The court file might be as thick as the Dorn triplets are tall by the time the legal wrangling between their father and grandparents ends.
The children — Yossi, Esti and Reuvi, now 41/2 — are at the center of an acrimonious legal battle over whether they should be allowed, ordered even, to visit their mother, who suffered catastrophic brain damage giving birth to them.
Times reporter Maria La Ganga has chronicled the story of the family: Abbie Dorn was left unable to move or speak by a series of medical errors during childbirth in 2006 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Two years later, she and her husband, Dan, were divorced. Her parents, Paul and Susan Cohen, became her conservators. They moved Abbie to their South Carolina home and enlisted an army of therapists to work with her.
Susan says Abbie has improved dramatically from the "vegetative state" once assigned to her. "She has vision; she can hear, she enjoys her nieces and nephews." It's time for her children to get to know the mother they have seen only once in three years.
Dan Dorn sees it differently. For months after the children were born, he hauled them to her hospital bed. Those visits stopped, he said, when he became convinced that they would do his children more harm than good.
He is trying to protect his children from the danger of unreal expectations that their mother will one day be able to help them with homework, or even talk with them.
That expectation is embodied by his former mother-in-law, who looks past Abbie's feeding tube, rigid limbs and blank stare and sees her funny, loving middle child — the one she always considered the peacemaker.
This case could use a peacemaker.
The legal question is clear: California's family law provisions support "frequent and continuing contact with both parents" unless that contact is "not in the best interests of the children." It is up to Judge Frederick C. Shaller to decide whether visits with their mother would be detrimental to the triplets.
But the process has been freighted with hostility and hardball tactics, with each side claiming that the other cares less about the children's interests than their own selfish agendas.
"I get a sick feeling about this case," Shaller told both sides during a court hearing I attended last week. "I don't know how it got to the point of being litigated like this when we have three little children to think about."
The lawyers seem to argue over every detail, from the evaluations offered by dueling experts to the conditions for a possible Passover visit.
"Most of what is happening in this case doesn't seem to be focusing on … what would be in the best interest of these children," Judge Shaller told them.
The judge is right, from what I see. This is less a legal battle than a war between two bulldog parents, a father of young triplets and the mother of a disabled woman, trying to trying to protect children who have no voice.
Susan Cohen has made the case a public crusade, putting the best face on her daughter's shortcomings. Abbie has a Facebook page. She stares blankly at the camera in her profile photo, pretty in a red headband and bow.
Her interests are swimming, walking on the beach and yoga, it says. There's a video of her at a Purim celebration, strapped to a wheelchair-like contraption while clapping children dance a circle around her.
"Dan wants to erase her from the world," Susan said, her voice rising in the courthouse hall. "It's as if she never existed."
The one time Dan allowed the children to visit Abbie's home, he had Susan followed around by a bodyguard so she wouldn't say anything to the children. "He doesn't want them to know anything about their mother; doesn't even want them to pray for her."
She pauses, and her voice is softer when she speaks again. "He's a good father. He spends time with them, takes good care of them.... But he's afraid for me to give them hope."
It's easy to see why Dan Dorn may be seen as the villain. In letters, blog posts and message boards, strangers have lashed out at his choice to keep a mother from her children.
Dan has refused to talk with reporters, but I approach him in the courthouse hallway. I see a flicker of recognition in his eyes when I tell him that I was also a single parent and raised three children on my own when their father died.
His lawyer raises a hand to stop him, but he seems eager for a sounding board.
"I'm the bad guy in this, I know," he said. "I loved Abbie." But his Abbie is gone. His responsibility now is to his children, and he doesn't want them to court disappointment with dreams of boardwalk excursions and shopping malls.
I think he's hard-headed but not hard-hearted. Still, I'll join the chorus and say he's wrong. I understand a father's urge to protect his children. But I think Dorn underestimates the grip a mother has on her children's souls.
Yossi, Esti and Reuvi won't always be naive children, mollified by the script their suffering father offers: Mommy got sick because the doctor made a mistake. Nothing can be done except to move on.
The triplets will become teenagers, young adults, maybe parents. Getting to know their mother, whatever her limitations, offers lessons in patience, sacrifice and compassion that can shape the grownups they become.
There are gifts for both mother and children that only reconciliation between these two families can provide: the joy — however ephemeral and unmeasured — that Abbie may draw from watching her children grow. And the security her children will draw from the knowledge that Mommy loved them with all she had.