’s diagnosis, in a 2000 letter to Bischoff, Budzynski argued, “There is no evidence of a pattern of abuse or evidence of a single incident of abuse between either of the girls and [their father].”

DCFS ultimately dismissed the report of abuse as unfounded, despite the child’s injuries and alleged claim of abuse.

Budzynski acknowledged he was aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment about the case.

Department of Children and Family Services

DCFS is claimed to have violated the rights of due process to Deborah Orlando-Cooney. Administrative Law Judge Daniel Baechle is accused of having a “personal or professional interest that interferes with exercising objectivity or [having] a bias against the parties or issues appealed.”

In 2006, Baechle was asked to recuse himself because of a personal and professional relationship with Kathryn Bischoff, the court-appointed child representative. Baechle refused.

The lawsuit accuses Baechle of violating due process rights and denying Deborah Orlando-Cooney’s requests to add a witness and medical evidence to support her case.

Brent Johnson, a supervisor for DCFS, is alleged to have signed off on the reports regarding the plaintiffs’ cases without investigation or verifying the accuracy or completeness of the reports.

Included in the lawsuit exhibits is a D-2 campaign contribution report from Judge Nordquist’s 2002 campaign, showing a contribution from Johnson in the amount of $250.

Joseph Kosek, Kathryn Bischoff’s colleague at the firm of Attorneys Rudy, Bischoff & Kosek, is also shown to have contributed $250 to Nordquist’s campaign.

DCFS Acting Director Erwin McEwen was also named as a defendant in the $300 million federal civil suit.

Asked to respond to the lawsuit, DCFS spokesman Jimmy Whitlow explained, “We cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Lyle H. Rossiter Jr., M.D.

St. Charles-based Dr. Lyle Rossiter is the forensic psychiatrist appointed to evaluate the custody matter of Orlando-Cooney. Rossiter is a frequent “expert witness” in court cases.

Regarding Rossiter’s letter to Bischoff, the civil lawsuit alleges, “His rep

ort, which was false, misleading and predicated upon stale/limited information led to the immediate transfer of custody…and an exparte emergency order of protection being entered on June 15, 2005, by Judge Steven Nordquist.”

Rossiter’s report goes as far as to say Orlando-Cooney “suffers from a shared delusional disorder with her parents [one of whom is a doctor],” who’d expressed serious concerns about custody being granted to the children’s father.

Rossiter’s report continues: “It is my further opinion that the accumulated mental and emotional injuries to [minor child], now in progress for the past decade, constitute reportable child abuse by Deborah and her parents.”

Rossiter, however, allegedly did not report his claims of abuse to DCFS, but did recommend an immediate transfer of custody to the boys’ father. One of the children was recommended to undergo psychiatric hospitalization, with no contact by Orlando-Cooney or her parents.

“I fully expect to be perceived by Deborah, her parents and [minor child] as one more corrupt agent who has betrayed them with malevolent intent,” Rossiter wrote in his letter to Bischoff. “I of course categorically deny anything of the sort and reaffirm my dedication to the best interests of the children.”

As part of the lawsuit filing is a report from Alan M. Jaffe, Psy.D., assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School, that raised questions about Rossiter’s report after reviewing it.

“It appears that the greatest part of his opinions are based on a review of records rather than actual clinical interviews,” Jaffe stated. “It also appears that Dr. Rossiter was operating from a ‘confirmatory bias’ point of view trying to fit facts together based on the impressions that he had from the various records. A more thorough evaluation would have involved much more interviewing and psychological testing. Without this, this report is very much lacking in substance.”

Rossiter did not respond to a phone call from The Rock River Times prior to publication.

Brian Klaung

Counselor Brian Klaung served as therapist to the sons of Orlando-Cooney. The civil lawsuit alleges Klaung lied under oath and violated the rights of Orlando-Cooney and her children.

Despite allegedly never interviewing her, Klaung recommended Orlando-Cooney have no contact with her children because he believed she’d perpetrated prolonged mental and emotional abuse. His opinion resulted in DCFS’s determination Orlando-Cooney had caused “mental injury” to one of her sons.

Klaung did not respond for comment.

Edward J. Keuer, M.D.

Oak Brook dermatologist Dr. Edward Keuer wrote a letter at the request of Dan Cain regarding an approximately 10-minute examination of Orlando-Cooney’s son.

The lawsuit alleges: “Said narrative was not for medical reasons but was written and sent to Sreenan and Cain to assist in the custody suit…Dr. Edward Keuer never obtained consent from Deborah Cooney [who had sole custody at the time], nor did he provide Deborah Cooney with a copy of the narrative.”

The suit alleges the letter was partially responsible for the closing of a child abuse investigation of the children’s father.

Keuer did not return a call from The Rock River Times.

David E. Jacobsen, Psy. D.

Allegedly at the insistence of Kathryn Bischoff, Dr. David Jacobsen was assigned by Judge Nordquist to conduct a parental competency evaluation on Bornhuetter-Colloton. Her attorney, Joseph Polito, had requested the evaluation be conducted by Dr. Sol Rappaport because of his previous involvement in the case. Bischoff, however, alleged Rappaport was not qualified to administer psychological testing.

A previous custodial evaluation by Rappaport recommended sole custody of the children be granted to Bornhuetter-Colloton.

Jacobsen’s initial 2000 report recommended joint custody. In a letter from Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Michael Raridon, Jacobsen was asked to “amplify your report and/or modify your findings and conclusions as well as your recommendations.”

Jacobsen amended his report to recommend Bornhuetter-Colloton not be reunited with her children.

A follow-up letter to Jacobsen from Raridon reads: “Pursuant to our telephone conversation enclosed you will find a money order for your services. Thank you for completing the addendum in a timely manner. We will continue to use your services in the future.”

At the time, Jacobsen served as director of residential treatment for the Lydia Home Association in Chicago.

The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation (IDPR) discovered Jacobsen was unlicensed to practice Clinical Psychology in Illinois and had never held a Certificate of Registration, according to an exhibit contained in the lawsuit.

An IDPR Rule to Show Cause order sent to Jacobsen states, “As a result of [Jacobsen’s] unlicensed practice, [Bornhuetter-Colloton] lost custody of her children.”

In February 2004, IDPR ordered Jacobsen to cease and desist the unlicensed practice as a clinical psychologist. Jacobsen now serves as chief executive officer of McQuade Children’s Services in New Windsor, N.Y., and did not respond to a request for comment.

An expert's opinion

New York domestic violence attorney Barry Goldstein, who once served as an expert witness on behalf of Bornhuetter-Colloton, asserts: “A lot of common mistakes were made by the Court, and by the unqualified professionals that it relies on, that have resulted in children being sent to live with an abuser, and the safe, protective mother being denied any meaningful access. It’s a national crisis, and this is one of the horrible cases.”

Goldstein has practiced law for 27 years, and served 14 years on the board of directors for a New York battered women’s shelter—four years as chairman. He is also an author and teaches domestic violence classes for men convicted of the crime.

from May 23-29, 2007, issue

Attorney’s, plaintiff’s past incidents

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