Taylorsville woman sues former attorney after losing custody case
By Jim Dalrymple II
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 20 2013 06:12PM
A Taylorsville woman is suing her former attorney for more than $20 million, alleging that she lost her children because of his inadequate representation.
Katie Perkins filed the lawsuit last week against Bountiful attorney Craig Peterson and his firm Cathcart and Peterson, LLC. In the lawsuit, Perkins alleges that Peterson failed to prepare for a crucial witness during a parental custody trial, bungled her appeal, and generally failed to adequately represent her.
The lawsuit states Peterson’s failures led to Perkins losing all contact with one of her children, and severely limiting contact with another child. Perkins also racked up nearly $100,000 in attorney fees. She is seeking more than $20 million as compensation for emotional distress, the lost opportunity to spend time with her children, and attorney fees.
Peterson referred questions Wednesday to his attorney, Phillip Ferguson, who said he was confident the evidence would not support Perkins’ claims. Ferguson also said he and Peterson disagree with the lawsuit’s allegations.
Perkins’ case began in 2009, when allegations surfaced that her then-husband, Casey Perkins, physically abused her two children. Perkins’ husband was convicted on two counts of child abuse, both third-degree felonies, in March 2010. Court records show Perkins filed for divorce in October 2009.
Perkins’ new attorney, Steve Christensen, said Wednesday that the child abuse case led to allegations that Perkins had failed to protect her children. Perkins hired Peterson for the ensuing child custody case.
During trial, the state called psychologist David Dodgion as an expert witness. The lawsuit claims Peterson was caught "by complete surprise" by Dodgion’s testimony. He also "did not depose Dr. Dodgion or perform a pre-trial interview of this crucial witness," the lawsuit adds, even though he had been notified of the state’s intent to solicit testimony from the doctor.
Christensen said Peterson’s failure to adequately prepare for Dodgion’s testimony left the judge with the impression that Perkins had a personality disorder. Relying heavily on that impression, the judge terminated Perkins’ parental rights to one of her children.
"Because of Peterson’s deficient trial representation, M.P. has been adopted, and Katie will never be able to raise her son or have a meaningful relationship with him," the lawsuit states.
Christensen said Perkins lost contact with the child about three years ago.
About a year after Perkins lost custody of her first child, Dodgion testified at another hearing that he had not actually diagnosed Perkins with a personality disorder. Instead, he reportedly said, testing merely indicated "the possibility of the disorder’s existence." Dodgion also said he never interviewed Perkins personally.
Significantly, after hearing Dodgion’s new testimony, the judge said he didn’t believe Perkins had a personality disorder. According to the lawsuit, the judge also said he wouldn’t have made the same findings in the original custody case.
Perkins’ attorneys now believe that Peterson’s failure to prepare for Dodgion’s testimony cost Perkins parental rights over her first child.
Dodgion’s clarified testimony came during a custody hearing over Perkins’ second child, initiated by the child’s biological father. The lawsuit states the father wanted to terminate Perkins’ parental rights for that child, which the judge ultimately refused to do.
Later, Perkins wanted to get a court order to visit the second child. According to the lawsuit, Peterson "completely ignored" Perkins even as he continued to collect fees from her.
As a result, Christensen said, Perkins has seen her second child only a handful of times during the last 2½ years. According to the lawsuit, the case involving the second child is ongoing.
Dodgion could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.