A woman who fled the US to keep custody of her children more than a decade ago says her lawyer urged her to flee

A Virginia woman who left the United States for more than a decade with her child to avoid sharing custody of her daughter with her ex-partner says her lawyer suggested she flee.

A Virginia woman who left the United States for more than a decade with her child to avoid sharing custody of her daughter with her ex-partner says her lawyer suggested she flee.

In a document filed May 19 in Vermont federal court as part of the ongoing civil case, Lisa Miller outlined which led her to leave the country in September 2009 with her then 7-year-old daughter when it became clear she would lose custody of the girl to her former partner Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven, Vermont.

The filing is the latest chapter in a more than two-decade legal saga that began in 2000 when Miller and Jenkins joined forces in Vermont’s civil union, the state’s first legal recognition of same-sex couples.

Their daughter Isabella was born to Miller in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003. The Vermont Family Court awarded custody of Isabella to Miller, but had frequent visits with Jenkins. For years, Miller defaulted on court-ordered visitation orders. When Miller sought full custody, a series of court rulings were issued that went against her in favor of Jenkins.

In her statement, Miller said that during a summer 2009 meeting with attorney Rena Lindewaldsen to discuss future appeals in the court case, Lindewaldsen said “something to the effect that I’m going to take off my lawyer’s hat and put on my friend’s hat.”

Lindewaldsen then asked Miller about leaving, “telling me that if Isabella was her child, she would have left,” Miller said in the statement. “She pressed the issue and I told her I was leaving when the plans were firm, but no date had been set.”

At the end of the meeting, Miller said Lindewaldsen offered to take care of her financial needs after she left, using proceeds from a book Lindewaldsen planned to write about the case. The book “Only one mother” was published in 2011.

Lindewaldsen, a self-proclaimed defender of traditional marriage, is a law professor at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia. Lindewaldsen’s biography on the school’s website says she worked as senior litigation counsel at Liberty Counsel, which provided legal representation for Miller before her disappearance.

The council describes itself as a Christian ministry known for promoting conservative ideas.

In September 2009, Miller left the United States crossing the peace bridge in buffalo New York. Miller and her daughter were picked up on the Canadian side and taken to the Toronto airport, where they flew to Nicaragua.

Horazio G. Michet, who is one of Lindewaldsen’s attorneys and vice president of legal affairs and chief litigation counsel at Liberty Counsel, denied in an email Tuesday that the conversation Miller described took place.

“Ms. Lindevaldsen and Liberty Counsel have consistently advised Lisa Miller that she has an obligation to comply with court orders,” Michet said. “Lisa Miller’s decision to leave the country was made without the knowledge of Ms. Lindevaldsen or Liberty Counsel. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false”.

Attorneys for Miller did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Sara Starr, the Vermont attorney representing Jenkins in the civil case, declined to comment Wednesday when asked about the filing.

The document signed by Miller and filed with the court last week was part of a settlement in a 2012 civil lawsuit filed by Jenkins against Miller and others. Miller agreed to give her version of events that led her to flee the country. The civil suit also names Lindevaldsen, Liberty Counsel and others.

Both the settlement agreement and the offer were signed by Miller on March 21. It was included in a May 19 motion by Lindewaldsen and Liberty’s attorney to dismiss the civil suit against them. The agreement was marked as “confidential,” but a notice in the motion to dismiss said Miller’s attorney gave it to them “with Jenkins’ consent, without an agreement to limit its use, and without first obtaining a protective order.”

In the motion, Miller outlined what she will say during an upcoming deposition scheduled for later this summer. She told the details of her flight, which had not been disclosed before.

In 2009, during a service at a Virginia church, she was handed a piece of paper with her name and phone number on it, Miller said. Two days later and before meeting Lindewaldsen, she called the number and met two men who later helped her escape. Those twomen and a third party eventually served prison time for helping Miller.

Lisa Miller voluntarily returned to the United States from Nicaragua in January 2021 after her daughter turned 18. She was arrested upon arrival. In February 2022, Miller pleaded guilty to one count of international parental kidnapping. She was later sentenced to time served and subsequently released.

In 2021, Miller pointed this out in a court filing Isabella Miller now 21, lived in Virginia and worked on a farm north of Charlottesville owned by a Mennonite family.

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