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Judge allows parents of disabled woman to seek visitation rights on her behalf

Abbie Dorn, who can’t move or speak, hasn’t seen her 3-year-old triplets for 2½ years. They live in Los Angeles with their father.

April 20, 2010|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that the parents of a woman who communicates largely by blinking have the legal right to fight on her behalf so that she can see her 3-year-old triplets.

Abbie Dorn 34, was left unable to move or speak because of a series of medical mishaps while giving birth to the children at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2006. She now lives in South Carolina with her parents.

Abbie and her husband, Dan, eventually divorced in a proceeding that left decisions over custody, visitation, property and child support until later. A trial is set for May 13.

Dan Dorn has refused to allow Esti, Reuvi and Yossi to visit their mother, arguing that it would be detrimental at their age. He and the children still live in Los Angeles. Abbie has not seen them for 2½ years, and the children know nothing about her, according to court documents and testimony in the novel and acrimonious case.

During a pretrial hearing on Tuesday, Vicki Greene, Dan Dorn's attorney, argued that it is impossible to know what Abbie wants because she is incompetent, and that allowing her parents standing in the divorce case would set a "dangerous" precedent.

"There is no evidence that Abbie Dorn can communicate," Greene told Judge Rudolph A. Diaz. "This is a classic case of grandparent visitation….If you give them standing, what's to stop them from coming in and saying, ‘She blinked, you need to take the kids to a different school'?"

But Lisa Helfend Meyer, Abbie Dorn's attorney, argued that Paul and Susan Cohen, Abbie's parents and conservators, have a right to make decisions on her behalf; stripping them of that ability leaves Abbie without anyone to speak for her.

Other court cases have upheld conservators' rights to determine medical care for people who have been declared incompetent, including terminating feeding tubes, an action that hastens death.

"If a conservator can do that, then why shouldn't a conservator make a decision to pursue visitation?" Meyer asked. "It's a fundamental right. Abbie is alive. She is entitled to pursue visitation. If she is denied the opportunity, she is denied equal protection under the law."

Diaz disagreed with Greene's contention that granting the Cohens standing would allow them — wrongly — to become stand-in parents to the triplets in Abbie's stead.

"They're not going to parent," Diaz said. "They only want a right of visitation. They have the right to pursue that."

At Greene's request, Diaz ordered that Abbie undergo neurological testing. He also ordered that a child development specialist be appointed to help him navigate the question of visitation, which he described as "a very delicate situation."

Greene had asked that Abbie be questioned and a video of that deposition be shown in court. The Cohens invited the media into their home to show a one-sided view of Abbie's abilities, she said Tuesday, so it is only fair that she be granted access to Abbie as she builds her case for Dan.

Diaz said he would rule on that matter later.

Both sides claimed at least a bit of victory Tuesday.

Diaz "agreed that it's a long cry before they're going to actually have any visitation," Greene said. The Cohens "still have to prove that Abbie is fit to exercise visitation."

But Meyer characterized Diaz's action as "a huge victory." "If I were Dan," she said, "I'd go home and tell the children tonight" about their mother.

As she told Diaz during the hearing, "the appropriate age has probably come and gone" for the children to hear about Abbie. "Those children should be told Mommy is sick. Mommy sleeps a lot. Mommy loves you. He didn't have the guts to do that."

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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