The headline read, “California sperm donor stalks lesbian mother.” The problem is this, there was no stalking, it was a paternity case gone awry. I should know. I represented the sperm donor.
The article as written by Susan Donaldson James, a graduate of Columbia University in journalism, and published by ABCNews.go.com. It was largely taken from a press release without adequate fact checking, or contacting both sides. A classic case of yellow journalism.
In an effort to set the record straight, I prepared a line-by-line response that was sent to Dan Childs, editor for ABCNews. It was also sent to The Advocate. Neither publication has responded or printed a correction almost two weeks later.
When the article first hit, I received a phone call from a reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press. He didn’t know that I was the attorney for the father, since that wasn’t in the press release or article. We talked about the deficiencies and the resulting coverage in the Daily Press had my innocuous quotes. Since I write for the Daily Press, I did not expect to be showcased. It’s that journalistic ethics thing, my editor abides by it, and it is distressing that ABCNews didn’t.
The press release I reviewed was sent out by “K. Pearson Brown.” It referred to the lesbian mother as Karen B. Coincidentally they are the same person. Ms. Brown tried to make this look as if she was removed from the case, for as a well trained publicist, she knew that the likelihood of the article being picked up would increase, if it didn’t look like she was just a lesbian with an ax to grind.
This was the same deceptive tactic that she used in court. She claims to be a feminist, but when the chips are down she conveniently claims that she is, but a frail woman, and the chivalrous thing to do, is to give her what she wants.
This case turned on one issue, whether or not she knew what she was doing when she signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP). The VDP is a simple, one-page form that is prepared by the hospital when a child is born to unmarried parents. It is written in language a sixth grader can understand. Primarily it is used to lock fathers down to paternity for child support. In California, if you don’t contest the document within 60 days, it is considered a judgment for all purposes.
But evidently, if you are a woman, you can wait two years, all the while collecting child support from the presumed father, and then you can change your mind. You can claim that when you signed it, three days after giving birth, that you were too drugged and tired to know what you were signing. Not one woman I have asked about this believes she didn’t know what she was doing three days after birth. Categorically their response is, “she knew.”
It’s ironic that Brown, who claims to be a voice for the feminist lesbian community and says that women are powerful and can be masters of their own destiny, would turn around and use the “damsel in distress” defense.
When she and Daniel were first contemplating having a child, she was the drafter of their agreement. An agreement the court referred to as “amateurish.” This was not the usual 30 page agreement that would be used for an egg (or sperm) donation. It was one page, poorly constructed and poorly written. And for Daniel, English is a second language.
They met when Brown replied to Daniel’s ad. That’s a crucial point — it was his advert that she responded to. He wanted to be a father: an active, involved, engaged, child-support paying father. Which is precisely what Brown got. He attended the baby check ups, he had holidays and playdates and paid his child support without demand. He was a perfect father, right up to the time when he wanted more visitation with his son. Suddenly he is “just a sperm donor” — her words.
They agreed that Daniel would be on the birth certificate as the father. She cashed each of the child support checks he wrote voluntarily for two years. She dressed the child in the clothing that Daniel bought at Bloomingdale’s. She and Daniel are listed as parents on the baptism certificate. It was announced in the papers in Brazil that he was a father.
Contrary to her portrayal, there was no win in this case. It never came before the court for a hearing on the final issue, as the parties entered into a stipulation so that Karen Brown would get what she wanted, full custody, and Daniel would get continued visitation.
Brown issued a press release to get this story written, months after the case was done. I have no idea what her motivation was. Paternity cases are traditionally confidential, but if the parties decide to make it public there’s no law against it.
Which is probably why ABCNews and Susan Donaldson James felt this was a great opportunity to take one side of the story, sensationalize it with an inflammatory headline and did not bother to fact check.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 664-9969.